Thursday, February 25, 2010

Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine

Brewery: Clipper City Brewing Co.
Location: Baltimore, MD
Style: Barleywine
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

Todays tasting is the Below Decks, which is a limited release barleywine from Clipper City's Heavy Seas line. The Below Decks is a deep reddish-amber in color. It it rather hazy and has a fair amount of sediment. Be sure to take proper pouring precautions if you don't want sediment in your glass. The head is golden tan in color and fairly short. The nose has citrus notes of grapefruit with some pineapple. There is also some yeast and an overall aroma profile similar to an off-dry white wine.

The Below Decks Barley Wine has hard cider and sweet malt flavors. Honey, apple, pear and yeast are all present on the palate. There is also a pleasant bitter kick, with some pine and floral hops flavors noticable. There is a strong alcohol component present. The Below Decks has a medium body with a bit of a drying mouthfeel. The finish has notes of sweet bread, lambic and honey.

Some barleywines are pretty drinkable right away upon their release. Many more do their best after some time to age in the bottle, much like a big red wine. The Below Decks seems to be tending toward the latter. There are some nice flavors here, but some additional time in the bottle should bring soften up the edges a bit as the sweetness starts to fade and the flavors start to marry. The label does suggest that the Heavy Seas Below Decks will age well (as many bottle-conditioned barleywines do), so I will be cellaring the rest of this 4-pack. I'll check back in a year with an update.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Style: Pale Ale
Location: Chico, CA
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

The Sierra Nevada Pale ale is the flagship beer from Sierra Nevada Brewing. In recent years, I have found this beer becoming very widely available. Behind Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Sam's seasonal beers, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is probably one of the top 2 or 3 craft beers a bar or restaurant is most likely to carry. It is quite a success story for a microbrew.

The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is golden amber in color with a slight haziness. A firm pour leaves a two-finger thick off-white head that fades slowly leaving behind a clingy lace. The nose has a bright citrus aroma along with some bready malt. There is a touch of piney hops as well.

The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has a bready malt flavor up front with some sweetness. There is a big malt flavor in the middle of the tongue. Bitter hops starts to build as the malt rounds out. There is a wide profile of hops flavors present, but they are not as powerful as the nose would have you believe. A grapefruit-like citrus is most noticible, but there are floral hops and pine present as well. There is nice fizzy carbonation and a touch of astringency. The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is medium bodied, which is full enough to hold up to its big flavors without being too heavy. The finish is balanced between bitter and fruity hops, with some residual sweet malt notes still hanging on.

This is a good time to mention glassware for tasting beer. While I'm not a stickler for matching various types of beer to different types of glasses, I do think if you want to seriously taste a beer then you will have a better experience if you are using a glass suited to tasting beer. The key is that the glass should be big enough to hold as much beer as you're planning to pour with plentry of room left over for a good sized head and also with extra room to spare for your nose. I recently picked up a couple of slightly-oversized pilsner glasses at Pier 1 Imports for $4 apiece and they have been well worth the investment. Oversized pint glasses (the type with the bulbous top) and goblets work equally as well.

The reason I mention glassware here is because the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the best smelling beers out there. It smells like walking through a Cascade hops yard. If given the opportunity, do youself a favor and pour this one in a glass instead of drinking it straight from the bottle. Also, if this has been stored in a cold fridge, let it come up a few degrees before you crack into it. The aroma will be worth the extra effort, I promise. My only qualm with the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is that for all the big hoppiness on the nose, once the beer hits the palate the hoppiness takes a big step down. I'd love to taste a version of this beer where the hops get ratcheted up a notch or two.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pilsner Urquell

Brewery: Plzensky Prazdroj
Location: Pilsen, Czech Republic
Style: Pilsner
Brewery Website
Rating: B

Since I've been in a big pilsner mood lately, I decided to head to the source for this review. The name Pilsner Urquell translates to "the pilsner from the original source". While the recipe has no doubt changed since the beer's inception in 1842, Pilsner Urquell continues to be one of Europe's best-known pilsners.

