Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An EPIC ending to another holiday season

Were you lucky enough to cellar a few of these?

It's the most wonderful time of the year... the final post of the Beer411 12 Beers of Christmas!!  Katie and I spoke several times throwing out ideas for how we would tie a bow on this year's countdown.  I didn't know if the timing would work out, but lucky for us... I found a local packy that JUST got it in stock.  Yup, you guessed it, good ol' Murph from Southington Wine and Spirits to the rescue.  The envelope please...

This year's 2012 Beer411 #1 Beer on the 12 Beers of Christmas is...

Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12.

I've talked about the Vertical Epic series before, so here's a quick story.  Dating back to February 2nd, 2002 - Greg Koch and the folks at the Stone Brewery had the idea to release a beer when the calendar numbers lined up. 02.02.02, 03.03.03, 04.04.04... all the way to 12.12.12.  This year's offering signifies the unfortunate end to a fantastic series of beers.  Each one would consist of a different recipe ranging from Belgian styles to Chile beers.  Categorized as a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, the Vertical Epic 12.12.12 seemed to be a perfect fit to our Christmas countdown.  Luckily, I also had my co-blogger here to help me with Part Two of our DUAL review.  Well, they say that all good things come to an end... but will it end with a good thing?

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Style: Belgian Dark Strong Ale
ABV: 9.0%
IBUs: 50
Website: StoneBrewing.com

The pour is dark and thick, with a large tan fluffy head.  I'd say about two fingers.  It looks so inviting, I wouldn't be opposed to using it as a pillow on Christmas Eve as visions of sugar plums dance in my head.

The nose on this beer just SCREAMS Christmas.  Malty, spicy... hints of clove, black licorice, molasses and mulled spice.  Kate asked me if I was familiar with a coffee shop in Boston that makes a really good pumpkin spice latte... that's what this reminded her of.  We also both picked up a chai tea scent as well.

We got a roasty one on our hands.  No surprise here.  Burnt caramel, dark fruits, marshmallow.  Kate hits the nail right on the head with her connection to smores.  It's not overly sweet though... I don't want to paint the wrong picture about this beer.  The level of spices make it enjoyably bitter with great roasty, malty characteristics.

The dry finish is exactly what I wanted with this.  With every sip you go on this delicious spice-tastic journey of awesomeness.  A little overly spiced to fit the Belgian Dark Strong ale profile... malty and subtlety sweet on the mouthfeel, but dry on the finish which brings up the question... Did that just happen?  So you go back in for another sip... and then the smile hits your face.  Yes... yes it did.  That. Just. Happened.

Overall: A+  (What else could I have given this beer?)

Pairings are a little tricky with so much going on... it really does stand on it's own.  But Kate and I both agreed that this would be fantastic with some curry.  The spices would fit very nicely with each other making it, without a doubt, an enjoyable experience.  Or as we're in the holiday season, you could try this beer with some light cookies.  Pizzelles or maybe ginger snaps... stay away from chocolate or heavy stuff if you are sipping this delicious treat.

So from all of us at Beer411... Thank you everyone for your continued support.  Between Facebook, Twitter, the BeerCoasters Podcast, the CT Beer Trail, Beer bloggers from around the US and so many other forms of communication, we have a lot to be grateful for.  I hope that in our research, Katie and I opened up your eyes (and your palettes) to something new.  That's one of the main reason we are here.  To help, to teach and to grow.  There is a lot that we've picked up over the last 3 years, and so much more that we are ready to learn.  THANK YOU ALL!!

Have a healthy and safe holiday... CHEERS!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Brunch's New Side Kick: Founders Breakfast Stout

Founders Double Chocolate, Coffee, Oatmeal Breakfast Stout
ABV: 8.3I | IBUs: 60 | Availability: Sep – Feb

Christmas Brunch has never had a better partner.
Move over Bloody Mary, keep your mimosa to yourself and enter the Founders Breakfast Stout, our second beer of Christmas. This is a tag-team post for Beer411 from Connecticut.

