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! 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lessons Learned by a First Time Homebrewer.

After receiving a home brew kit from my wife for Christmas, I got right to work making my first batch. Even though we have a very stocked up kitchen as far as pots, pans, and gadgets are concerned, beer making is a whole new demon when it comes to what equipment is required. Having brewing specific equipment is as important to a brewer as having the right knives and spatula are to a chef. Sure you can wing, as I did on my first attempt, but before the next batch you probably should go to a supply store to pick up some new

 First thing On the list, A grain bag. Similar to what a tea bag does to tea the grain bag essentially takes using a strainer out of the equation. And when you have a small strainer like we do, it's difficult and messy as hell to strain your grains!

 After that, a new thermometer. Although my kit came with one, the clip on variation was much easier to use. Adjusting the height and placement of the thermometer was obtained once and you didn't have to worry about it again with the clip on. Where the long clip less stick type one would float on top, sink to the bottom, or move around too much making it another task to take care of.

 Third, a funnel. This was a must unlike the thermometer which we could have dealt with. The kit we got didn't come with anything to help you easily pour your beer into the fermenter. My first attempt was done using some creativity as we had no funnel on hand, and no stores were open since it was Christmas day. We took a 1 liter plastic bottle of water, poured the water into cups( don't want to be wasteful with our water now) and then cut the bottle in half making a crappy but usable funnel. It actually worked quite well considering what it was. But we picked up an 8 ince diameter one for the next time.

 Another key item we got was a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot allowing us to make a double batch in order to submerge brewing equipment. Our first batch of sanitizer sat in a 1 gallon mixing bowl so any time you moved it, it dripped everywhere making it even messier. The 5 gallon HD bucket was inexpensive and just made it easier as well.

 Those were our first upgrades in equipment. They made making our second batch go much smoother and more enjoyable as well. We weren't as stressed since we were now working with the right tools. And even though we got more tools than the kit came with, we now would like to get even more after our first bottling run, which was another "make it as you go" adventure due to the lack of proper equipment.

Happy brewing!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I Brew Beer, Does That Make My House a Brewery?

Activating the yeast in our first home brew.

While bottling my first attempt at home brewing my wife and I took a sip and got a glimpse of what will be in two more weeks. Tastes like we made some pretty good beer on our first attempt. We got another batch going today after stopping by Love2Brew in North Brunswick, NJ to get supplies Friday.  Thanks to the guys there, they were extremely helpful and even let us try some of their own brew! The next beer we made holds much promise based on the aroma it filled the house with. So if a normal guy ends up making a batch or two of really good beer, does that warrant him naming his beer or even throwing a label on it for kicks?

In no way does my beer hold as much promise as say an Allagash White or Founder's CBS, but should it just be presented to someone as "this is the beer I brewed". Probably not, but there is a sense of going a little over the edge being self pretentious. So here is the solution. If the beer we make ends up being out of this world, we are going to enter it into a small contest in the area. If the beer even gets an honorable mention, then the house will be named a brewery.

Any name suggestion?