Friday, December 31, 2010

Blog Update

Now that this blog has been up and running for a little over a year now it's time to do some updating and housecleaning. When Critical Tastings was started, I was expecting that it would end up housing a wide variety of tasting notes. It quickly evolved to tastings mainly of beer and dark chocolate. To help keep things more tightly focused the beer reviews and dark chocolate reviews are being spun off into separate blogs. The main Critical Tastings blog will remain the home for any non-beer/chocolate reviews (including coffee for the moment), and new beer and chocolate tastings will be cross-posted here from the other blogs as well.

The new blogs are:


The Dark Chocolate Blog

Please give them a visit and leave some feedback.

For our current feed subscribers, if you want to see posts from all sites then you don't need to change anything as the Beer and Dark Chocolate blog posts will be mirrored here. If you want to subscribe to the RSS feeds for either of the new blogs, see the links below.

Beer! RSS feed
The Dark Chocolate Blog RSS feed

Scharffen Berger Ben Tre 72% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Scharffen Berger
Cocoa Content: 72%
Location: Vietnam
Manufacturer Website
Rating: A

Up for review today is a single source dark chocolate bar from Scharffen Berger, the Ben Tre. This is a 72% bar made with cacao from Vietnam. The bar is a deep brown with lots of red and purple.

At first taste the palate is immediately hit with an intense, rich chocolate flavor. There are some spice notes here, with cinnamon and a touch of black pepper. This bar has a very lively, almost juicy, acidity which brings out flavors of green banana, pineapple, strawberries and citrus. Chewing the Ben Tre brings forward vanilla, fresh strawberries and cinnamon. The chocolate melts to a smooth, creamy consistency with a bit of a cooling sensation. The finish has a squirt of lemon with a dash of cinnamon. At the very tail end, there is a hint of herbal bitterness.

When I took my first taste of the Ben Tre, I literally said "Wow" out loud. This bar has an insanely good, rich chocolate flavor and a great, vibrant acidity. I really want to give this bar an A+ rating based on taste alone, but there are a few minor issues separating this bar from perfection. First, the acidity is so dominant that some subtle undertones are a bit muted. Secondly, there is a faint off note of herbal bitterness at the tail end. Despite these quibbling issues, the folks at Hershey have nailed it with the Scharffen Berger Ben Tre. You owe it to yourself to try this dark chocolate bar ASAP.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Heavy Seas Peg Leg Imperial Stout

Brewery: Clipper City Brewing Co
Location: Baltimore, MD
Style: Imperial Stout
Brewery Website
Rating: B-

Todays tasting is the Peg Leg Imperial Stout from Heavy Seas. The Peg Leg is an opaque ebony color. The head is dark brownish-tan and foamy. The nose has roasted notes along with some wininess.

On the palate there are winy and roast notes up front. There is a notable residual sweetness here. Also notable is some acidity that hints at citrus and berry notes that balance out the roasted character. Some bitterness pairs with the roast and leads to some coffee undertones. There are some faint herbal hops and some pear/apple notes as well. The Peg Leg Imperial Stout has a medium-heavy body and some slight syrupiness. The finish has lingering roast notes and a faint sweet/acid background.

The Peg Leg is an interesting Imperial Stout. There is a bit too much residual sweetness for my tastes. This tastes like the bastard child of an imperial stout and a barleywine, and it kind of misses the mark for me. The roast seems a bit understated and the sweetness and acidity gives me an odd "sweet-tart" impression. The Heavy Seas Peg Leg will probably improve with age as the sweetness mellows, but it falls a bit short in its current incarnation.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pacari Manabi 65% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Pacari
Cocoa Content: 65%
Location: Ecuador
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B

Today's tasting is the Manabi 65% dark chocolate bar from Pacari. Pacari produces single-source organic chocolates bean-to-bar exclusively from Ecuador. Manabi is located in southwestern coastal Ecuador, and the beans used in this bar are from that region. The bar itself is a ruddy brown color.

The Manabi hits the palate with roast coffee and hot cocoa notes. Floral and herbal flavors are notable as well. The acidity level starts off rather mild, but then slowly builds to a rather lively level with notes of ripe strawberries and raspberries. Undertones of black pepper are detectable as well. Chewing the Manabi brings forward notes of currants and a faint cashew nuttiness. The texture of the Manabi bar is slightly coarse with some grittiness. The finish has green bananas, floral notes, hot cocoa and some spice. There is also a faint herbal bitterness.

