So it’s November, and Bière de Provence is a summer saison. Sue me. I try every Dogfish Head beer I can find, and this is when I happened to find this one, and I won’t pass up the opportunity to try it, whatever the season. This is a Belgian Saison, and the tagline is that it is brewed with lavender, marjoram, and bay leaves. The lavender is immediately apparent in the nose, which is predominately floral with a bit of fruity Belgian yeast adding some banana esters. The middle explodes with pepper, herbal notes and sweet malty undertones. The finish is yeasty, fruity and mellow. The body is medium and the for a summer saison the alcohol is a beastly 8.3% ABV, A delicious beer and a fine saison that I wish I’d discovered earlier.
I don’t know what it is about Founders, but this Michigan brewery knows how to do big heavy beers like few others. Today I’m having an Imperial Stout, which is one of their specialty beers, with availability from January through March. Which, again, makes this a winter seasonal. It’s brewed with ten different varieties of malted barley for a rich, complex flavor. It pours a dark inky black-brown. The nose has chocolate and unique woodiness that reminds me of the smoke from a mesquite fire, and a bit of hickory and toast. The head is thick and the texture of light whipped cream. The middle explodes with different flavors including chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, raisins, and coffee. The finish settles down and is sweet, heavy, and milky with a little well-balanced maple syrup and coffee lingering on the back of the tongue right at the end. The body on this beer is well and truly heavy. This is a stout’s stout. The alcohol is high at 10.5% ABV, but very well hidden. This is one of the finest example of a stout that I’ve had.
Whiplash is a spring winter* seasonal from SweetWater Brewing Company in Georgia that starts with a Belgian White Ale using Belgian yeast and wheat, then adds oats to further smooth out the malt flavor and loads of American hops to create a unique twist on an IPA. The nose is grassy, with a little bit of lemon. The middle has a generic citrus flavor that leans toward grapefruit and some sweetness from the oats. The finish has a good bit of orange, some pine, and is slightly metallic right at the end. The body is medium, with a nice weight added by the oats, and the alcohol is moderate at 6.2% ABV. This is a fun combination of a couple of really tasty styles, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.
I give it a 4.4 out of 5.
* I was informed via Twitter by the fine folks from SweetWater that this is actually a winter, not spring seasonal. I thought I was done with the winter seasonals. I was wrong. Again.
So I lied. Or was at least mistaken. I said last week that my review of Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale was going to be the last winter seasonal review of the year, but now I’ve found a can of 21st Amendment Brewery’s winter seasonal, Sneak Attack hiding in my fridge. I guess that’s exactly what I should expect of a beer named Sneak Attack. Sneak Attack is a Saison, which is a really nice style to welcome in the spring, so it’s probably fortuitous that it gets to be my actual last winter seasonal review of the year. As you can see from the picture it pours with a massive head of light meringue-like white foam that sticks around for a bit, but will disappear after a few minutes. The nose is scented with herbs, grass, and yeast. The middle is tart, with herbs again, as well as lemon. The finish is dry and woody with a bit of lemon zest. The body is medium weight, and the alcohol is a reasonable 6.2% ABV. At any time of year this is a nice solid Saison.
With Daylight Savings Time in effect, and spring officially only a few days away now, it’s time to review the last of the winter seasonals. The year, honor of the final winter seasonal review goes to Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale. This winter warmer is a malty brown ale with a nose containing toasted grain, a bit of toffee, and some slight orange, and floral notes. The middle has some apple and grape, lemon zest, and well roasted grain. The finish is the same, with a good bit of toffee coming back as it warms. Nothing spectacular here, but a fine beer with which to wish winter a fond farewell for another year.
It’s bitterly cold here in Charlotte (read, below freezing) and so what better time to try a winter seasonal White IPA from New Belgium Brewing? Accumulation is crisp and cold, and pretty spot on for what I expect of a white IPA. It’s very hop forward since there’s not a lot of maltiness from the wheat base to balance it out. The nose has pine and orange, the middle has more pine and lemon, and there’s a smooth breadiness to the finish with some strong citrus and herbal notes that remind me of thyme and rosemary. The body is fairly light, and the alcohol level is a fairly-standard-for-an-IPA 6.2% ABV. This is definitely hoppier and lighter than your average winter fare, but it’s a nice change of pace for those of us starting to go into hop withdrawal this time of year, and it’s quite well executed.
