Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Beer411 Wants To Know... What Ale's You?

AleSmith Brewing Company
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Stout
abv: 12.0%
Website: AleSmith.com
Twitter: @AleSmithBrewing

Let's cut to the chase.

I don't want to waste your time on this festive Christmas Eve. Besides, what are you doing on the computer when you should be wasseling among the leaves so green, or grabbing that last minute gift, or visiting with family.  Seriously... I mean, Katie and I appreciate your loyal viewership, but do us a favor.  After you finish reading this post (assuming that you are reading this ON Christmas Eve), turn off your computer, or pocket that smart phone for a little while and breathe in some of that Christmas Spirit with your friends and family.  With, your favorite beverage nearby, of course.

I'm throwing the numbers at you from the get-go.

BeerAdvocate Rating: 98 (world-class)
RateBeer: 100 (yes, as in PERFECT)
Untappd: 4.3 out of 5 (11,962 ratings)
Awards, awards, awards...

I'll admit, I kinda knew what I was getting into when I decided to fire up the AleSmith Speedway Stout for the final post of this holiday season.  I've never had it, but I know... You gotta go big when it comes to #1.  This is the beer that needs to leave a lasting impression on the Beer411 readers (and hopefully it won't be December 2014 when we decide to write on here next!).

AleSmith is a well respected brewery from what I've heard.  Sadly, they are also one of those breweries that does not distribute to Connecticut.  And unlike my post on the White Birch Brewery, this story does not have a happy ending where I found this bottle at some store with a great selection.  No... I happened upon this beer at a local Beer Themed Yankee Swap put on by the Relic Brewery.  There were about 20 of us that took part and when everything was all said and done, I ended up with this tasty treat.  Now, as I examined the bottle, I noticed something in small print, "This beer ages very well and will continue to mature for many years to come."  But you can bet your partridge in a pear tree, that I wasn't about to wait.

On the pour, we have a dark, dark beer.  Black as night.  Or, according to the website, "Jet Black".  I poured pretty aggressively and ended up with about 2 fingers of tan head.

The nose was full of coffee smells.  Rich, robust coffee.  Combined with unsweetened/semi-sweet chocolate notes.  Hints of vanilla and earthiness as well.

I have to sit down this is so tasty.  There's a coffee/chocolate 1-2 punch right out of the gate.  As the flavor develops, there's malty sweetness, followed by vanilla and toffee/caramel.  The cool thing about this beer is that while you may not like strong coffee, the sweetness balances very well to offset the bitterness.

Low carbonation, creamy and delicious.  Full-bodied, as expected, but it's not as thick as Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (of which I had a little last night).  Slight alcohol warming on the finish, but you would NOT guess that this is 12%.

Given the high abv (and the since it only comes in 750 ml), this is one that you'll want to share with a few people.  Highly recommended if you can find it.  For food pairings... A family friend dropped off some homemade peanut brittle that was awesome with this.

Thank you all of our retweeters, Twitter favoriters, Facebook sharers, Facebook Likers, Google+ 1er's and anyone that might have spent a little time on our site.  We really appreciate all of your support.  I hope that you enjoyed our 12 Beers of Christmas.  I love finding new beers with every season, and this blog gives Katie and I an excuse to dig a little deeper, especially over the holiday season.

So from all of us at BEER411 to all of you, have a happy and safe holiday!!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ready to Hibernate with Great Divide

This beer was a happy find for my co-taster Phil and me as we wind down our Beer411 Xmas countdown.

We are down to #2 … can you believe it?
We bring to you:

Great Divide Brewing Co.
Hibernation Ale | Denver, Colorado
ABV: 8.7%

We found this pint to be a little lighter than the winter beers we have been tasting, less heavy on the spice, which was refreshing. It was similar to a brown ale --- with a lot of that hearth appeal that makes it perfect for winter drinking.

About the Brewer:
During the late 80s, Brian Dunn spent 5 years overseas building farms in developing countries. Having grown up in a family that appreciated good food and drink, Dunn expanded his knowledge and passion for beer during his travels. Dunn eventually returned to Colorado, started homebrewing and went to graduate school. Upon graduation in 1993, when Denver’s craft beer scene barely existed, he set out to found what would eventually become one of America’s most decorated and celebrated craft breweries.

To date they have 45 employees and Great Divide has grown into winner of 18 Great American Beer Festival medals, recipient of 5 World Beer Cup awards, 12th in Ratebeer.com’s 2013 “Best Brewers in the World,” Ratebeer.com’s 2013 Top Brewer in Colorado, and 7th in Beer Advocate’s 2010 “All-Time Top Brewers.”