A quick trip to the World Wide Web reveals the story behind Founders; two passionate beer guys from Michigan threw caution and their well-paying jobs to the wind, took out giant loans and decided to brew the kind of beer that got them excited about beer in the first place: complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor. Like most businesses, it didn’t come without bumps (nearly declaring bankruptcy) but we are happy that they were able to find success through their passion. You can tell from the pour on this beer alone, that it was made with love.

The label:
The label features what appears to be an Irish lad enjoying his oatmeal … but that’s one Irishman to another – perhaps my Italian cousin would have a different interpretation. Copy on the bottle -- The coffee lover’s consummate beer. Brewed with an abundance of flaked oats, bitter and imported chocolates, and Sumatra and Kona coffee, this stout has an intense fresh-roasted java nose topped with a frothy, cinnamon-colored head that goes forever.

The pour:
A dark chocolaty pour with some amber peaking around the top and bottom of the glass. A one-finger, tan head rests on top, leaving a ring and lacing around the glass.

The nose:
Like I walked into an Italian cafĂ©. A face-full of dark roasted coffee beans, chocolate, fresh baked bread, malts, vanilla and maybe a little anise and then alcohol. (If I had a biscotti I would dunk it in). My cousin likes black coffee… as he’s written. His hesitation for this beer is for those that aren’t coffee fans, but luckily for us, we are all in. The smell alone is getting us excited for the taste.

It’s velvety and creamy, with a sharp roasted Sumatra flavor front and center -- following suit with the nose and heeding Tone’s warning, if you are not a fan of coffee, this brew will not be your favorite. A warming dark chocolate follows after the coffee, it’s bitter but balanced, leaving a dry coating on your tongue. Overall this beer is assertive, and complex, something that will wake you up in the morning. It's a filling, full bodied stout that, at 8% ABV, will stay with you and stick to you.

Breakfast, in general. Specifically, French toast, Cinnamon Rolls or banana bread.

Friday, December 21, 2012

3 French Hens? Not if Genghis has anything to say about it.

Brewery: Clown Shoes
Style: Porter
ABV: 7%
Website: ClownShoesBeer.com

Several months ago, CT was invaded by 4 fantastic breweries:  Green Flash, Founders, Six Point and Clown Shoes.  As I stated in my post on Wednesday, it's not only a great time to get involved in craft beer because of our local breweries, but distribution is getting better and better.  Beers that I only remember having in NY and MA and Maine, are NOW available, in most package stores.  My first impression of Clown Shoes was their Black IPA called Hoppy Feet.  Loved it.  When they first came to CT, I believe they offered about 6 beers.  A few weeks later, I went back to the package store and it turns out, they now offer 7... then 8... then 9... Their lineup continues to grow and I have yet to be disappointed.  That being said, it made perfect sense to give their Pecan Pie Porter, known as Genghis Pecan a try in our 12 Beers of Christmas countdown.

As expected... the color is very dark.  Usually, I can get some red hues along the sides of the glass with this kind of style, but not this guy.  Dark, dark, dark.  There's no light shining through this.  It had about two fingers of tan head which quickly subsided.  There was some sticky lacing as it ran along the sides of the glass.

On the nose, there's the expected candied pecan smell.  However, I feel like maybe these pecans were left on the stove too long.  There's a roasted, almost burnt smell.  I'm picking up a little marshmellow sweetness too.  Then a little malted milk balls and vanilla perhaps.

Surprisingly, there's not a whole lot of sweetness in the taste.  I would think that something called, "Pecan Pie Porter", would be.  The label reads that it's an "ale brewed with natural flavor" which I have to credit Clown Shoes.  They relied on the sweetness to come from the added brown sugar and roasted pecans.  Nothing artificial was included in this beer to give it an overly sweet flavor.

There's a bitterness to this beer that could possibly be off-putting.  Again, I enjoy black coffee, so I don't mind it.  There's a malty sweetness that defuses the bitterness ever so slightly, but it's definitely present.  One thing that I enjoy about this is the smooth dry finish.  The high level of carbonation make the taste in this beer almost disappear moments after you have it.  Every sip builds up and goes away just like the last one.  Sometimes a beer will build off of the last sip... not this one.

