Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beer Reveiew: Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout

Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout

Wow. This was a unique gift. I have never seen this before. I am a huge fan of espresso. I believe it to be the most flavorful and quality form of coffee. That combined with a stout should be a match made only by the beer gods. Pours a deep dark brown color that looks amazing coming out of the bottle. The head is solid and looks very inviting with it's brown tint. Aroma is all espresso. If I was closer to an alcoholic than I am this would be my breakfast.

Flavor is delicious. I had no idea a beer this rich could come from Japan. I enjoy a good Sapporo now and then but this is far beyond the yellow lagers. The malt is deeply roasted and the espresso flavor works very well with it. Providing a smoothness that I am surprised to experience. I don't know how this doesn't overwhelm my taste buds with a sharp bitterness but it is light and creamy in the mouth.

This is a great ale. At 7.5% ABV this doesn't pull any punches either. I will certainly pick up more of this if I find it. Anyone who like black coffee (or espresso) will love this. The combination of dark roasted barley malt, espresso, alcohol, and smoothness will keep me coming back. You can have your cake and eat it too.

Final Score: 94% (Rich, Smooth, and Unique. My Favorite Japanese Beer.)

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Celebration

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Celebration Ale

Finally got around to reviewing the celebration. I have seen it everywhere but never bought it. It definitely was not what I was expecting. Fortunately that is a good thing. I expected this to be standard holiday spiced ale with cinnamon and allspice and instead I found a wonderfully hoppy IPA style beer. I am not 100 percent certain that this is an IPA but it has more malt and more hops than a pale ale so in my book that is an IPA. The celebration pours a rich amber color with an astounding head that can only be produced by masterful hopping. Aroma is rich with hoppy goodness. Some sharp cascade hops.

Flavor is Sierra Nevada at their best. This brewery makes arguably the world's best pale ale and that skill is not lost on this IPA. There is no shortage of hops here. The bitterness is through the roof. While, the malt is bulked up a bit (6.8% ABV) I still wish there was a bit more.
I enjoy one-sided beers but this should lean a little more toward hop aroma and flavor rather than the large amount of bitterness. It's just very abrasive on the tongue.

Overall, this is a great seasonal release. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn't think there is such a thing as enough hops. Malt lovers should not seek this out. Where Sierra's pale ale is classic for it's rich balanced hoppiness this falls a little short for lacking the kind of malt needed to counteract the tongue blistering bite of the hop flower. A great beer, but not without it's flaws.

Final Score: 85% (Very Bitter and Hoppy, Needs More Malt.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beer Review: Old Speckled Hen

Morland Brewing Company Old Speckled Hen English Fine Ale

I have no idea what to expect from this. An English pale ale in a clear bottle. I really hate clear bottles but I will not judge until I try it. Pours a light amber color with lots of lacing and a robust head. Very creamy aroma if that makes any sense.

Flavor is as I expected a bit skunky. Clear bottles almost always mean skunky. Despite the skunky flavor this still has some good stuff going on. The amber malt provides a smokey bread-like flavor that is balanced by the strong hop presence. Very bitter hoppy aftertaste. Not much in the way of hop aroma but the bitterness is very pronounced. The bitterness combined with the skunkyness is very powerful. This combination really ruins any chance at true balance.

This would be an excellent ale if it was in an amber bottle. Since Morland has been brewing since 1711 they really should know better. If this was available in cans and the price was right I would certainly pick this up on occasion. This would be excellent if you like Heineken, Becks, or Stella but it really won't cut it if you don't want a less abrasive clean flavored ale. I just can't excuse a flaw like this.

Final Score: 69% (Skunky but Otherwise Solid Malt Character. Stop the Clear.)

Beer Review: Saranac ESB

F.X. Matt Brewing Company Saranac Extra Special Bitter Ale

Another Saranac limited winter release. This is one of my favorite styles as it tend to be balanced and drinkable. You get a little bit of everything. Pours a dark amber color with a creamy head that sticks around for a couple minutes. Aroma is very fleeting with a little bit of lightly roasted malt coming through.