I have some mixed feelings about the Manabi dark chocolate. I really like how the flavor develops over time. There is an herbal bitter note that seems a bit off to me, and there are definitely some construction issues. Still, I like what I see so far in this bar from Pacari. I'm looking forward to trying some of their other dark chocolates.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2010

Brewery: Sierra Nevada
Location: Chico, CA
Style: IPA
Brewery Website
Rating: A

With the Christmas holiday around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to taste the 2010 Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. The Celebration is Sierra Nevada's holiday seasonal, an IPA brewed with fresh hops. The Celebration is golden-amber in color with a good sized, off-white, clumpy head. The nose has plenty of ripe citrus (grapefruit specifically). There are some fresh cut grass aromas in the background as well.

The palate is hit with a steely hops bitterness with a lingering bite. Pine resin and some herbal hops peek through after the initial grapefruit bitterness begins to soften. There are some grassy and rye bread notes as well. A faint residual sweetness and some wheat toast take a while to show up, but are notable as the hops fade. The Celebration Ale has a chewy, medium-to-heavy body with some astringency. The finish is quite long and features lingering bitter hops with herbal and citrus undertones.

Sierra Nevada really nailed it with this year's Celebration. There is a big hoppy kick that is really highlighted well by the fresh grassiness of the fresh hops. The aroma is fantastic, and the heavier body really holds up well to the big hops flavor. Everything translates to a fantastic fireside sipping IPA. Fresh hop IPA's are best when they are consumed fresh, so snap up some Celebration ASAP.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Magic Hat Howl

Brewery: Magic Hat Brewing Company
Location: South Burlington, VT
Style: Schwarzbier
Brewery Website
Rating: B

Today's tasting is Howl, Magic Hat's winter lager. This dark schwarzbier is completely opaque mahogany in color. The foamy head is brownish-tan in color. The nose detects roasted barley, lager malt, a faint wininess, caramel and peanuts.

On the palate there is a big roasted flavor that has bittersweet cocoa along with roasted peanuts and peanut butter. Lager malt notes are here as well, but are hidden under the roast. There is a bit of hops here with herbal and pine notes. There is a bitter kick, but it seems to be more of the coffee ground variety than a hoppy punch. As things settle down the roasted character evolves a bit leading to some grilled corn/veggies notes. The Howl has a body that is a bit on the heavy side for a lager and has some chewiness. The finish is long with big roasted grain notes.

Magic Hat's Howl is truly a porter in lager's clothing. My only complaint is that the roasted character of this beer is a bit too one-sided. I wish there was a bit more of a hoppy twang to provide some counterbalance. If you like big roasted beers, Howl will definitely feed your fix. The question is whether it suits your taste enough to have you going back for more.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tully's Kona Blend K-Cup

Manufacturer: Tully's
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B+

Today's tasting is a review of Tully's Kona Blend K-Cup. The coffee brews up a light mahogany color with just the faintest shimmer of oiliness visible on top. The nose detects berries and a light roast note that reminds me a bit of grilled corn.

Sipping the Kona Blend reveals light roasted notes along with some bittersweet chocolate. There is a distinct grilled vegetable flavor on the center of the tongue. A faint cherry/berry note sits in the background along with a hint of sweetness and black pepper. There are some nutty notes as well with pistachios and almonds. The Tully's Kona Blend has a smooth body and finishes rather short with roasted veggies and bittersweet chocolate.

The Tully's Kona Blend has an interesting flavor profile that works pretty nicely. The flavors here seem a bit subdued for my tastes, but I do prefer my coffee to have big roasted flavor. If you like your coffee on the milder side, the Kona Blend from Tully's is well worth a taste.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Amano Madagascar 70% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Amano
Cocoa Content: 70%
Location: Madagascar
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B+

Up for review today is the Amano Madagascar 70% dark chocolate bar. The Madagascar, like many Madagascan dark chocolates, is fairly light in color for a 70% chocolate. It is light mahogany in color with a reddish-orange hue.

