Palate Wrecker is a big West Coast style IPA that was originally brewed for Hamilton’s Tavern and has clearly been influenced by Stone’s Ruination. (So called because it “ruins” your palate.) It’s an Imperial IPA, so big on flavor, body, and alcohol. The head is creamy and the nose has a ton of grapefruit, grass, and some pine. The middle is heavy and sits on your tongue, imparting flavors of grapefruit, lemon, and honey. The finish explodes with pine, a bit of grapefruit rind, and some booziness from the alcohol. (9.5% ABV) This may be the purest Imperial variant of the West Coast style IPA that I’ve had, and for all the marketing around the 100+ IBU score for this beer, it isn’t anywhere near as strongly and ruinously bitter as Ruination is. I love the west coast style and to me, this is a truly outstanding beer.
I give it a 4.8 out of 5.
Old Ruffian is a medal-winning barleywine ale from the Great Divide Brewing Company out of Denver, Colorado. They say that it’s hop-forward, but this is no West-Coast IPA. It pours a rich, semi-translucent copper with a thin head, which is to be expected from a barleywine as they are only lightly carbonated. The nose is sweet, with notes of dark fruit (figs and raisins) and toffee. This is a well hopped ale, and the sweet caramel and sugary fruit in the middle is beautifully balanced by the strong hoppy citrus notes of orange zest. The malt comes back to the fore in the finish with brown sugar and plums, and a bit of heat from the alcohol right at the last. The body is heavy and the alcohol is high, at 10.2% ABV. Barleywines aren’t my favorite, but this is an outstanding example of the style with enough hops to make it enjoyable to any palate. This is a very fine beer.
I give it a 4.7 out of 5.
Brother Thelonious is the perfect marriage of Belgian ale and jazz. I love Belgian beer, and I love jazz, so North Coast Brewing’s Brother Thelonious, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale named after jazz great Thelonious Monk has a special place in my heart. This beer pours a rich dark golden brown with a champagne-like head that doesn’t hang around very long. The nose is mild and Belgian in character, with some apricot, plum, and yeast notes. The middle ticks all the right boxes but with flavors that are brighter and less subtle than you’d often see in a traditional Belgian offering. It’s fruity and malty with plum, cherry, and vanilla. These are the things you’d expect from a prototypical Belgian Strong Dark Ale, though there’s a bit of artificiality to it, as if the cherry were of the maraschino variety rather than picked fresh off a tree, for instance. The alcohol (9.4% ABV) comes through strongly in the finish giving it some heat, and there’s a bit of prune in there at the end as well. All of the characteristics are right, but the execution here is just a bit off. This is a fun beer and I enjoy it for the marketing tie-in with jazz and the style they’ve chosen, but it’s not what I’d want to use to introduce someone to the Belgian Strong Dark Ale style. North Coast Brewing is an outstanding brewery, and they have some amazing beers, but this isn’t one of their best.
I give it a 3.5 out of 5.
Jam Session is, as its name implies, a session beer. I’ve found it in 16oz cans, which is just about my favorite container these days. It’s a 5.1% ABV American Pale Ale from the NoDa Brewing Company right here in Charlotte, NC. It is deep orange-amber in color, and has a thick, meringue like head that sticks around. The nose has pine and lemon, and is predominantly hoppy. The middle still leans toward hoppiness but isn’t overpowering. It’s grassy with more lemon and a bit of caramel from the malt balancing it. The finish has a touch of orange and toast and the tiniest undercurrent of pine. This is a really nice pale ale and in this lighter session beer format, one I’m going to be happy to drink quite a bit more of this summer.
I give it a 4.4 out of 5.
Oatmeal Stout is one my favorite beer styles for its silky smoothness and heavy body, and Samuel Smith’s is one of my favorites in the style. One of my favorite English breweries in general, in fact, Samuel Smith is a traditional English brewery from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. The Oatmeal Stout pours a beautiful dark brown, but not so dark as to be opaque. The head is tan and settles into a heavy creamy texture. The nose is soft, with oatmeal and a hint of chocolate. The middle is sweet, and almost reminds me of a milk stout, but it has a slightly lighter texture. The sweetness of the malt is accentuated in this beer with the addition of cane sugar. The flavors are oatmeal, figs, and another hint of chocolate. The finish isn’t wildly different, it just fades into the background with a bit of heat from the alcohol coming forward. I’d take issue with their description of the beer as “medium-dry” as I find it quite sweet, but not overly so by any means. It’s a very nice stout.
I give it a 4.5 out of 5.
Porter is a classic ale style that brings to mind visions of heavy, dark, malty beer; beer that could serve as meal replacement. Founders Brewing Company’s version of Porter, named simply “Porter” doesn’t disappoint. Founders has become one of my all time favorite brewers as they churn out good beer after good beer, and this is no exception. The appearance is perfect, an oily black with no hint of transparency, and a thick mocha brown head. The nose has notes of coffee, cocoa and wood. The body is heavy, and the middle has flavors of well roasted coffee, brown sugar, and a bit of chocolate. The finish has a tiny bit of alcohol and a little of that brown sugar sweetness left over. The alcohol level is a moderate 6.5% ABV. Now, I’m a hop-head, and there isn’t anywhere in this beer that the hops come forward, but I still appreciate this beer for what it is, and that’s a classically heavy, malty, rich porter.
I give it a 4.7 out of 5.