Monday, September 17, 2012

Hail to the Pumpkins! Part 1

Pumpkin beer. You're either a fan, or can do without it. You all know this is that time of year. Colder temperatures at night make us all yearn for heavier bodied beer without the summer flavors of lemons, and berries. Our palates crave cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and clove along with pumpkin, maple, and even molasses. Thankfully brewers across the country deliver with an explosions of offerings. Harpoon offers an oktoberfest, a pumpkin ale, and even a pumpkin cider so each desire is met. Others like Weyerbacher stick to one style which they've come to master, the imperial pumpkin ale. A beer which will not only sure the cravings for spice, but will also warm you up with a higher alcohol content of most fall offerings.

This year was no different for me. Sampling numerous fall styles from various breweries I've slowly compiled a list of my favorites. Surprises happened right away along with let downs as well. But instead of trashing the ones I could have done without, here are the favorites. Ten of them in fact! Agree? Disagree? let me know.


Saranac Pumpkin Ale.
If you read the review on Beer Advocate it's apparent most people have the same opinion here. It's average. Not bad or outstanding, but a decent pumpkin ale that drinkable. Had there been a little more spice in it this would have climbed up my rankings a bit. But the pumpkin ale world has become crowded with competition and breweries need to push the envelope to gain the top spots.


Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale
Maybe the way they make this beer has me place it higher on my list than others. It's organic, and the pumpkins are picked from a farm just 15 miles from the brewery. Other breweries have used pumpkins shipped all the way from China. But something about Wolaver's fall seasonal always has me place it higher on my list than better reviewed beers. It has a subtle spice flavor and the body it a bit lighter than others, but like I said, I'm a fan.


Sierra Nevada Tumbler
A fantastic non pumpkin and non oktoberfest fall offering from the usually hop heavy Sierra Nevada Brewery. This beer is easy drinking with rich roasted barley flavor and even hints of coffee at times. The low ABV% makes it a great beer to have if you're sitting by the fire and don't wanna become drunk off two beers. Another great quality of this one is it's ability to compliment many different meals. It's difficult to pair pumpkin ales with many main courses due to its spiciness. But Tumbler can come out at any time. appetizers, main course, or dessert.


Narragansett Fest
First time having this oktoberfest from the brewery in Rhode Island. Smooth, medium body, with a low ABV% makes this another fireside brew like Tumbler. Even though very different in flavor, Fest can be matched up with any course of food as well. This one comes in cans so keep an eye out since it may be hiding among the bottles.


Woodchuck Fall Cider
Cider is a somewhat love/hate drink. If you have a sweet tooth, you're apt to enjoy it. But if you prefer beer and beer only then cider won't likely be your thing. If it is though Fall Cider by Woodchuck captures the essence of fall perfectly. Apples, cinnamon, nutmeg all wrapped up in 12oz bottles waiting for an outdoor fire when the air is chill and the leaves are turning colors. I easily described this to someone one day saying, "it tastes like the air feels".

Next, I'll review my top 5 fall beers this year. I'm still waiting to try one or two so don't wanna be premature in declaring a favorite.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stouts, Harvest Ales, and Prepare for Limited Edition Beer Releases!

Fall is now here. Tomato plants are making that last push in your garden squeezing out every last fruit they can, and those pumpkin ales that came out a month ago now make sense to your palate when drinking them. Fall is an exciting time of year in the beer world. New beers are coming out every week and almost regularly a limited release small batch of beer is arriving in the stores.

Two years ago I was new into the craft beer scene and missed out on a lot if not all of those special brews. Bitches Brew by Dogfish Head was no where in sights the time I came around looking for it. This was also the year the show on Discovery Channel caused an explosion in demand for this beer. And even the seasonal brews like winter ales and harvest ales I had a tough time getting a hold of. Not prepping for the release and knowing of the early release dates ended with me going home empty handed more often than not.

Here's your basic guide so you don't miss the beer your waiting for.
Early to Mid September;
Harvest Ales by many breweries including Weyerbacher, Southern Tier, Founders, and Sierra Nevada.

Late September mid October;
Stouts, and the beginning of Winter Ales. Look for Founders Breakfast Stout.

Late October through November;
Winter Ales, some Stouts. Keep an eye out for Anchor Christmas Ale which brew a different recipe every year. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, will give you a nice hop kick with nice body. And be alert for Lagunitas Sucks, which replaced the Brown Shugga' in 2011 but became a huge hit.

All Winter Ales. Weyerbacher Winter Ale, Smuttynose Winter Ale, Long Trail Hibernator, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout.