Overall: B

I like this beer... But it's somewhat forgettable.  It's more bitter than sweet on the taste, and has a roastiness on the finish that dissipates very quickly.  Here's my issue.  If I'm going to spend anything over $8 for a 22 oz bomber, I'd like for it to be something I want to come back to. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike this beer, but with all of the full bodied ones out there this holiday season, I'll probably try something else next time.  I really like a lot of what Clown Shoes does, too.  Hoppy Feet, PIMP (collab), Muffin Top... all great beers.  This isn't one of their best... good, not great.

Pairings, pairings, pairings... One of my parents' friends stopped by earlier this evening and dropped off some delicious baklava. That works very well with this beer because there's hardly any sweetness on it.

Get all of your holiday shopping in this wkd!! Stay tuned for #2 and #1 on our countdown as @KayTeeStinch and myself get together for our FINAL reviews next week!!

...You know... if the world doesn't end n' stuff.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Heart of Darkness Brings out the Grinch in Kayteestinch

Clearly, Ghost is not impressed with Magic Hat's Heart of Darkness.
Magic Hat's Heart of Darkness
English Stout | 5.70% ABV

I’m a mean one … Kayteestinch.

I am just going to jump in - the three words I would use to describe this pint are as follows and I quote; stink, stank, stunk. (Ok, ok enough Seussisms) BUT seriously, who in whoville is drinking this and thinking it's good?

Apparently, I am alone in my thinking because a slew of folks on Beer Advocate loved it. I am a stout lover too, but our 4th beer of Xmas, the Heart of Darkness by Magic Hat, will remain in my “icebox” until I can find someone to take them off my hands.

From the label:
Our inky-black stout has a smooth, round palate with a dreamlike undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate. This dense liquid-silk summons hope from hibernation and balances winter's endless white snows with a rich swirl of creamy black rapture.

The Pour:
Heart of Darkness is an appropriate name for this brew. This stout pours jet black – no light at all is getting through this. A thin tan head dissipated into a flaky brown lace on the glass.

The Nose:
Oats and roasted malts followed by a smoky mocha aroma

The Taste:
It just tastes burnt, as if I tossed a handful of roasted malts into my mouth and chewed them – then tossed a piece of 90% cocoa chocolate in there too. Bitter, sharp and dry. Not my cup of beer at all. It has a milky finish that coats your tongue and sadly it’s unenjoyable. This is a filling pint too, heavy on the mouth-feel and low in carbonation, typical for a stout.

As a Magic Hat fan, I am sad that I couldn’t champion this brew. But I won’t let this review put me in a Grinchy mood this season. Remember, the holidays are in our grasp, so long as we have good beer to clasp (had to).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

At #5, We're heading Back East for a local Winter treat

Brewery: Back East Brewing Co.
Style: Amber
ABV: 5.0%
Website: http://backeastbrewing.com

Rule #1:
If you want to bring the RIGHT gift to a holiday gathering, everyone will like you if you bring craft beer.

Rule #2:
If you want to bring the RIGHT gift to a holiday gathering, AND look that much cooler make sure you bring LOCAL beer.

If you've been living under a rock these past 12 months, let me bring you up to speed...

It's a GREAT time to live in Connecticut and be a fan of craft beer.

The current CT Beer scene continues to get stronger and stronger: Hooker, New England Brewing, WilliBrew, City Steam, Calvary, Southport Brewing, just to name a few... Each place seems to be coming out with new amazing styles... oh, we only have like 10 new breweries that popped up within the last year: Two Roads, Half Full, Broad Brook Brewing, Relic Brewing, Beer'd Brewing, Firefly... and Bloomfield's newest brewtastic resident, Back East.

