Monday, May 31, 2010

Perła Chmielowa

Brewery: Perła Browary Lubelskie S.A.
Location: Lublin, Poland
Style: Pilsner
Brewery Website
Rating: B

Today's beer tasting is the Perła Chmielowa (aka Hop Pearl). The Perła Chmielowa is deep gold in color with a touch of amber. It pours with a 2-finger, white foamy head. The nose is on the light side, with notes of wheaty malt, citrus and white wine.

On the palate, the Perła Chmielowa has a wheaty malt character. There are notes of dry white wine along with a faint hop bitterness. The hops bring flavors of pine and herbs. The initial flavor fades quickly leaving a finish with faint hops notes. The Perła Chmielowa has an easy drinking, light-to-medium body that is crisp and slightly fizzy.

The Perła Chmielowa is on the dry side with a fair amount of hops for a light European lager. This is a refreshing (and tasty) change of pace that I recommend to fans of the typical green-bottle fare.

Break out the kielbasa and fire up the grill...

... because it's Polish beer week at Critical Tastings! The summer grilling season is here, and nothing pairs better with Polish sausage than Polish beer. We have 5 days of beer tastings coming up to help you pick which beer to serve at your next cookout. Na zdrowie!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Evening Dream 60% Cacao

Manufacturer: Ghirardelli
Cocoa Content: 60%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B-

Up for review today is the "Evening Dream", which is a 60% cacao chocolate bar from Ghirardelli's Intense Dark line of dark chocolate. The Evening Dream is deep brown in color with a hint of orange-red. It has a deep, rich chocolate flavor. There is a hint of bitterness present. Red fruit flavors of sweet cherries and pomegranate are highlighted by a mild acidity. Nutty notes of chestnut and walnut are present along with sweet notes of vanilla and marshmallow.

Chewing the Evening Dream bar brings forward notes of of vanilla and hot cocoa, but a funny bitter undertone is also highlighted. The Ghirardelli Evening Dream has a smooth mouthfeel. The finish is short and chocolatey, with a hint of pomegranate.

I found the Ghirardelli Intense Dark Evening Dream to have a nice flavor, but it was rather lacking in the complexity department. There was a slight off taste with the bitter note that keeps this from scoring higher marks. I am looking forward to tasting some of the darker chocolates from this line, in hopes that the higher cocoa content will open up greater complexity.

Michel Cluizel 1er Cru de Plantation Hacienda "Los Anconès"

Manufacturer: Michel Cluizel
Cocoa Content: 67%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: A-

Today we have another chocolate from Michel Cluizel's "Premier Cru de Hacienda" line of single-estate chocolates. The "Los Anconès" is dark brown (bordering on ebony) in color with a hint of red. Immediately present on the palate is a rich dark chocolate flavor. There is a nice bitter kick. There are roasted notes, and a nutty peanut flavor. The Los Ancones has a moderate acidity which highlights fruity notes of blackberries and sour cherries.

Chewing the Michel Cluizel Los Anconès brings out notes of hazelnuts, tobacco and cherries. The mouthfeel of this chocolate bar is smooth, thick and creamy. The finish has peanut butter and berry notes. The Los Ancones is another winner from the fantastic 1er Cru de Hacienda line from Michel Cluizel. It is well-balanced with a nice nuttiness and a great chocolate flavor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pralus Venezuela

Manufacturer: Pralus
Cocoa Content: 75%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B+

The next dark chocolate up for review is the Pralus Venezuela. This chocolate bar is deep mahogany in color with dark cherry-red undertones. The initial flavor is of bitter coffee grounds, which then opens up to a rich dark roast coffee flavor. There is a smoky/roasted quality that persists. Nutty almond and pecan notes are present. The Pralus Venezuela dark chocolate bar has a moderate acidity.

Chewing the Pralus Venezuela opens up sweet notes of cherry and vanilla, along with some earth and tobacco. The finish lingers with more of the smoky bitterness. While this may be a bit one-dimensional in flavor, if you are a fan of chocolate with deep roasted flavor, then the Pralus Venezuela is your bar. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hachez Cocoa D'Arriba Classic 77%

Manufacturer: Hachez
Cocoa Content: 77%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B

Up for tasting today is the Cocoa D'Arriba Classic bar from German Chocolatier Hachez. This is a 77% dark chocolate bar made from Ecuadorian cocoa. The bar is mahogany brown in color, with highlights of deep clay-red.

