Friday, December 23, 2011

The First Beer of Xmas Old Man Winter Gave to Me, a 50 degree day in December... ?

Southern Tier
Old Man Winter Ale
Brewed with 3 varieties of hops, and 2 malts
Limited Seasonal – released in November
7.7% abv

Southern Tier is responsible for Pumking, one of my favorite launch pumpkin beers and the winner of the McGrath and Stinchon 2011 pumpkin beer taste off which also happened to take place on my birthday. (UNFOTUNATELY because it was my birthday … we moved on to heavier things and the beer bracket was taped to my sister’s fridge. ANNND there it remains … along with an overdue November beer blog post – sorry Tony!!)

I like Southern Tier. They put out bold, flavorful, in your face beers. I have never had a Southern Tier beer and thought 'ehh … so what?' I either love them or hate them. So when I saw Old Man Winter at the packie I thought, alright, let’s give it a go.

First let’s do some research, to the website:
With the onset of winter, the brewer’s mind turns to providing warmth. For our winter seasonal, we offer a rich and complex amalgam of hops and barley that will put the feeling back in your toes and lift your spirits above the snow. OMW throws a deep and inviting hue with a thickness that clings to the glass and the warmth of an open flame. Because of its high alcohol content, Old Man is a heady brew that encourages sipping and pondering its essential richness. Drink it fresh now, or cellar a few bottles to see how this old man becomes wiser with age.

Now to the beer.

The Pour:
Two fingers of fluffy foam with lots of big bubbles. A nice lace is sticking to the glass and it’s a clear amber color, pretty light for a winter beer.

The nose:
Very hoppy. It’s grassy, bready, cannabis like (hey they are cousins), I also get clove and smoke (… hmm, am I at Dave Matthews Band concert?)

Follows suit with the smell. Very earthy, hoppy flavor. It’s a dry, medium bodied mouth feel. The smoky malts cover your tongue with a bite at the end. Dry mouth anyone …? Yes, that resin flavor is here. I also get some pine. I have to say, for a hop-head in training, this is very drinkable and biscuity. I usually don’t like a strong hop flavor but this isn’t overly aggressive. I bet on draught this would be so much better. I know, all beers are better on tap, but I feel like it would make a huge difference here.

Something salty. Right now I am craving a prosciutto Panini, something with salty meat and buttery focaccia bread. I am thinking hearty sandwich or a big bacon cheese burger (or is that just the DMB munchies talking? … just kidding)

Overall I would give this beer a B. Honestly it’s the first time that I haven’t LOVED or HATED a Southern Tier beer, so cheers to that. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Stay tuned for the cousin tag-team toast and review on Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2 Turtle Doves Flying Over Belgium...

Brewery: Brouwerij Corsendonk
ABV: 8.5%
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

They say that your tastes change every 7 years... Over the last year or so I've really tried to branch out and try things that I normally wouldn't try. Take saisons for example. I usually steer clear of the light, spicy, somewhat tart variety... or Sour Beers... or even Belgian styles. The more I try, the more I find that I'm actually ENJOYING some of these styles. Take the New England Brewery Co's 668 Neighbor of the Beast, a Belgian Strong Pale Ale. Normally... that's a style I want NOTHING to do with. But being local, and attempting to be open-minded I jump in with two feet. It's FANTASTIC. Light, crisp - but a high ABV to keep you from slugging it down. So when one of the brew managers at my local Packy suggested the Corsendonk Christmas Ale, I went with a re-newed confidence.

...and I came out with an unimpressed palette.

The Christmas Ale poured a dark mahogany color with a good fluffy light tan head. It settled a bit, but remained throughout most of the glass.

The nose was... interesting. There was a strong ginger scent, with fruity notes as well. My buddy and I felt like it smelt almost like a ginger ale. I'm picking up some orange zest, too. I didn't get anything malty, bready, OR spicy in the nose. (Am I drinking the same beer that these BeerAdvocate users are describing?)

Looking back... the nose was the BEST PART! And that's not saying much. Anyway... Taste-wise, I was just uninterested. Belgian yeasts were obviously present giving the beer a tart quality, with a little extra dark fruit sweetness. You know those weird Orange Chocolate things that come out every holiday season? They're supposed to be this delicacy but I never did like them. That's kinda what I'm picking up here. Semi-sweet chocolate with some orange notes. Lots of carbonation going on, too.

The finish is like a champagne... bubbly, dry... and leaves you palette, saying - that's it?

I can't even pair this up with any food really... It's nothing I'd want to start my night with with some light nosh... it's nothing that I'd like to have with my meal because of the orange and chocolate qualities... and it's nothing I'd like to end my meal with or have with dessert because it's just light and uninteresting.