Let's talk freshness for a second here... It goes without saying at this point that a beer will probably taste better if you find it on draft versus in a bottle.  If you are REALLY driven, you can drive straight to the brewery to get a growler fill right at the place where it's BREWED!  But if you can't get there, your next best option is to seek out a local offering at a package store.  Think about it... this stuff was brewed within our beautiful state so it hasn't had that far to travel.  This is a great option to get some of CT's finest and freshest beer.  Most of Back East's lineup comes in growlers too, so they are GREAT for sharing.

Two cousins by the name of Edward Fabrycki, Jr. and Tony Karlowicz (Southington pride!), have both demonstrated a tremendous passion in the world of craft beer over the last few years.  It wasn't until recently, they opened their doors in Bloomfield.  While they are fairly new to the scene, they have quickly made a name for themselves. They offer 4 year round styles: Misty Mountain IPA, Golden Ale, Back East Ale** and Porter**. (**2012 GIBF Medal Winners!!) They also have an Imperial line which includes a delicious stout and a IPA (coming soon!).  In addition they offer two seasonal styles: Octoberfest and Winterfest. When I heard that they were making a Winter style, I knew that this would be on my list of things to look forward to.

There website reads:

Back East Winterfest is a deep chestnut-colored ale brewed with a touch of cinnamon and local honey. Its rich flavor and subtle spices make it a perfect choice for all of the seasons’ festivities.

On the pour, it has a dark amber, almost leather shade to it with about a finger of off white carbonation.

The nose is pleasant... not as spicy as I expected a Winter ale to be. I LOVE how they not only brewed this about 25 minutes away, but they also introduced local honey into this recipe. As if a beer couldn't get any MORE local.

While I am used to the bigger beers, I could drink this again and again. Totally sessionable. Mild roastiness, subtle spices, honey sweetness... Not filling in the least. A great local option.

Overall: B+. One of our goals with this whole countdown is to teach and expand the mind of people that decide to give it a read. Too many people these days stay in their comfort zone...

Oh, it's Winter time? I'll grab a Sam Winter Lager.

Now while there's nothing wrong with that option, there are SO many more choices out there.  LISTEN folks, there is no BETTER time than RIGHT NOW to branch out and try something new.  Imagine if you showed up to a party with a growler of delicious local beer... you're instantly a rockstar. And with Back East just introducing this style a few weeks ago, chances are people haven't had this yet. So lead the way and show them the path to drinking local (cause local is FRESH! Right, BeerCoasters?).

As far as pairings go, I would love to have this with some maple glazed chicken wings. As I mentioned earlier, this beer is subtle so bringing in some flavors that would complement the cinnamon spice and local honey is a great choice.

I hope @KayTeeStinch is proud that I FINALLY found a Winter beer that was 5% since I tend to review the higher ABV beers this time of year. And as far as Back East Brewing goes, I plan on stopping by for a tour sometime over the holiday. If you are in the area, I suggest you do too!!

...And tell them that Tony @ Beer411 sent you!!

Lock Me In With a Keg of Cabin Fever

Berkshire Brewing Company, Cabin Fever Ale
6.3% Alcohol by volume (ABV)
20 International Bitterness Units (IBU)

Here’s another brewery I need to tour: The Berkshire Brewing Company.
BBC are the genius creators behind our delicious sixth beer of Christmas, the cabin fever ale.

Located in South Deerfield, Mass., (meaning another sup-Ah fresh beer for me) BBC was launched in 1994 by a pair of homebrewers. The website states that they churn out 580 barrels (17,980 gallons) of fresh beer each week that is unfiltered, unpasteurized and contains no chemical additives or preservatives. Currently BBC brews nine styles of beer year round and seven seasonals.

I was late on my Beer411 homework and ran into my local liquor store tonight trying to find something different. I unfortunately don’t have the relationship Tone has with his local shop. I’d say it’s the small town versus city effect, but I think it’s just because the people that own the store on my street aren’t friendly.

I spotted a bomber of Cabin Fever Ale where the label features a picture of two dudes (the brewers?) toasting behind a frosted window and thought this could hit the spot on this rainy, cold, night (wishing it was snow).

