Brew Review: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

•April 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Chico, CA

Style: Barley Wine

ABV: 9.6%

Served: Pint glass from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at Julio’s for $2.25/bottle.

A good friend of mine who is a central California native asked me when I was going to review some west coast beers. I have been remiss in not tipping my cap to the ales of more Pacific persuasion. I still think the best beer in the world is made on I-95 between D.C. and Portland, ME, and I’m not at all biased. That said, I will be featuring exclusively west coast brew for the next week or so. Sierra Nevada is a close 2nd to Sam Adams when it comes to balancing availability with integrity. Their year-round beers are more than respectable, let alone their seasonal and specialty offerings.

The Bigfoot is a dark honey amber in the glass, with a few bubbles, and a dense persistent off-white crown one finger thick. The aroma is amazing. Full and well-rounded, with an aggressive hop presence followed by pine, melon, pastry, and earth. Complex and powerful. The first taste is a blitzkrieg of big brown sugar sweetness and cantaloupe. This is quickly is taken over by big-time hop bitterness. The sensation is not unlike a grapefruit, sweet and bitter in turns. The bitterness sticks to the palette and is hard to shake. Tasting hoppy beers is tricky, because you can’t go back for a second taste with a clean slate. The mouthfeel is medium-bodied, and smoother than I might expect for such an overpowering bitterness

Hop-heads might guffaw at my medium tolerance for hop presence. I certainly wish I had a better appreciation for Double IPAs and aggressive barley wines. But I’ve heard it opined from more than one source that making extreme beer is easy. Crafting a balanced, subtle ale takes skill. This is a good beer, but I didn’t get the balance I have had with others in this style. This is probably my most subjective review to date; I have seen too many glowing reflections on this beer to believe I’m the normal one. That said…B-

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Brew Review: Troegs HopBack Amber

•April 11, 2010 • 1 Comment

Brewery: Troegs Brewing Co. Harrisburg, PA

Style: Amber Ale

ABV: 6%

Served: Pint glass from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at Julio’s for $8.99/six-pack.

Hopefully the sunny days are here to stay for good this time. You never can tell with the Granite State when winter is gone for good. I’ve had snow squalls on my birthday (May) and brown New Years alike. But blue skies today call for something I don’t need a knife and fork to consume.

I got this a little too cold in the fridge for my taste, so upon pouring the crown didn’t really take off as I expected. The tea-colored body is crystal clear, with a little carbonation and thin white lacing. The aroma is a pleasing understatement of floral hop presence, multi-grain bread, spring water, and a bit of lemon. The first taste is enough bitterness to get your taste buds’ attention. But the brisk knife of the hops melts away to a mellow butter and citrus aftertaste. Mouthfeel is thin but not watery, and the beer finished with hint of bitterness, bread, and summer.

The “HopBack” portion of the moniker is not an arbitrary title. It’s so called because of a transitional phase between the wort and the fermentation tanks. A special chamber called a hopback is stuffed with fresh hops and the already cooked wort is steeped in the vessel for a time. This imparts the stronger hop presence than you’d expect in most ambers. I confess to not being a huge IPA fan, but this may the balance in a well-hopped beer I am looking for. Exceptionally drinkable, layered, and delicious without overwhelming. This is a keeper. A

Brew Review: Nogne O Winter Ale (God Jul)

•April 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Brewery: Nogne O Grimstad, Norway

Style: English Porter

ABV: 8.5%

Served: Pint Glass from 16.9 oz. bottle. Purchased at Table & Vine for $5.99.

I’m excited to make my first of many reviews of international beers. Plan on plenty more, from the likes of Scotland, Belgium, Ireland, and Canada. A glancing blow of rain and cool temps from a parting winter has me reaching for another dark ale, this one from Norway, a nation not particularly known for its beer. There’s an interesting article about this brewery and Norway beer culture here.

The Winter Ale (known as God Jul outside the U.S.) pours a tarry black, with a steady and dense mocha crown about two fingers thick. The nose is a bouquet that brings all the tidings of Christmas. Amazing aromas of toffee, raisins, licorice, rock candy, dark roasted coffee and chocolate make amazing promises. The taste is a bit more subtle. The coffee follows through,  with dark chocolate, smoke, and a port-like quality striking a softer tone than the smell indicated. The mouthfeel is very smooth and creamy, but not the oily viscosity of an Imperial Stout. The dark ale finish is dry, classy, and evokes black cherries and burnt roasty malt.

This beer is not self-described as an English Porter. The brewer merely recommends it as a dark ale good for cold winter nights. This brew seems to be attempting to reconcile more traditional porters and dark ales with the new generation of challenging impies. It’s a very solid beer, but it doesn’t quite land with me. I think I’ve tried enough traditional porters and Strong Ales, that this compromise is just that: a compromise, not the best of both worlds. Very good, but not in my Keeper’s List. B+

Brew Review: Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic

•April 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Brewery: Boston Beer Company Boston, MA

Style: Fruit Beer

ABV: 5.9%

Served in pint glass from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at supermarket at $12.99 for their seasonal mixed 12-pack.

Sam has often been hailed as the retroactive godfather to the now quarter-century old craft beer revolution. And in some respects, it is deserved. I believe they are still the only brewery that has bridged the gap between the mainstream and niche beer cultures, and kept the integrity of their product. But their success, while widespread, is not uniform.