As much as I've branched out over the past year, I guess I have to chalk this one up with the fact that MAYBE I'm just not a big fan of Belgians yet. The BeerAdvocate users gave this an all-around exceptional 92, while the Alstrom Bros gave it a "WORLD-CLASS" 98. Is today backwards day or something?

Overall: D if it is true that your taste change every 7 years, I'll try this guy again when I'm 35.

Let's look at the silver lining here... sadly, my last post (before our #1) is the worse one I've had so far in this countdown. But the good news? It's kinda rare and chances are you won't be able to find it anyway. You aren't missing much. Bah Humbug.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The 3rd Beer of Xmas: Slumbrew's Porter Sq. Porter

Slumbrew’s Porter Square Porter
6.5% ABV
31 IBU

Back-to-back posts of hyper New England beers.

Today I am giving a nod towards my NEW backyard brewer, Slumbrew.

I reside in Somerville, Massachusetts known for its dog-friendly, boutique, foodie, hipster atmosphere. Neighboring city-dwellers often scoff at Somerville, referring to it as “Slumerville,” I assume this is where they pulled the name. I say to those finger pointers – ‘Ha! I pay less for rent and it’s easier for me to find parking -- so get outta my square.’

Regional politics aside, Somerville is located just north of Boston and has great restaurants and beer bars, come visit! (Sorry for those who live outside of Boston, you probably won’t be able to get your hands on this Porter)

According to its website Slumbrew has been 15-years in the making. From extensive beer tasting, traveling, and trial and error, founders Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter finally birthed Slumbrew this year, and are partnering with regional breweries (like Ipswich) to create and bottle their suds for wide spread commercial release. Their mission is to brew unique, ingredient-driven beers that challenge common notions of what a beer should taste like.

Well, I’m in.

I picked up two bombers from Jerry’s Liquors in Union Square and brought them to an early Christmas party for a tasting. (Locals this beer is also available on tap at the Foundry and Johnny D’s. Like them on facebook for more deets)

The pour:
It has a foamy, two-finger, light brown head with some staying power. It took about a minute to taper down. A thin line of lacing now remains and I think it’s here for good. No light is passing through this thing. It’s as black as midnight.

At first I get wafts of coffee, chocolate and molasses … followed by the faint smell of metal and then finally dry oats.

This first sip is bitter with a roasted, smoky malt flavor. Second sip, here comes the dark chocolate. It feels like I bite into baker’s chocolate, or something with a very high cocoa content … ah-ha! Then I read the label:

“Brewed with cocoa powder and conditioned with cacao nibs from Taza Chocolate…”

Taza Chocolate is stone ground organic chocolate ALSO made in Somerville. Now the taste makes perfect sense. Could I be drinking a fresher, more local product? Doubtful. Just put some marshmallow Fluff on the top and let’s celebrate. YES, Somerville also founded Fluff … Google that shizz.

The aftertaste is a strong, like espresso. This porter covers your whole tongue and is somewhere between medium and full bodied. It’s creamy and dry. Now that I am halfway through the bomber, my face is flushed with tavern tan and I feel warm and cozy, but not full. This is a good thing.

If I was doing an easy night in, I would pair this with a stinky blue cheese. My mom’s salty shepherd’s pie, with a good layer of sharp cheddar cheese on the top would also be pretty amazing.

Overall I liked the Porter Square Porter and I am excited to see what else Slumbrew puts out. I will be on the lookout – Grade B+

Monday, December 19, 2011

4 Calling Beers (Birds)... starring Hooker and the Heartland.

Brewery: Heartland Brewery
Style: Strong Ale
ABV: 8%

We're getting close the end of our little countdown... so I wanted to do something special for good ol' #4 on our list. And before I start anything, I have to point out that this next beer would not be possible without my sister, Christine... She found this little gem (thanks to my other sister, Beth) at the HEARTLAND BREWERY located at Union Square in NYC (among other NY sites). I have to admit, one of the reasons, Kate and I wanted to do this blog is to help educate people that might be nervous about trying a new beer or simply just want to learn more about craft beer in general. Honestly, since we've started this blog I feel like I've learned so much more. And yet, there's still a ton that can be taught. Next week, my buddy Joe and I are kegging up our FIRST homebrew - a Bourbon Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout. An Oatmeal Stout recipe with French Oak Cubes soaked in Jim Beam's Devil's Cut Bourbon (thanks to knowledgable and beautiful @MichelleFunaro for the bourbon suggestion).

