From one of my favorite hoppy beer houses, Green Flash Brewing Company of San Diego, I’m having a “mysterious dark ale” they call Grand Cru. It’s actually a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but in typical Green Flash style, it’s hopped up quite a bit over a traditional brew in this style. The nose has some fruit and yeast, and you’d expect from a Belgian, but there’s also some grassy hop notes in there. The middle is plums, cherries, and pepper fading to a citrusy finish with a good bit of pine. This is a really outstanding marriage of of Belgian Strong Dark Ale and a West-Coast style hop-bomb. For me, it’s one of the best beers I’ve had in a long time. If you enjoy both big Belgians and West-Coast IPAs, you need to give this a try.
I give it a 4.8 out of 5.
Thunderstruck Coffee Porter is a winter seasonal from Highland Brewing Company of Asheville, NC. Though called a porter, it could easily pass for a fairly light bodied breakfast stout. Thunderstruck is brewed with chocolate malt, but there’s only a hint of chocolate here, and it’s mainly in the nose. The most predominate flavor by far is its namesake, coffee. This is a bitter beer, not thanks to hops, but to the coffee. It’s more like drinking coffee than drinking beer, in fact. There’s a hint of milk in the finish, but this is a fairly simple beer. A nice beer, but a simple beer.
I give it a 3.8 out of 5.
Birra Etrusca Bronze is from Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series, based on a recipe that seems to have been favored by the Etruscans in what is now modern-day Italy. The head disappeared on me as quickly as champagne, and that’s not the only parallel to the bubbly wine that I’m noticing in the beer. With malt base that mixes barley and wheat for a smooth foundation, and honey, raisins, and pomegranate juice among the myriad ingredients this lively well carbonated beer has more than a passing resemblance to a sweet fruit-forward sparkling wine. The nose had honey and wheat, and the middle is sweet with fruit flavors including grapes and peaches. There are some spices that are I don’t recognize throughout (myrrh and gentian root are in the recipe, so they may be in play here.) There’s some pomegranate tartness in the finish, with a tiny hint of heat from the alcohol. I love the weirdness and complexity of the ancient ales, and this is a great example of a special beer.
I give it a 4.6 out of 5.
Fireside Chat is what 21st Amendment Brewery is calling a “Spiced Winter Ale” The head doesn’t stick around long, but there’s a lot to taste, so I don’t miss it much. It has a slightly smokey nose with cinnamon and licorice notes. The middle is spicy, chewy, and sweet. The finish is roasty, with a bit of coffee and some molasses. This is a nice, full winter warmer that isn’t overly sweet, and had a bit of flavor for every palate. This is a really nice beer.
I give it a 4.3 out of 5.
Belgian beer and baseball and the two things you can find in Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Brewery Ommegang. Adoration is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, which is my favorite style. The nose has strong cherry notes, to the exclusion of nearly anything else. The middle is sweet, with cherry and plum flavors, with just a hint of the Belgian tartness behind the sugary overtones. There’s a bit of heat in the finish, but subdued considering that this is a 10% ABV beer. The finish is also where you get a taste of the spices added to this brew, which include coriander, cumin, mace, cardamom, and grains of paradise. The sweetness makes this an excellent dessert beer, and it’s weight and strength make it a fine fortification on a cold winter’s night.
I give it a 4.4 out of 5.
Another local beer for me tonight, and this one’s a bit of an area institution. The Milk Stout is probably the most common local beer I see from The Duck Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, North Carolina. It’s a fairly mild milk stout, not as heavy and sweet as some, but with all of the right characteristics. The nose is smokey, with hints of coffee and chocolate. It’s a medium bodied beer, which is a little bit lighter than I was expecting, but that’s ok. It gives the middle a skim milk texture, rather than the 2% of another milk stout. The middle is sweet, as expected, with chocolate and orange flavors, and there’s molasses and a hint of espresso in the finish. It doesn’t knock my socks off, but it’s a good beer.
I give it a 3.8 out of 5.
It’s been awhile since I last reviewed any local brews, so today I’m drinking High Roller, an IPA from Big Boss Brewing Company of Raleigh, NC, about three hours up the road from me. The head is a firm foam that last quite awhile and has good body. The nose is lemony and grassy, with a hint of pine. The middle is super hoppy, with lots of citrus and pine bite. The bitterness fades in the finish, with a tiny undercurrent of caramel sweetness from the malt, but this is a hop-centric beer through and through. This is a good solid American IPA, but without a lot of notable characteristics. A pleasant every day beer for the hophead.
I give it a 4.0 out of 5.
As any student of the American Civil War knows, chicory is a poor substitute for coffee. Dogfish Head has ameliorated this deficiency by adding real, organic Mexican coffee to Chicory Stout as well as good old fashioned chicory root. The result is a coffee stout without the traditional bitterness one expects to find in the style. The nose is earthy and a bit roasty with a hint of licorice. The middle has subtle coffee, cocoa, and licorice flavors all intermingled, and the finish is slightly astringent with some winter fruit, raisins and figs. This is another one of a kind ale from the folks at Dogfish Head. A nice beer, but I would have liked it if the flavors weren’t quite so subtle, and stood out a bit more from the background.
I give it a 4.1 out of 5.
Happy New Year! It’s New’s Year’s Day, and as I work my way through the holiday seasonals, today I’m having a white ale called Samuel Adams White Christmas, brewed by the Boston Beer Company. There are a couple of holiday white ales around, and while it’s a lighter style than the normal winter seasonals, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s a refreshing break from big, heavy stouts and ales. The head on this is nice and full, though it has a bit of a harsh foamy texture. The nose grain and malt. There’s a bit of orange and coriander in the middle, and wheat and honey, and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg in the finish. This is a fairly straight-forward wheat ale, with a little spice to give it that holiday character. If that’s you thing, this is a fine beer.
I give it a 3.4 out of 5.