Flavor is nearly identical to the pale ale that Saranac produces. This leans a bit more on the malty side though. Still very noticeable hops however. This is very refreshing and drinkable. This is one that I could enjoy year round. I would really like to drink this next to the pale ale and compare the two styles. Most of the ESBs that I have had have a sort of apple crispness to them that this doesn't have. I really miss that.

This is a solid ale and a decent addition to the winter releases but it really doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from the flagship pale ale. This is very mediocre for the style. This is essentially a lightly roasted balanced hoppy ale. Nothing more and nothing less. This will not wow you but it can hit the spot. I am forced to give this a very average score.

Final Score: 74% (Average and Forgettable. I Expected More.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Beer Review: Trader Joe's Vintage Ale

Unibroue Brewing Company Trader Joe's 2008 Vintage Dark Ale on Lees

This is a great Christmas present. Doesn't get much better than a dark Belgian Dubble that is bottle conditioned. This is my first taste of a Trader Joe's offering and I am excited. I can't imagine what my 12 year old self would have said if he (I?) was told that a great Christmas present would involve beer. Little would he know that beer would dig its way into my brain and motivate many of the actions that followed. This even comes with a loud pop when you uncork it. What is better for the holidays than that? This ale pours a smooth somewhat dark brown color with a magnificent head. Lacing all around. Aroma is loaded with that distinct Belgian spiciness that only comes from that magical yeast.

Flavor is exactly as I wanted it to be. The yeast offers up most of the flavor. I get lots of banana and spiciness. The rich brown malt provides a sweet balance to the strong yeast presence. While it doesn't have a strong taste, the alcohol is definitely in full force. My buzz will attest to that. If the hops are in there they got punched out. The spice and malt are in prime condition and won't halt for the citrusy green goodness that is the hop.

Rest assured that this beer will not disappoint if you like any Belgian ales. They say it ages well but I will never find out something like that. A bottle this good won't last more than a week. This is a great offering by Trader Joe's (via Unibroue) and I will definitely look forward to more from them. If you see this pick it up. At least cellar it for a special occasion. If I have steered you wrong you know where to throw the coal. Merry Christmas to all!

Final Score: 95% (Deep, Dark, and Spicy. Delicious Dubble Ale.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Beer Review: William Penn Lager

Commonwealth Brewing Company William Penn Colonial Style Lager

I picked this up on whim. I had a craving for an easy drinking lager and took a chance with this. It also helped that I have never seen this beer anywhere so I jumped at the opportunity. Pours a medium copper color, similar to a marzen beer. They describe it as a colonial style lager but from all the accounts I have read colonial beers were terrible. Should I expect a terrible lager?

Flavor is very rich in amber malt. Hops are noticeable but really dominated by the strong malt flavor. A bit of sour tang going on also. This is kind of like a Yuengling but with more malt. Fairly easy drinking but I don't think I would want more than two at a time. This is fairly clean but it feels like it is missing something. I suppose this would fall into the Vienna style lager category but I would much rather have a Sam Adams or a Brooklyn lager over this. It just doesn't have the hops to back up the increased malt flavor.

This is an OK beer but it really could use some improvement. I wish the hops were fresher and used in a larger quantity. They should either lighten up the malt or increase the hops. Lagers need balance and this one only has one leg to stand on.

Final Score: 68% (Not the Commonwealth's Finest)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beer Review: Victory Prima Pils

Victory Brewing Company Prima Pilsner Lager

Continuing in my drinking summer beers in between rich winter beers condition (nothing wrong with variety). I decided to pick up a six pack of the Victory pilsner. I would also like to congratulate Victory on being named the number 3 All-Time Top Brewery in the on Planet Earth by Beer Advocate magazine. Quite an honor. Beer Advocate is also an excellent magazine for those who want to learn more about beer. Though I would still say the best way to know beer is to brew it, second best is to (of course) drink it. Doing both often makes a good lifestyle. The bottle has a best by date of February 09. The prima pilsner pours a light golden color with a decent head that sticks around for a while. Not much in the way of lacing. Very sharp hop aroma probably because of the whole flower hops used. I gotta start growing hops. Hard to beat a fresh, aromatic hop.