Shoot, where was I... oh yeah. So Kate and I wanted to educate people on what's out there. Well - this next beer is more for the NY folks that read Beer411. I'm not sure how accessible this is in CT, MA and beyond.

So Christine brought me home a bomber of the Special Edition, Old Red Nose Ale from the Heartland Brewery in NYC. The website had 5.5% ABV but the bottle said, 8%. Perhaps because it was a Special Edition. It poured a dark amber color, with about two fingers of tan head. The clarity was also very murky... Even noticed a little sediment towards the end of the pour. I suppose if we are grading on prettiness, this would be a bad thing... but I ain't skurrrd. I'm going in.

The smell is very inviting... Sweet malts, spices and a slight orange/ginger zest are all present. Given the ABV, the sweet smell is probably attributed to some of the booziness that'll come with the taste. After all it is a Strong Ale.

DE-LI-CIOUS. Wow. There's a party in my mouth. But its not the kind of party where someone drinks too much early in the night and is a jerk. Or where the uninvited kids show up only to cause problems. No, no... everyone is getting along here. The sweet and spicy notes continue on the taste with a solid malty backbone. You get more of the roastiness as well. The most noticeable attribute is the warmth that I'm getting from the alcohol. This was my first beer of the night and half way through, I had a nice warmth from all of the booze. I also have to point out how smooth this drank.

REALLLY only for the NY folks... but if you have any friends or family in the NY area or are travelling to NY for the holiday, there are SEVERAL Heartland Brewery locations: ( Tis the season for the Old Red Nose Ale.

Overall: A-

Buuuut for those of you that have no such access to the NYC area... I have a little something for you too.

Brewery: Hooker Brewery
Style: Herbed/Spice Beer/Lager
ABV: 6%

I have a decent memory. But I usually have to write a lot of things down. And thanks to my smartphone, most things are easily remembered. CT's own Hooker Brewery is one of those beers that is good but sometimes not memorable. I really enjoy their Munich beer, Liberator, Octoberfest, and IPA... none of which I think to grab off the shelves first, but again, very good in my opinion.

(...And if you have the pleasure of joining them on the 1st or 3rd Friday of the month, they will treat you to one of their open houses from 5pm-8pm, $10. You get a Hooker glass and get to sample some of the freshest beer you will EVER have. One time, I was getting an explanation from one of the brewers in front of the fermenting tank, when he attached a pigtail to the tank and started give people a sample of their Octoberfest. To this day, this was the best Octoberfest I've EVER had. Check out their website... DEFINITELY worth stopping by if you are looking to get the party started on a Friday night.)

But here we have their Winter offering, the Nor'Easter. The pour follows suit of most of our Winter Lagers. Copper color... but surprisingly not much head on this beer at all. Only a thin white lacing near the top of the glass.

The smells are that of caramel, and... Apple Pie? Yeah, it makes sense. Malty, Bready sweetness as well with some brown sugar notes.

Spicy, yet balanced on the taste. There's a little clove going on here to join along with the sweet biscuitiness. Not sure what the IBUs are but definitely aren't very noticeable here, but that doesn't bother me one bit. Really enjoying the malt and spicy apple notes... like an apple pie right out of the oven. Did not think this was going to be well carbonated due to the pour, but was pleasantly surprised. Very nice.

For the CT people (or anyone else that has access to the Hooker Brewery), this in my mind is an absolute home run. There's a bit of extra sweetness that I got in this Winter Lager that I haven't really gotten yet this season. It's not that high in ABV, or bitter, or hopped... just a real solid Winter Lager. Pick this up for any holiday party... home or with work friends and you will look like a million bucks. Look at you... you with the tasty beer... supporting local economy... I purposely bought a six pack for this tasting, but you can believe that this is my staple for the rest of the season. Nice work, guys.

Overall: A-


Six Geese I’m drinking … gulp (umm make that five) - 5th beer of Xmas: Goose Island Mild Winter

This is by far the best pick I have made this winter drinking season.

I could drink this beer all day long. Consider it my new favorite … that is until tomorrow …

I joined the Goose Island fan club last May at Remy’s in Fenway enjoying some Sox, suds and nachos. The Windy City seems to have their act together when it comes to beer and I am happy to report their winter offering did not disappoint.

The Deets:
Style: American Mild Ale
ABV: 5.6%
International Bitterness Units: 28
Hops: Willamette, Tettnang
Malts: 2-Row, Carapils, Dark Chocolate, Roast Barley, Rye Flake

The Pour:
Light brown, maple syrup / dark honey color. Two fingers of head, no lacing.