The Cocoa D'Arriba has a bitter espresso note that takes the lead. There is a very mild acidity that leads to flavors of cherries and blackberries. Some nutty notes of hazelnut and almond are present along with a bit of woodiness. A distinct pepper spice makes itself known after a bit and starts to build. Chewing the Cocoa D'Arriba bar opens up fruity flavors of cherry and pomegranate as well as some vanilla. The finish has bitter espresso, marshmallow and peppery spice notes.

The Hachez Cocoa D'Arriba dark chocolate bar has an interesting bitter/spicy flavor profile with hints of fruit, but something seems missing to me. The Hachez website does indicate that their chocolate is "processed to neutralize the acidity often found in other cocoa-rich chocolates". A touch more acidity seems like it would enhance the fruitiness and really open up the flavor here. All in all, this is still a good bar that is worth checking out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pralus Sao Tome and Principe

Manufacturer: Pralus
Cocoa Content: 75%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B+

Up for tasting today is a dark chocolate by Pralus from Sao Tome & Principe. The chocolate is ebony in color with a hint of purple. On the palate there is an initial roasted coffee flavor along with a significant bitter kick. There are nutty notes, including some hazelnut. A faint acidity makes itself known with a citrus/grapefruit note. There is a hint of sugar wafer, and a smoky/roasted note of peat as well. Chewing the chocolate opens up some sweeter undertones including pecan and a faint pomegranate note. The finish lingers with a bitterness reminiscent of good coffee along with some earth and peat.

I really enjoyed the Pralus Sao Tome and Principe. It has a distinct bitter flavor, with some nice roasted/smoky notes. If this had a bit more complexity then it would definitely earn an "A", but as it is I would still recommend it highly.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

Brewery: Weyerbacher
Location: Easton, PA
Style: IPA
Brewery Website
Rating: B-

Today's tasting is a Double IPA from Weyerbacher. Weyerbacher brews this IPA using Simcoe hops, which is a fairly new variety first bred in 2000. Simcoe is most commonly used as a bittering hop, but has the potential for some complex aromatic properties.

The Simcoe Double IPA is a hazy dark amber-brown. The head pours thick with a short cascading effect, leaving a 3-finger thick light tan head. The nose has citrus, sweet cereal, and an aroma reminiscent of a juicy white wine (such as a Riesling).

On the palate, the bitter hops make themselves known right away. There are sweet notes of caramel, along with some wine flavors. There are some floral and herbal hops notes present, but for the most part this beer is dominated by a resinous, oily, bitter hop character. The finish has more lingering hop resin. The Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA has a fairly heavy body, which holds up well to the powerful bitter hop note.

As much as I like bitter, hoppy beer, I think the Double Simcoe overdoes it a bit. The bitterness just seems to overpower a lot of the other flavors here. It's a good IPA for bitter hop fans, but this wouldn't be an everyday beer for me.

Smuttynose IPA

Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Co.
Location: Portsmouth, NH
Style: IPA
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

Up for review today is the Smuttynose IPA. The Smuttynose IPA is golden with a faint reddish tint and a slight haze. The head is bubbly and off-white in color. The nose has pine and fruity hops up front along with wheaty malt notes and some earth.

On the palate, the Smuttynose IPA leads with a bitter hop note. Also notable is a wheaty malt note. The hops component has pine, herbal and grapefruit notes along with a resinous hop character. There is also some woody and earthy flavors. The finish has lingering bitter hops with an espresso-like bite. The Smuttynose IPA has a medium body that is well matched to its flavor profile.

The Smuttynose IPA is a good one for the bitter hops fans. There is a nice diversity to the hops flavor profile along with a solid malt backbone that holds everything in balance. This is quite well rounded for a beer with such a bitter kick.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thirsty Dog Hoppus Maximus

Brewery: Thirsty Dog Brewing Co.
Location: Akron, OH
Style: Amber
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

Today's beer tasting is the Hoppus Maximus from Thirsty Dog.  The Hoppus Maximus is copper colored with a few fine bubbles that rise in the glass. The head is rather short, off-white in color, and bubbly. The nose seemed a bit on the faint side, with citrus and herbal hops notes as well as an earthy grain malt note.

On the palate, the Hoppus Maximus has a bitter hop bite along with some wheaty malt notes up front. There are supporting notes of salt, earth and mineral water, but the bitter hops really run the show here along with a touch of pine. The finish has the bitter hops continue on along with a pretzel-like malt note. The Hoppus Maximus is medium-bodied with some tannin-like astringency.