The Label:
Cabin Fever is a well-balanced, medium bodied ale brewed to sustain you over the long New England winter. Its rich malt profile is reminiscent of an English Pale Ale, while the spicy and fruity hop finish, from German Tettnang hops, gives it a warming and welcoming feeling to bring you back in from the cold. Copper-amber in color, this offering is available all winter long.

The Pour:

A foggy, amber brown ale and big tan head

The Nose:
It’s bready and malty – I am getting a nice spice (clove & nutmeg?) it kind of feels like I put my face into a gingerbread loaf. It’s a sweet, vanilla delight.

The Taste:
Follows suit with the nose. It’s a creamy, medium to full bodied ale with nice carbonation. It’s warming with cinnamon, malt and clove and leaves a dry hoppy bite at the end. It’s smooth and drinkable and the alcohol creeps up in the end that makes you feel cozy. This is a great winter brew and I could see myself kicking back with more than one of these and sharing with friends. Really tasty stuff here.


Anything with a sweet vanilla presence would be great with this beer. To be honest, I am craving a gingerbread muffin or cookie. I think all of the bitter hops and malts would counter nicely with a sugary sweet slice of pecan pie, or pumpkin.

Overall, I really love this brew. If you are local and love bold flavors you won’t be disappointed, look for it on tap and in a 22 oz or growler. BBC Cabin Fever makes the "Nice List" for this blogger. Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Widmer's Brrrfect Beer for the Countdown

Brewery: Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 9.4%
Website: http://widmerbrothers.com/

Lucky Number 7. I walked into the package store several days ago completely expecting to follow in the steps of my fellow blogger. Meaning, most of my posts revolve around high gravity beers, so I thought it was time to dial it back a bit. On Friday, Katie's post was a wheat beer... a delicious 6.4% offering. A little higher in abv than most people are used to, but nevertheless, fairly "average" level when compared to the 8% & 9% beers that we write about on occasion. Needless to say, I failed.

I remember seeing the Widmer Bros Brrrbon on the shelf last year, but I already had my beers picked out, so I never got around to it. But my new friend Mike, the beer manager from Locascio Liquors in Prospect, CT, was so adamant that this was a fantastic choice, he offered up the 2011 version that he had personally kept in his store cooler since last year. Anyone with that kind of drive to age a beer, appreciates the contents. How could I say "NO"? I decided on the 2012 version, since I really had no basis of comparison. Later that night, I ended up at a GREAT brew pub called the Ginger Man in Norwalk... Would you believe it... there it was, the Widmer Bros Brrrbon on draft. Knowing that a post was in my near future, I ordered one. Our server then tells us that, it was SO popular, they unfortunately ran out. Ok. #1, Mike from Locascio was a huge fan... then #2 I go one of the most popular brew pubs in CT and they've run out? Now I KNOW I've made a good choice.

On the pour, I get a nice dark orange color, almost burnt. Cloudy. It had about two fingers of off white head with sticky lacing along the sides of the glass.

The beer is called "Brrrbon" so I can imagine what I'm going to get on the nose. Hmmm... not as much bourbon as I thought, but I do get some. There's roastiness along with subtle vanilla, caramel... and some oakiness from the barrel aging as well.

Yum... this is a tasty, tasty beer. Clearly the bourbon is present here. I'm getting a pleasant dark brown sugar sweetness that balances with the maltiness.

You would think that with the caramel and sweetness up front, those flavors would linger more. But this beer is surprisingly dry on the finish. There's a slight hop bitterness that's there too.

Overall: A-

Much like my other reviews, this beer may not be for everyone. It's got bourbon characteristics, it's 9.4% and has some hop bitterness on the finish. If you're looking for something simpler, I would suggest the Brrrbon Winter Warmer that they also have this season. It's dialed back slightly at 7.2%, and is a little more session-able. However, between the two Widmer offerings, I would choose the one I'm reviewing here.