Not super strong, but what’s there draws you in. Fresh baked bread, a little nuttiness and some grass…maybe some apricot towards the end??

YES YES YES!!! A nice change up from the winter beers I have been drinking. The taste is not aggressive or overly malty or bitter. No coffee tones to be found. It’s crisp, light and refreshing. It reminds me of a #9 with a roasted grain aftertaste that stays on the sides of your tongue. This brew is really well balanced and biscuity. I am a huge-HUGE fan.

This would be a crowd pleaser for multiple palates. It’s very light on the mouth feel, isn’t filling and I would expect would pair nicely with a lot of foods at a holiday gathering, tackling most buffets.

Goose Island suggests fontina or gruyere cheese as a pairing.

Not surprising, the Mild Winter scored a B+ on Beeradvocate – but I am upping the ante and giving this six pack of geese an A+.

Drinking in the season has never tasted this good.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the 6th Beer of Christmas... Vermont Spruce Tips are in Full Effect.

Brewery: Harpoon (100 Barrel Series)
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: 38

There's no surprise to the people that know me... I like to listen to people that know what they are talking about. If I'm at a restaurant and I don't know what to get on the menu, I'll ask our server... if I'm at the Supermarket, I'll ask the Butcher or Fish Guy what's good... More important, if I'm at a bar, I'll ask the bartender or server what they like. (Speaking of... Plan B Milford plug... if you get Michelle F. as a server, listen to the girl. She knows her craft beer.) These are the people that KNOW what's good and chances are you'll be happy with their advice. So when my good friend Ruark (fellow beer drinker and craft beer connoisseur) chimed in with Harpoon's Barrel Series Vermont Spruce Tip, you can better believe I'm going to listen.

First impressions on color alone, this looks like it's going to fall into the lager category. With an aggressive pour, I got about two fingers of white head that slowly disappeared. And even know as it sits in my glass, there's a non-stop effervescence going on, champagne-like. Amber/Dark Orange in color... and the lacing is pretty fluid, too. A couple of swirls around my glass... and its gone after 5-6 seconds.

Now, with a beer named "VERMONT SPRUCE TIP" I really expected a strong piney presence on the nose. Not the case here... I think the brewers wanted to focus on the natural flavors of the spruce, and NOT over hop it. Keep in mind, this offering is only at 38 IBUs. As I try to pick out any distinct smells, there's really hardly anything noticeable. Maybe some mild caramel notes, and some roastiness too. I have no idea what to expect on the taste... Let's read the bottle:

"A robust flavored ale with notes of spicy sweet pine from locally gathered spruce tips, balanced by roasty caramel malt and a hint of Chinook hops."

Ok... I have to say, MOST seasonal beers are quasi-predictable. An Octoberfest, is going to be an Octoberfest... Spring beers aim to be lighter, some hops present... Summer Beers will have some fruitiness to them (lemon, raspberry, strawberry) or be a pale ale, but mostly pretty light. Then you have Winter Beers. You have your stouts, dry, sweet... you have your lagers... you have your ipas like Lagunitas did this year... so saying something is a Winter Beer... MEANS NOTHING. It could be ANYTHING! And this beer is like nothing I've ever tasted this time of year.

The taste... I don't know if I would agree that this is a ROBUST flavored ale, but that's not saying that I'm not totally enjoying it. It looks like a lager, but drinks a lot lighter than it looks. There's a sweet, brown sugar, breadiness to it with a tasty malt quality and verrrry subtle spice notes.

The finish is very clean and crisp. Refreshing with a little, hows-ya-father bitterness in the end. This is where I get the spruce. Not in the smell, not in the taste... but in the finish. And like I mentioned, a very fresh taste to it with a touch of hop bitterness.

Given the fresh taste, you could really pair this with a lot of things. I could see going with some thai food - or some spicy/smokey bbq. A dish that grabs a hold of your taste buds... then let's the Vermont Spruce Tip clean out your palette.

Like I mentioned, Winter Beers are all over the map. And Harpoon has been doing a pretty good job with their Barrel Series. If you see this on shelf (22 oz), I'd definitely give it a go. It won't wow you... and at 7.0% it won't knock you out... but a very well balanced beer. Worth a try. There's so many other Winter varieties to try out there, I don't see myself buying another one, but if this ends up on tap somewhere - count me in.

Overall: B

The 7th beer of Christmas, was truly a gift to me: Blue Hills Three Peak Holiday Stout

Three Peak Holiday Stout
Blue Hills Brewery, MA
Milk / Sweet Stout | 7.60% ABV

I am writing this review still staring at my beer in amazement and admiration. I feel as if my two favorite beverages have collided into one – wine and beer. Sounds crazy right?

