Founders, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, calls this Imperial Brown Ale “decadent” and that is the perfect way to describe this outstanding beer. The head is thick and creamy. The nose is roasty, with tons of chocolate and coffee. The middle is milky, smooth and sweet with mocha and espresso. The finish is bittering slightly, with the coffee and toasted grain coming to the fore. The body is medium to heavy, the alcohol is an imperial 9.0% ABV. This is the perfect coffee lover’s brew, and every bit as good as Founders’ classic Breakfast Stout.
I give it a 4.8 out of 5.
From Stone’s Stochasticity Project, HiFi+LoFi Mixtape is a blend of fresh strong ale with ale that’s been aged for three months in oak. According to Stone, this was a common practice when fresh stock ale was smoky and bitter, it would be mixed with ale that had aged and mellowed to make it more drinkable. I don’t know about the old stuff, but Stone’s version is definitely drinkable. The nosy is slightly yeasty with lemon, and maybe just a tiny hint of oak. The middle is deliciously full of flavor ranging from sweet apple to creamy butter, and bitter pine. The finish is bready and slightly sweet. The body is medium and the alcohol is stiff-ish, at 8.8% ABV. I love barrel aged ales, and this is no exception.
I give it a 4.4 out of 5.
Fans of Monty Python will recognize the source of this Medieval-style ale, brewed with, of course, elderberries. A word to the wise; Medieval beer is different. Very different from modern beer. I happen to be a fan, most, I think, are not. Hoppiness is very subdued (on non-existant) and in its place are all sorts of weird herbs and spices and flavors you might not generally associate with beer. Here, the nose isn’t terribly intense, but it does have light notes of bread, molassas, and smoked peat. The middle is spicy, with strong peppery heat and bitter herbs. There’s a sweetness at the end of the middle, where you can really taste the berries (elderberries, I presume, though never having had them on their own, I can’t swear it) and a dry, bitter bite at the finish. The pepper lingers all the way through. The body is medium to heavy, and the alcohol is a robust 10.3% ABV. It’s a strong ale, but I wouldn’t really call it an American Strong Ale, as there’s nothing in it that suggests it was fomulated after beer (hopped, by this time) made its way to these North American shores. In my opinion, this is a lovely formulation, and well executed. A fine brew.
I give it a 4.6 out of 5.
For their 20th anniversary, Dogfish Head has released Higher Math, a golden ale brewed with chocolate and sour cherry juice that they call “birthday cake in liquid form.” Stylistically, it is an American Strong Ale that reminds me of what an Imperial Barleywine would be, if there were such a thing. It’s truly massive at 17% ABV, with a thick, heavy, sweet body that does in fact evoke the essence of birthday cake. The head is thin and dissipates quickly. The nose is of prunes and cherries. The body is thick and syrupy, with the cherries coming on strong, and semi-sweet chocolate rising to the fore in the finish. It is indeed like cake, but just coming off a bad cold, is it also unfortunately similar to the memories of Nyquil that are so fresh in my mind. Dogfish Head is known for oft-centered ales and crazy concoctions, and heaven knows I love them for it. But, this also means that for any given palate, some are going to be hits and some misses. For me, this one is a miss.
I give it a 2.8 out of 5.
While Green Flash is known for their big hoppy ales, that doesn’t mean that they can’t do a top notch job with a big malty barleywine as well. I’m trying the 2013 vintage today, and there’s nothing crazy here, just all of the characteristics of a reference barleywine, with perhaps some influence from a Belgian Strong Ale. They claim that there is an “enormous charge of Pacific Northwest hops” that give it hoppy citrus characteristics throughout, but I’m simply not finding that to be true of the 2013, though it may have been true of earlier vintages, or it may just be that my bottle has been around long enough that the hop notes have started to break down, which happens after a few months. That said, what’s left is a great malty brew. The nose is rich and warm with brown sugar, raisins and figs. The middle is heavy and sticky and bursting with dark fruit, raisins, plums, figs, grapes, some caramel, and a mild heat from the alcohol as well. The finish is sugary and syrupy, with some slight toast and very faint hints of sweet citrus (orange and grapefruit) in the background, but not enough to take the focus off the heavy malt backbone. The body is heavy, and this is quite a big beer at 10.9% ABV which shows through in the middle, but not at all unpleasantly. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by this beer, but I’m thoroughly impressed.
I give it a 4.6 out of 5.
An American Strong Ale, New York’s Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Gemini is a relatively unusual style. Very malt heavy, this blended concoction, derived from Southern Tier’s Hoppe and Unearthly brews is magnificent in its own right. The nose is heavy and sweet, with notes of licorice, honey, and wheat. The body is medium to heavy, and fairly balanced but tipping towards sweet with molasses, honey, vanilla and alcohol. The finish is more of the same, fading away, with a bit of orange rind coming to the fore. This is a big beer, at 9.0% ABV, and it shows. This is a high quality beer, but it is an alcohol delivery device above all.
I give it a 4.3 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.