Fear not, Beer411 family... it's win-win here. The Widmer Bros will not steer you wrong.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Blue Hills Dunkelweizen Makes the Nice List

Style | ABV
Dunkelweizen | 6.90% ABV
“Wampatuck Winter Wheat” by Blue Hills Brewery
Brewed in Canton, Mass. (for me = SUP-ah fresh)

Now this is a wheat beer I can sink my teeth into this time of year. This 8th beer of xmas is everything I want a winter beer to be. Warming and friendly, not overfilling, but powerful and reminds me sip after sip – you are drinking craft beer.

This is a dark German Heffeweizen, better known as a Dunkelweissen (I learned that dunkel means dark in German) After a quick visit to the Blue Hills website (a brewery that is on my list to tour this winter) I learned that they brewed this with generous amounts of dark roasted malts, a grain bill that’s more than 60% wheat, German Noble hops and fermented it using a Bavarian yeast strain.

At 6.9% ABV, they describe it as a great balance between strength and grace, I’d have to agree. I grabbed this as a bomber from my local liquor store, but apparently you can get it on draught around here as well, which I am sure just kicks up the freshness and flavor.

The pour is a cloudy, maple color, darker that I imagined. I was thirsty and impatient, so the aggressive pour left me with a three finger white head. (Even now, I am halfway through the beer there is still a slight rim and some lacing on the glass)

The nose is fresh baked bread and malt, sprinkled with cocoa and burnt caramel.

The mouthfeel is on the heavier side of medium – (if that makes any sense), though not overly carbonated. It’s creamy and coats your tongue and wants to stay. I get a big bisquity taste with a spicy dark-dry finish. This is an easy drinking fireside winter brew for certain, my cheeks already feel flushed.

This beer has me craving salt, so I’d say a parmesan or asigo cheese would be great. Or let’s get crazy, a burger and fries. This beer screams pub food all the way. Nachos anyone?

Blue Hills – thanks for getting me out of my holiday beer drinking downward slope!
I’ll drink to that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sammy's up to no good, on the 9th Beer of Xmas...

Brewery: Boston Beer Company
Style: Sweet Stout
ABV: 9%

Ok, so perhaps the title of this post is slightly misleading. After yesterday's White Christmas review, it became clear to both my cousin and I that there are SO MANY styles out there. Sam Adams has been at this for quite sometime now and they have a WIDE variety of offerings... from Sam Adams Light to their Griffin's Bow Barleywine. Listen, the White Christmas could be EXACTLY what you want in a beer. Not too aggressive. Light flavors. Subtle spices. Refreshing. If you don't like it, then you're not necessarily "cray, cray" (as Katie's older brother Johnny likes to think). I've had the White Christmas. It's good. If you had the Sam Adams White Ale (which is usually released in the Spring), I find that it's very similar. I think the White Christmas would be a great go-to on Opening Day of the baseball season. But, I'm with Kate on this one.  It's just ehhh, especially with all of the big flavors out there this time of the year.  But the bottom line is: different people like different beers. So, if you read yesterday's post Bing Does Not Come With Every Bottle: White Christmas and you agree with Katie and I, don't turn your back on Sam Adams just yet. Owner, Jim Koch has another trick up his Santa sleeve.

[Enter Merry Mischief Stage RIGHT]

A few years ago, Jim Koch decided to branch out into the 22 oz market of the craft beer world.  They released several "big" beers to their already wide distribution:  Double IPAs, Barleywines, Baltic IPA, Imperial Reds, Imperial Pumpkins, Gose... and now that we've hit the holiday season, they've introduced another offering that pushes the envelope, Merry Mischief.  I think this would also be the first time I've ever had a gingerbread stout.  Leave it to one of the oldest craft breweries to teach me something new.

On the pour it's dark brown, almost black... when I held it up to the light, you could see some red hues coming through near the bottom of the glass.  The head is thick, fluffy - tan in color.

Whoa... major spices on this one.  Their website claims to have gingerbread, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and I'm getting ALL of that... in addition to some roastiness.  Lots of gingerbread upfront (makes sense, it's a gingerbread stout, Tone).  There's a little sweetness towards the end too.  Once you get your nose past the spice, there's a maltiness that's very inviting.

This beer tastes like Christmas to me.  It's thick, roasty, full of the flavors you got on the nose and has this warmth to it near the end.  It has a wonderfully balanced heat between the spices and the booze.