Well, get me a straitjacket because I keep taking a sip and saying to myself – yep this reminds me of a delicious cabernet, how can this be!?

Let’s start from the top …

The pour: Like a cherry Coca-Cola with a small bubbly white head that fades quickly

Bouquet: Oak, right from the start, then alcohol, cherry, vanilla and plums. Honestly, it smells like I put my nose into a spicy cabernet or malbec.

Taste: It’s so unique!! This beer has a delicious oaky flavor to follow suit with the nose, and the sweetness of the lactose balances out the roasted malts to create a creamy and dry finish. The aftertaste is smoky and woodsy. (One more time for the people in the back - It reminds me of a dry red wine!!)

I agree with another taster on Beeradvocate who wrote: “Lots of oak and vanilla sent me searching the website to see if this is barrel aged?” --- I searched for the SAME thing. Couldn’t find the answer anywhere…

Despite the fact that it's a stout, the mouth feel is light and medium bodied at best. The milk stouts I have tried in the past have often left me with a chalky, chocolate milk aftertaste and I am happy to say that this is not the experience here. This is unlike anything I have ever had. I would love to bring this to a holiday party and rock people’s worlds.

Foodage: I happen to have made beef stew over the weekend, and it made a delicious sidekick.

I LOVE it and would definitely drink it again. Grade: A

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the 8th Beer of Xmas... Wolavers serves up their Oatmeal Stout

Otter Creek Brewing / Wolavers
Type: Oatmeal Stout
ABV: 5.9%

Anyone else feeling a little more in the holiday spirit? I actually went out and did a little gift shopping after work yesterday... and certainly drinking all of these nice seasonals has me in a good mood. Kick back... sit with me now and let me introduce you to my buddy, Wolavers.

Whoa... Whoa... What's with the ORGANIC, Tone? You trying to save the planet one beer at a time? Let me guess, I should avoid this "healthy beer"?

Now, easy there buck-a-roo. Let's not judge a beer by its label. Yes, this IS an Organic Beer... but what exactly does that mean? (silence)

...yeah I thought so. "Organic" refers to the ingredients used to brew the beer. All of the agricultural products used fall under the USDA Standards. Natural fertilizers and non-chemical means of pest control. I'm sure my friends John and Kate (, aka "Sussy" from the Howard Stern Show, could elaborate on that definition... but let's get to the beer.

When I'm walking in the package store, I never really give Wolavers a chance... I should too. Just a few months ago, they were a last minute addition to our 3rd Annual Pumpkin Tasting, and ended up finishing in the TOP 4! So, thank you Rit for suggesting this beauty...

It was very dark on the pour and had a slight brown/red hue near the sides of the glass. I got a little less than two fingers of fluffy head on the pour that ever so slowly settled after about 5 minutes, light tan in color. The lacing on the sides of the glass was much, much different than my last post, the Anchor Xmas Ale. This time around, the lacing coats the glass, almost creating a cascade on the sides.

The smell is something else... sweet malts, semi-sweet chocolate, vanilla... Maybe its just the time of the year, but I almost get a Christmas Cookie scent too with an almond, nuttiness. Needless to say, very enjoyable.

Over the past few years, I have acquired a taste for black coffee. Initially there's definitely a bitter-coffee quality to this beer, but it sweetens up quickly. There's a good malt texture as well... with more of that chocolate that I got in the nose. After a few sips, it was very similar to a malted milk ball flavoring.

Here's the surprise... between the beer style and color - one may think that this is going to sit like a lump of lead. But its surprisingly lighter than you would expect. A nice change for the Stout World. Come to think of it, I'm just finishing up my first beer and... hmmmm.. you know what? I think I have room for one more. You know, for the blog - just to be sure. Completely for research purposes only.

Overall: B+

Keep in mind this blog is OBVIOUSLY an opinion. So if you like a heavier stout, this isn't your beer. These are on the lighter side, which like I mentioned earlier is actually a good quality from time to time. By a 6-pk the next time you go out and enjoy a few with your friends.

Food pairing... Yes, this is a lighter stout, but still has plenty of sweetness happening. This is good on its own, but save it for dessert if you are sitting down to a meal. I had mine with some Apple Pie. Kinda awesome, not gonna lie.

...And definitely check out the when you have a moment... the journey that these two are taking is AMAZING. JUST last week they were at Lagunitas! (See 12th Beer of Xmas)

Thanks again, Rit!!