Not too shabby.
It’s nice to see something else being poured out of the Rocky region that isn’t a Coors Light

What they say about the Hibernation Ale
Hibernation Ale has been a celebrated winter tradition since 1995. This robust, dry-hopped ale has a malty richness balanced with a complex hop profile and hearty, warming character.

The pour:
A dark auburn, copper brown -- with a light khaki head that left a pretty lacing on the glass.

The nose:
Roasted malts, nuts, oak, burnt caramel, smokey, a little coffee and cocoa at the end

The taste:
Simply delicious. Medium mouth-feel, very easy to drink. Nutty, biscuity, smokey, smooth, a little dark cocoa and coffee. This pints has a good amount of carbonation on it and the alcohol gives you a gentle nudge at the finish, along with a bitter bite. It’s well balanced and warming.

The pairing:
My co-taster and I enjoyed this brew with meatloaf nachos. Yep. You heard me right. We had some leftover meatloaf, that was made with a lot Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, A1 and worcestershire sauce. We crumbled it over chips and cheese and all the fixins’ and these two were fast friends. The smoky beer paired with the BBQ flavored meat and cheddar cheese was a match made in heaven. This beer would be great as a standalone fireside warmer, but if you are going to pair it, I would say gouda cheese, a burger, ribs, pulled pork or anything in the BBQ realm would do nicely.

This is a sixer I would pick up and drink over and over this season.
A nice little winter change up. I will definitely keep my eye out for more Great Divide brews in the near future. I am very impressed.

Ok Toenee… tag you’re it.
Whacha got for our BIG finale?
Merry, merry Christmas cuzzin!

Friday, December 20, 2013

If you don't know White Birch, you're barking up the wrong tree.

Brewery: White Birch Brewing (Hooksett, NH)
Style: Smoked Imperial Brown Ale
ABV: 7.0%
Website: whitebirchbrewing.com
Twitter: @Bill_WBB

Whenever I'm up in New Hampshire, I always try and grab a few local treats that I can't get in CT.  Almost every time, this Hampshirian Haul includes a bottle from White Birch Brewing.

There I was back in November, staring at a variety of White Birch brews.  Then I noticed a particular style that I've NEVER seen before.  White Birch called this beer their Tavern Ale and the style was a Smoked Imperial Brown Ale.  What the what?!  I've had Brown Ales... I may have even had an Imperial Brown Ale (although I can't recall)... I've even had a few smoked beers... but all at the same time?!  On top of my cleared peaked curiosity, it also had the DRAFT Magazine stamp of approval hailing as one of the Top 25 Beers of the Year (in 2011).  Congrats White Birch... Hook(sett), line, and sinker.

I'm not going to lie... I couldn't wait until our 12 Beers of Xmas countdown to crack this baby open.  So back in November, about a week or so after I came back from New Hampshire, I randomly had this beer over some steak and vegetables.  Yes, so much yes.  I thought that this beer would have been PERFECT for the countdown!  But, alas, I only grabbed one bottle...  But wait... 

About two weeks ago I found myself down at Amity Wine and Spirits, which has an EXCELLENT selection.  And what the... who the... why the... I don't believe it... there it was.  Apparently we're now getting White Birch Brewery in CT!!  And they had the Tavern Ale!!  Bottled purchased, stored away for the countdown, and there you go... at #3 on our Beer411 Holiday List.

SPOILER ALERT... the Tavern Ale in its Smoked Imperial Brown Ale glory, pours.... well, Brown.  Dark Brown, so dark that you cannot see through at all.  On top, about a 1/2 inch of deliciously inviting khaki head.

There a good amount of smoke on the nose.  Very unique.  Smells like someone is cooking bacon nearby.  Slight hints of coffee, chocolate and some nuttiness as well.

Great medium body on this one that truly stands up to the smokey quality.  Sometimes when I have a smoked beer, they can be thin and overpowering.  Not so with this one.  The sweetness provided by the malts, brown ale, and imperial style are very balanced with the smoke in the Tavern Ale.

Lower carbonation and a nice sweet finish.

Well, unlike a CT only beer or a MA only beer... this is an offering where most of New England wins.  If you live in NH, you can probably find this.  Chances are, distribution passes through MA so I'd be surprised if it WASN'T available.  And now... according to my find about two weeks ago... you can NOW get it in CT!!  Dare I say, I think this might be my favorite one on the countdown thus far.  Yeah, you know what?  I'm gonna say it... This is my favorite beer on the countdown thus far.  Boom, I said it.

I shared this beer with Mom and Pop over some honey ham and baked beans.  But honestly, you could have this before dinner... with dinner... or after dinner in front of the fire.  There's a whole lotta goodness in this bottle.