Taste is classic pilsner. Very sharp hop bite. Tastes like Saaz hops to me. The malt is very soft spoken but it shouldn't be too rich in this style. Pennsylvania water seems damn good for beer. Though Jersey is no slouch, we produce some great beers as well. This is such a spicy hoppy beer. Really dances around the tongue. The aftertaste is a bit bitter but I don't mind. It would be strange if a beer like this didn't have a bit of a bitter aftertaste.

The great flavor combined with the relatively low price makes this beer one of the best pilsners you can buy. Anyone who wants an easy drinking, hoppy beer will be pleased with this. The most similar one to this is the Stout's Pils. That had less of a hop bite with a larger malt backbone. Less true to the style. I really don't like giving out too many 90%+ scores but I can't rate this any lower than it deserves. I feel confident saying this is as good as pilsners get.

Final Score: 94% (Fantastic Hoppy Pilsner. Good Year Round.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beer Review: Brooklyner Weisse

Brooklyn Brewing Company Brooklyner Weisse Ale

Finally got around to trying this one. Even though this is actually brewed in upstate New York it still feels like I am supporting local brewers. This definitely isn't the season for a wheat beer but I just had a craving for some unfiltered goodness. Damn the rules. Maybe it's my Bavarian ancestors. I have no idea why they left if this was a daily occurrence. I have yet to brew a wheat beer that I really enjoy. I just don't know what I am doing wrong. Maybe if I drink enough of these I will figure it out. That usually works... Anyway, aroma is actually very sour smelling, kinda like a wheat malt brewed with wild yeast. Though I doubt they would use that if they wanted the kind of quality control you need to be a successful commercial brewer. The weiss beer is cloudy as expected and the head is actually pretty good for a lightly hopped beer. Moving on to the taste.

Flavor is classic hefeweizen. Loads of banana and clove yeast flavor. Mostly clove. This fits perfectly for the style. Though there really isn't anything unique going on here flavor-wise. This is exactly what you would expect going into a hefeweizen. No more and not a bit less. It hit the spot but I wouldn't be fair if I gave it too high of a score. It would be just above the bell curve if this were a test. I don't really taste any hops but I don't want to when I drink these.

In the end, this is a beer that will give you what you want. As long as you don't expect to be blown away. If you find a wheat beer that is cheaper I would try it. Most likely it's just as good as this. Unless you are talking about Dundee's failed wheat beer. Makes sense that this is brewed in Utica. This is pretty much identical to the Saranac Hefeweizen. Must be in the water. I'd love to do a side by side comparison sometime.

Final Score: 77% (A Solid Hefe, But Nothing Special)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beer Review: Saranac India Brown Ale

F.X. Matt Brewing Company Saranac India Brown Ale

Another of the new beers in the 12 beers of winter mix pack. This style was much needed in the winter pack. Last year's release had few hoppy beers. Hopefully this will fill the void. This one pours an amber color with a short lived head that leaves a very small amount of lacing. Aroma is interesting, it reminds me of the pumpkin ale they released a few months back. Just with less spiciness.

Flavor is not what I expected. The malt is a bit disappointing. It has a very weak presence and is dominated by the hops. Normally I would like this but the hops are really just bitter. There isn't much in the way of flavor or aroma from them. I would have expected this to be the most robust and flavorful of all the new releases but it really just leaves you wanting something else. I don't think the malt blends at all with this kind of hopping.

I definitely wouldn't buy a six pack of this were it stand alone. This isn't a horrible beer by any means, its just disappointing and lackluster. Their India pale ale is much better. They should have called this India amber ale. There just isn't much that's brown about this.

Final Score: 69% (Disappointing. Malt and Hops are Weak.)

