Friday, October 29, 2010

Michel Cluizel 1er Cru de Plantation Hacienda "Vila Gracinda"

Manufacturer: Michel Cluizel
Cocoa Content: 65%
Location: Sao Tome
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B

Today's tasting is the "Vila Gracinda" 67% dark chocolate bar from Michel Cluizel's 1er Cru de Plantation line of single-source chocolates. The Vila Gracinda is ebony-purple in color. It hits the palate with a rich chocolate/cocoa flavor. Smoky, roasted coffee notes are here. A bitter nuttiness of hazelnuts and chestnuts are here as well. The acidity level is fairly light but does lend itself to a bit of an orange peel flavor. Woody/earthy notes and some vanilla are also detectable.

Chewing the Vila Gracinda brings forward sweet notes of vanilla, honey, bourbon and toffee. As is typical for Cluizel's fare, the mouthfeel is perfectly smooth and creamy. The finish has cream & sugar coffee with nutty and earthy undertones.

While this is a good chocolate, the Vila Gracinda doesn't quite meet the high mark set by some of the other chocolates in Michel Cluizel's 1er Cru de Plantation line. While tasty, I did find this bar to be relatively straightforward. It seems like it could use a bit more acidity to open up. If you try the Vila Gracinda, pop a piece in your mouth and give it a good chew. The sweet flavors that open up are what I enjoyed the most about this chocolate bar.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Goose Island Honker's Ale

Brewery: Goose Island
Location: Chicago, IL
Style: ESB
Brewery Website
Rating: B

In my glass today is the Honker's Ale from Goose Island in Chicago. The Honker's Ale is an ESB that at first taste is clearly modeled after the prototypical English style. In the glass it is a golden-amber in color with a faint haze. The head pours on the shorter side and white in color. The nose detects citrus and pine hops in balance with malty biscuit notes.

On the palate there is an initial flash of aromatic hops that quickly fades to a malty bread/crackers note which finally leads to some lingering bitter hops. The hops has herbal and floral notes taking the lead over a background of citrus and pine. The bitterness level is moderate and well-balanced. Also present are notes of mineral water as well as a slightly sweet berry note. The Honker's Ale is light-to-medium bodied. The finish has saltines along ngering piny hop notes.

The Honker's Ale is a well-balanced, British-style ESB. It is easy drinking, but it seems a bit thin to me. This is a good beer, but with a fuller body and a bit more of a bitter bite it would have the potential for greatness.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Caribou Coffee Obsidian K-Cup

Manufacturer: Caribou Coffee
Manufacturer Website
Rating: A+

Today's tasting is the Obsidian K-Cup from Caribou Coffee. As one can glean from the name, the Obsidian is a dark roast coffee, very dark. The Obsidian brews up deep ebony in color with a swirling oily gloss on top. A golden tan froth rings my mug as I pull it off the brewer. The aroma has a powerful roasted character with peanuts and cocoa.

The Obsidian leads with a distinct dark chocolate flavor that clings to the palate. There is a rich, deep-roasted flavor with earthy and woody notes with a nice touch of smoke. Roast cashews and a faint bacon note are here in the background. There is the perfect balance of bitterness here to compliment the roast without overpowering. The Obsidian has an almost chewy mouthfeel as the oils coat the tongue pleasantly. The finish has a lingering bittersweet cocoa and roast nuts with a hint of smoke.

The Caribou Coffee Obsidian is a top-notch dark roast coffee. This is well-balanced, with big roasted flavor. The bittersweet chocolate note is what really sets this one apart for me. For obvious reasons, the Obsidian pairs quite well with dark chocolate (I paired my most recent cup with the Amano Dos Rios). Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Amano Dos Rios 70% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Amano
Cocoa Content:70%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: A

Up for tasting today is the Dos Rios, a 70% dark chocolate bar of Dominican origin by American chocolate maker Amano. The chocolate bar is mahogany in color with a reddish-orange tint. Snapping off a piece of the bar releases a distinctive citrus aroma that is the first hint that there is something unique with this chocolate. The palate first detects this distinct citrus character (reminiscent of Earl Grey tea), which is followed by woody notes and clove. The Dos Rios has a moderate, balanced acidity which leads to notes of bing cherry and pomegranate. Undertones of caramel and black pepper play a complimentary role as well.

Chewing the Amano Dos Rios bar brings forward notes of orange peel, vanilla and sweet cherries. The Dos Rios has a thick, creamy mouthfeel with just the faintest amount of grittiness. The finish is dominated by fruit with a touch of bitter and roasted notes, akin to peach cobbler chased with a shot of espresso. The powerful citrus note seems to linger forever on the palate as the finish fades.

