Febrewary: Shiner Holiday Cheer

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Brewer: Spoetzl Brewery
Location: Shiner, Texas
Type: Dunkelweizen
ABV: 5.4%

Has it really been 28 days since I started Febrewary? I suppose so. Doesn’t feel like it. Also doesn’t really feel like I accomplished what I set out to do, which was reduce the number of singles that I’ve recently purchased. Instead, I took this as an opportunity to drink some of the beers that I have been aging…make room for new beers to age. And so it goes with my final Febrewary entry.

I’ve had this bottle of Shiner Cheer in my aging collection for slightly more than three years. It was another one of the oldest in my collection. The rare thing about it is that it’s only a 5.4-percent ABV beer. Some believe that you shouldn’t really waste your time aging anything under 8 or 9 percent. However, I sometimes will make exceptions for beers that have a flavor that I think aging will enhance and showcase.

First, if you’ve never tried a freshly bottled Shiner Cheer, and you’re not averse to fruit-flavored beers, then I would highly recommend this Dunkelweizen (another new beer type for the lair!). Here’s a little bit more about this beer, from the label:

Happy Holidays from the “Little Brewery” in Shiner, TX. We hope you enjoy your Shiner Cheer, an Old World Dunkelweizen brewed with Texas peaches and roasted pecans. The malty flavors of this dark wheat ale are enhanced through the use of malted barley and wheat. And Kräusening ensures a smoothness that makes the subtle peach and pecan flavors all the more satisfying. May your days be merry and bright and your Shiner be cold. Prosit!

A Dunkelweizen is a dark (“dunkel”) German wheat (“weizen”) beer with a naturally low bitterness and a natural propensity toward sweet, fruity flavors. Adding fruit and nut flavors to this type of beer seems like a given (although possibly a bit of overkill if done incorrectly). And Kräusening is a form of beer carbonation using active malt wort rather than sugars. I’m not sure about the precise details, but I have read that it’s supposed to produce a cleaner tasting beer. Oh, and it’s German. In case you didn’t catch that from the word. Or the umlaut.

So what happened to this beer after aging for three years? Beautiful, magical, almost-to-the-edge-of-terrible things. I cracked this open with a wary twist and upended the bottle into a glass. My reward was this lovely cushion of foam and the comforting scent of harvest-time peaches…that last batch that’s almost too ripe to eat…slightly brown, slightly bruised, but you take a bite and are rewarded with a flood of succulence across your taste buds, down your chin, running between your fingers.

Aged, this beer becomes almost entirely about the peaches. There’s still the trace of pecan along the edges as well as a distant echo of breadiness…the understated topping and crust to a late summer peach cobbler. What was once a beer of balanced flavors has now tipped toward a heavy peach bias. And it’s delicious…with just the slightest hint of a dangerous drop mere inches away. I think if I had let this age slightly longer than I did, it would have turned and this would have been a completely different review.

Again, if you like fruit-flavored beers, I say go find yourself some Shiner Cheer come Christmastime this year. Actually, start looking for this one around early November, and be forewarned: It goes very quickly. I missed my chance last year. This year? You can bet I’ll be ready. I have to be. I now have no more Cheer. And that’s a sad state to be in, denizens.

And so we end Febrewary. I still have a bunch of dark singles to deal with…but the good news is that I now have several openings available in my aging section thanks to tackling some of my older brews. Plus, there’s always the possibility of Darktober 2014. You never know…

Febrewary: Pendulum Pilsner

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Brewer: Baltimore Washington Beer Works USA
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Type: German Pilsener
ABV: 4.5%

We’re not finished with Baltimore yet, hon. Let Loba tell you a tale. Once upon a midnight dreary…Baltimore Washington Beer Works decided to build a line of beers with names based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe, one of Baltimore’s most famous residents…who, subsequently, was also a lifelong alcoholic. Regardless of this bit of oversight (or irony), as a one-time student of Poe’s works as well as a lifelong fan of his writing (and a lifelong fan of drinking), I deeply approve of their line-up, which includes: Raven Special Lager, Pendulum Pilsner, Tell-Tale Heart IPA, The Cask Double Bock, and Annabel Lee White.

