I found this gem at Norm’s Beer and Wine in Vienna. It was a couple of weeks ago, so I’m sure they don’t have any more. This year they created a “Super Jubel,” meant to be released only every 10 years, but they only waited five this time. This one was barrel aged 50% in pinot noir and new Oregon oak barrels for 12 months. Not surprisingly it pours a deep, dark brown with a thin off white head. The aromas are filled with wine, dark fruit and toffee. The flavor jumps out at you with waves of complexity. There is an immediate malty sweetness, followed by a whisky-like booziness. That in turn gives way to red wine with a little raisin and plum. The finish is slightly chocolate. This mixture combines beautifully inside a lush bodied beer. It does pack a little bit of a whollop at 10.4% ABV, but I would actually have expected a beer like this to be higher. There was a little booziness, but it was not overpowering. I really liked this beer. Five out of five proper pints.
Three Stars is a local Washington, DC brewery I’ve been fond of for a while now. I don’t get to it often enough, but fortunately, they have started selling bottles in some stores in the area. I got this one at Total Wine in McLean. I think Norm’s in Vienna has some as well. My only complaint was that the bottle was a little hard to open. They come in champagne bottles with a wire and cork. I had some trouble undoing the wire and had to get a pliers. Not a big deal, but I haven’t had that issue before. This one pours a dark brown, almost black color, with a small off white head. The aroma is of coffee with a little maple syrup. The flavor hits you with some roasty coffee, maple syrup or molasses and some vanilla. The carbonation is light and dissipates quickly. The body is a little viscous light flat soda, but not in a bad way. The taste tilts a bit more on the sweet side. I liked it, but my wife thought it was a little too sweet. It did go nicely with some spicy food. I would probably have it again, but did think it was a little sweet for a porter. The alcohol was not noticeable, even though it was 9.6%. I would give it three out of five proper pints.
I tried Palate Wrecker once when I visited the Green Flash brewery out in San Diego about 4 years ago. I remember I was going through a tasting of their different beers and the guy behind the bar said I should taste this one last. I actually don’t remember if I followed his advice or not because that in itself was telling me this is the best beer we have and you should have it now. Anyway, I found it at Total Wine in McLean and thought I ought to pick it up. I noticed recently that I talk about Green Flash in a number of my posts, but I haven’t reviewed it. I have no good excuse except that I started the blog after I visited the brewery and Green Flash wasn’t available here until more recently. I may need to go back through their line up of beers to decide which one is actually the best, but this one makes a strong showing. I’ve said in a number of posts I think Green Flash is the quintessential west coast IPA. They even have an IPA called “West Coast IPA.” The west coast is where American IPA was developed and came to break from the British IPA and go for the ultra hoppy flavors, finding innovative new ways to extract the flavors from hops. Palate Wrecker is no exception. They use 6 lbs of Cascade, Columbus and Simcoe hops per barrel. That is an incredible amount of hops. I’m a homebrewer and usually make 5 gallons at a time. That is 1/6 of a barrel. Typically for an IPA I might use about 4-6 oz. of hops per batch. That would be at most just under 2 lbs of hops per barrel. Green Flash triples that amount in Palate Wrecker. I would say it is very noticeable. For those who fear bitter, hoppy beer, fear not. There is some bitterness here, but it is a well balanced beer. When I poured it, it came out a pretty dark copper color with lots of fluffy white head. The aromas are powerful piney and resiny hops. The flavor is more in the realm of resin with a little pineapple. Given the high ABV, there was also a bit of maltiness that combined with the pineapple to give almost the depth of a port wine. The flavor was not boozy even though it had a 9.5% ABV. Overall, it was really not a palate wrecker, but a very tasty double IPA. It went very well with some pepperoni pizza. Well done. Four out of five proper pints.
I love a good Mexican Hot Chocolate and I love it especially as a beer flavor. I was very excited when I came across these two at Norm’s Beer and Wine in Vienna. A chance to put a larger, National, almost not microbrewery against a local nano-brewery. One of the most memorable of this particular flavor I’ve come across is from Copper Kettle Brewing in Denver, CO. I poured these two head to head. Cocoa Mole poured a lighter brown color, while Kristin’s Passion was a very dark brown. Kristin’s Passion also had a much thicker, fluffier head. The Cocoa Mole has strong aromas of chocolate mixed with roasted malts and maybe just a hint of peppers. Kristin’s Passion was more reserved, but also had a strong chocolate aroma, though I didn’t detect any pepper in the aroma. Cocoa Mole had a light body to it, which wasn’t surprising given its color, but seemed unexpected for the style. Nevertheless, it had strong bitter dark chocolate flavor, with a quick aftertaste of chili spice and a little pumpkin spice. The pepper had a little bite to it that catches you in the back of the throat. Overall, a very nice complex flavor with multiple layers to it. The 9% ABV was well hidden. Kristin’s Passion had a more pronounced roast malt flavor, with chocolate, vanilla and raisin notes. There was a pepper flavor, but it was less biting, more subtle. It was also more full bodied and had a creamier mouthfeel to it. I really liked both beers, but I might have to say I liked the Cocoa Mole a little better. I’d give the Cocoa Mole four out of five proper pints and Kristin’s Passion, three out of five proper pints.