On the palate there is a rich espresso-chocolate roasted note up front. Acidity pops out vibrantly with lemon peel citrus flavor and some tart berry notes. In the background there are hints at earthiness and green bell pepper. Some herbaceousness combines with the citrus to hint at a bit of lemongrass. Chewing the Amano Madagascar opens up a big lemonade note along with blackberries and a faint woodiness. The chocolate melts to a smooth consistency, but the bar itself feels rather course under the tongue as the chocolate melts. The finish has equal portions of lemonade and espresso.

The Amano Madagascar is one of the best tasting chocolates I've had in quite some time. The citrus takes the lead with the roast following right after and there is a wealth of complex undertones like earth and fresh herbs to back them up. I love the flavor combination of lemonade and espresso, and all the supporting flavors marry perfectly. That's why it's such a shame that the texture was so flawed on this chocolate bar. If Amano gets the texture issues worked out on this one, then their Madagascar could very well stand up with the best of the best.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout

Brewery: Otter Creek Brewing
Location: Middlebury, VT
Style: Oatmeal Stout
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

Continuing with our run of dark beers brings us to today's review of the Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout. This beer pours up opaque ebony in color with hints of ruby. The head is a deep, brownish-tan color and is nice and foamy. The nose picks up big, roasted barley notes along with earthiness and some mineral notes.

On the palate there is a big roasted malt note. There is also a sharp minerality up front. Some herbal hops notes are here along with a solid bitter bite. Earthy and woody notes are present. There is also a hint of wine and just a touch of sweetness. The Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout is medium-bodied, well-carbonated and has a nice chewiness that really works well with the big flavor here. The finish is rather long with lingering roasted malt notes paired with bitter espresso undertones.

Otter Creek has another damn good beer on their hands with the Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout. While I did find the mineral note on the palate to be a bit overpowering at first, that tends to settle down after a bit. This beer has some big roasted flavors and a nice bite, which is exactly what I'm looking for in a winter sipping beer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sierra Nevada Porter

Brewery: Sierra Nevada
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Porter
Brewery Website
Rating: A-

We've been having a bit of a cold snap up my way, and when the cold weather hits I always get a craving for dark beer. I'm following up on my last review of the excellent Anchor Porter with another great porter from Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Nevada Porter pours up a deep mahogany with ruby highlights. There is a bit of sediment just barely detectable as this beer is nearly opaque. The head looks just like creamy rootbeer foam. The nose picks up smoky, roasted, and chocolate malt notes along with a fruity ale-like hoppiness.

On the palate there is a roasted chocolate flavor that is balanced by some fruity notes. There are both herbal and fruity hops notes along with a moderate bitter kick. A slightly juicy wininess plays well with the hops flavors. Smoke and black pepper highlights sit in the background along with some minerality. The Sierra Nevada Porter has a medium body and is quite easy drinking for such a dark beer. The finish has coffee and chocolate notes along with lingering fruity hops.

The Sierra Nevada Porter is a well-balanced and easy drinking porter. To me, it seems like it pulls some of the best qualities of a rich stout and a fruity pale ale and marries them perfectly. Put this one on your short list of dark beers to sip by the fire this winter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Anchor Porter

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company
Location: San Francisco, CA
Style: Porter
Brewery Website
Rating: A

In my glass today is the Anchor Porter. The Anchor Porter pours an opaque brownish-black color with some ruby highlights. The nose detects smoke, caramel, banana and some berry-like fruity ester notes.

On the palate the Anchor Porter has a nice roasted note up front reminiscent of roasted almonds. There are some notable complex, fruity notes of berry and banana. Herbal hops sit in the background. Dark toast fades in after a bit. Several minutes after pouring some of the fruity ester notes dissipate and the flavor evolves to that of a rich, fruity dark chocolate. The Anchor Porter is medium-bodied with some slight carbonation on the mouthfeel. The finish is deep-roasted bittersweet chocolate/coffee with a banana highlight.

The Anchor Porter may not have big, over-the-top roasted and smoky flavors, but it has some fantastic complexity that really sets this apart from the typical porter. There are some really interesting fruity notes here. While I found the fruit (the banana note in particular) to be a bit much at first, this beer actually improves after being allowed to breathe for a few minutes. The fruit then mellows out and you are left with what is simply an awesome brew.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gillham & Grand 70% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Gillham & Grand (Hallmark private label)
Cocoa Content: 70%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: D

Today's tasting is a 70% dark chocolate bar from Gillham & Grand. Gillham & Grand is a private label who produces chocolate for Hallmark. The bar is ebony in color with some red. Opening the package releases a rather disappointing aroma that reminds me of cheap hollow chocolate Santas/Easter Bunnies.