Here’s a little secret I’ve never shared with you all before. As much as I don’t like most light-colored beers, I actually have quite a fondness for some pilseners. Some are a little jarring, which is why I have to be in a mood to try a new one, but I’ve found several that I really enjoy as an alternative for when I cannot find any darker options. I don’t typically buy them because…well, once I finished pillaging the dark beer section, I’ve not got much energy (or money) left to buy anything else. However, I am not averse to pilseners as gifts. Especially ones that come emblazoned with the image of my favorite author (and a really groovy label; I don’t know if you all can tell, but the label has little razor-sharp pendulums at each bottom corner).

With a beautiful golden color and a subtle, almost floral nose, Pendulum is a readily accessible beer. It’s tangy but not too sharp, fizzy but not frothy, light but not watery. Not quite as quick a drink as the Balt beer, but still something easy to down with a nice thick slice of pizza. I don’t really consider light beers to be something that I would drink on their own, so I would definitely want to drink this with some kind of food. Something naughty. Something fried. I can’t really pontificate much on this beyond what I’ve said, since light beers are kind of not my bag, baby, but sometimes a beer is just a beer, right? Right.

I’d be interested to find this on tap somewhere…again, perhaps at a pizzeria or a burger joint. Maybe even a seafood place. I could see this going nicely with some fresh clams or mussels. Have I made you hungry enough yet? Quoth the Raven…feed me now.

Febrewary: Balt Altbier

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Brewer: Union Craft Brewing Company
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Type: Altbier
ABV: 5.5%

As if I haven’t been localized enough, today I bring you Balt Altbier, from the Baltimore-based microbrewery Union Craft. The guys at Union Craft have only been doing the brewing since 2012, and while they have made a few beers since their start, they only have two permanent brews at the moment: Duckpin Pale Ale and Balt Altbier. For those of you who have no idea what “duckpin” is, it’s a weird bowling variation that started in Baltimore in 1900. What else would you name your pale ale if you’re a Baltimoron, hon?

[Loba Tangent: Personally, I’m holding out hope that their next beer is called something like Pink Flamingo Porter or Serial Mom Saison. John Waters, woot!]

Since I have made it very clear that I don’t like hoppy beers, I’m not that fond of Duckpin. However, I find Union’s Balt beer strikingly good. (I saw what I did there.) This is also the first time I’ve written about an Altbier here at the lair. It’s a German-style brown ale that carries smooth, refined flavors thanks in part to a longer conditioning period. I’ve honestly never had an Altbier before that I can remember, so I don’t have a frame of comparison for this one. However, I can tell you that, on its own, Balt is a supremely satisfying beer.

Again, not too thrilled about the can, but this is the beer I mentioned in yesterday’s review as being one of those canned beers that does not bother me with any “can” flavor. I can pop the lid on one of these and just start drinking, or I can pour into a glass to pick up this beer’s bouquet of baking breads, freshly ground wheat, and the subtle sweetness of slowly caramelizing brown sugar. As you can see, this beer is a beautiful chestnut color with a delicate froth. I might have been able to get a better head had I poured a little more vigorously. I don’t like foam mustaches, though, so meh.

Tasting this beer is always a pleasant surprise to me. Considering how young Union Craft is, I’m always delighted when I take that first pull and taste such an extraordinary flavor profile. It’s not heavy, but by no means watery, with a medium mouth feel that’s packed full of toasted, oaty sweetness. Surprisingly, I don’t find this beer’s sweeter elements to be cloying at all, although perhaps a bit more hops as a balance would be an interesting experiment. However, I would hate for them to tamper with something this delicious right out of the can. Literally!

Febrewary: Penn Quarter Porter

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Brewer: DC Brau
Location: Washington, D.C.
Type: American Porter
ABV: 5.5%

Minus a couple of forays into Scottish brews and a trip out to Colorado and Hawaii, I realize that I’ve been keeping it pretty close to home for my Febrewary picks. I would apologize, but I’m not that sorry that I live in an area surrounded by some really amazing craft brew happenings. Tis a grand time to be an East Coast Beer Snob.