Beer may not be the first thing people think of when they think of Valentine’s Day and chocolate, but I actually think some beers pair better with chocolate than anything else. For those who have a loved one who can appreciate beer, or one who might be persuaded if a good beer experience pushed them over the edge, I am here to help. There are beers that naturally pair with chocolate because some literally have chocolate in them, or they may have a naturally chocolate flavor to them. They may also just have a dark fruit or sweetness to them that complements the chocolate. Stouts are generally going to be the most obvious choice because they tend to have a chocolate-y flavor to them, but many are purposely made with chocolate. However, there are other styles that pair well as well. I would say porters, Belgian dubbels or quads and lambics are all great choices as well. Porters and dubbels may have a little of the bitterness that pairs well with dark chocolate and quads and lambics, being on the sweeter end are more likely to pair up with milk chocolate. I’m going to recommend four of my favorite beers to pair with chocolate that range a little in terms of style and strength. All of them are available in larger bottles to share with your sweetheart. Southern Tier Choklat is one of my favorites. It’s a big beer at 10% ABV, but it’s an absolutely delicious combination of roasty malt, big dark chocolate flavor with a silky body. It pairs seemlessly with any kind of chocolate, but dark chocolate especially. Another along similar lines of thought is Maine Beer Company’s Mean Old Tom. This one is not a chocolate stout per se, but is a “regular” stout, meaning it’s not flavored with anything special and it’s not a super high ABV imperial stout. Nevertheless, it has strong notes of coffee and chocolate and pairs perfectly with a dark chocolate. Another one to try is Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Beans. This one has a mild smoky flavor to it. I’m not generally a fan of smoky flavored beers, so when I say its mild, it really is. However, the vanilla beans actually give it a slightly bourbon-y, slightly chocolate-y flavor. It’s low in the ABV range at 5.6%, so it won’t incapacitate you for the rest of the night either. Lastly, for the more adventurous palate, Dogfish Head Theobroma. This one is part of Dogfish Head’s ancient ale series. It is based on the findings from ancient clay pots found in Honduras of the oldest known alcoholic chocolate drink. It dates back between 500 and 1,200 B.C. It’s a combination of cocoa power, cocoa nibs, honey, chiles and annatto (fragrant tree seeds). It seems like an unlikely combination, or at least one that I had no idea how it would taste. Anyway, it’s really pretty good, but takes a few sips before you settle into it. It really tastes like a bitter dark chocolate bar. It seems odd because it’s not really dark, but it has a dark chocolate flavor. It went really well with a high (72%) cocoa chocolate bar. I think I may have had it once before and didn’t care for it, but the second time I had it in combination with dark chocolate, I really liked it. There you have it. Four choices for Valentine’s Day or any other day you want to share some beer and chocolate with your significant other.