Coming up next... #2 and #1 on our countdown!!  Stay Tuned!!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hardywood's Gingerbread Stout is a Bottle of Christmas Spirit

Hardywood Reserve Series
Gingerbread Stout
9.2% ABV
2013 release

First off, this post is brought to you by the Christmas Spirit – 100%

I was minding my own business, tweeting Hardywood Brewery to find out if I could get my hands on their Gingerbread Stout anywhere in Mass. for our 12 beers of Xmas countdown and then “poof” a ghost of Christmas past appears (a friendly one!!) – an old high school buddy, @josh_Conrad, who I haven’t seen or talked to in more than a decade offers to ship me some!

He lives in Virginia and this beer is brewed in his hometown. Despite his proximity to the pint, it's still NOT easy to acquire … he sends me a pic of line:

… eeeek! (He assures me that he was going anyway). Apparently this is the normal scene when distributing the GBS at Hardywood. A follow up tweet tells me that they are capping the takeaway limit that day to one bottle per person! “OH No! What is this stuff made out of gold?” (yes, but we’ll get to the review in a minute)

Well all I can say is @josh_Conrad is the champ of all champs. I am not sure how many bottles he ended up walking away with that day or how long he stood in line, but all I know is two icy cold bombers arrived yesterday and I could not be more grateful. Cheers to old high school buddies and going above to make this blogger’s holiday season a little brighter. Merry Christmas!!

Now onto the beer, which is made of gold.

The Brewer Says:
Brewed with baby ginger from Casselmonte Farm and wild flower honey from Bearer Farms, Hardywood Ginger bread Stout captures the terroir of central Virginia in a rich creamy libation with a velvety mouth feel and intriguing evolution of flavors from milk chocolate and vanilla to honeycomb and cinnamon to a snap of ginger in the finish.

Their Mission:
To become one of the most respected brewers in the United States through integrity in our ingredients and in our business practices, through respect for brewing heritage, and through the inspired creation of extraordinary beers.

The Pour: dark brown that settles jet black underneath, half a finger of light brown fluffy head, good retention and some lacing

The Nose: HEAVEN! Floral honey, Dried fruit (apricot??), ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate and biscuitty gingerbread cookies, yum!

The Taste: Follows suit with the smell! Mouthfeel is medium bodied, smooth and silky, with moderate carbonation. Immediately I get roasted malts, milk chocolate, vanilla, sweet caramel and cinnamon – then comes the spicy gingerbread flavor – that coats the tongue, with a milky-chalky, fizzy finish.

This is a well-done beer. I love that Hardywood uses local products in their brews and from the website, I takeaway that this is a company that really cares about their community, does a lot for charity and puts out quality (over quantity) products. I am only sad that they are so difficult to get, because I WANT MORE!

The pairing:
Hardywood suggests crème brûlée or fresh chocolate pudding, rich desserts with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or chocolate to really bring out the flavor of Gingerbread Stout. I say, this is great as a standalone dessert, maybe a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top? Stout a la mode?

I am so happy to follow up my last post with something deserving of the Beer411 xmas countdown!! Cheers to good beers. Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Only one place to go for #5, The Bruery's 5 Golden Rings

Brewery: The Bruery (CA)
Style: Beligian Strong Pale Ale
ABV: 11.5%
Website: thebruery.com
Twitter: @TheBruery

When we've had our countdown in years past, I had heard about The Bruery's annual Winter Releases of their OWN "Twelve Beers of Xmas".  Since 2008, each chilly season, they come out with ONE new offering in their holiday lineup: 4 Callings Birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves and even a Partridge in a Pear Tree!  PERFECT!!  I'll use their NEXT release in the Beer411 Countdown!!  Oh, but there's one small detail... 

Unfortunately, for those of us on the East Coast, offerings from The Bruery are hard to come by since they are located in Orange County, CA and don't distribute to CT.  So when the opportunity came to set up a beer trade with one of my friends from the Beer Coasters, I jumped at the chance!  A beer trade is very simple... you find someone to trade with via BeerAdvocate, Untappd, or any other craft beer site... send a few bottles their way and they send a few your way!  Usually shipments include rare bottles or things you can't get in your area.  In this case, I received The Bruery's 2012 release, 5 Golden Rings!!

On the pour... hazy golden in my snifter glass.  Imagine... yellow with some orange hues.  There isn't much carbonation on this guy.  Maybe about pinky finger of head that quickly dissipated.

Strong Belgian yeast on the nose... I'm getting a lot of fruity esters.  Pineapple sweetness, perhaps a little banana as well.  Subtle spices, and juuuuuust a hint of booze.  Let's taste...