My latest beer comes from the Capitol City itself (although not from Capitol City Brewing). DC Brau is the first packaging brewery within city limits since 1956. So sayeth their Web site. They’ve been around for a few years now, slowly building a name and a reputation. I’ve not had a lot of their beers, because it’s taken them a little while to move out into the suburbs. However, I can say that they make a fantastic Imperial Pumpkin Porter. One of the easiest growlers I’ve ever made my way through.

At first, they only offered their Penn Quarter Porter as a draft beer. However, it quickly became one of their more popular brews, so they slowly moved into bottling and now offering it in cans. I’ve already talked about my feelings toward canned beer. I’m sure that I’m just being persnickety or even excessively snobby, but I don’t like that tinny can taste that I can detect right after pouring. It’s not there with all beers, true. In fact, the next beer to appear here is one of those that I can drink right from the can and not be bothered (ooh, previews!). Maybe it’s the darker beers that somehow interact with the aluminum in bad ways? Who’s to say.

Anyway, DC Brau writes on the Penn Quarter Porter can that they recommend pouring this beer into a goblet. I have one (from Flying Dog, natch), but I completely forgot. Besides, I love my LobaBlanca Brewing Company glasses. How could I not? As you can see, this porter forms a luscious head of foam…thick and luxurious and lacey all the way down the glass as you drink.

There is, however, a slight problem. Perhaps one of you can help me, denizens. I’ve talked about this problem before, in my review of Evolution’s Lucky 7 Porter. When I take a deep breath of the Penn Quarter Porter? I smell soap. It’s not quite as prominent as the Lucky 7 soap scent, but it’s there, sort of haunting the perimeter of earthy, loamy smells that conjure the more traditional porter bouquet.

With the Lucky 7, I thought that perhaps something went wrong with that particular batch. However, detecting the same soapy smell in another porter is making me wonder if this might be a case of me reacting to a particular hops variety the ways some people react to cilantro. I tried to figure out what type of hops both these porters include, but I didn’t have much luck with a cursory Web search. So any of you lovelies know what type of hops they use? If they both use the same variety, I’m going to go with this theory that it’s me rather than the beer. If not, however, that might mean that this is another bad batch of beer.

The happy news is that I couldn’t taste soap when I finally took a sip. Instead, that loaminess, that deep earthen richness like freshly tilled soil was the predominant sensory sensation. This is quite an elemental porter in that regard. Not really all that sweet or heavy, but rather rich and hearty, with a slightly dry finish. Peat bogs and mulched leaves after a cold autumn rain. This is a…hiking beer. A fireside beer. Something that evokes flavor complexity but in a savory, slightly ascetic way. Similarly, it’s a solid mouth feel, but it doesn’t stay longer than it needs to. This is not a clingy porter.

Still, that soapy smell detracted several points for this beer. I realized halfway through that I was holding my breath each time I took a drink, which was a definite downer. The reason I pour my beers into a glass is because I want that full sensory experience. I want to see it, smell it, and taste it. Fearing the smell of this beer was a major bummer.

I bought a six-pack when I treated myself to my Flying Dog Cinnamon Porter, so I’ll be giving this batch at least one more shot. After that, though, it might be a while before I revisit Penn Quarter. It’s not really that safe a place to go anyway. Just ask Mr. Lincoln…

Macabre D.C. historical humor, FTW.

Febrewary: Cinnamon Porter

Brewer: Flying Dog Brewery
Location: Frederick, Maryland
Type: American Porter
ABV: 6%

I honestly wasn’t planning on doing another beer review quite this soon. After the last beer beat down, I thought it would be wise to give myself a little bit of recuperation time. However, the best laid plans of mice and beer lovers…you know how that goes.

Back in early December of last year, Flying Dog had a really groovy release party at their brewery for the last Brewhouse Rarities beer they created for 2013: Cinnamon Porter.

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For those unfamiliar with the Brewhouse Rarities series, it is pretty much the brewers (and, really, any Flying Dog employee) getting together at the end of the year or the beginning of the next and deciding on some spectacularly bat-shit crazy flavor ideas for beers. They typically either make them only for on-tap sales or they bottle a very limited supply (like the Green Tea Imperial Stout that I have aging downstairs right now). The slogan and inspiration for all of Flying Dog’s Brewhouse Rarities is a Hunter S. Thompson quote: “Too weird to live. Too rare to die.”