Pilsner Urquell is clear, light amber in color. There is a white, foamy head that clings to the glass. There is a stream of fine bubbles that rise similar to champagne. The nose has bread, yeast and sweet aromas. There are some floral notes on the nose as well. A faint hint of skunky sulphur aroma is present initially, but fades quickly (as opposed to many of its European green-bottle brethren).

On the palate, there is a lot of sweet cereal up front. There is a mild hoppy bitterness present as well. Mineral notes, molasses and floral hops flavors play a complimentary role. The Pilsner Urquell is light-to-medium bodied with some light fizz on the tongue. The finish has more of the sweet cereal, with bitter notes to compliment it.

While Pilsner Urquell can't compete with the big flavors of craft-brewed pilsners, it certainly rises to the top of the class when it comes to mass-market European lagers. If you're a fan of Heineken, Becks, Molsen, etc., then give Pilsner Urquell a try. It might be time for a beer upgrade.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter

Brewery: Samuel Smith's Old Brewery
Style: Porter
Location: Tadcaster, England
Brewery Website
Rating: A-

Samuel Smith's The Famous Taddy Porter is one of the flagship beers from one of England's top craft breweries. The Taddy Porter is a very dark brown (nearly black) and completely opaque in the glass. The head is deep brown, like the color of chocolate milk. The foamy head hangs around for a good long while. The nose has coffee and chocolate notes detectable in the overall sweet and roasted aromas.

The initial flavors on the palate are coffee and caramel. Smoky, roasted notes start to pick up as the initial sweetness starts to fade. There are some fruity notes, like sweet cherries. There is a bit of acidity present as well. There is an initial fizziness from the carbonation that fades to a light-to-medium bodied creamy mouthfeel. The finish fades with more of the smoky, roast coffee and chocolate notes.

The Samuel Smith Taddy Porter is a world-renowned beer, and rightfully so. My only reservation is that to me this is a big beer stuck in a body that's just a bit too light. There are some big flavors here that seem a bit held back. Sometimes it's a good thing to be left wanting more, but not for me with this beer.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Red Seal Ale

Brewery: North Coast Brewing Co.
Style: Amber
Location: Fort Bragg, CA
Brewery Website
Rating: A-

Being a New Englander, the majority of the microbrews that are available locally are from the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas. Thankfully, we can find a handful of the better west coast beers around my parts. Red Seal Ale from North Coast Brewing is a beer that's well worth searching out.

The Red Seal Ale pours a hazy amber-brown in the glass. An average pour leaves a thick, golden-tan head which leaves a sticky lacing as it subsides. The nose has fruity hops along with almond and mineral notes.

The initial flavors that show through are sweet malt and fruity hops. Bitter notes develop and pick up in intensity after a few sips. The Red Seal has some mild acidity. There are flavors of yeast, seaweed/iodine as well as mineral notes. The Red Seal Ale has a medium body with some creaminess. The finish is bitter hops with a crisp minerality.

While technically billed as an amber, the Red Seal Ale drinks like a good American Pale Ale. Fans of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale should hunt down some Red Seal (no pun intended). This is a classic American ale.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sierra Nevada Glissade Golden Bock

Brewery: Sierra Nevada
Style: Maibock
Location: Chico, CA
Brewery Website
Rating: B-

The Sierra Nevada spring seasonal beer is the Glissade Golden Bock. The beer pours a golden yellow with a touch of reddish-tan. The white head slowly dies down to a clumpy foam. The nose has a lagery malt aroma. Floral hops and sweet corn are also detectable on the nose.