Tonight I’m trying another of this year’s winter seasonals from the Boston Beer Company, and it’s like their Chocolate Bock, only this year it has been infused with cherry. Now, this isn’t the first bottle I’ve had. I picked up their winter variety pack which came with three of these babies, and I have to say this is the first time I’ve been dreading a review because of the fact that I would rather throw the beer away than drink it. I’ve reviewed the chocolate bock before, and to be frank, it wasn’t very good. For this beer, they’ve apparently added large quantities of cherry cough syrup to it in order to turn it into something truly awful. It pours a nice dark brown with a reasonably pleasant head that reminds one of root beer float. The nose is of cough syrup. The body is thin and watery. The middle is an unsubstantial chocolate that reminds one of a chocolate-flavored sucker, drowned liberally in, again, cherry cough syrup, which is quite overwhelming. The finish is cherry and a bit metallic. The alcohol level is quite moderate at 5.8% ABV. There are no discernible hop flavors at all. Regardless of your taste, I can unequivocally recommend that you give this beer a pass. Personally, if it came down to a choice between this and Bud Light, I’d take the Bud every time.
Positive Contact is another of Dogfish Head’s occasional musically inspired collaborations, this one with Dan the Automator of Deltron 3030. It’s a hybrid wheat ale and cider with spices that aren’t typical with either, such as cayenne pepper and fresh cilantro. With that variety of inputs, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but the result is excellent. All the components show well, and none are overpowering. The nose is distinctly Belgian yeast, with some apple notes in there. The middle is bready with quite pronounced wheat characteristics that are balanced by strong apple flavors that are moderately, but not excessively sweet, and also not quite as complex as they might be. The wheat comes back powerfully to give it a drying finish, and this is where the spices start to come though as well, adding peppery and herbal notes before fading back to apple. This reminds me most of a pre-hop spice beer, and is refreshingly unusual. It’s a medium bodied beer, and pretty big on the alcohol at 9.0% ABV, but you’d never know it because it hides it well. My bottom line is that this is an excellent off-centered ale.
A new winter seasonal for this year, Juniper IPA is exactly as it sounds: An American IPA with the addition of Juniper berries to give some additional flavor. I like IPAs, and I like juniper, (well, I like gin anyway, which is the same thing as liking juniper) so what could go wrong? Not much, it turns out. This is a nice, classic IPA, and juniper gives it a bit of a west-coast piney twist and a bit of pepper. It’s pretty highly carbonated, which comes off as refreshing. The tasting notes on the bottle claim that the juniper adds “a slightly sweet, piney character” but I really don’t find any sweetness here at all, just pine and spice. To me, that’s not a bad thing, but this is definitely a hop forward beer, so it’s going to be closer to the wheelhouse for IPA fans than for those looking for a sweeter winter treat. There’s also a bit of citrus in the middle, some lemon and some oraange, as you’d expect from an IPA. It has a medium to heavy body, but it’s pretty light on the alcohol at 5.8% ABV, so it’s an easy drinker. I’m really quite impressed with this brew. I think the folks at the Boston Beer Company have a hit with this one.
I love fall and winter, and I love fall and winter beers. In this case, New Belgian’s fall seasonal pumpkin ale, Pumpkick. The nose is spicy with a bit of Belgian yeasty fruitiness. The middle is spicy pumpkin reminiscent of pie, and slightly sweet. The finish is tart, showcasing the cranberries this beer is brewed with, and a bit of citrus from lemongrass. None of the flavors are overpowering, and this medium-bodied ale has a very manageable alcohol level of 6% ABV. making it an excellent party or session beer. My bottom line is that this is a very nice, but not outstanding beer.