As much as I wanted to go to the release party for the Cinnamon Porter (not only did I think it sounded like an awesome way to spend an evening, but it was also the only place I could get this porter in a bottle), they had the party on a Tuesday evening. Even in the best traffic conditions, that would have been a really bad idea.

So next best thing? Stalk my regular beer haunts until one of them finally announced that they had a keg of Cinnamon Porter to tap! That’s precisely what I have been doing for the better part of a month. My pay-off came with a special DM this morning from one of my regular go-tos, letting me know that now was my time. After work, I headed on over, and I enjoyed one of the very first pints pulled from this freshly tapped keg.

My first comment is less about the beer itself and more about how places serve dark beers. This particular place served me a very, very cold porter. I will say this until I have no more ability to speak…and then I will write it: Porters and stouts should not be served cold. At most, if you are worried about your clientele complaining that the beer is too warm, then at least knock it up a few degrees from how you would serve a pale ale or a lager.

This beer was so cold that it was unwilling to give up even the slightest bit of flavor beyond the basics present in most porters. I even had a very difficult time discerning much from the nose. So, I patiently picked up my glass and cradled it in both of my hands, strolling around the perimeter of the store while looking at their beer and wine selections. Those who know me know that I don’t have the warmest hands, so this attempt on my part to warm the porter took a significant amount of time and energy on my part.

However, I do have to say that I was rewarded with a worthwhile payoff. As the porter began to warm, I could start to smell the gentle waft of cinnamon stick rising from my glass…not ground cinnamon, mind you, but the actual sticks. That muted, mellifluous scent…that promise of woodsy spice, just a scratch or two away.

Drinking the slightly warmed beer revealed even more of that soft, mulled flavor. I admittedly had no idea what to expect with this beer, but I know that when Flying Dog wants to knock you across the room with flavors, they do that in spades. This however, was a surprisingly delicate soupçon of cinnamon…so ethereal that I only really detected its presence with each exhalation and the pleasantly surprising tingle on my tongue that I usually feel when eating cinnamon in my oatmeal in the mornings.

I love cinnamon, but I also know that this beer could have been a forced, fabricated mess of a porter. Thankfully, however, it was in the capable paws of Flying Dog’s ace brewers. Yet another delightful Brewhouse Rarities entry that I can scratch off my list. Maybe, just maybe, if I go back later on and they’re still serving this, I can spend a little more time letting the porter warm up even more. I suspect that this beer has a lot to share if given the opportunity.

If you are interested, Flying Dog has released their Brewhouse Rarities list for this year. Look out in 2014 for:

  • Mango Habañero IPA
  • Mint Chocolate Stout
  • Ginger Beer
  • Agave Cerveza
  • Lemongrass Rice Ale
  • Hoppy American Wheat
  • Black Honey IPA
  • Dopplebock

There are a couple of beers from this list that I will have to keep watch for, including the Lemongrass Rice Ale and the Black Honey IPA, if only to see if the honey can balance out the bitter in a way that I find palatable. However, I’m not going to lie, denizens. I want that Mint Chocolate Stout. If anything? I can see that making a mind-blowing beer float. And the great thing is that I see from the already released label that they plan to bottle this in 12-ounce bottles rather than their usual 750ml big bottle. I’m taking this as a sign that they plan on releasing this on a wider scale. Fingers crossed!

fdmcs

Febrewary: Tokio*

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Brewer: BrewDog
Location: Fraserburgh, Scotland
Type: Intergalactic Fantastic Oak Aged Stout
ABV: 18.2%

This is a beer inspired by a 1980s space invaders arcade game played in Japan’s capital.

The irony of existentialism, the parody of being, and the inherent contradictions of post-modernism, all so delicately conveyed by the blocky, pixelated arcade action have all been painstakingly recreated in this bottle’s contents.

This imperial stout is brewed with copious amounts of specialty malts, jasmine, and cranberries. After fermentation, we then dry-hop this killer stout with a bucketload of our favorite hops before carefully aging the beer on French toasted oak chips.

Our approach has the same contempt of the mass beer market that the old-school punks had for pop culture. BrewDog is a modern-day rebellion against soulless corporate bureaucracy and the bland, apathetic beer they industrially produce.

