Sierra Nevada has expanded east, and to celebrate the opening of their new brewery in Mills River, NC, they released Rain Check Spiced Stout. Though released in summer and tasty any time of year, this has all the flavors of a classic winter treat with chocolate, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon coming through and just a hint of citrus. This is a sweet beer from start to finish, with the flavors transitioning from sweet and spicy in the middle to sugary at the end, with brown sugar and caramel notes, and a bit of root beer right at the end. It’s wonderful to see the success of a great brewery like Sierra Nevada lead to an expansion like this, and this was a great brew to celebrate the achievement.
I give it a 4.6 out of 5.
For the second beer in my Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection series, I’m trying out Thirteenth Hour. It’s called “A Dark Belgian-Style Stout with Notes of Spice, Coffee, Chocolate, & Oak.” So, what does that actually mean? There’s a bit of oak in the nose, with some traditional Belgian fruit. The middle is mostly Belgian strong dark ale, with cherries, plums, prunes, and a bit of brown sugar, but then some stout flavors start to come through in the finish…Chocolate and coffee, and a big kick of vanilla from the oak. There’s still tart fruit all the way to the very end so you never forget this is predominately a Belgian, but the malty notes of a big English stout are a fun twist and they blend well; this is a nicely executed beer. The 9.0% ABV is more typical of a Belgian Strong Dark ale than a stout, and it hides nicely and is never boozy. This is another very nice beer.
I give it a 4.3 out of 5.
I suppose the name tells you all you need to know about the style. The interpretation is Stone standard, hop heavy and west coast. The nose is chocolaty and warm. The middle starts out the same, with some lovely milkiness and currant notes, then transitions to heavy bitter pine and coffee. The finish is roasted grain and fading coffee and anise. The body is quite heavy as you’d expect, and the alcohol level is equally stout at 10.6% ABV.
I give it a 4.6 out of 5.
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.
I give it a 4.7 out of 5.
Argh! Pirate beer is back on the menu! Today’s offering is from the pirate themed Heavy Seas label produced by the Clipper City Brewing Company of Maryland and it is a big malty English Imperial Stout called Peg Leg. My first impressions: When poured, it looks like an Imperial Stout with opaque dark chocolate coloration and a thin creamy tan head. It smells like an Imperial Stout, with a lot of chocolate and some roasting coffee. Finally, it tastes like an Imperial Stout, with more chocolate and coffee, a bit of roasty grain, some spice and prune in the finish, and a nice medium weight body. The alcohol is muted but present at 8.0% ABV. There’s nothing particularly special about this brew, but it’s an excellent example of the style. I for one would be happy to drink it again, and not just because it’s a pirate beer.
I give it a 4.1 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.
An American classic. Old Rasputin is a Russian Imperial Stout from the master brewers of California’s North Coast Brewing Co. Widely recognized as a world class beer, this was one of the first craft beers I was introduced to, and it was instrumental in building my interest in the wide world of beers outside of the macros. The head is a heavy, sticky dark brown that reminds me of frothing motor oil. The beer is not quite pitch black, but close. Hold it up to a white light and you can see the tiniest hint of dark red luminescence. The nose is bready with coffee and chocolate. The middle is quite bitter and dry, with burnt coffee and cocoa in the fore. That transitions quickly into a sweet finish with chocolate syrup dominating. The body is medium to heavy, and the alcohol is a substantial presence at 9% ABV, though it doesn’t materially affect the flavor, perhaps just adding a bit of effervescence right at the tail end of the finish. This beer is a universally recognized timeless classic, and even if it isn’t your style, is a beer that every craft beer aficionado should try at least once so as to understand what makes up a truly exceptional Russian Imperial Stout.
I give it a 4.8 out of 5.
Oatmeal Yeti is an Imperial Stout based on Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout, but with the addition of rolled oats to soften the bite of the roasted malt and raisins to give it some rich, almost Belgian fruity notes. It pours nearly black, like heavily used motor oil, with a thick, dark, chocolatey brown head. The notes I get in the nose are chocolate and figs and a hint of coffee. The middle is rich, heavy, smooth and dusty with the flavors of the oats, raisins, a bit of cherry, and some oak. The finish has more oak, some coffee, and sweet chocolate syrup. This is a big, heavy beer, that could honestly be mistaken for a meal. The alcohol content is fairly high too, at 9.5% ABV. I’ve reviewed a lot of good beer lately, and this is no exception. I love big oatmeal stouts and this is an outstanding example.
I give it a 4.7 out of 5.
Oat is an Imperial Oatmeal Stout from the fine folks at Southern Tier Brewing Company of New York. I’m a big fan of oatmeal stouts, and this is a good one. The oatmeal scent is heavy in the nose, along with chocolate and licorice. The middle is sweet and smooth and milky with plums and molasses, and the finish is drying, with cocoa and apricot. This beer has a lot of big flavor for an oatmeal stout, and it’s a big beer too, at 10.8% ABV. It’s a fine stout, and would do well as a dessert beer.
I give it a 4.4 out of 5.