All the while be alert for the limited releases. Supply is usually low and most stores will keep those beers tucked away in the back and limit customers to 1 or 2 each. In this market, most beers come in on Thursday. So make a quick stop at your local store and ask one of the employees what came in. It may sound like trouble but it fully worth it when you drink some of these limited releases;

Dogfish Head Bitches Brew
Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale (this year will be their 16th year)
Allagash Interlude

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stone Enjoy By 09.21.12 and Pumpkins in July!

If you're even a moderate craft beer enthusiast you've probably heard and even tried the Stone Enjoy by 09.21.12. If you haven't get on the chase wagon. It's an exceptional IPA that's highly drinkable for hefty alcohol volume it possesses(9.4%). The rage around this beer began before the majority of people even tried it. A beer that's meant to expire? Who would wanna do something like that? Why would you go through all that effort to have it be sent back a month later? These were some of the things I happened to hear leading up to the arrival of it in stores. What was happening was the buzz that Stone had created in a kick ass marketing scheme.

Indeed word of mouth is one of the ways that buzz is generated in the beer industry now. But add Facebook and Twitter into the mix and you can go from a small buzz to a critical mass in an hour. This is what happened that made people hang out in stores for hours waiting for distribution trucks to arrive. And made me drive a half hour to get some on tap. Cause even though I work in a liquor store, demand was so high my opportunity at getting some was missed. Stone did a great job building this beer up to a fever pitch before it arrived. But the beer had to deliver or it would have been an epic flop.

Now, Stone has set up a theater for a trend to begin. Who will be next? Will Stone pull a repeat and switch the markets? Or will someone else decide to take the risk? Either way it was a greatly executed plan this time around. Both the beer and marketing were wonderful. Well done Stone and all the distributors who made it possible!

Take your pumpkin ales to the shore during a summer vacation!

Now onto a subject that I'm passionately annoyed with. Why did pumpkin and fall themed beers get released so damn early this year? Was it an economic issue? The breweries weren't hitting target sales so they decided to push up release dates in order to meet their earning predictions? Or has this just been a slow going process and year after year that's caused it to now arrive in July (and even June in some extreme cases). Last year it was mid to late August. Well I'm against this.

It's nice to see new product roll in but after a bike ride in 95 degree weather I'm not thinking Imperial Pumpkin Ale. There needs to be a Leap Month thrown into the beer release calendar to get these breweries back on schedule with the actual seasons. The biggest problem is if you want to drink this beer "in season", you have to buy it now and sit on it. But some have been bottled way back in early June. Most fall beers aren't intended for aging so you have a declining flavored beer in the fall, or you drink it in the Summer and have your taste buds become confused. Pity. Hey breweries, take a lesson from the Stone 09.21.12. Of course you can't take every beer you brew to that extreme. But fresh is usually best. Release the beer on schedule with the actual season. So when you want a Pumpkin Ale while carving a Jack-O-Lantern, it's fresh.

Next week I'll get my Christmas decorations down and put them up. This way I'll be ready when all the Christmas Ales and Holiday Beers are released in late September. At least that's what I'm predicting will happen based on this years release schedule.

I'm done complaining. Go have a beer.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Arrival of Spring and the Craving For Hops

Are you a HopHead? You know, the kind of beer drinking that loves that bitterness in your beer bought on by a healthy dose of those fresh little pine cones called hops? Fortunately for you (and me) this is the time of year where those winter beers are long gone or tucked into storage and breweries begin to deliver the first round of IPAs and Pale Ales. So breath easy, the down time is over, warm weather is almost here, and Troegs Nugget Nectar has hit the shelves! (along with some other great spring ales)

Being a HopHead isn't always something you start out being in the beer drinking world. Most people prefer subtle Lagers and steer clear of the lip puckering bitterness hops can bring. But with the right introduction to hops, and the gentle nudges here and there from someone, a Double IPA will begin to be as smooth as a gentle Lager. But be careful, don't blow your palate up right away or you may be wary of this whole hop thing for good.

Selecting the right beer to introduce yourself or someone else into the hop world takes some knowledge. Which beer will have the right body? Which hop is more subtle than the other? Do you want to take something that is aged a little bit so the hops are smoothed out by the malt? Or just go for the fresh brew to deliver that punch of bitterness some love? My opinion, do a tasting.

Flights (little 4-6oz samples of beer) are the best way to really pull out every characteristic of different beers. When tasted alone, you may only notice the floral and citrusy flavors of the Cascade Hops in a particular beer. But when tasting one beer featuring Cascade hops next to another with Simcoe hops, you begin to pull out the subtle flavors. The piney floral and citrusy bursts in the Cascade prepares your palate and helps delivery the mellow fruity and peppery flavor in the Simcoe.