The Sierra Nevada Glissade has a strong malt character up front. There are notes of piney bitter hops and rye bread. As the malt flavors fade, the pine resin character of the hops takes over, leading to a finish with a bitter hoppy bite. The Glissade is medium-bodied with some mild acidity and astringency. The Sierra Nevada Glissade is a decent beer, but the flavor profile isn't really up my alley. It tastes like someone took a European lager and then went a little overboard on the hops.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anchor Steam Beer

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company
Style: Steam Beer
Location: Sanfrancisco, CA
Brewery Website
Rating: A

The Anchor Steam Beer was one of the first true craft beers of modern times, and it is still one of the best. Modern production of Anchor Steam started in the early 1970's, at a time when mass-produced beer was reaching its pinnacle. To this day, Anchor still produces all their beer using traditional techniques.

Anchor Steam beer is deep amber in color with a reddish-brown hue. It has a bubbly, light off-white head that fades rather quickly. The nose has citrus and floral notes to it. There is also a faint nutty aroma.

On the palate the Anchor Steam has a mild acidity with bready malt flavor. There is noticible bitterness, but it is well-balanced with the other flavors. There is some sweetness and a hint of alcohol. There are supporting notes of earth, nuts, berries and hop flowers. The Anchor Steam Beer is mid bodied with hints of both juiciness and astringency. The finish has bread, berries and bitter notes.

I enjoyed my Anchor Steam Beer with some leftover pizza, and it goes great with barbecue as well. This is a classic beer that everyone should try. If you haven't had one recently, it may be time to give it another visit. Your taste buds will thank you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shipyard Old Thumper

Brewery: Shipyard Brewing Co.
Style: ESB
Location: Portland, ME
Brewery Website
Rating: A

The Shipyard Brewing Company's Ringwood Brewery Old Thumper Extra Special Ale (now that's a mouthful!) is an American-brewed version of a champion British beer. The master brewer at Shipyard was mentored by the founder of Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire, and he now produces a version of the Old Thumper at Shipyard.

The Old Thumper is a golden amber color with a faint hint of red. It pours with a thick, bubbly white head. The nose is fruity with sourdough bread notes as well. One the palate, the Shipyard Old Thumper has some acidity up front with bread and some bitter hops flavors. These are underscored by complex notes of caramel, dark chocolate and tart berries. As the acidity fades, the bread and bitter notes linger through the finish. The Old Thumper has a light-to-moderate body with a juicy mouthfeel. This is a damn good beer, but it does have a distinctive flavor (similar to sourdough) that may turn some people off. If you enjoy ESB's, this is one of the great ones.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Spaten Optimator

Brewery: Spaten
Style: Double Bock
Location: Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Brewery Website
Rating: B

After my recent tasting of the Celebrator, I decided to give the Spaten Optimator a try to compare another Bavarian dopplebock. The Optimator is a dark amber-mahogany in color. There is a foamy, off-white head that dissipates rather quickly to a thin ring of foam. The nose has sweet notes of caramel and fruit. There is also an aroma of lagery malt notes.

On the palate, the Optimator has bread, sweet and toasted notes. The flavor of raisins comes through as well as a touch of bitterness. There is a warming alcohol sensation.The Optimator is medium-bodied with a creamy, slightly syrupy mouthfeel. The finish is sweet malt with caramel notes. This is a typical German Doublebock. The Spaten Optimator a good beer, but you can definitely see why Ayinger's Celebrator stands out in comparison.

Of note here was that I did notice a bit of an "off" flavor. I wouldn't quite say that the beer I tasted was skunked, but I think it was starting to turn that way. This beer does come in a green bottle, and I purchased mine in a "mix-a-six" so it was sitting out in the open and not in a 6-pack. Do yourself a favor and reach towards the back of the shelf if you find yourself in this situation. Hopefully you'll grab yourself a bottle with less light exposure.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ratings Overhaul (Take 2)

As I do more tastings, I'm finding that the 1-5 system I've been using doesn't allow me much room to distinguish one review from the next. For example, there have been some 3's that are bordering on 4's and some 3's bordering on 2's. I've decided to change to an A-F grading system to give a bit more room to distinguish from one tasting note to the next. As time permits, I will be going back to the older reviews and updating their ratings.