It’s that time of year again when I roundup the Christmas and winter ales and decide which one was the best. Actually, I admit it’s a little late this time, but I got sidelined with a stomach bug, plus I was a little more ambitious about the number of beers I wanted to include in the roundup. Anyway, enough excuses. I wanted to include more beers this time because it definitely seems as though there are ever more Christmas and winter beers available each year. I’ve also noticed about previous years that I’ve started with the bias of trying beers I knew I already liked or that I probably would like, so I wanted to include more that I had never tried, or ones that I thought I might not like that much. I thought this would give more meaning to the reviews of the ones I really did like. I thought it might also help you, the reader, figure out if you think your tastes align with mine when I trash a beer you’ve loved for years. First, some caveats as I always do. Christmas beers and winter ales are not all the same. They vary widely in terms of what the brewer considers a Christmas or winter beer. There are dark English Old Ales, Fresh Hop IPAs, Spiced Lagers, Barleywines, Belgian Strong Ales and numerous other variations in between. Thus, in some ways rounding these kinds of beer up is a little like comparing apples and oranges. However, there are clearly some I liked more than others and that’s what I intend to focus on. Here are the 19 beers I tried for this roundup, in no particular order: Samuel Smith Winter Welcome, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Brooklyn Hand & Seal, Shiner Cheer, Redhook Winter Hook, Samuel Adams Winter Lager, Affligem Noel, Smuttynose Winter Ale, Uinta Yard Sale Winter Lager, Widmer Brrr Winter Ale, Anchor Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2014, Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Avery Old Jubilation, Great Divide Hibernation, Weyerbacher Winter Ale, Ommegang Adoration, Hardywood Gingerbread Stout, and Bell’s Christmas Ale. Out of these some subcategories of winter beers did emerge, for example Lagunitas Brown Shugga is really an IPA; Samuel Smith Winter Welcome, Avery Old Jubilation and Great Divide Hibernation are all English Old Ales; Affligem Noel, Troegs Mad Elf and Ommegang Adoration are all Belgian Strong Ales. A category more specific to Christmas would be the dark ale with some kind of Holiday spices or other flavoring added, for example, Redhook Winter Hook, Smuttynose Winter Ale, Widmer Brrr, Anchor Merry Christmas, Great Lakes Christmas, Weyerbacher Winter Ale and Bell’s Christmas Ale. Shiner Cheer sort of falls into a category of its own. It’s sort of like a winter ale with spices added, except that they add peaches. It’s not an overpowering flavor, but it’s noticeable. It was the only one where peaches were added to a winter beer, at least that I found. I liked it a lot. In fact, it was probably the biggest surprise among the bunch. Brooklyn Hand & Seal is a barley wine and strong at that – 13%. It was also aged in bourbon barrels. It came out really bourbon-y and boozy. The flavor was a little overpowering at first, but mellowed as it warmed. Hardywood Gingerbread Stout was the only stout I had, but there are other winter stouts. Samuel Adams Merry Maker is another good example, though I didn’t have it for this roundup. Winter Lager is a new thing I don’t think I’ve seen before, though perhaps the Samuel Adams Winter Lager has been around before. Both the Samuel Adams Winter Lager and the Uinta Yard Sale fit this category. The Samuel Adams was dark, but the Uinta was golden. Both were pretty typical lagers, though the Samuel Adams was a tad malty. In the end, there were few surprises, the ones I thought I would like I did and the others were quite as good. The biggest surprise was Shiner Cheer, which I would definitely have again. I give it three out of five proper pints. The standouts were Mad Elf, Great Divide Hibernation, Avery Old Jubilation, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Hardywood Gingerbread Stout, Bell’s Christmas Ale and Affligem Noel. While it’s a difficult choice to narrow them down, I would say my two favorites for this year were the Hardywood Gingerbread Stout and the Mad Elf. The Hardywood is just a perfect balance of roasty stout, slightly sweet with the lactose that makes it a milk stout, and the gingerbread spices. It’s got a nice warming feeling to it with its 9.2% ABV and it just feels right having it at Christmas time. I actually did have it on the day after Christmas. Five out of five proper pints. The Mad Elf is tough to beat and has been my number one choice for two previous years. It’s got so much going on with the cherries, figs, raisins, honey, and the warming alcohol from the 11% ABV. It really feels like Christmas in a glass to me. Five out of five proper pints for that one. I can’t not mention Great Divide Hibernation, with it’s dark brown toffee and caramel color and flavors, along with some roastiness and coffee. Five out of five for that one as well. Avery Old Jubilation also gets an honorable mention, with its dark caramel flavors mixed with brown sugar, adding a little sweetness in contrast to Hibernation’s roastiness. Also five out of five proper pints. I feel compelled to mention the Brown Shugga as well. I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t what I expected. Given its name, I thought it would be more along the lines of a dark, spiced winter ale. However, it is really more of an IPA. It has a sharp aroma and taste of piney hops. It’s also lighter in color than I thought. More like a deep copper than a brown. The distinguishing thing about it is the addition of brown sugar, which adds more character to the IPA flavor. It gives it some caramel, toffee and, well brown sugar flavor in addition to the hops and malt backbone. The different and contrasting flavors mix and balance nicely making it a really pleasant beverage. I didn’t like it quite as much as some of the others, but I would definitely have it again. Maybe saving it for those nights around Christmas when I might have pizza instead of a roast beef or turkey. Happy Holidays everyone!