I told you that I had more BrewDogs in the aging queue. This bottle of Tokio* (strangely, this is the only time I have ever seen this beer’s name spelled with an “i”; every other bottle I’ve seen, including the other bottle I have aging, is spelled with a “y”), has been aging for almost three years. It was one of the oldest beers in my collection. Weirdly enough? I’ve never tried this beer fresh, so I have absolutely no frame of comparison for Tokio*. That’s kind of a shame, because I would really like to know if this beer is as abusive a beast fresh as it is aged.

One of the things that I love most about trying different craft beers from different craft breweries is that there is so much daring and creativity going on out there in the beer making universe right now. Case in point are two of my favorite domestic breweries, Flying Dog and Dogfish Head. They both take risks with ingredients, flavor profiles, ABVs, and so forth. Sometimes, they fail…but they are spectacular even in their failures.

I believe that BrewDog exemplifies this daring attitude toward beer making as well. They even state in Tokio*s humorous description that they are fighting against the “soulless corporate bureaucracy and the bland, apathetic beer they industrially produce.” If ever there was a better description of that St. Louis brewery, I’ve never read it.

Still, where do you draw the line for daring? Do you draw a line? I don’t really know the answer. I do, however, know my own personal limits, and I think this bottle of stout far surpassed it. Black as the depths of space and rolling across your senses with the crushing weight of an 18.2-percent ABV, Tokio* is the city that would have made Godzilla nothing more than a smear in the middle of the road.

Inhale and feel it saturating your olfactory senses, burning into your alveoli. It reeks of alcohol like that rarely seen third cousin twice removed who staggers in late to holiday parties, hits on you without realizing you’re related, before passing out face-first into the artichoke dip. Underneath the alcohol, there roils a sweet-and-sour mix of dry fruit, bitter baker’s chocolate, burnt sugar, piercing decadence, shoes and ships and sealing wax…no cabbages or kings.

Drink. No. Sip. You cannot but sip. Even sipping is like being grabbed around the throat and dragged into the dangerous shadows of a back alley where Tokio* pummels your taste buds unmercifully. It is a monstrous beer, inescapable from its presence, its smells, its flavors…too rich, too intense, too…everything. It will boil your kid’s bunny and come at you like a knifed-up spider monkey on speed if you try to ignore it. IT WILL NOT BE IGNORED.

Tokio* is a flavor ravaging. Pick a safe word before you try it, but know that it will disregard whatever word you pick. It just doesn’t care.

I am concerned that I have another one of these beers aging in my collection. I feel as though I am harboring a dangerous criminal. For all my love of daring brews and daring dos, I have to say that Tokio* is more than I prefer. Makes me wonder what my reaction would have been to BrewDog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which was a freeze-distilled stout that weighed in at 36-percent ABV. They also did a massive IPA, Sink the Bismarck, which clobbered drinkers with a 41-percent ABV, as well as another freeze-distilled stout they dubbed “The End of History” and packed with a 55-percent ABV. According to what I’ve read, they only made 12 bottles of this beer, which they shipped in small, taxidermist-prepared animals.

And that, denizens, is called overkill.

When they aren’t doing brewing meant just to garner attention, BrewDog actually makes some really good beers as well as some beers that I read about and would really, really love to try. Just for shits and giggles, I went to BrewDog’s site just now and put together a case of some of their brews that I would love to try (both fresh and aged). Sadly, with the conversion rate, I would be paying more than $250 for the joy of total BrewDog immersion. I simply cannot justify that much for beer. So, dear Anchor Brewing, please start importing more BrewDog, STAT. Thank you. Love and kisses, Loba B.

Putting the “Brew” in Febrewary

So how could I possibly call this “Febrewary” without actually brewing some beer? I just can’t, denizens. Therefore, I give you this:

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Seems that I’ve made a bit of a habit in recent years of spending my cold weather holidays brewing beers…a habit that I sadly didn’t continue throughout 2013 because…well, because life. That’s pretty much why.

