Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yakima Twilight Ale, Victory Brewing Co., Downington, PA

Victory Brewing Co. of Pennsylvania is a good brewery with a very solid lineup. Their harvest/winter seasonal, the Yakima Twilight Ale, is definitely worthy of discussion.

The brewers are using only hops from Yakima Valley in the state of Washington, which is one of the most productive areas for hops in the U.S. The theory is that they are using the very last of the hop harvest for the year. Cool concept...

Most hop-centric beers seem to go with an IPA or a pale ale style, as those types of beers can really showcase the hop flavors. Victory is instead making a strong ale with very prominent malt flavors including a very aggressive, high-alcohol sweetness. Can this combination of hops and extra-sugary, toasted malt turn into something special?

Sadly, not for me. The high ABV of 8.9% and the sticky, caramel-like sweetness failed to compliment the hop bitterness. There are definitely interesting flavors, including a very nice fresh citrus from the hops, but they all seem to exist as separate elements of the beer, rather than combining to make an overall positive experience.

Rating = 2.5

Great concept, and I was initially thrilled to try something that was highly hopped but not an IPA, but overall a so-so beer.

Best of 2009

Everyone is doing Top 10 lists this time of year, so I thought I'd put together Beer Crusade's Top 10 of the year in reverse chronological order.

1. Harpoon Winter Warmer - posted by Beer Crusade, this winter seasonal is a Boston favorite. Get yours soon before the winter season is over. I recommend trying it on draught. Rating 5.0

2. Lagunitas Brown Shugga' - posted by Beer Crusade, no Beer Crusade list is complete without Lagunitas. This deep brown ale is also only available in winter so make sure you pick it up, keep an eye out for the high ABV. Rating 5.0

3. Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial IPA - posted by Knight of Saint Arnold (KSA), this beer combines copious amount of hops with a complement of malt and high ABV. Rating 4.5

4. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale - posted by Pale Ale Guy (PAG), this beer was previously reviewed by Beer Crusade and received a 4.0. PAG provided his take and took it up a notch. Much like Lagunitas, Dogfish Head is a mainstay on Beer Crusade and PAG has reviewed several of their beers since joining the blog. The Punkin' is a October seasonal and PAG gave it a 4.5.

5. Lagunitas Red Ale - posted by KSA, another Lagunitas no surprise. KSA was surprised how quickly he went through his six packs of this beer. Another Lagunitas high octane ABV beer, with a cherryish aroma. Rating 4.5

6. Sam Adams Double Bock - posted by Beer Crusade. OK, another Boston beer, maybe a little homerism? This chocolate bottle of goodness has some cherry undertones and packs some punch. Rating 4.5.

7. Thomas Hooker Octoberfest Lager - posted by KSA, definitely wins best website, and best marketing, "The Hooker Store". It also wins for great taste. Seems seasonal's are dominating the list. KSA rated this a 4.5.

8. Arcadia Ales Hopmouth Double IPA - posted by PAG, although he felt the beer was more of a "1.75 IPA", PAG loved the amount of hops Arcadia was offering. Rating 4.5

9. Smuttynose IPA - posted by KSA, the Smuttynose immediately became one of KSA's favorite high hopped beers. Perhaps the presence of slight tobacco flavoring made this beer a little too addicting? Rated 4.5

10. Blue Hills Brewery IPA - posted by Beer Crusade. Another Mass beer, it's official I am a proud supporter of local businesses. As I mentioned before, most people in Boston compare their IPAs to Harpoon, and this beer rivals it's neighbor to the north quite well. I tried their Red IPA last night and that didn't disappoint either. Blue Hills was one of the biggest surprises on my beer radar this year and I am glad the IPA made this list. Rating 4.5

I hope you enjoyed 2009 as much as we did, and we look forward to 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dogfish Head Old School

As the great Homer J. Simpson once said, "mmmmm beeer". And boy oh boy did he have it right, almost like he was specifically talking about this particular beer.

Dogfish Head Old School is a barley wine style beer, with a robust 15%abv. I first tried this beer out of the bottle and was very surprised at the sweet flavor it produced. When I opened another bottle (a couple days later of course), this time pouring into a glass, wow.. just wow. This beer is simply fantastic. Its very fruity, without being overly fruity. When you open it, the aroma attacks your nose, but in a good way. It may have just been the 15%abv, but the second glass went down even more easily than the first did.