This “lambic” (more on this later) pours a thick, cloudy coppery red. This isn’t much crown to speak of, though considering other reviews I’ve read of this beer, that may be unique to this bottle. Aroma is heavy on the fruit punch, light on ale. The sweet, harsh acidity on this nose is more reminiscent of a flavored malt beverage than something out of a brown bottle. Taste is juicy, thin, and overly sweet. Finishes with a whimper.

The body of work Sam has produced over the years keeps my opinion of them high in spite of this beer. That said, my respect for them doesn’t extend far enough to curve my grading scale in their favor. This is not a true lambic, a style which is known for its tangy apple and berry overtones caused by a special strain of bacteria during the fermentation process. No fruit is actually involved, unlike Sam’s Cranberry Lambic. This is akin to a mediocre wheat ale mixed half-and-half with store brand fruit juice. Like someone tried to spike a punch bowl, but forgot to buy hard liquor. Avoid. C-

Brew Review: Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale

•April 7, 2010 • 2 Comments

Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Co. Portsmouth, NH

Style: Saison

ABV: 8.8%

Served: Pint glass from 22 oz. bomber. Purchased at Bert’s Better Beers for $5.99.

Warm weather and baseball are here! Time for me to put away the chewy dark ales and pop open something a little lighter on the tongue. I love Smuttynose. It’s my desert island brewery (you know, if I had to pick one…). Their year-round brews all strongly represent their styles, but the big beer series is where they make history.

Their farmhouse ale pours a slightly hazy golden, with an EPIC 4 finger crown that shows no signs of backing off. The aroma is very fruity, tons of berries, pine, and mineral water. Spring incarnate. The first sip is an instant flashback to a tasting I had of La Fin du Monde by Unibroue, itself actually a Belgian style Tripel. Spices, banana, apples, and moderate carbonation on the tongue. Clean, tangy, and slightly malty finish.

This is a highly drinkable ale, and a wonderful addition to a warm afternoon. This style was created as an inexpensive beer by farmers along the French-Belgian border, who would brew it in the winter to have on warm summer afternoons. Smuttynose once again does not disappoint. I won’t put this in my keepers category, simply because the style isn’t hugely appealing for me. But this is a great ale, one worth trying. A-

Brew Review: Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

•April 1, 2010 • 2 Comments

Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc. Milton, DE

Style: Brown Ale

ABV: 12%

Served: Chalice from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at Julio’s Liquors for $3.75.

Apologies for the slight hiatus. Pasta dinners and turning in early do not lend themselves well to beer appreciation, so I eschewed the brew review the last few days. Even getting started on this review was interesting, because Dogfish Head, BA, and RateBeer do not agree on the style. One says Brown Ale, one says ‘American’ Brown Ale (apparently distinguished from English), and another says American Strong Ale due to the alcohol content. I will side with the brewer on this one.

The style doesn’t specifically call for chalice glassware, but I wanted the high ABV to open up a little. Pours a dark “Grade B” maple syrup brown (New Englanders will know what I’m talking about). Quite opaque, and just from observation this is a more oily Brown Ale than I’ve tried before. Thin but persistent dark buttery crown. Smells of raw nuts and damp earth. Vanilla, woody spices, and dark chocolate follow in the nose. First sip in a deep, rich, dark chocolate experience. Woody, almost whiskey-like qualities. Sweetness and booziness are understated, but a proud green apple zing stands out. Mouthfeel is thick and creamy. Harshness of the alcohol is tempered by its richness. Finish is quiet, with dried apricot and apple tartness, with a toast of coffee.

There are plenty of brown ales to be found, even at your local supermarket. This one is quite unique. It being a few hours since dinner, I am feeling the 12%. But the richness and complexity of this dark ale are not to be missed. Not a session ale, not even an every-so-often brew, this is nonetheless a Keeper in my cellar. A

Brew Review: Pennichuck Feuerwehrmann

•March 28, 2010 • 1 Comment

Brewer: Pennichuck Brewing Co. Milford, NH

Style: Schwarzbier

ABV: 5%

Served: Pint glass from 22 oz. bomber. Purchased at Table & Vine for $5.49.

Schwarzbiers (German for “black beer”) are near to my heart. Just a few years ago, Sam Adams’ Black Lager was my first exposure to anything outside my palate’s typical beer purview. My gateway beer. I’d go on to more complex and challenging brews later, but the experience stays with me.

Pours thin and fairly translucent for such a dark beer. Medium-dark brown with non-existant crown. Through a spring cold, I got crusty bread, licorice, and burnt roasted malt in the nose. Taste is dry, bready, with a touch of coffee, and very subtle. Mouthfeel is exceptionally thin as compared with porters and stouts, but style appropriate. Finish is slightly bitter, but understated.

I learned after I bought this beer that Pennichuck shut its doors this past November. Sad to see a small New Hampshire brewery fold. So, you may be reading one of the last reviews of a new relic in beerdom. Overall, a good example of the seldom seen Schwarzbier style. I prefer Sam over this I think, but it is a drinkable lager. If I had tried this in 2007, it would have been a bit more eye opening. As it is, a bonnie blue-collar effort. B