Now, not to say that I don’t have a life this year, but I do have a bit more free time than I did last year. Plus, with about a foot of snow still on the ground and daytime highs still below freezing, I’m thinking that staying indoors on my day off isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

Plus, there’s the added bonus of recently relocating a gift card that my cousins gave me to Northern Brewer Homebrew Supply, that must have gotten lost in our recent move. When I looked through Northern Brewer’s brew kits and saw that they offered, among other tasty concoctions, a White House honey porter? I took that as a sign that my Presidents’ Day was set.

I’ve written before about my beer brewing adventures. I have to say that those previous kits can’t even compare to the simplicity of the Northern Brewer kit that I used today. In some ways, I feel like it was almost too easy…like I missed a step or didn’t have all the ingredients or forgot something or…I don’t know. It just wasn’t anywhere near as complicated as the previous kits made the process out to be.

Instead, the Northern Brewer White House honey porter kit was a breeze as well as way neater, way quicker, and way more fun. I’m not saying that the other kits were bad; on the contrary, they were the ones that got me hooked on homebrewing in the first place. However, Northern Brewer has shown that applying a little bit of creativity to a process can simplify and streamline it in ways that make everything more awesome. And who doesn’t want more awesome in their lives?

So right now, my gallon jug full of honey porter is sitting down in the dark coolness of our storage room (a storage room! Such beer-making luxury!), its little airlock in place, just waiting for the yeast to start the fermentation process. Minus the feeling that this was simply too easy, I’m very pleased with today’s brewing exercise. I was also very pleased with the Star San sanitation process I used. Again, made everything way easier.

This whole experience has revived my love for making my own beer. I guess I had forgotten how much fun it can be to create something that I love…and obviously, I love beer. Now that we have more space, including an area of the house where I can keep my brews cool and dark while they beerify themselves, I might start doing this more frequently. Hell, I might even start moving into deeper homebrew waters, beyond the relative safety of these types of one-gallon kits. However, I already have another gallon kit waiting in the wings once today’s batch has finished fermenting and I’ve bottled it. Plus, I have a little more money left on my gift card. Methinks it’s time to treat myself to some more professional brewing equipment.

Stay tuned, denizens. Bottling is only two weeks away…and then, two weeks after that? It’s Millah Time! (Only way better than actual Miller. I hope.)

OMG Update!

While testing the links in this post, I loaded Northern Brewer’s home page, only to find this: Wil Wheaton’s VandalEyes PA!

SHUT. UP!

Seriously, I wrote in my first blog post about my homebrewing adventures that Wil Wheaton was the main inspiration for my interest in this hobby in the first place. What can I say? I really am just a geek. Just like Wil.

I wish that I liked IPAs, because I would buy this kit in a heartbeat if I did, just to experience the love that he’s invested into creating his own beer. I bet it wins everything. But it’s an IPA. With an awesome name. So if that’s your bag, denizens? Give it a go, and be sure to let me know how it goes!

Also? This makes me love Northern Brewer that much more. Wil Wheaton. So much awesome.

Febrewary: Alice Porter

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Brewer: Brew Dog
Location: Fraserburgh, Scotland
Type: Renaissance Baltic Porter
ABV: 6.2%

The profoundly puzzling Alice Porter.

Cryptic. Enigmatic. Alchemistic.

Few beers are shrouded in secrecy like the porter; a beer whose roots are said to be punctuated by hurried footsteps along cobbled London streets and swirls of mist from atop the River Thames.

Decloaked and radically reinvisaged, BrewDog’s Alice Porter is a 6.2% sacred union of one 300-year-old recipe and two cross-continental hop varieties.

A delicate mirage of chocolate, red fruit and burnt sugar, let Alice Porter whisk you away to a forgotten time juxtaposed against the backdrop of modernity.

And then, before you know it, she’s gone…tumbling down a rabbit hole into the same obscurity that first caught your attention.

Leaving but the question…who or what is Alice Porter?

I thought you all might enjoy a little story as your first official introduction to the brewer of tonight’s beer. See, once upon a time, in the far-away land of Scotland, a little brewery named BrewDog began. And they liked to make really crazy beers, oftentimes with mind-smashingly high ABVs and flavor profiles like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots crushing tastes directly into your mouth. Sometimes, they were great. Sometimes, they were destructive. Sometimes, they were just left enough of center to drop-kick you right into Nirvana. Nearly always, they brought along a story to tell us a little more about their existence. Or to just confuse us even more regarding what we’re tasting. Either way, it’s always been a fun ride.