There really hasn't been a Dogfish brew that I haven't really liked, but I feel like this beer was taken to a new level. In fact, I was so surprised by this beer, that I'm almost at a loss for words. Apparently I have a soft spot for the sweet beers, as I simply loved this brew and I'm going to give a very strong 4. I can almost guarantee that my fellow beer crusaders won't agree, but the three of us have different tastes and this is just another example of that. It comes in a four pack, so I say screw the bubbly and run out and pick up a pack of Old School and enjoy at your new years toast...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Harpoon Winter Warmer, Harpoon Brewery, South Boston, MA

"First Shamrock Shake of the season, I better not spill this f#$%&r!" - DJ Big Boy, Key West, Florida

Harpoon Winter Warmer has dominated my life a bit lately, me the KSA and Pale Ale Guy were talking just last week about Winter Warmer and how the serving temperature changes the taste of the beer. Fortuitously, the following day I get an email from Harpoon saying that Harpoon Head Brewer Todd Charbonneau was participating in an online chat. So I asked Todd what the ideal serving temperature of Winter Warmer was and here is his response: "I think somewhere around 48F is perfect. If you take your WW out of the fridge about 15-20 min. before pouring it into a glass, the flavor rounds out and the aromas are a bit more concentrated." Good to know right? Another thing that I'd like to point out about the Winter Warmer is this, it's better on draught, this might be a personal opinion, but if you compare bottles to draught, in this case draught wins.

Now, it probably confounds people how it took me this long to review Winter Warmer, after all how did I miss doing it last season? The answer? I don't know. I knew I was going to cover it this winter though, and as I saw that I was fast approaching my 100th review, I knew I had my 100th review choice. (This just in, yes this is my 100th review.) Every time I see Harpoon Winter Warmer hit the draughts for the first time I am reminded of the DJ Big Boy quote above because that is exactly how I feel. The coppery ale is wonderfully dark, it is spiced perfectly with nutmeg and cinnamon that makes you feel warm inside, and it pours a good amount of head. I am not one for fruit beers, so it amazes that the sweet malt, the cinnamon and the nutmeg appeal to me so much. It is the perfect beer for a cold winter's night. I used to love when Harpoon had it's Winter Harpoon Fest and was so devastated when they cancelled the annual event after 2003, I held my own in 2004 with the Winter Warmer on draught of course. The 5.9% ABV isn't too concerning if you are only having one, but to paraphrase my friend Leo "I don't understand people who have one drink. I don't understand people who leave half a glass (word omission) on the table. I don't understand people who say they've had enough. How can you have enough of feeling like this? How can you not want to feel like this longer? My brain works differently." And yes, it's hard for me to just have one Winter Warmer, because it is that good.

The rating is a no brainer, 5.0, Hall of Famer. And as the days get longer, time is running out on this beer, so you should head to the nearest pub that serves the Winter Warmer on tap and order one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Founders Brewing: Double Trouble

As the oh so great poets of C&C Music Factory once put it... "things that make you hmmm". Founders Brewing Double Trouble IPA was definitely a thought provoking beer. Good in color (slight orange), great in smell (hops and citrus attack the nose) and very interesting in flavor.

When I first opened up the bottle, I immediately noticed the hops. The first sip out of the bottle was almost too strong for me (beer was bottled in 2/09), but after I poured it into a glass, the flavor evened out. At a robust 9.4%abv, the little guy definitely packs quite the punch.

At that first sip, I wasn't a huge fan. It was almost overdone, or too strong for my refined pallet. But after I poured it into a glass, it went down smooth, with the abundant hops and malt providing the perfect punch. For the record, I'm a hops guy, the more the better I say.

I'm going to give this beer at 3.5, but for some reason I have this sneaking suspicion that it'll taste even better out of the keg. Most beers do, but I think this one is especially suited to be served as a draft and not out of the bottle. I'd definitely recommend trying it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reading Premium Beer, Reading Brewing Co., Reading, PA

When I poured the Reading Premium Beer into my stein and saw the golden yellow translucence and smelled the aroma of barley and hops I knew immediately what I was getting into. A retro beer. What's a retro beer you ask? A retro beer is a local brew that essentially, if not all together, disappeared in the 80's and 90's due to the big brewer boom and has since resurfaced as a boutique beer trading on the nostalgia of its drinkers. Narragansett would be a similar example. In fact the Reading Brewery closed before I was even born in 1976 before recently resurfacing. For some reason retro beers always make me think back to the scene in Dazed and Confused when the keg kicks and Tuesday's Gone plays. Undoubtedly one of the saddest moments in the film. To keep this tangent going, is it weird that I remember the beer delivery guy's name from the movie is Ben? It is weird? Oh, then never mind.