I tried this beer for the first time at the Great American Beer Festival and the person who served it to me told it would change my life. I’m not sure I would go quite that far, but this is a very, very good beer. I usually am not a fan of peachy beers, but this one really is not peachy. There is a subtle hint of peach that rounds out a strong Belgian ale flavor. No doubt this one is strong, clocking in at 12% ABV. For those of you who didn’t know, there are peaches grown in Colorado, on what they call the “Western Slope” of the Rocky Mountains. Peach Grand Cru is made with these local peaches. Anyway, back to the beer. It pours a light orange-copper color. The aroma is slightly peach, slightly Belgian yeast, slightly bread. The flavor is a mixture of bread, malt, peaches, apricots, yeast, and a little bit of caramel. Nicely blended together. The alcohol is well hidden. There is almost no booziness to it considering it’s big ABV. I happened to have it sitting next to the fireplace and reading a book. I could see it going well with a variety of things. Chocolate, possibly, pizza, pasta, beef, lamb. I give it five out of five proper pints.
I really love Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre, so I was excited to learn they have an Incredible Hulk version of it. I managed to find some at Norm’s Beer and Wine in Vienna, VA. It is $12.99 per 12 oz. bottle, as a warning. Nevertheless, it is worth every penny. It really can be difficult to add lots more malt and other stuff to a beer and have it come out balanced, but Dogfish Head manages to really make this one taste similar to the little brother version of it. It is raisiny, malty and yeasty. However, this one is also warmly boozy as well. I believe it would age well and goes very well with dark chocolate. It is almost along the lines of a barley wine, but not sweet. It does also have a slightly thick body to it though. I shared the 12 oz. bottle and half was plenty at 18% ABV. I really like this beer. Five out of five proper pints.
A buddy of mine and I took a day off work to drive around and visit some Virginia breweries. We hadn’t spent much time visiting ones in Richmond, so we decided to go there. Unfortunately for our plan, it happened to be a Monday and many small breweries are closed on Monday. Nevertheless, we did a little research and found that Strangeways would be open. Initially, I wasn’t sure about it. We thought Hardywood would be the main objective. Nevertheless, I perused Strangeways’ website and was surprised to see the variety of different beers they had to offer. They do high alcohol and low alcohol beers. They barrel age some of their beers and add unusual ingredients to get unique flavors. They also have more standard beer styles. More than many, they really seemed to have something for every taste. They have four main series of beers – Nucleus (Albino Monkey White Ale, Woodbooger Belgian Brown, Phantasmic East Coast IPA, and Wild Wallonian Dawn Honey Saison), Migration (notably including Uberlin Berliner Weiss and Gourd of Thunder Pumpkin Porter), Woodsman (including the Delightfully Immoral Grisette, Disintegration Barrel Aged IPA, and Umlaut Boktoberfest), and Annihilation (including Vatos Muertos Tequila Barrel Aged Stout with Ghost Peppers and Soledad Rum Barrel Aged). In the tasting room they had at least 30 of their beers available on tap and it may have been more. On my visit, they actually had three of their beers in a gingerbread style – the Gourd of Thunder Pumpkin, the Woodbooger and Umlaut Boktoberfest. The atmosphere of the tasting room was also undeniably funky and creative, adding to the sense that these beers were not going to be run of the mill. Some of their beers were available for sale in bombers at the tasting room. It appears from their website their beer is also available at quite a few restaurants and stores that sell beer in the Richmond area. I have not seen it available in Northern Virginia, but hope to find some soon. I tried 7 of their beers on my visit and there were none I didn’t like. The Vatos Muertos Tequila Barrel Aged Stout was particularly good. So good in fact I had to buy a bottle and take it home. I was also a huge fan of the Uberlin Berliner Weiss, which they serve plain (I don’t care for plain berliner weiss) or you can add a woodruff syrup or raspberry syrup, the way they do Germany. I had it with the green, herbal woodruff syrup and it was delicious. The syrup takes away the sourness and gives it a slightly citrusy and slightly herbal flavor. Gourd of Thunder Pumpkin Porter and Woodbooger Belgian Brown were also standouts. Strangeways along with Adroit Theory are now my two favorite Virginia breweries, though I have yet to visit them all and more seem to be opening all the time. Anyway, I give Strangeways five out of five proper pints.
I really have to say I’m liking Hardywood. I recently went down to Richmond in the hopes of visiting, but it happened to be on a Monday and they were closed. This one is their seasonal Christmas beer. I found it at Trader Joe’s and I understand they may be out already, but are expecting another shipment. It definitely goes fast. It pours dark, almost black with a medium off white head. It smells just like gingerbread. The body is medium with a creamy texture and a decent amount of carbonation. I’m not a fan of milk stouts that are flat. The flavors are definitely gingerbread-y, including cinnamon, molasses, ginger, bread crust, honey, and there is a teency bit of burnt coffee roastiness at the end. A very good beer, perfect for the Holidays. I give it five out of five proper pints.