The Hoppus Maximus is another solid showing from Thirsty Dog. This a highly-hopped amber, and at only 5% ABV is a worthy session beer for hopheads, especially if you like a bitter beer that bites back. Well worth checking out if this is your kind of beer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian Style India Pale Ale

Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery
Location: Frederick, MD
Style: IPA
Brewery Website
Rating: A-

The Cascade hop variety was developed in Oregon in 1972 by the USDA breeding program. It is one of the quintessential American hop varieties. Along with the Columbus and Centennial varieties (commonly referred to as the "Three C's"), Cascade hops are known for their distinct citrus aroma. The Cascade hop in particular is noted for a very distinct grapefruit aroma.

Why do I mention the Cascade hop here? Because the Flying Dog Raging Bitch is loaded with them. It's interesting that Flying Dog uses a hop that is so distinctly American in a beer that they label a Belgian Style IPA.

The Flying Dog Raging Bitch IPA is reddish-amber color with a touch of gold. It pours a 2-finger thick, light gold, foamy head that leaves a trail of lace down the glass. The nose is dominated by hops. There are notes of pine and lemon and a huge Cascade aroma of fresh grapefruit.

On the palate, the Raging Bitch has fruity, grapefruit hops up front over a background of sweet cereal malt. The hops bitterness starts on the mild side and then builds to a moderate level. The finish has bitter grapefruit over slightly sweet cereal malt notes. The Raging Bitch has a crisp, medium body that holds up well to the assertive hops fruitiness of this IPA.

The Raging Bitch is an interesting IPA. Its flavor is dominated by the fruity Cascade hops, with bitter and malty notes as bit players in complimentary roles. The grapefruit notes in both aroma and flavor are truly distinct here. If you enjoy grapefruit and/or Cascade hops (as I do), then you will love this beer.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Unibroue Quelque Chose

Brewery: Unibroue
Location: Chambly, Quebec
Style: Fruit Ale
Vintage: 2006
Brewery Website
Rating: A+

The phrase "quelque chose" is french for "something", and this beer sure is something. As loyal readers are aware, Unibroue is a brewery from Quebec that makes some top-of-the-line Belgian-style beers. The Quelque Chose is closest to a Belgian Kriek-style ale, and it is about as good as it gets for fruit ales. I had the pleasure of trying a bottle from the 2006 vintage last night (best before date is 7-17-2011). Here are my tasting notes.

The Quelque Chose has the color of dark Grade-B maple syrup with a strong reddish tint. There is little head to speak of, just a few foam remnants floating on top of the glass. The nose has sweet cherries, toasted port wine, honey and vanilla.

On the palate there is a tangy sweet and sour note up front. There is a toasted winy note similar to vintage port or sherry. The sweet notes are led by honey, caramel and vanilla. The cherry flavor is stong without being overpowering, and is reminiscent of ripe Bing cherries. There is a faint bitter undertone that rounds out the flavor profile. The finish has sour cherries over toasted malt and vanilla. The Quelque Chose had a medium-to-heavy body with a slight fizzy carbonation and some tannins.

The Quelque Chose is the best fruit ale I've ever had. While this isn't a typical light, juicy fruit ale for a session on a hot summer afternoon, this is a delicious beer that is worth savoring. This beer deserves to be on your "must-buy" list. In fact, I highly suggest adding 3 or 4 of these to your must-buy list since this ages quite so well. I know I plan to cellar several of these in the very near future.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Saranac Pale Ale

Brewery: Matt Brewing Company
Location: Utica, NY
Style: Pale Ale
Brewery Website
Rating: A-

Up for review today is Saranac's Pale Ale. The Saranac Pale Ale is a deep copper color with a light tan, bubbly head. The nose has a malt note that is very charicteristic of a British-style Pale Ale. There are also both herbal and fruity hops aromas.

On the palate the Saranac Pale Ale has a bready malt note. There is a moderate acidity that highlights cherry and plum fruit notes from the hops. There is also a mild bitter hops note on the tail end. Mineral and nutty flavors are also present. The finish has wheat bread along with a tart fruit acidity. The Saranac Pale Ale has a smooth, medium body with a touch of juiciness.

The Saranac Pale Ale is a tasty British-style pale ale that is smooth drinking with a nice hint of acidity. To me, this tastes like a fuller-flavored take on the Bass Ale style. This is really worth a try if you're a Bass/Belhaven fan.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blue Hills Xtra Pale Ale

Brewery: Blue Hills Brewery
Location: Canton, MA
Style: Pale Ale
Brewery Website
Rating: B

I happened upon the Blue Hills Xtra Pale Ale when I stopped by Not Your Average Joe's in Randolph, MA for lunch recently. I was pleased to find a few local beers on the menu. My Xtra Pale Ale was served in a pint glass with a short white head. It is golden yellow in color. The nose has a light wheat aroma with some citrus.