Sadly, for the longest time, I couldn’t really find many BrewDog beers on this side of the pond. Now, however, I’m pleased to report that San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company is now responsible for importing BrewDog. I hope, I hope, I hope that this means that we’ll be seeing more of their options over here.

Tonight, however, I come to review a beer that was gifted to me several moons ago by one of my lovely, lovely ImagiFriendsTM. He gave me two bottles of Alice Porter, actually. One, I drank only a few days after I received it. I even snapped a photo:

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(And this would be why tonight’s beer is in that same Wonder Woman glass, by the by. Call back!)

When I drank this porter relatively fresh from the source, I commented that it was “Definitely a full frontal start followed by a startling dropoff. Strange. But delightful. Like tumbling down a rabbit hole…”

I wrote that on July 20, 2012. Tonight’s tasting comes more than a year later, and I have to report that this beer would have made a hops fan ecstatic. As I learned from some reading this evening, this porter uses two different type of hops, an English varietal known as Bramling X and a Japanese varietal called Sorachi Ace. I’m not familiar with the flavor profiles of either of these hops (not like I am with, say, a Willamette hops), but I’m assuming that it’s this combination that gave the fresher beer its precipitous flavor profile, and what consequently turned this aged bottle into a tangy sucker-punch that nearly shorted out the entirety of my palate.

I seriously was not expecting the vicious sharpness of this porter’s taste after aging. However, I knew that something was definitely changed in ways I wasn’t anticipating when I drew a deep breath from the glass and felt the metallic sting of the beer’s bouquet. I pushed the beer aside for a little while, allowing it some settling time. I’ve learned that BrewDog’s beers are never completely “clean,” often requiring a bit of settling time before drinking. That’s not that big a deal, though; my attempts at home brewing have taught me that sometimes, you’re just going to end up with some sediment, but that’s not going to ruin anything.

I remember back in Darktober, I reviewed a bottle of Tröeg’s Java Head Stout that I had been aging. That beer turned into an equally surprising hop-heavy beer. However, that beer had nothing on Alice. She’s suffocated any signs of sweetness under bitter, bitter bravado. She is fierce and unrelenting and won’t stop until she takes you down and obliterates your taste buds with a spinning heel kick right to your palate. Set her loose in Raccoon City and she’ll have the undead cleared away before you can say Umbrella Corporation.

Go ahead, laugh, you horror nerds. It’s okay.

I wish one of two things: That I hadn’t aged this beer, or that I had known from the hops used that I should have aged it and given it to a friend who is far more into hoppier beers that I am. I have a feeling he would have gone totally crazy over Alice. She was a hot, hoppy date. A shame that she just wasn’t my type.

This experience has also reminded me that I have two other BrewDog beers currently aging. One of them has been aging even longer than this Alice Porter. I think it’s time to bring them out of stasis. I only hope that I survive the resurrection…

Febrewary: Palo Santo Marron

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Brewer: Dogfish Head
Location: Milton, Delaware
Type: American Brown Ale
ABV: 12%

How best to regroup after a thoroughly disappointing beer experience? Get up, dust your taste buds off, and ease back into the game by way of a tried-and-true favorite. I wrote very approvingly of Delaware’s Dogfish Head back in Darktober. Even after more than a year of drinking other beers on tap and from bottles, I still consider Bitches Brew to be one of my all-time favorite flavor discoveries. (This also reminds me that I still need to buy a bottle for aging.) And DFH’s Indian Brown Ale remains one of my favorite go-to beers for when I want a nice, solid, reliably delicious brew.

However, when I want to treat myself with a delicious DFH beer without breaking the bank on something like a bottle of Bitches Brew or their deliciously overpriced World Wide Stout, but a little higher on the scale than the Indian Brown? I go with their Palo Santo Marron.

First, here is what DFH writes about this beer on its label:

An unfiltered, unfettered, unprecedented Brown Ale aged in handmade wooden brewing vessels. The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this ale comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. At 10,000 gallons each, these are the largest wooden brewing vessels built in America since before Prohibition. It’s all very exciting. We have wood. Now you do, too.