Anywho, the Reading Premium pours with minimal head with a nice golden yellow coloring with very little carbonation. The malt is sweet tasting, but suited more to canned beer than bottled. There is no ABV available, but I'd imagine it to rival Bud Light. The Reading Premium is more in line with a macro-brew than a micro-brew tastewise and the rating reflects it. All in all the Reading Premium gets a 2.0.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Flower Power IPA, Ithaca Beer Co., Ithaca, NY

Another beer with a hop-based pun in the title (flower = hop flower for the slower readers). The Ithaca Beer Co. in upstate NY makes a solid hop-focused IPA. The most remarkable element of this beer is the intensely citrus aroma and taste given off by the hops. It is probably a very nice IPA, but the smell of lemons/grapefruit, combined with the nearly overpowering taste of citrus is the primary focus of this beer. The malt does appear as a sweet flavor, but the balance is tilted towards showing off the hops.

Despite my criticism, this is a tasty beer, and the 7.5% ABV is definitely welcome. The hops are very dominant,and I think that you need to be ready for it.

Rating = 3.5

I had this in a bottle. I'm wondering if the beer enjoys a better balance out of a keg, but I've never seen an Ithaca product on tap in my area...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver, CO

Fresh hop beers (a.k.a. hop harvest beers) have been reviewed here previously, so it should not be surprising to see another review. Great Divide Brewing Co. is taking a very different approach that most other fresh hop products.

The Fresh Hop Pale Ale is basically a very nice pale ale that happens to use fresh hops. The brewers don't try to choke you with hop flavor, but rather have created a well-balanced and drinkable ale. The hop taste is definitely assertive, but not overpowering. Drinking this beer, you can definitely taste the ingredients, instead of a glass of hop extract with hints of beer flavor in the background.

The ABV, at 6.1%, is appropriate for the style, as is the copper color. The fresh hops give the beer an interesting earthy flavor, making me think of clean air and green grass. While this sounds odd, it is a positive sensation.

Rating = 4.0

All in all, a very solid, well balanced beer which exhibits the different taste profile of fresh hops without clearing your sinuses with "quadruple hop flavor". I'd buy this beer if I saw it again. Of course, it is only available for about 2 months every fall.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mayflower Brewery: IPA

Yet another above average local beer! Gotta love it. Mayflower Brewery is out of Plymouth, MA, but unlike the rock (1620), it wasn't founded until 2007. For a relatively new brew, they're doing a pretty darn good job.

I figured I'd start with the IPA, it being a beer barometer of sorts. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. It was actually very close to the Harpoon IPA, which I thoroughly enjoy. The taste of hops and caramel were immediately evident upon the first sip, and it went down very easily.
Overall, it gets a very solid 3.5. Nothing extraordinary about it, but nothing horrible either. I'd definitely recommend giving it a whirl, and I plan on sampling some of their other brews in the near future.
I'm looking for suggestions too. I found a new beer store, which is a good thing, but rather than randomly choosing each week, I wouldn't mind a suggestion or two to point me in the right direction, so fire away...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jamaica Brand Red Ale, Mad River Brewing Co., Blue Lake California

Much like you, I was a tad disappointed in no post on Friday, these things do happen after all. And since KSA didn't pull an Angelina and just ditch me completely, I let it slide. Afterall, unlike the T-Shirt Shop at the Jersey Shore, missing work because of hangovers is just one of the hazards of the Beer Crusade. One last Jersey Shore point before I continue, total BS move by MTV to use Snooki's beat down to promote the show and then unveil that it is pulling the punch from this week's broadcast.

OK on to the beer, I checked out the Mad River Brewing Jamaica Brand Red Ale this past weekend. I figure my yard is covered in snow, I deserve something to take me away to a better place, like Jamaica. The Jamaica Brand poured reddish brown into the stein with a monstrous head. A little surprising, even though it's a red ale I was expecting something a little bit lighter. Definitely had some strong malt flavoring, possibly some rye and other spiciness. The hops also added some nice bitterness, similar to the bitter taste you get from coffee.