The Blue Hills Xtra Pale Ale has a crisp wheaty malt flavor with a short kick of hop bitterness. There are notes of pine and lemonade. There is a bit of sweetness with blueberry and blackberry notes. The finish has wheaty malt with a bit of a hoppy bite. The Blue Hills Xtra Pale Ale has a fairly light body with a refreshing light fizz.

The Blue Hills Xtra Pale Ale is definitely geared towards fans of lighter beers. It still has some nice flavor and is well suited to a night-long brewpub session at only 5.25% ABV. This is a nice quaffable light ale that is a good match for a hot summer day.

Samuel Adams Pale Ale

Brewery: The Boston Beer Company
Location: Boston, MA
Style: Pale Ale
Brewery Website
Rating: B-

Up for review today is the Samuel Adams Pale Ale. The Sam Adams Pale Ale is deep gold in color. The head is short, white and bubbly. The head disappears rather quickly after pouring. The nose has aromas of toast and well-done pizza crust, along with some "Eurolager" notes.

On the palate the Sam Adams Pale Ale has bready malt up front, followed by a mild bitter hop kick on the back end. There is a touch of acidity as well as some earthiness, all over a lagery malt backbone. The finish is rather short with a bready malt note. The Samuel Adams Pale Ale has a fairly light, crisp body.

All in all, the Sam Adams Pale Ale has a little too light a flavor for my tastes. This beer tastes more like an upgraded version of the typical "mass-market" pilsner/lagers out there. Not a bad beer for a hot summer afternoon, but not in the same league as some of the better pale ales coming out of the New England area right now, such as the pale ales from Smuttynose and Long Trail.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Location: Escondido, CA
Style: Strong Ale
Brewery Website
Rating: A

Up next for review is the Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone. This is a version of their renowned Arrogant Bastard Ale that has been aged with oak chips. Oak-aged beer isn't exactly a common practice, and by using oak chips the goal is obviously to maximize oak-to-beer contact and thus oak flavor in the final product. Let's see how well this works...

The Oaked Arrogant Bastard is deep red in color with a hint of brown as well as a slight haziness. A firm pour results in a 2-finger thick, reddish-tan head head with big bubbles. There is a thick, sticky lace left behind as the head recedes. The nose picks up fresh-cut timber, citrus hops and a touch of liquid smoke.

On the palate there is an earthy malt that is balanced by a bitter hop bite. There is a piny hops note that pairs very nicely with the prominent oaky wood flavor. There is some citrus that peeks through on the hops side as well. The finish has lingering bitterness with a nice sawdust counterpoint. The Oaked Arrogant Bastard has a medium-to-full body that holds up to the big flavor here.

The Oaked Arrogant Bastard has a great flavor profile that I really enjoy. The wood flavor is prominent without being overpowering, and the Arrogant Bastard is a big enough beer to hold up to it. To me, the flavor and aroma remind me of hiking through timber country of the Great North Woods. I will definitely be bringing a sixer of this up with me during hunting season this year. The oak brings a nice earthiness that really meshes well with the hops and malt profiles of this beer. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Beer Works Bunker Hill Bluebeery Ale

Brewery: Beer Works
Location: Boston, MA
Style: Fruit Ale
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

Beer Works is a small chain of brewpubs in the Boston area. They have recently begun bottling some of their more popular beers. After a disappointing Red Sox game, I popped into their Fenway location and nabbed a sixer of their Bluebeery Ale. This is normally served at the brewpub with a handful of mini blueberries thrown in the glass. While they weren't the mini variety, I did have some blueberries hanging around, so in the glass they went.

The Bunker Hill Bluebeery Ale is golden yellow in color with a short, white foamy head. The nose has the aroma of fresh blueberries along with wheat and bready notes. On the palate, a wheaty, biscuit malt note predominates. A fresh blueberry flavor plays a strong supporting role to the malt. The finish has wheat bread with more blueberry supporting notes. The Bluebeery Ale has a light-to-medium body that is crisp with a bit of juicy acidity.