The 9th Beer of Christmas that found its way to me … Cisco Brewers Winter Shredder

Cisco Brewers, Nantucket, Mass.
Winter Shredder
6% ABV
“Brewed with all natural spices”

Well I hate to be the Debbie Downer at the Christmas party but I am not going to lie – this beer is not good.

Ugh, I feel like I am talking trash about a friend! Cisco, I love your Whale Tale Ale, Grey Lady, Pumple Drumkin and Lager of Summer, what happened here?! I believe this is the first year they have done this winter seasonal. I tried to do some research on this brew and it’s nonexistent on the World Wide Web - It is not even listed on the Cisco website beer list. (hmmm?)

SO allow me to be the first to break it down for you.

It pours slightly cloudy and dark red, with little to no head. The beer itself smells amazing with pepper, vanilla, liquorice and cherry undertones. I also get a little smokiness from the malts. So far I am excited.

When, what to my wondering taste buds should fear … this beer is gross.

The only way that it can be described is burnt popcorn.

Sip after sip I felt like I was eating handfuls of burnt popcorn and that’s a flavor that ruins your mouth. You should know that I am not afraid of bitter flavors. I drink dark roast coffee and love a good espresso but this is just over the top with hops.

This beer is so difficult to drink that I got through half a pint and dumped the rest down the drain.

The only thing that I need to figure out now is how to “shred” the five remaining bottles in my fridge, because I would certainly not push this on my friends.

Cisco, I have put you on the naughty list. Grade: F
Don’t agree? … Love this beer? … comment below!

Monday, December 12, 2011

On the 10th Beer of Xmas... 2011 Anchor's Merry Xmas Ale... AND 2010!!

I was hoping to save this beer for the end of our 12 Beers of Christmas... but when opportunity starts knocking... you answer the door.

This past weekend, I spent a few days with my Brooklyn based sister, Beth. As a good sister should, she has been quite supportive of my craft beer obsession. We went around all wkd long and tried all sorts of different offerings... mainly ones that I cannot get in CT! Avery Old Jubilation (Thanks KayTee!), JW Lees Harvest Ale, Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet... not to mention the highlight of our trip, a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery where we had their BLAST! (Double IPA), Collaboration (Wheat Wine), Brown Ale and Winter Ale... and met some real cool people in the process.

At the end of our trip, we went to the Atlantic Chip Shop for a little Fish n' Chips before I hit the road. Almost "BEERED OUT" from Friday and Saturday, we were not on a mission to find what we found. As we sat down to our table, I noticed that the drink menu was about 4-5 pages. The food menu, was a double sided one pager.

"I like these odds." - Billy the Kid, Young Guns

And would you look at that... they have one of my FAVORITE holiday beers, the Anchor Merry Christmas Ale.

#1 Rare to find this time of year...

#2 Rarer to find on DRAFT!

So I ordered a pint..."Do you want the 2011 or the 2010...? We have them BOTH on draft..."

It's one thing to simply FIND this beer... its a WHOLE new deal to find TWO YEARS ON DRAFT!! So... how could I say no? The ONLY other time I've ever done something like this was with my good friend, Ian. Last year he successfully stowed away the Christmas Ale from 2009 & 2008!! So we tasted '08, '09 and '10... amazing how the flavor differs from year to year. As you will see below...

Ok... Saddle up readers, its time for another Vertical Tasting.

A little history first... this beer has been coming out since 1975. And every year, they tweak the recipe JUST a bit. Given the legacy that is this Special Beer... information isn't EXACTLY at a premium. The most I can get out of these guys is that the beer from year to year, clocks in at around 5.5% ABV. But again, that changes slightly year to year... as does their label.

Both beers pour like a very dark molasses... When held up to the light, the 2010 had a much darker tone to it, while the 2011 had a lighter, almost red hue to it. They had similar characteristics with the head retention as both years quickly dissipated only after a few minutes. The 2010 had a slightly darker tan to it on the head. Lacing is also similar with both years... a few swirls around the glass and the lacing just falls. (Sorry, no snow falling on the glass descriptions here.)

From looks alone - its very hard to tell the difference between the years... but here's where things start to split up. The 2010 has a sweet smell to it... Chocolate, Cinnamon, Sugar... Beth described it like a "Tootsie Roll"... and gosh darn it, she was RIGHT! There's a slight piney note in there too... malt... black licorice... Now, the 2011, was much more piney on the nose. There was much less sweetness too. I have to say that you really gotta get your nose into this beer to get ANY real smell out of it, regardless of the year.