And there's the booze... If I needed a reminder that this is 11.5%, I just got it.  Much sweeter on the taste than I had anticipated as well.  I think that spice that I was getting on the nose is clove.  Lots of citrus flavors, too... orange, banana, pineapple.

Mild carbonation and tasty all around... This is the love child of a Belgian and a Winter Warmer.  You can imagine the amount of flavors going on between those two styles.  As far as pairings go, I'm going to give the nod to my buddy Brandon from UConn who know lives out in Oregon.  Back in 2006 he gave me a recipe for a chipotle pulled pork using a slow cooker with a fiesta lime salsa.  Spicy, sweet, smoky... topped with a flavor blast of salsa made up of pineapple, mango, kiwi, lime juice and red onion.  That would be SPOT ON with this offering.  Spicy, sweet, boozy.

Sorry to my friends on the East Coast... the chances of you finding this one are slim to none.  Special shout out to my boy, Beer Coaster Crazy Dave for the hook up!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There's no single stout like it ….

Shipyard Mint Chocolate Stout
Portland, ME
9% ABV

These dice aren’t lucky ToeNee … I finally met a stout that I don’t like.
In the words of my boyfriend, “This is not a good beer.”

The Brewer Says
The Mint Chocolate Stout is a dark, silky beer with aromas of chocolate and licorice. There are notes of chocolate and coffee upfront followed by a subtle spearmint finish.

What We Say
The pour: Jet black with a light brown, one finger head

Nose: 100% doublemint gum, followed by anise and then little alcohol

The taste: effervescent for a stout, medium to full bodied mouthfeel and very dry – any chocolate that is used in this stout is so dark and bitter that it is not combating the overpowering spearmint flavor that stays on the sides and back of the tongue. This is tough to swallow. I wish I had more to say – it’s just not flavorful or balanced. I feel like I chewed chocolate and gargled with mouthwash after.

The pairing: just trying to mask the flavor on my tongue, we chased it with some ginger bread cookies we baked recently and that was actually a good choice. The ginger and the mint played nicely together and the royal icing helped to soften the dry, bitterness and sweeten the overall flavor.

A quarter into the 16 oz bomber … and dump. Seems like Mint Chocolate is best served as an ice cream, not a beer. Better luck next time Shipyard.

Sorry folks for the brevity of this post!
Calling the Stinch the Grinch? Tell me why you liked it…

Monday, December 16, 2013

Keeping it local for the 7th Beer on our Xmas Countdown.

Brewery: Two Roads Brewing Co
Style: Biere de Garde
Abv: 7.3%
Website: www.tworoadsbrewing.com
Twitter: @2RoadsBrewing

People ask me all the time about beer.  IPAs, Stouts, Porters, Scotch Ales, Pale Ales, Saisons...

The question is, have you ever heard of a style: Bière de Garde?

Thaaaat's what I thought.  Sit down, let's discuss.

Another style that is under-appreciated in my book is Bière de Garde or as Wikipedia translates, "Beer for Keeping".  Originating from the Northern region of France, this beer was brewed in the Winter and Spring months to avoid any issues with the yeasts in the Summertime.  The beer would be brewed, bottled and "kept" only to be enjoy later that year.

Keeping with the local theme, we head to Stratford, CT  to visit the Two Roads Brewery.  About a year or so ago, they opened their doors to potential contract brewers in addition to crafting beers of their own.  They originally came out with 4 year-round releases that would appeal to the masses.  A pilsner, saison, an ipa and a double ipa.  They've also experimented with a few seasonal releases.  Doppelbock, Maibock, Rye Imperial Stout, Pumpkin Ale, Black Ale, and most recently... the Holiday Ale, which is a Bière de Garde, or as they refer to it... a "Biere de Noel".

I poured this beer in my Oxbox snifter glass.  Amber color with red hues glowed throughout.  White/light tan pillowy, frothy head rested on top.

Sweet malty smells rose out of the glass... there's a very slight hint of caramel.

The taste... pretty on point with what I'm getting on the nose.  More of the malty sweetness comes through.  Notes of honey and biscuit.  Light and toasty as well.

Medium bodied, slight cinnamon on the finish.  It also coats the inside of your mouth a bit, leaving a sweet spicy taste.

This is a very safe beer... wait, let me rephrase... this is a very safe style.  If you're the type of person that doesn't like IPAs or heavy stouts... If you're the kind of person that just wants a Sam Adams Winter Lager and be done with it... then this might be a good beer to try.  It's a very sneaky 7.3%, mild spiciness, a little on the sweeter side, but again, not a barleywine "I'm going to get a cavity" sweet.