Beer Review: Clipper CIty Peg Leg

Clipper City Brewing Company Peg Leg Imperial Stout

Another brew in the Heavy Seas line from Clipper City. I love a good imperial stout. They work excellently with the December chill. This one pours a dark brown as expected with a solid head. Doesn't get too high but really sticks around as a low level. Aroma is very much chocolate and alcohol. You will be hard pressed to find a more inviting aroma.

Flavor is extremely chocolaty. This is the most drinkable imperial stout that I have yet to encounter. This still has the alcoholic bite and rich roasted malt goodness of an imperial stout yet is somehow easy to drink. Sipping is recommended but not required. The hops are also here in more force than normal for a stout. I really like this. Its an attempt at balance for a beer that thrives on being extremely one sided and decadent. The crazy part is they actually succeed.

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a big beer and wants to experience a balanced brew. This is a great effort from Clipper City and one that I will seek out in the future. I've had imperial stouts with more alcohol but this just seems right. Enough to pack a punch but still goes down easy. I never thought balance could be brought to this style. Turns out I was wrong.

Final Score: 94% (A Balanced,Way Above Average Imperial Stout)

I would definitely consider buying a six pack of these. They are big beers that go down easy. An extremely hard task to pull off.

Beer Review: Climax Cream Ale

Climax Brewing Company Cream Ale

Time for another Jersey review. This time the year round cream ale by the extremely talented Dave Hoffmann of Climax Brewing. This is an interesting beer style with characteristics that will range heavily from brewery to brewery. Dave described this to me as basically a pale ale that was called a cream ale to stand out next to the popular IPA. Makes sense to me. It would be a rare day that I go for a pale ale over an IPA. I am a sucker for the hops. This pours a slightly cloudy straw golden color with some lacing and a decent head. Aroma is crisp ale and hop with a little bit of alcohol that seems to be unique to Climax beers.

Flavor is surprisingly hoppy. Very grassy. Less floral and citrusy than a standard pale ale. This is not anything related to Genessee Cream Ale. I just learned that a cream ale is an ale that is brewed somewhat similarly to a lager and usually incorporates lager yeast at some point. Kind of like the opposite of a steam beer. This is a very easy drinking ale. This is very balanced and would definitely be on my list of repeat beers. If you are looking for something that is malty you will probably want to look elsewhere but hop fans will be happy with this brew.

This is a nice, easy going ale that should definitely be tried at least once. Climax produces the some of the best beer that I have encountered. Support them. I would be very surprised if anyone was disappointed with this beer.

Final Score: 89% (Heads and Shoulders Above Most Cream Ales)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Beer Review: Brooklyn Black Chocolate

Brooklyn Brewing Company Black Chocolate Stout Ale

Finally sat down to review this gem. This is my favorite Brooklyn release so far and one I almost always go for when I see it. Also happens to be their biggest beer (even bigger than the Monster Ale). This is from the Winter 08-09 vintage. Pours as dark as they come with a small controlled head. Lacing is not stopped by the high 10% ABV. This is a true imperial stout. No bullshit going on here. This has the balls to compete with the big boys of winter. Aroma is of chocolate and alcohol. A winning combo if there ever was one.

Flavor is extremely rich for even an imperial stout. This is a sipping beer. Even if it comes in the standard six-pack. Beer pong with some black chocolate equals trouble. The alcohol is very noticeable. Has a cooling effect on the tongue as it evaporates. Very pleasant. The chocolate malt is extremely rich as well. Not as much coffee or caramel flavors. Just deep dark chocolate. There are some bittering hops here but you really won't notice or pay too much attention. Hop heads seek elsewhere.

Overall, this is a great imperial stout. One of the best. The price certainly can't be beat at under 10 dollars for a six pack. This is a winter classic and one I wish I got a case of. A beer like this could age well. If you see this pick it up and try it. This is a beer that will warm and satisfy your taste. Those of the faint palate need not apply.

Final Score: 95% (Big Beer. Big Taste. Affordable Price.)