The taste is the big divider from year to year. 2010... There's a bitterness up front, but slowly goes away and mellows out to reveal some cloves, malt, and piney notes. After a few sips, the flavors begin to linger a little more, almost filmy. I feel that because of this, your palette almost disregards the initial bitter bop off the top, and allows you to truly enjoy this beer for what it is. Smooth, creamy and delicious. (Cue: Roaring fire, comfy clothes, slippers, etc.). The finish is pretty dry too... Makes you just wanna go back in and keep sipping.

Now, with the 2011, it's good. BUT... You definitely don't get the smoothness that you get with the previous year. Dare I say... it has a medicinal taste to it. And the filminess that lingers over a few sips... keeps that bitterness going in your mouth which I can see a few people, NOT being a fan of. Since I've become more and more into beers that can be very bitter, I almost don't mind it. But if I have the option to pick the current Christmas Ale year to any previous year... you can bet your partridge in a pear tree I'm going for the previous year.

I have to say too, I really ONLY get this comparison when I have both beers in front of me. When Ian and I did our vertical tasting last year... we hardly touched the 2010 because we got a similar medicinal taste to it. But '08 and '09... that was something to write home about. But here we are, one year later, and now the 2010 is the smooth one and the 2011 has that young, bitter taste to it.

My advice for anyone looking to try this beer... it's a very good choice. It only comes out once a year so definitely take advantage of it. On its own - the 2011 can definitely hang. It's different, spicy, Christmasy... BUT, taste it from year to year... and you'll notice that this beer ages very nicely. If you can, I would buy (2) 6 pks... enjoy one this year... and hide one for next year. Then you can compare it to the 2012 and have your OWN vertical tasting! Again, it really is amazing how you can taste the difference!

Food Pairing:
There's a good amount of spice happening with these guys... Beth suggested a beef stew, which I could totally see. We both agreed that it would go well with something that you'd normally want to eat that would warm you up from the city streets. The chicken curry that Beth ordered (see below) went REALLY well.

Special thanks to of course my sister for taking me ALL around this wkd and our awesome waitress at the Atlantic Chip Shop... if you are in the Brooklyn Area, definitely check it out. Just make sure there isn't a "football" game going on. You don't want to upset the locals.

Anchor Brewing: WEBSITE

Friday, December 9, 2011

The 11th beer of Christmas, Southie Liquors recommended to me: Avery Brewing Company, Old Jubilation Ale

I walked into my local liquor store like a kid waking up on Christmas - excited for all of the possibilities. I've picked up some great choices for this countdown to Christmas series, and I am looking forward to unwrapping each bottle like a present. I have to say, it’s nice to make the switch over to winter.

I bring to you Avery’s Old Jubilation Ale.

Avery Brewing hails from Boulder, Colorado and they have been churning out delicious suds since 1993. They offer about 20 different ales, two of my favorites being Ellie’s Brown Ale and the White Rascal. I find Avery’s beers to be reliable, balanced and flavorful.

As their website states: “We brew what we like to drink--with utter disregard for what the market demands-- and search out fans with equally eccentric palates. We learned long ago that expressing your true self is much more fulfilling than giving in to outside pressures. Don't you agree?” – Yes, whole heartily.

The beer itself is beautiful. It’s dark brown with a little cherry hue peeking through. It poured a small white head which dissipated quickly, leaving a pretty lacing like snow on my glass (awe).

The smell reminded me of campfire smoke and hot chocolate. I also picked up mahogany and coffee. My friend and fellow taste-tester, Page, said it reminded her of the time she burnt fudge, (For all of you holiday bakers out there).

The taste is aggressive and bitter with roasted malts, especially the finish. It’s nutty with toffee and mocha and has some barley wine qualities to it. It takes a couple sips before it really opens up and starts to come together. It’s delicious and smokey.

The label reads: No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts. Cellarable for 2+ years. This is one of the nice changes about winter seasonals. The fall can be so overrun with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove that you need a break.

The mouth feel is dry, medium bodied and definitely has staying power on your tongue. This is not a beer that you forget about. It packs some power. I was shocked that the alcohol wasn’t more present in the taste. This beer goes down easy and it clocks in at an 8.3% ABV. (Careful bringing this one to your work holiday party)

This beer is a perfect for the winter. It makes me want to curl up with my snuggie by the fire and relax. It warms you up, without filling you up and makes you feel cozy; everything a cold weather ale should accomplish. I would definitely pick up a six pack again for a quite night in with friends.

This strong tasting brew needs strong tasting food. I would say a Texas style chilli or a dish with dark chocolate mole would pair nicely. A holiday roast would also make a nice companion. However, I just snacked on some mixed nuts and was as happy as the Cold Miser in the North Pole. This beer gets an A- from me.