The carbonation on this one was pretty low which can be expected for a stout.  Smooth, sweet and very enjoyable.

Like I said earlier, I've never had a gingerbread stout so I really have no basis of comparison.  This is a solid offering for a limited time.  It's very spicy... heavy on the gingerbread, cloves, allspice.  I'll be all set to move on after about a month or so but BRAVO, Mr. Koch.  Note that it's not a LET'S GET A BUNCH OF MERRY MISCHIEFS AND HAVE OURSELVES A PARTY type beer.  You split one... maybe two bottles depending on the number of people you are with.  I also wouldn't try to set up a game of Mischief Beer Pong either.  That's sure to get you on the naughty list.  This is great for those holiday or family parties where you're not sure what to bring.  Mainly because it's nothing anyone's EVER tasted and it's PERFECT to share, before or after a meal with the strong flavors and high abv.

Overall: B+


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bing Does Not Come With Every Bottle: White Christmas

White Christmas by Samuel Adams
Witbier 5.8% ABV

Our 10th beer of Christmas is new to the Sam Adams line up and brewed in 2012 -- White Christmas was suggested by one of our faithful Beer411 readers who also happens to be my brother. After tasting it, I know why he recommended this beer for our Xmas countdown; he loves witbiers. His go to brew is Blue Moon, year round.

For the Belgian white lover when the temperature drops, this beer seems to be the best of both worlds. The intent is to marry together the crisp, malt, wheat flavor of a witbier with the seasonal winter spices of clove and cinnamon to create a lighter seasonal ale, a departure from the heavy, coffee, chocolate, porters, stouts and ales that are around this time of year.

The label:
As crisp as the first snowfall of the year, this unfiltered white ale is blended with holiday spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. The familiar citrus and wheat characters of the ale are complemented by the warmth of the spices for a festive brew that’s perfect for the season.

I’ve seen this beer in the Sam Winter Seasonal Variety Pack and also as a solo sixer, so it’s pretty easy to find for those that are interested in wrapping their hands around this new brew. I grabbed a bottle of White Christmas at the Coolidge Corner Club House in Brookline. (You know, the place where the menu is 27 pages long and all the menu items are named after sports legends)

The Pour: A two finger fluffy white head settled on top of a cloudy, golden-yellow body

The Nose: Grassy and sweet with apricot and honey

The Taste: It’s a crisp and bubbly brew with a tart dry finish. Medium bodied. It has a well-balanced bready, malt flavor that is cut with citrus and orange. The beer overall is not as sweet as the nose would suggest, which is not a bad thing. My gripe with the White Christmas is that I am not sure it belongs in a holiday line up. The winter spices didn’t show up for me the way I thought they would. I checked out the reviews on BA to see what others were saying about it and I was surprised to read that some tasters thought the spice was too much. (hmmm?)

All in all, it was just ok for me, (sorry bro!). I felt like I was drinking a wheatier Magic Hat #9.

Like most wheat style ales, this beer would go great with any creamy, tart goat cheese. Sam also suggests cranberries or sweet desserts like cheesecake and tarts.

I’d say if you are like my brother and love Belgian whites, this holiday six pack might be the perfect gift for you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On the 11th Beer of Xmas... Are we "Peaking" too early?

Brewery: Peak Organic

Style: Amber

ABV: 7%

IBUs: 22

Website: http://www.peakbrewing.com

Trust the people that know what they are talking about.

I've said it before... if you go to the meat counter at the supermarket, it's probably a good idea to ask the Butcher for recommendations. If you're at a restaurant, go ahead and ask the server what he or she would eat... or a bartender, ask what they like on draft... On the flipside, there are those individuals that could care less and aren't very helpful at all. If you encounter one of these unfortunate people, I advise you to steer clear. But, when you meet someone that's passionate about what they do... heed their advice.