Here is the updated rating scale I will be using:

A+ =  A masterpiece. These are truly the elite of their class that excel in flavor, balance and complexity. (This is the equivalent of a 5 on my previous rating scale)

A-, A = Excellent. These are some of the best of the best, that just fall short of perfection. (This is the equivalent of a 4 on my previous rating scale)

B-, B, B+ = Very good. This is something I enjoyed well enough that I would buy it again. A "one trick pony" that has great flavor, but little complexity or balance will generally fall in this category. (This is the equivalent of a 3 on my previous rating scale.)

C-, C, C+ = Decent. I would rarely turn this down if it was offered to me, but I wouldn't generally go out of my way to find it again. (This is the equivalent of a 2 on my previous rating scale)

D - Meh. Not horrible but not something I'd generally recommend. (This is the equivalent of a 1 on my previous rating scale.)

F - Did someone pee in this? (This is the equivalent of a 0 on my previous rating scale)

He'Brew Messiah Bold Brown Ale

Brewery: Schmaltz Brewing Co.
Style: Brown Ale
Location: San Francisco/New York
Brewery Website
Rating: B-

Today's tasting is the He'Brew Messiah Bold Brown Ale. The Messiah Bold is dark brown in color, similar to black coffee with just a hint of red. There is a foamy head that is light brownish tan in color. The nose has sweet cereal and roasted notes. There are also faint floral aromas detectable.

On the palate, the Messiah Bold has a rich flavor with both acidity and sweetness. There is a bready malt flavor with a touch of bitterness as well. There are grapefruit and berry notes present, highlighted by the acidity and sweetness. The finish is bread with a good amount of lambic-like acidity. Overall, the Hebrew Messiah Bold Brown Ale is a decent beer, but there is just a bit too much acidic "twang" here for my taste.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Samuel Adams Noble Pils

Brewery: The Boston Beer Company
Style: Pilsner
Location: Boston, MA
Brewery Website
Rating: B

I was out for dinner recently and as our waiter was reading the specials I was surprised to hear when he announced that the Sam Adams seasonal on tap was the Noble Pils. I'm glad to see that Sam Adams has decided to mix things up a bit and offer a pilsner as their spring seasonal instead of their White Ale. The Sam Adams Noble Pils pours a golden yellow with a faint hint of amber and a creamy white head. I was able to pick up fruity notes and a hint of sweetness on the nose, but the beer was served a bit too cold to pick up all the aroma fully.

The Noble Pils has lots of fruity hops up front, with bitter hops that develop over time. There is also a sweet malt character. Caramel, almonds and salt are detectable as supporting flavors. There is a crisp fizziness that gives way to a creamy mouthfeel. The Noble Pils finishes with bitter hops as well as bready notes. There is a lot of family resemblance compared to the Sam Adams Boston Lager, no doubt attributable in part to the Hallertau and Tettnang hops they share in common. In fact, I would describe the Noble Pils as a slightly lighter-bodied Boston Lager with an extra kick of both fruity and bitter hops. I'm very glad to see this addition to the Samuel Adams seasonal lineup as this is a nice tasty beer. This beer would be a good introduction to hops for someone who enjoys the Sam Boston Lager.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ayinger Celebrator Double Bock

Brewery: Ayinger
Style: Doppelbock
Location: Aying, Bavaria, Germany
Brewery Website
Rating: A

Tonight I am celebrating the Saints winning the "Big Game". And what better way to celebrate than with a Celebrator doublebock. The Celebrator is a very dark mahogany in color, nearly black. It pours with a foamy, dark tan head. The nose has both bready and winy qualities to it, with hints of fruit and sweetness.

On the palate, the Celebrator leads with both bready malt and roasted notes. There is also noticeable alcohol with a winy character to it. There is a touch of sweetness up front that disappears quickly. There is none of the syrupiness that many other dopplebocks display. There is a bitterness that develops as the initial notes fade, with the flavor of strong black coffee taking over and carrying through the finish. Earthy and nutty notes play a nice complimentary role in the background. The Celebrator has a fizzy carbonation and a creamy, somewhat heavy body. There is also a touch of tannin-like astringency.