I have to be honest though.  Personally... I don't think I'm a big fan of the style.  When I go for a HOLIDAY beer... I want a bold coffee stout, a creamy porter, a hoppy ipa, a spicy winter warmer, or a boozy scotch ale/strong ale.  I want something that is going to make me go - Wow.  This beer... it's good.  But it doesn't make me go - Wow.  but not everyone is like me, either.  I think it's definitely got a place at your holiday table.  You could pair this with a lot of things - I had it with some toffee candies and that seemed to work real well!

You won't find this offering in 6pk... so head to your 22oz bomber aisle.  And you won't break the bank on this either... I bought mine for around $6.

Kicking off the 2nd week... Beer411 Style.  Your dice, KayTee.

Friday, December 13, 2013

No Easy Way to Open Noel

Gouden Carolus Noel
Brouwerij Het Anker

Style | ABV
Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 10% ABV

The first thing that I want to talk about is opening the bottle.
This was a two-man job -- A two man, pair of pliers, screwdriver and hand gripper kind of job.

Halfway through the struggle the cork started to tear, and I thought - we are going to lose a lot of good liquid tonight… but finally she gave way, and then due to our mighty strength, my boyfriend and I continued to speak like Arnold Schwarzenegger during the remainder of the tasting. I am pretty sure we were both perspiring… so if you want to continue to read this post in the voice of the Terminator, feel free…

This is some airtight beer. The brewers obviously know their stuff and how to keep it SUPAH fresh. They’ve been at this game since 1471. (!!!)

Since 1471 the Beguine sisters baked bread, brewed beer, grew vegetables or nursed the ill. That same year, Charles the Bold granted the beguine sisters of Mechelen the permission to brew beer for their private use, completely free of duties and excise taxes. Four years earlier, in 1467 no less than 900 Beguines welcomed Charles the Bold during his visit to Mechelen. For more than three centuries, until 1865, they brewed their beer traditionally. They’ve been perfecting their craft ever since …

The Christmas beer, Goulden Carolus Noel took a 38 year hiatus somewhere in the middle and was restored in 2002. Brewed in August, the beer rests a few months to reach an optimal balance. Three kinds of hops and six different kinds of herbs and spices define the rich taste of this Christmas beer.

So now that we’ve stopped breathing heavy, let’s taste this suckah’

To the glass: Hazy red / amber brown, very small beige head that dissipated quickly. Particles are floating around in the effervescent bubbles.

To the nose: Oak, cranberries, apple, molasses, ‘cigar’ tobacco, and alcohol

To the tongue: Medium bodied mouth-feel with a fizzy start and a chewy finish. Strong boozy champagne flavor, chocolate, red apples. There’s definitely a battle between sweet and tart going on for sure. The finish is dried fruit, raisons and then creeps in the alcohol. It’s a little numbing on the back of the tongue as well. (What are we drinking?)

Initially I didn’t like it. But like any good blogger, I kept drinking it. And like any good craft beer lover, my appreciation grew. I am still glad that split the 16 oz bottle with my BF, I wouldn’t want to drink this all night. I would definitely keep tasting more Belgians though. It’s always good to keep an open mind.

Pairing this would be tough.
My boyfriend said a cigar for sure. I am thinking cheese course; a plate with tart, sharp cheeses, dates, figs and nuts. That would really go well with this pint.

Tony – what’s your take on Belgians?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On the 9th Beer of Xmas, Lagunitas Shows Consistency is Key

POP QUIZ!!!  List the first 5 breweries that come to mind.... Ready? GO!!!


......Come on, what are you waiting for??

Yes, yes, I know you're here to read Beer411 certified suggestions that Katie and I might have for the holiday season, but it's time to see if you've been paying attention.  And no MACRO BREWERIES!!  Now, spill it... whacha got??

Ok, that's a good one.... 
ok, ok.... 
See!  There you go... you HAVE been paying attention!!

Alright... Every person reading this will probably come up with their own 5 breweries that instantly come to mind.  Popular ones like... Sam Adams.  Dogfish.  Sierra Nevada.  Anchor.  Stone.  Widmer.  Oskar Blues.  Shipyard.  Well, if one of the places you mentioned was LAGUNITAS, then bravo... you HAVE done your homework.  If you didn't, then allow me to introduce you.

Beer411 Readers, Lagunitas... Lagunitas, our Beer411 Readers.

Now that we are all acquainted, let me tell you why you NEED to know these guys out in California.

