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Archive for May, 2010

Mikkeller Single Hop IPAs

May 26th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 6 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Mikkeller, Country: Denmark, Style: IPA

As someone who doesn’t homebrew, I thought ingesting all of Mikkeller’s single hop IPAs in one sitting would make for a nice crash course in beer education for the price of a night at the bar (and perhaps bail money.)  For those unaware, the Danish brewer Mikkeller–I keep wrongly thinking I need to put an umlaut or one of those O’s with a diagonal line through it whenever I write their name–decided to release a series of IPAs built with the exact same recipe only altering the one single hop they use.  Now most IPAs are created using various different hops for bittering, aroma, and taste and rare is it to try an IPA made with one simple hop.

A completest, of course I had to try all nine available at Rattle ‘n’ Hum during Mikkeller week, and I surprised the bartendress upon placing my order*.  “You wanna order nine beers?  All for yourself?!”

She actually CUT ME OFF.

Before I’d ordered a single beer.

Before I’d even had a sip of alcohol for the day, so preposterous was my order she thought.

Eventually I laid on the Goldfarb charm and got my nine bitter ducks lined up in a row.  Now I didn’t expect most if any of these beers to be masterpieces, I was more looking to enjoy them side by side as experimental curios.  But, quite frankly, they all were pretty good and I gave them all fairly respectable scores.  It’s pointless for me to throw out your standard adjective descriptors for each of the nine, all between 6.9 and 7% ABV, so instead I’ll simply note that Nelson Sauvin was far and away the best of the lot, and no surprise I suppose being that Alpine Nelson, another IPA made solely with Nelson hops is maybe the best IPA in the world.  Simcoe and Warrior I would also add as the other two beers that could be simply enjoyed as “great beers” and not just “pretty good beers for what they are.”  I’d drink the three aforementioned any time, any place.  Meanwhile, Cascade and Centennial were each clearly the worst, quite a surprise considering those are perhaps the two most “famous” hops varietals.

My rankings:

1.  Nelson Sauvin (A-)

2.  Simcoe (A-)

3.  Warrior (A-)

4.  Chinook (B+)

5.  Tomahawk (B+)

6.  Stateside (B+)

7.  East Kent Golding (B)

8.  Cascade (B-)

9.  Centennial (B-)

*There are currently 10 available and Rattle ‘n’ Hum only lacked Nugget for some reason.  Mikkeller is soon to release 5 more single hops, plus an even more intriguing yeasts series.

Wachusett Larry

May 21st, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 10 Comments | Filed in Brewer: New England, Brewer: Wachusett, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Style: IPA

7.5% ABV on tap and from a bomber

The east coast gets derided for making mediocre IPAs, “incorrect” IPAs, and perhaps rightly so, but a few weekends ago I stumbled across two New England gems while in Boston.  I was ostensibly in town to watch the Yankees rock the Red Sox in front of scads of pink Sawx hatted fans at Fenway, but my #1 (nonverbalized) goal for my traveling party was to actually make my first trip ever over to The Publick House to try their recent and much ballyhooed inspired collaboration with Wachusett.

Located right off the slow-(and-Caucasian)-as-sin T stop in Brookline, The Publick House is a beautifully large bar loaded with mostly Belgian taps and bottles, attentive bartenders, a surprisingly packed and good-looking (non-beer geek, thank god!) crowd, a very solid artisan cheese-laden food menu (the mac and cheese is particularly divine), and plenty of space for quiet contemplation of expensive beers.  It surely deserves mention on the short list of the east coast’s best beer bars alongside Blind Tiger and Rattle ‘n’ Hum in NYC, Monks in Philly, and Churchkey and Paradiso in DC.

I was bursting with excitement when I saw the Larry tap, having read much online about this newish and somewhat under the radar release stacking up to the best of the west coast’s IPAs.  I’m not sure if that’s completely true, but this is an enormous winner.  I’d had a few so-so offerings from Wachusett in the past, and though they were accomplished enough, there was nothing to show me those Massachusetts boys had this kind of greatness in them.  Larry has an insanely floral and piny nose and the taste is straight tropical citrus with mild bitterness.  A nice underlying hint of sweetness that really ties the beer together like Lebowski’s rug.  A mild carbonation and just incredibly juicy, this one goes down quick and easy, I loved every sip of it.  This has surely got to be the east coast’s best overall IPA.*  I liked it so much I had several glasses and then the next day visited the Publick House’s terrific beer shop next door, PH Provisions, where I loaded up on as many Larry bombers as I could carry.  Now I’m fretting where I can possibly get my Larry fix once my stash runs dry.  Sure wish this had year round, coastal-wide (length?) distribution.