The Celebrator Double Bock claims to be the "finest Bavarian double bock beer" on the bottle, and I can't really argue with that. The Celebrator has a distinct flavor profile that really makes this a standout among doublebocks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ipswich Oatmeal Stout

Brewery: Mercury Brewing Company
Location: Ipswich, MA
Style: Oatmeal Stout
Brewery Website
Rating: A

For those of you who think of stouts as heavy, "so thick I could eat it with a fork" beers, welcome to the world of oatmeal stouts. Oatmeal stouts tend to be rich and creamy without being overly thick and heavy. The Ipswich Oatmeal Stout is a perfect example of what a great oatmeal stout can be.

The Ipswich Oatmeal Stout is a dark brownish-black, to the point of being opaque. There is a bit of sediment as this is an unfiltered beer, so take the proper precautions if you prefer not to have the sediment in your glass. There is a creamy head the color of a light chocolate milk. The nose is roasted coffee with some sweetness and citrus.

On the palate there are strong roasted notes and a pleasing bitterness, similar to a good espresso. There are undertones of citrus, earthiness and fruity hops. At 7% ABV, the alcohol is faintly noticable and gives a slight warming sensation. The Ipswich Oatmeal Stout is light-to-medium bodied with a creamy mouthfeel. The finish has lingering bitter and roasted notes.

The only thing keeping me from giving this a 5/5 rating is that the strong roasted notes keep some of the complexity from fully expressing itself. Ipswich Oatmeal Stout is a fantastic beer that I strongly recommend.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Victory Prima Pils

Brewer: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: Pilsner
Brewer Website
Rating: B+

I've been on a bit of a Pilsner kick lately, so today I'm going to keep the trend going with the Victory Prima Pils. The Prima Pils is light in color. It is a hazy, golden yellow. There is a light, foamy head that hangs around for a little bit. The nose is rather faint, with hoppy fruit and a touch of sweetness.

The Prima Pils flavor is led mainly by hops. Bitter and aromatic hops are both present in well-balanced proportions. The hops leave a lemony citrus note. There is some sweet, light malt present that plays a support role to the hops. The Prima Pils has a light body and some fizzy carbonation. There is a fairly short finish with the bitter hops sticking around a bit longer as the other flavors fade leading to a pleasant grapefruit note at the tail end. While this pilsner does seem to be a bit one-dimensional on the palate, it does quite well at what it does. If you like your pilsners on the hoppy side, then this has "session beer" written all over it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning Uber Pils

Brewery: Clipper City Brewing Co.
Location: Baltimore, MD
Style: Pilsner
Brewery Website
Rating: A

The Heavy Seas label represents Clipper City's "big beer" line that all clock in at 7% alcohol or higher. Each of the Heavy Seas beers is bottle conditioned, which means that yeast is added to the bottle to carbonate the beer naturally (instead of having CO2 added during bottling). A good bottle-conditioned beer will gain an added layer of complexity and has the potential to age well (depending on the style of beer).

The Heavy Seas Uber Pils pours with little head that fades rather quickly. It is golden amber in color with a distinct red hue. It is a bit darker in color than the typical pilsner. The nose has both sweet malt and fruity hops aromas. The flavor has a typical lager maltiness. There are both fruity and bitter hops notes present, with the bitter hops being more assertive than the fruity aromatic ones. There are caramel and nut flavors detectable on the palate as well. The Small Craft Warning is medium bodied with a fine carbonation and light fizz. There is some alcohol detectable on the palate as well. The finish has sweet caramel malt notes, a touch of earthiness as well as some lingering fruity hops.

The Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning Uber Pils is well balanced between malt and hops. There is still a bit of residual sweetness, so this may develop a bit with age. I'll have to tuck one away for a few months if I get a chance. This is an excellent beer and is representative of the quality beers Clipper City has been releasing under the Heavy Seas label.