Beer Style: English Old Ale
Hop Variety: Bullion
Malt Variety: Two-row barley, special roast, black, chocolate, victory
OG: 1.074 ABV: 8.3% IBUs: 30
Color: Mahogany

Drink on! It's winter in New England, what else is there to do?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On the 12th Beer of Xmas, my true love gave to me...

December 8th, 2011… I’ll be honest. As someone living in the Northeast, I’ve had a difficult time getting into the Christmas/Holiday spirit. Maybe the “Snowpocalypse” back in October threw things for a loop. Snow in October and a balmy November?! What the heck is going on.

So Kate approached me the other day with a fantastic idea. Let’s take the “12 Days of Christmas” mantra… take out the DAYS part and add BEERS. WHAT A CONCEPT!! Without further adieu… I present to you the Beer411: 12 Beers of Christmas Countdown!!! For the next 12 weekdays, Kate and I are going to help you get through the day. Stop worrying about what beer to buy for your holiday gathering or family function. In fact, we’re putting the “FUN” back in Function.

Similar to the Fall/Pumpkin Beer season, people usually ask, what’s out there… Any recommendations, Tone? We are knee deep in the Winter Beer season, and with each year, there seems to be more and more options. Let Kate and I tell you what we like… so the next time you need to pick something out at the Package Store to dominate your Annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party, show up as the CHAMP… not the Chimp.

…On the 12th Beer of Christmas… my true love gave to me…

Beer: Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale
Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 7.85%

What better way to kick off our little Beer411 Christmas Campaign… let’s head to Cali to visit one of my favorite breweries, Lagunitas. They are well known for their Little Sumpin, Sumpin, Little Sumpin Wild, Pils, Maximus… but this holiday season they, well – they kinda, err… uhhh… they @#$%@#$ up.

Actually, their problem isn’t exactly a BAD one either… Business has been GREAT for the guys over at Lagunitas. To the point where they are EXPANDING their operation at the brewery to meet the needs of the demanding craft beer public!

Only… one… problem…

Normally this time of year, they have one of their most popular releases, Brown Shugga. It’s a delicious 10.0% ABV that has been getting rave reviews. However, due to the expansion, the expensive ingredients and the lengthy time that Brown Shugga takes in the fermenters, the Brewers decided that it would be best to skip out on their Brown Shugga production this holiday season. If they tried to release as usual, they would not ONLY not be able to produce as much, but the extra time would cause a dip in production of their better-selling regulars. Too limited, too little… time for Plan B. Enter Holiday Ale, Stage Right.

Or, for the official name: Lagunitas SUCKS Holiday Ale (Brown Shugga Substitute)

The beer is comprised of a cereal type base. The beer purports to be "full of complexishness" from the addition of 4 grains -- barley, rye, wheat, and oats.
The pour is light in color… A red/orange hue, with mostly Amber overtone. Definitely a nice surprise as MOST Holiday beers around this time of year focus on Sweet, Malty, Rich, flavors. Flavors like Coffee, Chocolate, Nutmeg, Cinnamon… Nothing against them, they just weren’t invited to the party.

IPA fans unite… this has a big nose all over it. Tons of grapefruit, and almost a touch of orangey sweetness. Floral and citrus notes, as well. Hmmm… is that Pineapple? Some type of sweet citrus fruit.

Takin' a sip... yaaaaaa.(Thank you BeerCoasters!) A definite bitter presence here. I was surprised since the IBU (International Bittering Units) was around 63.21. It IS a pretty high IBU, but without looking at that number I would think that by taste alone, this beer HAS to be around 75 IBUs or higher. One of my favorite Lagunitas offerings is their Hop Stoopid… registering at a whopping 102 IBUs!! The taste in this case is pretty similar to the citrus smells I described earlier. You get hit with some sweetness up front, smooth mouthfeel and then a bitterness at the end. Clean, crisp finish.

As I mentioned before, this beer is NOT your normal holiday beer. Definitely a nice change for those of us that enjoy a quality IPA and are looking for a break from the Winter Lager, Caramel, Toffee, Sweetness that is usually found this time of year.

Food pairing… hmmmm. I’d go with a nice sharp cheese. This is a good beer to start your night off with. Full of flavor, high ABV, opens up your taste buds, and pairs well with cheese. Preferably, some delicious Calef’s Country Store Extra Sharp Cheese… :)

Overall: B+

Fear not, Lagunitas fans… it is reported that Brown Shugga will be back next holiday season.

…However, I would not upset if their Holiday Ale comes back from time to time. Lagunitas may SUCK, but this substitute, certainly did not disappoint.