Amano has a real standout chocolate here with their Dos Rios dark chocolate bar. The distinct citrus note is supported by a nice woody spice. Amano has really nailed the level of acidity on this one as well. Any more and the fruit would be overpowering; any less and it would be flat. I've had other chocolates with notably distinct flavors, but none have had the balance and complexity that the Dos Rios has. The flavors here are just crying out to have Granny Smith apple slices dipped in it. Too bad this bar won't last long enough for me to try that out...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Hop³ Ale

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

In my glass today is the Loose Cannon Hop³ Ale from Clipper City's Heavy Seas line of big beers. As one can imagine from the name, this is a big American-style IPA. The Loose Cannon pours with a short, off-white bubbly head. The beer is a hazy gold with some light amber hues. The nose screams "Cascade!", as the hops aroma asserts itself quite boldly. It's sort of like getting smashed in the face with a grapefruit, James Cagney style. In a good way.

The initial flavor is big, fruity hops, although some bready malt notes do peek through the haze. The Loose Cannon has some slight residual sweetness. There is a moderate level of bitterness, but overall the bite is rather mild for such a heavily hopped ale. The hops flavors run the gamut from herbal/fresh-cut grass notes, to a hint of juniper, and of course the big citrus Cascade notes are present in spades. I found the carbonation level was a bit lacking, leading to a slightly flat mouthfeel. The Loose Cannon has a smooth finish that is balanced between aromatic and bitter hops with a hint of wheaty malt.

Clipper City continues to put out some really good beer under their Heavy Seas line. The Loose Cannon is a well-rounded IPA with lots of hops flavor. I did find myself wanting a bit stronger kick of bitterness as counterbalance to the aromatic hops, but overall this is a very enjoyable IPA.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Green & Black's 85% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Green & Black's Chocolate Limited
Cocoa Content: 85%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: A-

Up for tasting today is the 85% dark chocolate bar from Green & Black's. The chocolate bar itself is a ruddy mahogany color. The chocolate hits the palate with a deep chocolate note. Roasted espresso notes are prominant, but the show is soon stolen by a tangy, lively acidity. Fruity notes of citrus and tart cherries, along with a big helping of plums, shine through. In the background sit hints of earth, toffee, and smoke along with some nutty undertones of peanuts and cashews.

Chewing the Green & Black's 85% dark chocolate brings forward notes of earth, tobacco and marshmallow along with more plums. The mouthfeel is thick and creamy with a slight hint of grit. The finish has lingering fruity and roast coffee notes along with a hint of peanuts.

Green & Black's has a real winner on their hands here with their 85% Dark chocolate bar. This bar has big flavor. The roast is bold and cuts through the big plummy fruit notes to create a full, balanced flavor. To me, this is what I like to see in a bar in the 85%+ range - big flavors can really pop in a high-cacao chocolate. I'd love to see some of the great single-estate chocolate makers step out and start making some chocolates in the 85%-90% range, because bars like the Green & Black's really show the potential that extra dark chocolates offer.

Friday, October 15, 2010

E. Guittard Chucuri Bittersweet

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

On the tasting block today is the "Chucuri" from E. Guittard. The Chucuri is a 65% cocoa dark chocolate bar of Columbian origin. The Chucuri is on the lighter side of mahogany in color with light-brown highlights. Up front on the palate is a rich flavor of semi-sweet chocolate chips. There is a mild bitter bite and very little acidity. Sweet flavors of banana and caramel are present. Almonds, coffee and a faint black pepper note are here as well.

Chewing the Chucuri highlights notes of vanilla nad honey. The chocolate has a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. The finish has notes if hot cocoa and marshmallow with black pepper undertones. This is another decent chocolate bar from Guittard, but something just seems missing to me. The flavor seems a bit flat, like either the bitterness and/or the acidity needs to be bumped up to make it a bit more lively.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pralus Equateur

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

Today we wrap up our tastings from Pralus's "Pyramide des Tropiques" with the Equateur. This Ecuadorean 75% cocoa dark chocolate bar is deep brown in color with ruby highlights. The Equateur hits the palate with a bitter cocoa/espresso note up front that has a nice bitter kick. Acidity builds leading to notes of lemon and raisins. Some buttery notes are here as well as some caramel. Peanut butter nuttiness and black pepper spice are present as well.

Chewing the Equateur brings forward notes of vanilla, caramel and honey. The mouthfeel is pleasantly smooth and creamy. On the finish the bitterness fades leaving a flavor akin to peanut butter and jelly with some lingering spiciness. This is another great bar from Pralus. It has a well-rounded flavor balanced between a bitter kick and acid undertones. There is some nice complexity that develops in this dark chocolate bar.

If you're looking for a sampler of high-end chocolate, then the Pralus Pyramide is a great choice. You can really see the regional differences between various chocolates. All of the chocolates are very good, with a few real gems like the Ghana that really stand out.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Flying Dog Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale

Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery
Location: Frederick, MD
Style: Pale Ale
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

On the tasting block today is the Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale, an American-style Pale Ale from Flying Dog. The beer pours a deep, golden-brown color with lots of carbonation. A huge tan, foamy head with big clumps forms immediately upon pouring. The nose has citrus and herbal hops notes, along with a faint pretzel/malty note.