A

New England Gandhi-Bot

8.8% ABV canned

The next day I hit up The Publick House’s newest (American) craft venture down the street, American Craft fittingly, because nothing excites me more than spending a beautiful spring day drinking inside a mostly empty dark bar that still smells like the previous nights bacchanalia.  There, I noticed a canned beer on the menu and, being semi-fetishistic toward canned craft beer, I ordered the tallboy which greeted me with one of the best and most amusing labels I’ve ever seen.  Now I’ve never had anything from Connecticut’s New England Brewing Co. before other than their somewhat overrated and very trademark infringing Imperial Stout Trooper, but after enjoying immensely this beauty, I’m eager to try more of their (canned?) offerings.  Gandi-Bot is another splendid “west coastish” IPA loaded with grapefruit and barely even a hint of a malt backbone.  Prickly and extremely dry and bitter, a well-hidden 8.8% ABV, I truly enjoyed this beer but felt it just lacked a little something, a little uniqueness, to catapult it into the true masterpiece class.  Nevertheless, well worth seeking out.

A-

*OK, if I’m gonna say something so brash then I best try to compile my own list.

IPA

1.  Smuttynose Finest Kind
2.  Clipper City Hop3
3.  Dogfish Head 60 Minute
4.  Dogfish Head Aprihop
5.  Victory Hop Devil

DIPA

1.  Larry
2.  Brooklyn Blast
3.  Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve
4.  Southern Tier Unearthly
5.  Smuttynose Big A

Two notes:  I didn’t even consider Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute because, even though it’s a masterpiece, it’s a whole ‘nother beast.  And, unfortunately, I’ve never had the much-lauded The Alchemist brewpub’s Heady Topper.  I would gladly kill for you if you could send me a growler of it.

I’m sure I missed some.  What’s your east coast top IPAs list look like?

Goose Island Bourbon Country Brand Coffee Stout

May 13th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 12 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Goose Island, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: A-, Grade: B plus

13% ABV from a bomber

I always get asked by non-beer geeks what my favorite beer is.  It would be easy to be a snob and name some hard to find curio that they’ll never get to try, that I may never get to try again, but that’s just annoying.  So I usually name Goose Island’s Bourbon Country Brand Stout, a masterpiece of a beer that can be easily found just about anywhere and which, despite the lack of rarity, stacks up with anything and everything.  I never get tired of it.

You can imagine my excitement when news came that 2010 would see the release of several new iterations of the beer.  It was like hearing a half-dozen new sequels would be made of your favorite movie!*  Last year saw the release of Nightstalker, essentially just Bourbon County before being bourbon-barrelized–I think it’s apt that while most breweries are bourbon-barrelizing ever solid beer they make, Goose Island, arguably the creator of the modern bourbon barreled stout decides to reverse engineer it back to its base–and that was a swell little brew with a breathtaking complexity.

The first release of this new series was Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout and, while I of course expected it to be rarer than its godfather, I never expected it to fly off shelves as quick as it has and become one of the rarest and hottest beers on the market today.  Luckily, luckily, luckily–because I would have cried if I’d missed out–my man Sam surprised me with a bottle and I am eternally grateful.  Simply put, this beer stacks up to its predecessor if not most of the bad boy stouts on the market.  I had it alongside, just off the top of my head, Black Tuesday, Canadian Breakfast Stout, Darkness, and several Dark Lord vintages and it was definately able to mix it up with those bullies.

Regular Bourbon County seems to have been specifically created for me.  Deliciously hot and boozy, packed with chocolate and vanilla and about as un-subtle as a beer can get, the Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso added to this Bourbon County Coffee makes it a little smoother, a little more palatable, a little more “user-friendly.”  I can completely understand why this effort has meteorically shot up to, as we speak, #3 on the BA Top 100 list while the regular Bourbon County languors a little lower at #45.  Bourbon County Coffee simply has less things to dislike about it.  Personally, I think I like the initial effort just a tad better–I like the harshness of it–but let’s say that maybe two out of seven days of the week I might like Coffee Brand better.  It may even be the best coffee beer ever made.  Not to be missed.