At first taste there is an immediate strong flavor of raspberry preserves. I had to double-check the package to make sure I hadn't inadvertently gotten a flavored chocolate. I'm assuming that these bars are either produced on the same machine as the raspberry-flavored bars or have been stored in mixed cases with them for an extended period of time. Underneath the berries, sweet notes of caramel and coconut are here as well as mocha and peanuts. Chewing the Gillham & Grand bar lead to more raspberry preserves along with notes of vanilla and coconut. The mouthfeel is waxy and slightly gritty. The finish has lingering mocha notes as the raspberry fades.

It is obvious that the Gillham and Grand bar I tasted has met some subpar manufacturing and storage conditions. Even for a private label chocolate, this bar fails to meet even minimal expectations (see Walmart's Hageland line for examples of the right way to do private label chocolate). If you're in a Hallmark store and you're having a chocolate craving, do yourself a favor and find something other than this.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Twilight Delight 72% Cacao

Manufacturer: Ghirardelli
Cocoa Content: 72%
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B+

Up for review today is the Twilight Delight. This dark chocolate weighs in at 72% cocoa and occupies the middle of Ghirardelli's Intense Dark line based on cocoa content. The Twilight Delight is deep brown in color with reddish-orange highlights.

The Twilight Delight has a rich chocolate note up front. Acidity slowly builds to a moderate level with notes of orange peel and red raspberries. There is a mild bitter kick of black coffee. Roasted walnuts and almonds are here as well as a faint earthy note in the background. The Twilight Delight melts smooth and creamy on the tongue. Chewing the chocolate brings forward notes of vanilla, walnuts and a faint earthiness. The finish is straight-ahead semisweet chocolate with lingering espresso bitterness and a hint of lemonade.

While it does little to set itself apart from the crowd, the Twilight Delight is a very good dark chocolate bar. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in rich chocolate flavor. I'd love to see Ghirardelli branch out into some single-source chocolates, because this bar shows their potential for producing top-notch chocolate.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot Barleywine

Brewery: Weyerbacher
Location: Easton, PA
Style: Barleywine
Brewery Website
Rating: B+

Today's tasting is the Blithering Idiot barleywine from Weyerbacher. The beer pours with a short, light-tan head that fades fast. It is a cloudy amber-brown color with lots of fine sediment floating in the glass. The nose has a big wine note, along with sweet oatmeal/cereal. There is a faint fruity hops aroma in the background as well.

On the palate the Blithering Idiot has an initial sweet note up from that fades to an off-dry wininess. There is a big warming sensation, which is not surprising at over 11% ABV. There is a fair bitter kick from the hops and some citrusy notes as well. Yeast and brown sugar play complimentary roles. The Blithering Idiot has a fairly heavy body, which along with the high alcohol definitely make this a sipping beer. The finish has lingering cereal sweetness with bitter and citrus hops highlights.

Weyerbacher have a pretty good barleywine on their hands with the Blithering Idiot. The flavors here are pretty standard for a barleywine that is this big. There is still a good deal of residual sweetness here, but the hops do manage to poke their head through a bit. This is a beer that will do well with a year or more of age under its belt.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Amano Guayas 70% Dark Chocolate

Manufacturer: Amano
Cocoa Content: 70%
Location: Ecuador
Manufacturer Website
Rating: B+

Up for tasting today is the Amano Guayas. This dark chocolate bar is made with cocoa from Ecuador's Guayas River basin. The Guayas bar is a deep mahogany color with ruby highlights.

The initial flavor on the palate is a black coffee roasted note. Acidity develops after a few seconds, with a distinctive plantain/green banana note. There is a faint hazelnut flavor along with grassy/woody highlights. Chewing the Guayas opens up flavors of vanilla, gooseberries and blackberries. While the consistency is not noticeably gritty, it isn't quite as smooth as I'd like. The finish has roasted coffee notes along with some bitter hazelnuts.

The Amano Guayas is a complex dark chocolate bar with distinct flavor. The downfall of chocolate with such a distinct flavor is that it won't always work with everyone's palate. In the Guayas's case, there is some bitter note that I just can't place that doesn't quite work for me. Regardless, this is still another quality chocolate from Amano that is well worth checking out.