On the palate the Doggie Style Pale Ale has a pretzely malt note along with a fruit/wine note up front. There is a bitter hops note with a moderate bite. The hops present both citrus and herbal flavors. There is also a distinct alcohol/winy note as well. The Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale is medium-bodied with a juicy mouthfeel and some chewy astringency. The finish has both winy and pretzel notes.

Typical of Flying Dog's beers, the Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale is a nice, hoppy pale ale. My only issue is that this beer is a bit too juicy for my tastes; I'd prefer that it was a touch dryer. All-in-all, this is another very good showing from Flying Dog.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hägeland Costa Rica 71% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Hägeland
Cocoa Content: 71%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B

Hägeland is a line of Belgian-made chocolates that have been exclusively developed for Wal-Mart. Today's tasting is a single-source bar made from Costa Rican trinitario beans. The Hägeland Costa Rica is deep brown in color with purplish-red notes. There is a deep chocolate flavor up front. Nutty undertones develop, along with some roasted, espresso-like flavors. The acidity level here is very faint. There is a distinct marshmallow note present, along with spice, peanuts and hazelnuts.

Chewing the Hägeland Costa Rica bar bring forward vanilla along with notes of hazelnuts and cherries. The finish has cocoa and marshmallow along with nutty and spicy notes in the background.

I must admit, this is a pretty good showing for a chocolate made for Wal-Mart, a mass-market retailer usually associated with budget pricing instead of high-quality. I would like to see the acidity bumped up a notch or two, and I think there is a bit too much vanilla going on, but overall this is a decent chocolate bar that's worth a taste the next time you find yourself at Wally World.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dagoba Conacado (73% Cocoa)

Manufacturer: Dagoba
Cocoa Content: 73%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B+

Today's tasting is the Conacado 73% cocoa dark chocolate bar from Dagoba. Dagoba is part of Hershey's Artisan Confection brand, joining Sharffen Berger and Joseph Schmidt in 2006. The Conacado bar breaks with a crisp snap revealing crimson/ruby streaks over the deep mahogany colored bar.

On the palate the Conacado bar has a rich chocolate/cocoa note up front. Acidity builds to a moderate level with flavors of blackberries and oranges. Faint flavors of hazelnut and black pepper sit in the background with a light roasted note. Chewing the Dagoba Conacado opens up notes of vanilla, strawberry, marshmallow and lemonade. The Conacado has a creamy, thick texture that coats the tongue well. The finish has black pepper and roasted notes with a acid note that fades leaving a faint bitter note and spice.

The Dagoba Conacado doesn't have the biggest diversity of complex flavors here. Despite that, this is a very enjoyable bar that is a good dark chocolate for snacking.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lagunitas Pils

Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Company
Location: Petaluma, CA
Style: Pilsner
Brewery Website
Rating: A

In my glass today is the Lagunitas Pils, a Czech-style Pilsner. The Lagunitas Pils is a deep golden-yellow in color. There are fine bubbles of carbonation and a white bubbly head. The nose detects juiciness, herbal hops and a light breadiness.

On the palate there is an initial squirt of juiciness that trails off rapidly. The Lagunitas Pils is dryer than the nose an initial juiciness suggest. A bready note akin to naan or a flour tortilla is here. There is a nice bitter hops kick. Overall, the hops have a grassy, herbal character supported by some floral notes. The Lagunitas Pils is medium-bodied, crisp and has a pleasant fizz of carbonation. The finish is rather short with bitter hops and bready notes.

The Lagunitas Pils is a crisp, dry euro-style pilsner. I love this interpretation of the style. The flavor is bold yet refreshing. While this is clearly styled after your typical euro-pils, there is not even a hint of the typical eurolager skunkiness here. Green-bottle beer fans, this is what your beer is supposed to taste like.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pralus Columbie

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

Today's tasting is a Columbian dark chocolate bar from Pralus's "Pyramide des Tropiques". The chocolate is deep mahogany in color with ruby highlights. The initial flavor up front is bitter chocolate with some roasted notes. There is a moderate amount of acidity present with some blackberry. Espresso, hazelnuts and bitter herbs are also here on the palate.

Chewing the Pralus Columbie brings forward a spice note along with a mushroom/earthy flavor. The chocolate has a smooth mouthfeel with an almost buttery richness. The finish has a bitter herbal note with fruit jam. The Pralus Columbie is well balanced between bitter notes and acidity. Unfortunately, there isn't enough cocoa richness to carry the bitterness, which becomes a bit too vegetal in character for my tastes. Overall this is a decent chocolate, but I've had much better from Pralus recently.