In the craft beer world, consistency is key.  I'm not saying that you have to conform to what people like to drink all the time whether you like it or not.  NO!! Try all sorts of ingredients in beer, crazy yeast, different malt bills, coriander, belgian sugars, honey, etc.  The CONSISTENCY that I'm referring to is quality.  Simply put:  MAKE. GOOD. BEER.  This is why Lagunitas should be apart of your short list of beers.  Need a hop bomb IPA, try their Hop Stoopid.  Looking for something a little more drinkable?  Fire up their DogTown Pale Ale.  Maybe you need Sumpin WILD like a Belgian IPA, then you need to have a Little Sumpin Sumpin Wild.  They cover a lot of different styles, and they're all pretty top notch.  Their 2013 Winter offering, The Hairy Eyeball Ale... is no different.  Chalk up another win for the peeps at Lagunitas.

Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Style: American Strong Ale
Abv: 9.4%
Website: lagunitas.com

My friends Ian and Jim offered up their sophisticated palettes along with my own to determine what we thought of this beer.

As I poured this into my class... I was pleasantly surprised to see how clear this beer poured.  You could see right through the copper color.  Medium carbonation.  Since I gave the beer a slightly aggressive pour, I found myself with about two fingers of light tan/khaki head.

Do you smell that...?  I watched a short video on the Lagunitas website... they claimed that this is one of the maltiest beer in their collection, and boy do you get that on the nose.  Whaffs of toffee, brown sugar, sweetness.  Very inviting.

Flavorcountry... This is delicious. When I saw that this was categorized as a strong ale, I was concerned that the bitterness would be over the top.  Don't get me wrong, I love beers like Stone Arrogant Bastard, but this is a blog for the people, especially during the 12 Beers of Xmas Countdown.   But fear not readers, this Lagunitas offering has a solid malt backbone and hardly any bitterness on the finish.  Think "boozy werther's original".

Overall... I would easily buy this beer again.  At a hefty 9.4%, it's a great beer to buy and split with a few friends.  It'll get you warmed up on a frosty evening and THEN you can move onto your usual Sam Winter Lager or Harpoon Winter Warmer.  Yes, we all know the usual winter offerings, so switch it up a bit and impress your friends.  Lagunitas has great distribution on the East Coast so perhaps they've been at your local packy all along and you've simply just overlooked them.

Pairings, pairings, pairings... We had a great time with this beer as we labored over a game of Settlers of Canan.  However, if you fail to have this game nearby... then dive into this beer with some candied walnuts or perhaps some chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  If you don't have either of those, simply look for a dessert that isn't overly sweet... let Lagunitas do the work.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pour me another, Pretty Please with a Cherry on Top

Evil Twin Brewing
Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please with a Cherry on Top
Denmark (and Brooklyn, NY)

Style | ABV
American Double / Imperial Stout |11.50% ABV


About Evil Twin Brewing
The brewer, a Dane who recently relocated to Brooklyn, Jarnit-Bjergsø, clearly enjoys what he does and how he does it. Evil Twin beers are currently exploding all over the U.S. and beyond, being brewed everywhere from South Carolina and Scotland to Holland and Fanø, an island off the southwestern shore of Denmark. Last year he brewed about 20 different beers. Warning: love what you are drinking? Better stock up. It’s the reputation of Jarnit-Bjergsø and his dynamic and creative mind, that regardless of how well received those 20 beers are, he is unlikely reproduce many of them the same way. He likes to keep things fresh.

I had heard good things about his recipes and brilliance so I was excited to see a 22 oz. big boy of this brew staring me in the face at the store. The guy who rang me up also raved about it, so despite the price tag being $16, I knew I made a good choice. Research is priceless after all! Also, I never met a stout I didn’t like.

The pour: This brew pours dark black like soot; no light what so ever is coming through. A thin brown foam forms on top with light lacing on the sides of the glass.

The nose: Immediately wafts of almond followed by dark chocolate, coffee, vanilla bean, cherry cola and oak.

The taste: full bodied mouth-feel, coats your tongue from front to back. Lots of chocolate and espresso right away, really tasty – sweet, roasted malts, then a vanilla biscotti, hazelnut pop. The finish is the cherry on top all the way, which gets a little more sour as you continue to drink, but it’s not overwhelming. A really nice balance of spice, flavor and alcohol here – careful this is an 11% abv brew!

Pairings: This might be my inner Italian talking, or maybe just obvious due to the name, but I am thinking Italian cookies all the way, especially anything with an almond, amoretti or anise flavor; biscotti (obviously), pignoli cookies, pizzelles, cannoli -- For dinner? I am thinking roast beef, steak, or maybe a cocoa rubbed pork loin.