If you find that you are passing through the Southington area, stop by Southington Wine and Spirits, located in the Walmart plaza on Queen Street. Ask for their beer manager, Joe Murphy, or "Murph" as most people call him. (A name that I know my co-blogger would appreciate.) Time after time, he's made some great suggestions for me... and this post is no different. I mentioned the blog and told me to give the Peak Organic Espresso Amber a try.

The website describes it as a robust amber ale brewed with locally roasted, organic fair trade espresso. Not sure if I've ever had a robust Amber. Robust porter, yes... but an amber?

I poured pretty aggressively and ended up with about two fingers of fluffy off-white head. It had a hazy amber color to it with some great lacing along the glass.

The smells on this beer were very pleasant. Caramel candy with a hint of coffee. Imagine the scent that you would get after pouring a little caramel flavored cream into your coffee.

Now the taste... Murph eluded to this when I picked this up a few days ago. You hear a lot about beers that include coffee, but rarely do you hear about espresso. Upfront, you get the sweetness. Amber, roasty, malty... similar to the topping of a creme brulee. Then, as the sweetness dissolves, that's when you get the espresso... not coffee. At first, it comes across as slightly bitter btw the espresso and the subtle hops used in the beer. However, the more you sip, the less you notice it.

One of the things I enjoy around the holidays is having black coffee with a sweet dessert. Normally people add creme and sugar to their coffee, but I don't feel like you have to in this case. The bitter notes in the java balance out the sweetness of the dessert. That's what this beer does with each sip. There's a lingering malty sweetness after each taste. This is probably why the bitterness disappears a little more with each sip. You're left with a that candied sugar taste which counteracts the bitter notes, taste after taste.

Pair this with some creme brulee and a roaring fire. Whoa mama.

Overall: B

Thanks to @KayTeeStinch for kicking off our Xmas countdown yesterday... stay tuned as we countdown all the way to #1!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 12th Beer of Christmas, not exactly a Lump of Coal

Happy Holidays Beer411 fans!

Tis’ the season to eat, drink and be merry and starting today we’ll be counting down the 12 beers of Christmas, taking the guess work out of selecting the perfect winter seasonal for your upcoming holiday dinner, ugly xmas sweater party or work gathering.

Tune in each weekday to learn about a new craft brew. We’ve chosen some New England favorites and are still accepting suggestions, so comment below and let us know what you’d like us to try. There are a lot of holiday brews out there that market toward seasonal lovers, but not all of them can make the nice list. We hope to weed out the subpar beers and save you from buying into the holiday hype.

Our first beer on tap is the, “Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout” (as the label states), Much More Than You Deserve for Christmas This Yearprobably true.

It’s an English Ale Imported by the Shelton Brothers of Belchertown, Mass with an 8% ABV

As always, I love to read the bottle:
Yet another bummed out holiday? Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout is liquid consolation. It’s a deep, rich, sweetly rewarding stout to take the edge off of that grim family gathering, that cheerless annual festival of alienation. This brew is as dark as it gets, as black as the lump of coal you’ll be getting for Christmas. Because, let’s face it, you’ve been pretty bad this year.

The Pour: Dark, like soot. No light is getting though this sucker. A dark red amber rim peaks through near the top and above it rests a small creamy head that dissipates quickly.

The Nose: Smells like toffee with a dark chocolate mocha after waft. Definitely a sweet, burnt sugary nose.

The Taste: A medium bodied brew, a bit more carbonation for a stout than I expected. It tastes like smoke, then a creaminess coats the tongue with a bitter, dark chocolate, boozy finish. (hey ABV – what’s up?) It’s malty and toasty, everything a winter stout should be. It’d be a great fireside warm up brew.

I like it, but it’s nothing I haven’t had before. It’s kind of a “so what?” beer. Drinkable and rich, but holiday? No. I would say it’s just another stout. So I’ll give it a solid B.

This beer would go great with sweets – caramels, chocolates and also roasts and stews. I would also say any soft-ripened cheese, blue or washed-rind would be delicious with this beer. Stay away from bitter cheeses but anything with a salty, sweet, and creamy flavor would pair up nicely.

Had it and loved it? Tried something better? Tells us below. Cheers!