Now I know the company website is terrible, but that demerit is clearly offset by the 6.5% ABV. While I was looking for a lighter ale, I have to say this is a pretty solid amber/red ale so I was pleasantly surprised. I rate the Jamaica Brand Red a 3.5.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Something To Lead You Into The Weekend

Just a little something to tide you over until KSA gets his act together and posts his review.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dogfish Head: Pangaea

Three times the charm? Euh, not so much. Three week, three straight Dogfish Head beers. This wasn't a bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn't really measure up to the Red and White, and Black and Blue.

Pangaea came across as just another beer to me. Sure, it was tasty and went down easily, but nothing really stood out about it. On the other hand, there wasn't anything bad about it, it's simply a solid beer, and nothing more (in my humble opinion at least). At a decent 7%abv, it doesn't really measure up to some of its brother beers either. 7% is nothing to ignore, but I was just expecting more I guess. Because of that, I'm going to give this beer a 3. Middle of the road, nothing outstanding, but nothing horrible either.

As was the case with my last two reviews, it's recommended that the drinker try aging the beers (about a year) before drinking. So this time next year, I plan on rereviewing each, after the aging process. I'm not sure how big of a difference it'll make, but I can't wait to find out...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hoptical Illusion, Blue Point Brewing Co., Long Island, NY

First off, I advise all of you to take some quality time out of your lives and watch MTV's Jersey Shore. It's MTV's latest bit of train wreck television, i.e. You can,t take your eyes off of it. Since they spend most of the show crushing Miller Lites I am justified writing about this.
This week I took time out of my TV schedule to sample the Blue Point Brewing Co's Hoptical Illusion, an IPA. You know it's an IPA because the name incorporates "Hop" in a fun pun-like way.
The Illusion pours into your glass with that nice orangy brown coloring, and a modest amount of head. Upon sipping you get a great sense of bitterness and malt flavor, but these die down about half way through the sip so the beer ends up being more bland than its initial sip impression.

The beer label incorporates the unfinished pyramid and the All Seeing Eye/ Eye of Horus that you find on the US One Dollar bill. These symbolize strength, duration, divine providence etc. The 6.8 ABV is definitely a sign of strength, but I found the overall taste not enduring at all. I did find the label a bit quirky, as if it were a clue in a Dan Brown novel or National Treasure movie. Unfortunately there was no treasure map on the back. Yes I peeled it off to check.

All in all the Hoptical Illusion gets a 3.0

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hopsickle Imperial IPA, Moylan's Brewing Co., Novato, CA

To be honest, I've never had anything from Moylan's Brewing Co., so I wasn't sure what to expect. After a couple of sips, it was clear that I've been missing out on something great.

The Hopsickle Imperial IPA clocks in at 9.2% ABV, but the real story is the impressive and dramatic amount of hop flavor that is packed into this beer. I'm not always the biggest fan of the "super hop beer" trend, as it seems like some breweries are taking a questionable product and dumping hops into it. I can say with conviction that this is not the case with this beer.

As this beer goes into the glass with a nice caramel color, your nose is assaulted with a lively citrus-y hop aroma. There is also a touch of malt in the background of the scent, almost as a reminder that this is a beer and not a glass of hop extract. The taste is dominated by hop flavor, sweet at first but increasingly bitter and astringent as you swallow the beer. But, the malt comes through again, ensuring that the bitterness doesn't become overpowering. But, unlike the malt flavor, the bitterness stays with you, practically coating your tongue in hops. The alcohol is notable, mostly because it serves to balance out some of the bitterness. I wish I bought two bottles...

I feel like I could grow hops just by spitting on the ground after this beer.

Rating = 4.5

After all of the Octoberfest beers that I had this fall, the Hopsickle is a welcome change of pace.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dogfish Head: Black & Blue

Yep, two weeks in a row, Dogfish.. deal with it my friends.

Last week was the Red & White, this week, the Black and Blue. If you haven't had this one yet, go get it, now. It went down very smooth, similar to a sweet red wine. Minimal head, and a red color jumped out at me during the pour. The smell of the berries immediately hits you, but it's not overpowering at all. I really can't say enough good things about this beer.

After tasting, I read that aging it one year is the way to go. So Thursday, I'm heading to the beer store to buy another bottle for safe keeping over the next twelve months.

I gave the Red & White a 3.5... this one get a 4 easily. The 10%abv makes it that much more worthwhile too. Normally I'm not a huge fan of fruit beers, but this one totally breaks the mold...