I am getting hungry …
Buon Natale!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On the 11th Beer of Xmas, my #CTBeer CANnection

They say your tastes change every 7 years.  This is obviously referring to food.  Well, I'm under the impression that beer follows a similar pattern.  Although, I don't think it takes a whole 7 years for you to turn the corner on a particular beer or beer style.  For example, my friend Jim used to despise IPAs.  Yuck.  Now, I find him telling ME about the latest and greatest Double or even TRIPLE IPAs that have landed on the shelves.  I find that I'm going through a similar experience with sour beers.  A year or so ago, I was introduced to sours.  They tasted like someone took a handful of Cry Babies (do they even make those anymore!?), blended them up, and poured them in a glass.  But now?  I ALMOST find myself gravitating to the next sour that hits the market.  Believe me, I still have a long way to go, but it's interesting how what you once overlooked, are now what you seek out.

I LOVE IPAs.  My cousin Katie will be the first one to tell you that.  Dogfish 60, 90, 120... Lagunitas Hop Stoopid... Green Flash Palette Wrecker... bring on the hops.  But like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, your tastes change.  Don't get me wrong, I still love me some IPA... but I almost find myself moving towards new styles.  And after I had the Back East Porter about a month ago, I can honestly say that this beer has opened my eyes AND my tastebuds to this particular style.  So just this once, put aside the IPAs, the heavy stouts, the boozy strong ales... and cozy up with my Winter Season go-to.

Brewery: Back East Brewery (Bloomfield, CT)
Style: Porter
Abv: 6.0%
Website: http://backeastbrewing.com/

I'm not sure how wide the distribution runs on this tasty guy, but if you are in CT, you shouldn't have too much of a problem finding it.  A 6 pack of cans will run you about $8-9.  Very affordable.  Local.  And who doesn't love to support the little guy.

On the pour:  Dark brown shading, with a good amount of carbonation.  If you poured this next to a Coke I don't know if you'd be able to tell the difference.  Lots of bubbles.  Tan, pillowy head - even with my fancy Sam Adams glass, I barely had enough room to pour the entire can.

On the nose:  More Cola notes. Mild hints of bakers chocolate with a little bit of vanilla sweetness.

The Taste: A nice sweetness comes out at first.  Not overly Milk Stout sweet, though.  Very balanced.  I'm also getting a smooth roasty, malty mouthfeel.  There's even a bit of hop bitterness on the end.

Finish: It's not all that heavy which I like about this beer.  Stouts have their place, but the light, drinkability of this Porter is inviting.  I'm not saying it's "thin" - it's very, drinkable.  In the great debate of Stouts versus Porters, most people will say that Porters tend to be the lighter one of the two.

I know the spice of Katie's Winter Warmer was fighting with the chocolate chip cookies she was eating, but think those WOULD go well with this.  ACTUALLY... Scratch that.  I'd like to see how this beer plays with a spicy chili.  One of my FAVORITE local spots, Smokin With Chris, makes a crazy good chili.  I'd love to see how those flavors interact with each other.  Spicy, sweet, malty... an interesting combination indeed.

Also worth noting... this beer was a 2012 GIBF Gold Medal Winner!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hopping into the Holiday Season with Hoppin’ Frog’s Christmas Ale

Happy holidays everyone! We hope you are all enjoying the winter season, wrapping up Hanukah or trimming the tree … oh and of course making those super fun resolution lists ☺

Beer411’s highly anticipated countdown – “The 12 Beers of Christmas” kicks off now! It’s our annual lineup of back-to-back posts to lead craft brew lovers through the month of December, helping you to navigate the seasonal beer aisle, broaden your selection of winter cheer and as always, guide you to drink good beer!

Our first pick: Hoppin’ Frog Christmas Ale
Why was it chosen? Because (a) I had never heard of Hoppin’ Frog brewery and (b) it has an adorable looking Kermit on the bottle wearing a Santa hat.

Hoppin’ Frog, Akron, Ohio
Winter Warmer

ABV: 8.6%
 | IBU: 12


About the brewery:
Hoppin’ Frog Brewery is a small, hands-on brewery in Akron, Ohio that has been in business for seven years. It’s the brainchild of owner and established brewmaster Fred Karm, who has designed and produced 21 award-winning beers. The brewery now distributes its suds in 18 states and 15 foreign countries.

Hoppin’ Frog describes this pint as:
The essence of Christmas is captured in this very bottle you are holding. Perfectly blended spices compliment Frosted Frog’s rich malt flavors, creating the ultimate Christmas experience. Celebrate the holidays as you savor this very special seasonal offering.

The Review:
The pour – is dark amber and hazy. You can’t see your hand on the other side of the glass. A short tan head forms on top.

The nose – remember those gingerbread houses you used to make as a kid? This is it. It’s like I stuck my head inside one - sweet, sharp cinnamon spices, vanilla, sugar, and burnt caramel … maybe a little pine?