Silly guys.

Whatever they say about this beer, I say it’s one of my all-time favorites. In fact, whenever I go to one of DFH’s pubs, I struggle even to consider trying anything else on tap (unless they happen to have World Wide Stout, then that’s a no-brainer), because I know…I know that this beer is going to blow my mind, every time. For my particular beer preferences, this is a sensory feast, with rich, bold flavors; sumptuous aromas; and a massive mouth feel that invades every last inch of your palate.

Deep, impenetrable pour with a flutter of foam, but don’t mistake the absence of carbonation as a hint of flatness (like other recent appearances). This beer keeps some surprises internal. However, inhale and the blitz of smells is intense: malty sweetness, cinnamon-spiced complexity, fresh vanilla, toasted caramel, baking breads and dried dark fruits…plums, figs, cherries…a subtle scintillation, even, of pipe tobacco…all topped off with a woody freshness, for good measure. I think that might be my favorite part of this beer’s bouquet. Ever taken a deep breath in a wood shop? Or opened a drawer to a freshly built piece of furniture? Or even stood at a Christmas tree farm, surrounded by freshly cut conifers? That sensation…not necessarily the particular scents of these various woods…but that experience of inhaling something sylvan…organic…fresh…these are all intertwined throughout the nose I catch from Palo Santo Marron.

One sip and you discover where the carbonation was hiding. Not overwhelmingly bubbly, but enough to give the mouth feel a joyful effervescence as a counterpoint to the silky smooth rush of flavors. One of the wonderfully surprising thing about this beer (and several of DFH’s more “spirited” brews) is that the relatively high ABV doesn’t make itself overbearing at any point while drinking this beer. Another delightfully dangerous beer.

As for the flavor profile, I love bold malty brews that have nary a hint of hops, and this falls right in line with that particular personal preference. I fall in love with this beer a little bit more each time that I drink it. Riotously flavorful, smooth, complex, and satisfying, it has never been anything less that pleasing to me. The only way I haven’t yet had this one is aged in my collection, simply because I can never hold on to one long enough.

I’m going to try this time to save one bottle for at least a year. I’ll let you know how that goes…

Febrewary: Alta Gracia Coffee Porter

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Brewer: Otter Creek BrewingCompany
Location: Middlebury, Vermont
Type: American Porter
ABV: 5%

Let this be a lesson to us all, denizens. Always read the full label before making a purchase. Had I done this with the “Wolaver’s Fine Organic Ales” coffee porter that I’m here to review now…well, let’s just say that I would have probably thought twice about actually buying it. Wolaver’s is a line brewed by Vermont’s Otter Creek Brewing Company. I gave their Stovepipe Porter a less than enthusiastic review back in Darktober.

And so it goes with this beer. It seems as if the only real hat trick that this Wolaver beer has is that it is an “unfiltered and unpasteurized porter brewed with Vermont grown organic coffee and aged on organic vanilla beans.” Wonderful It’s an organic beer. But it claims to use excellent coffee and vanilla beans, which when combined, should make a fantabulous beer…something right up my alley, so to speak.

This beer barely fizzled as I poured it, even though I did try to encourage some sign of carbonated life. Regardless of my attempts at carbonation resuscitation, this beer was practically DOA. Drinking it was an equally lifeless experience, each swallow going down like flat bargain bin soda left out on the table for hours.

With hardly any carbonation also came the disappointing realization that this porter had hardly any nose whatsoever. It smelled kind of like a cup of watered-down coffee, but nothing extraordinarily noteworthy beyond that. Limp, weak mouth feel and a taste that I can only describe as my sad attempt as a child to make a chocolate soda by squeezing Hershey’s syrup into a glass of Pepsi. I can report that this experiment was an unequivocal failure.

Kind of like this porter.

Were I in a more charitable mood (which I suppose I should be in, considering the holiday and all), I would say that I plan on giving this beer another try. However, combined with my previously unenthusiastic experience with Otter Creek, I’m going to say no. No to this beer and no to Otter Creek. Again, there is no lack of dark beer goodness out there. I really don’t see the point in subjecting myself to beers this lackluster.