This may all seem a bit snobbish. Images of older couples listening to string quartets and dressed in tuxedos while discussing the flavors in caviar come to mind. The great thing is that it is kinda snobbish! Just in a greatly toned down way. And it can be done while in your favorite bar just hanging out with friends. And not in a tux.

Next time your in a bar that does flights, here are some great intro beers into the world of hops. Along with some others that are a bit more to extremely pungent in case you immediately fall in love with the mini cone we love.

Subtle to Moderate Hop Flavor;
Oscar Blues Brewery - Dale's Pale Ale
Climax Brewing - Nut Brown Ale
Otter Creek - Stovepipe  Porter
River Horse - Special Ale
Carton Brewing - Boat Beer

Stronger Hop Flavor;
Smuttynose - Finest Kind IPA
Dogfish Head - 60 Minute IPA
Sierra Nevada - Pale Ale
Lagunitas - Maximus
Carton Brewing - 077XX

Strongest Hop Flavor;
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
Troegs Nugget Nectar
Weyerbacher - Double Simcoe IPA
Dogfish Head 120 IPA (strongest by far)
River Horse - Hop A Lot Amus

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Down Time.

It's early February and for me the beer scene in stores has been slow. The feverish pace at which new releases come out between August and December has been over for some time. And any leftovers of your favorite holiday beer has been bought up. Some early spring releases will start making their way onto shelves but it's still early for me to begin drinking anything with spring in the name. So aside from discovering beers I've never had before, or a possible beer dinner event, this is the time of year I refer to as the dead zone for beer.

 February is just a miserable month. We are all antsy for warm weathers arrival, and if you're like me, are yearning for a new round of seasonal brews. In this time period there are some things you can do to ensure you don't go haywire and plan a trip to Belgium in order to cure your beer craziness. Most of them are easy to accomplish, others take some planning to ensure they keep you fulfilled.

Right off the bat, brewing your own beer is the obvious hobby that will keep you entertained and also keep new beers rolling in. But if you don't have a kit yet, or are just not a position to do so then I suggest starting a little collection of beers throughout the year and experiment with aging. Even with limited space, aging is easy and will keep your palate entertained. Another task that doesn't require any time like aging is mixing 6 packs at your local liquor store. Don't go in and pick up your regular favorite every time you run to the store. Grab an empty 6 pack container and deliberately pick beers you've never tried before. This is a sure way to spread your interests and discovery a new favorite. Store you go to doesn't sell singles? Find somewhere that does, or suggest to your store that they start.

One of the best ways to keep your beer-thusiasm at a high level is visit local breweries and or brew pubs. One trip to a new place each month with get the dog days of winter over quickly and you'll soon have a summer ale in your hand and cooking on the grill. Lastly, after a solid year of picking up beer to age, the next task is to deplete your beer cellar! This is a great way to entertain your taste buds and it's also a reason to have a small get together with beer tasting being the theme. Every week or two open a bottle of limited or one time releases and share with friends.

It's only 6 weeks until April! Spring and Summer aren't as far away as we think.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

12 Beers Reviewed From Vacation

Each year my family has taken a week vacation in the winter up north. Last year was Vermont, this year we chose the neighboring state of New Hampshire. Although Vermont seems to have more of a popular brewery selection, NH still was booming with beer action mostly coming from small brew pubs and less than 100 barrel operations from what I experienced. And even though my interest in visiting Smuttynose placed high on the list of things to do, the smaller operations were what we stuck to.

 In addition to the local brews, I brought along a few bottles to enjoy with the family. In all, we tried about 20 to 30 new beers while in NH. There were thankfully no true flops(or as I call "dumpers"). But some stole the show while other just blended in. In all 12 of the beers stuck out for good reasons and some not so good. Enjoy and try to get your hands on some if you can.

12-Allagash Hugh Malone IPA
Sadly this was a bit of a let down. Although the flavor was nice and full of hops, the carbonation level was too much for me. Pop rocks infused IPA seems like the right way to describe it. But to credit Allagash, this is their only offering I truly was not wowed by thus far. 

11-Smuttynose Star Island Single
Smutty's newer session beer had all the promise of hit since becoming a fan of the lower abv session ales being offered by breweries now. But the flavor seemed to pair with the alcohol volume by being moderate in character. Although it pains me to say so, this was very reminiscent of a Budweiser.

10-Brooklyn Black Ops
I wish we picked up two bottles of this when we had a chance. Too much heat was the culprit of this promise barrel aged stout. The flavors promised by the label were there, but the pungent alcohol burn canceled most of them out. Unlike the previous two selections though, I would like to give this one another chance after a year or so of aging.

9-Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
Big name and big flavor. At times the flavor bordered on too big but that may be a result of the 3 1/2 years of aging this bottle went through. Strong dark chocolate flavor and unlike the Black Ops a much smaller alcohol warming sensation that went well with the cold weather. This is one I'm very glad to have another bottle of.