The taste – medium mouth feel, a little sticky. The initial taste is sweet -- like a pumpkin ale --- with vanilla, molasses and caramel, then comes the winter spice, the clove, a little pepper and toasty malts. The finish has a powerful ginger/peppermint boozy punch (oh that’s where the 8.6% ABV is hiding). At first it was hard to put my finger on what it was.

This is a great sipping beer and true to its description, it is just like Christmas in a glass. I split this bomber with a friend and was glad I did. It would have been too much of a good thing.

Food Pairings:
Shockingly, I would stay away from chocolate – it really clashed with the chocolate chip cookies I was trying to enjoy with this beer. I would suggest pumpkin pie, butternut squash soup, ginger snap cookies or anything in this flavor range.

I hope to see more Hoppin’ Frog in my future. It was a great pick.
Cheers everyone! Alright Toenee, I kick it to you - what's on tap?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Practicing What You Preach

There are a lot of beer reviews out there.

And MOST of them cover the main characteristics of a beer which are:
  • Pour
  • Aroma
  • Taste
  • Mouthfeel
  • Finish

And like those points, most reviews conclude with some type of food pairing of sorts:

"I would love to have this beer with a grilled chicken sandwich... or I would like to have this beer with some apple pie."  

And that's where the review ends.  Move onto a new beer and a new review.  But the question is... did you REALLY pair that beer up or do you just THINK it would go good with that type of food?  You took the time to review the beer, why not go the extra mile and pair it with the food you THINK might go well??  I hate to admit it, but I'm guilty of said crime.  I always like to imagine what certain beers might go good with certain foods, but RARELY do I actually go through with the pairing.  Well, after I read a great post by Ashleigh and Kristie of Two Girls, One Beer I decided that enough was enough.

In their post, they threw out some suggestions on what beer styles go with various parts of your Thanksgiving meal.  What goes with turkey, apps, dessert, etc.  So I wrote down a few ideas... hit up the local packy the day before Thanksgiving and made it happen.  I'm not going to go into crazy detail with each course, but hopefully you'll take way just enough so that the next time you're planning out a meal, you think about your beverage as well.

With appetizers:

I wanted to kick things off with a light, refreshing beer.  One of the most well known Belgian Saisons is Saison Dupont.  At 6.5%, it's highly carbonated, has cider-like characteristics, apple, fruity, sweet, biscuity.  Awakens the palette so to speak.  We had various meats and cheeses laid out that worked very well with this.

The Meal:

I brought two options to the table as we took our seats.  First was Relic Brewing's Duality, a Belgian Dubbel, also at 6.5%.  Don't let the color of this beer fool you.  It was a little dark, but actually drank very light.  The Belgian yeasts that were used gave this beer just the slight tartness to it.  Mild fruity esters.  The subtle sweetness matched PERFECTLY with the salty brine that my sister used for the turkey.  Come to think of it, there were a lot of salty things on my plate btw the stuffing, gravy, kale... from the beer to food and food to beer, this worked great.

The other option was Slumbrew's Attic & Eaves (7.5%).  Brown Ale in style, and the heaviest one on the day thus far, played well with my mashed potatoes and squash.  Not gonna lie, I was definitely slowing down at this point in my meal.  Whatever room I had left in my stomach was filling up with malty goodness.  Slight coffee notes also made a great ending to my thanksgiving meal.


Lastly, after the food had settled and there was JUST enough room for dessert... I broke out the obvious choice, Mayflower Brewing's Thanksgiving Ale.  It doesn't get more fitting than that... and it also came recommended from Ashleigh and Kristie.  Clocking in at 8.0%, this English Strong Ale was EXACTLY what I needed.  Boozy, sweet, carmel, toffee notes... This was delicious when I paired it with Apple Pie.  My tastebuds were having party and everyone was having a great time.

Also, not pictured, I brought up some of my homebrewed Pumpkin Ale that I made a few months ago that I call Capt Jack's Pumpkin Ale (named after my godson).  This tasty offering checked in at 7.3% and was brewed with pureed pumpkin and butternut squash.  I also added some Vanilla infused Bulleit Bourbon that my friend Adi so graciously let me use.  The sweetness of this beer (and again the obvious choice) was great with my mom's coconut chocolate chip pumpkin cookies.

So here's my challenge to you all... do a little research BEFORE you sit down to your meal.  Rather than think of what MIGHT go well... think of what WILL go well... then go out and make that pairing happen!!  Again thanks to Ashleigh and Kristie for the inspiration behind this post.

********COMING NEXT WEEK*******

As tradition holds true, my cousin Katie and I will be bringing back the BEER411 - 12 BEERS OF CHRISTMAS!!!  Tune in next Monday as Katie kicks things off.

Tis the season!!