The Beer Works Bunker Hill Bluebeery Ale is a smooth, easy-drinking, malt-forward beer. The blueberries here play their part well without detracting from the malt. Unlike other fruit beers (and blueberry ales in particular), this isn't syrupy nor is it like drinking a soda. The Beer Works Bluebeery Ale is a blueberry ale that beer lovers can get into.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pralus Indonesie

Manufacturer: Pralus
Cocoa Content: 75%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: A-

The Pralus Indonesie is a single source chocolate from the island of Java in Indonesia. The Indonesie is a purplish-red tinted mahogany. There is a rich bitter chocolate flavor along with moderate acidity. There is a distinct smoky/roasted note that has a meaty quality that almost seems "bacony". There are notes of hazelnut and chestnut. In addition, the Indonesia has fruity notes of blackberry, plum and orange. Chewing the chocolate brings forward earthy, woody and meaty notes. The finish has lingering black coffee bitterness with lemon peel.

The Pralus Indonesie has a very distinct flavor that works quite well. There is a distinctive rich earthy/woody meatiness that works quite well along with the fruit notes here. This is a unique dark chocolate that is well worth a taste.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Kilwin's Authentic Origin Collection 70% Mexican Criollo Chocolate

Manufacturer: Kilwin's
Cocoa Content: 70%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B-

In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to do a Mexican-themed tasting for today. While Mexico is not well known for producing high-quality cocoa, the Criolllo variety is typically a rare and sought-after cocoa variety. I haven't had much luck with Kilwin's chocolates in the past (see here and here), so let's see if the Criollo beans make for an improvement.

The Kilwin's Mexican Criollo is orange-brown in color. Immediately notable on the palate is a prominent acidic component. Juicy fruit flavors of blackberry, sour cherry and orange are present. There is also a bitter espresso note. Faint nuttiness is detectable with peanut and pecan. Chewing the chocolate releases notes of peanut, wood and earth. The finish has sour cherry notes with a sharp bitter undertone. The Kilwins Mexican Criollo has a smooth mouthfeel that is thick and creamy.

The Kilwin's Mexican Criollo dark chocolate is a very acid-forward chocolate. There is a bit of a bitter undertone that seems to clash with the strong acidity. The acidity also seems to drown out some of the potential complexities that show flashes of earthy and nutty notes. Having said that, this is definitely the best of the Kilwin's chocolates I have tasted. If you like tart dark chocolate this may be worth a try for you.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Michel Cluizel 1er Cru de Plantation Hacienda "Maralumi"

Manufacturer: Michel Cluizel
Cocoa Content: 64%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: A

Our next review is another single plantation chocolate from Michel Cluizel. This chocolate is made from beans from the Maralumi plantation near the east coast of Papua New Guinea. This chocolate is deep brown in color with a reddish orange tint. The Maralumi has a deep chocolate flavor up front. There is a tartness that builds to a moderate level. The tartness highlights flavors of blackberries and blueberries. Smoky and roasted notes sit in the background. Under the acidity there are nutty notes of walnut and pecan. Woody and earthy notes are also present on the palate.

The Maralumi has a creamy mouthfeel along with a squirt of juiciness. Chewing the chocolate highlights more earthy and woody notes. The finish continues with the acid and fruit notes that are most notable in this bar. As the acid fades, the earthy undertones shine through while the finish tails off.

Michel Cluizel has another winner with the Maralumi single plantation dark chocolate bar. This is a rich chocolate with great fruity notes, but there is a nice earthiness that shines through and really rounds out the flavor. Complex and flavorful, what more can you ask for?

Monday, May 3, 2010

E. Guittard Quevedo 65% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate

Manufacturer: Guittard Chocolate Company
Cocoa Content: 65%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B

Today's tasting is the "Quevedo" from US chocolate maker Guittard. The Quevedo is a 65% cacao chocolate bar whose beans originate from Ecuador. The bar is deep mahogany in color with orange highlights.

The bar has a distinct herbal/floral chocolate flavor. There are notes of hazelnut, marshmallow and earth along with a touch of spice. There is a slight acidity that builds as the chocolate melts on the tongue. Chewing the chocolate brings forward more herbal and floral notes along with leather, plantains and a hint of cucumber. The finish has cocoa, banana, bitter herbs and an earthy note. The Quevedo has a smooth, slightly thin mouthfeel.

The Quevedo chocolate bar has a unique flavor, which is characteristic of Ecuadorean "Nacional" cocoa beans. In this case I did find that the floral/herbal notes combined with the bitter chocolate flavors to leave a faint "medicine" taste that seemed a bit off. Despite that, this is a pretty good chocolate with a very distinct flavor.