8-Allagash Triple
The base for Allagash's Curieux(which we drank 5 bottles of that week) was delightful to try. You could really pick up the flavors that were much subtle in Curieux before it went through the 8 weeks of barrel aging. Although good, I think the Dubble has a more complex flavor profile. Or I just can't get the idea of this being a young Curieux.

7-White Birch Nyx
One of the first NH exclusives we tried up there. Nyx is a Black IPA that seemed a little thick and flirted with being mistaken as a stout to an unknowing consumer. Deep roasted malt flavor and a thick body made it a heavy beer but the flavor profile was tremendous. Roasty, malty, hoppy. Upset we didn't grab some to take home.

6-The Lost Abbey Devotion
My introduction to the insanity that is The Lost Abbey. Tons of hype around this brewery upon its New Jersey distribution in January. Devotion seemed to promise an IPA based on the label but th ops were somewhat subtle. Th flavor otherwise though was enjoyable. Smooth body, high drink ability, and a nice lower abv made it something you can enjoy in quantity without being annihilated by the end of he night. A good intro to this brewery.

5-Southern Tier Cuvée Series One
Picked this boxed bottle up in the summer and have held it since. Originally made in 2008, Cuvée had lots to promise with its description. Big bourbon flavor, smooth body, and subtle hints of all types of wonderful. Vanilla, caramel, burnt sugar, and many other nuances that made this a favorite of everyone's.

4-The Flying Goose Isle of Pines Barleywine 2009
Hello local brew pub magic. A three year aged Barleywine that was slightly lower in alcohol(around 9%) but huge on flavor. We also tried the 2011 variation of this beer while at the brewery, but the 2 years aging won everyone over hands down. So much flavor we had to pick up a growler, which was gone with in a day. If we ever go back to the area, The Flying Goose will definitely be one of our stops.

As previously posted, here are the top 3. Hopefully my memory serves me well.

3-Smuttynose IPA "Finest Kind"
No wonder this IPA is rated so high on Beeradvocate, a nearly perfect IPA in very sense. Huge hop flavor that hits hard but then nicely fads that includes outstanding deniability, medium abv, and wonderful aroma. I'm partial to IPA's to begin with but this one has to be one of the best I've tried if not ever, then for quite some time. Glad it's a year round offering and not a 1 and done beer.

2-Squam Brewing Rattlesnake Rye-P.A.
Another NH exclusive beer that comes from a very small production brewery. And I do mean small, with just a 55 barrel capacity. Not being a huge fan of rye beers this one may have turned me. Highly drinkable, smooth carbonation level and a wonderful balanced flavor with all the flavors of the rye and hops jumping out at you but mingling with each other as well. I got smart towards the end of vacation and picked up 2 bottles of this to bring home in addition to their No Wake Wheat, which I've yet to try.

1-Firestone Walker 15
Without question the number 1 beer we tried. This beer is just sick. A blend of 8 different beers that goes through all types of aging made 15 the overwhelming favorite. I say things like "like nothing I've ever tried before" often when describing beers to others. But this truley is unique. Working with a winery, Firestone seems to have taken the perfect quality from each of their 8 beer and put them into to this one. Every sip revealed something different. One sip gives you bourbon, the next a subtle hop hit, then a cool funky leather type flavor, and finally a lucious coconut flavor.

Like always, new beers create new experiences and exposure to the great things that craft brewers are doing. This was not a let down in any way. Cheers!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Very Quick Run Down of Beers Tried On Vacation

My trip to New Hampshire is complete. Although all the thoughts about each beer we tried haven't been collected yet I'm certain about the top 3 we tried up there. We visiting a brew pub, and also got to try 3 beers from NH breweries that aren't available in Jersey. Even though we didn't get to try any offerings from Throwback Brewery, the trip was certainly a success. Here is a quick run down of the top three. A more detailed review of them all will follow. 

#3, Smuttynose IPA. Has a simple name, so I'll just say it was simply delicious. Huge IPA fan and this hit all the marks for me. 

#2, Squam Brewing Rattlesnake Rye-P-A. Another hoppy beer that was excellent. Rattlesnake Rye was one of the 19 New Hampshire available only beers we tried but for me it was heads above the rest as far as flavor and drinkability. 

#1, Firestone Walker 15th Anniversary. To the people who voted in my poll and made this the winner, thank you. What an amazing beer. This was not just mine, but everyone's favorite. So yummy. I can't begin to describe the complexity to this one. 

It may take me a few days but I'll get most of these beers reviewed. Thankfully, there was only one dumper of the whole bunch. All in all, it was a huge success for beer!