A+

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout

13% on tap

I thought I could relax in my whale-hunting for a bit as the 2nd release in the Bourbon County series wasn’t slated until October but while procrastinating yesterday afternoon I happened to notice online that The Pony Bar was having a Goose Island event which would have this little gem on tap.  Not sure if I’d ever luck into a bottle of this, I had to hightail it over to Hell’s Kitchen for what I’d long expected to be my favorite of the Bourbon County series.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Bourbon County Vanilla is good, amazing even, but just a little lacking and certainly not in the class of regular, Coffee, or even Nightstalker.  It’s incredibly hot and boozy right now which is saying something when it’s coming from a guy like me who likes hot and boozy (and not just in my women.)  It’s also extraordinary sweet right now.  Bourbon-barreled beers are already quite vanilla-y due to the bourbon and oak presence and adding even more vanilla on top of that makes it almost superfluous.  A “Death by Vanilla” your favorite Times Square chain restaurant might call it on the dessert menu.  The eight ounce glass I had was more than enough.  This is a quite interesting beer but it could surely use some age, which makes me wonder if the bottled release in October might be significantly better.  Let’s hope.  Until then, though, I’m gonna give it an…

A-

To my knowledge there’s quite a few more iterations coming, though I’m not sure that all will be bottled.  A raspberry one, a “rare” one aged in 23-year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels (one of my favorite bourbons ever), and a blueberry one that, oddly enough, several “people in the know” keep insisting is the best.  Excited to try all of them.  Hopefully.

Maple Bacon Stout

6.5% on tap

One of the worst things about being a beer “collector” is that if you see a beer you’ve never tried before, and may never get to try again, and you want to try it…well, regardless of your plans for the day, you’re going to have to try that beer.  It’s not like being a coin collector or something where, if you hear about a rare coin somewhere you can just sprint downtown and buy it.  No, us beer geeks actually have to affect our bodies’ chemistry to enjoy our hobby.  So while I had absolutely no plans to get drunk yesterday, to have even a sip of alcohol, the second I started seeing all these Goose Island oddball rarities on tap, I had no option but to drink them.  I mean, this could be my only chance ever!  And there was no way I was passing up something called “Maple Bacon Stout.”

Not another issue from the Bourbon County series, just a “simple” “low” (enough with the scare quotes) ABV stout, but with some seriously weird shit going on.  It smells like a meaty rauchbier (a style I just haven’t got into yet) but the maple addition adds a nice sweetness to the taste that levels it out and makes it a quite pleasant non-imperial (an endangered species!) stout.  I considered asking for a one ounce taster before purchasing a full glass but, fuck it, I’m a man.  I dove in head first.  Glad I did, cause this one was pretty good.  It’s the perfect beer for those kind of ugly fattish girls that like to pretend they enjoy stuff that men like in order to ingratiate themselves to said men.  “See, I’m not like those other girls–I like beer!  And bacon!  And football!  And giving you unrequited head in the men’s bathroom!”

B+

*Then again, I wish that single sequel had NEVER been made to “2001:  A Space Odyssey.”

Surly Abrasive Ale

May 4th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 3 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Ale Asylum, Brewer: Minneapolis Town Hall, Brewer: Surly, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Style: IPA

Like anything in American life, the IPA debate always gets whittled down to an East coast/West Coast thing and I won’t make a 2Pac/Biggie joke in the year 2010.  But there’s more to America than the coasts, than “flyover” country as us snobs call it, and the Midwest is making some absolutely stunning IPAs as well, the Eminems of the IPA debate if you will.  And why shouldn’t they be making good IPAs?  They have hops just like we do.  Then again, they have yeast and dough just like we do and their bagels still suck.

Abrasive Ale

9% ABV canned and tap

No matter how Beer Advocate classifies it, Abrasive Ale is not the much beloved 16 Grit simply repackaged and renamed.  Surly brewmaster Todd Haug told me as much.  It is recipe-wise very similar to 16 Grit though–a beer I unfortunately never got to try–and it is a magnificent beer.  Within a few hours I was fortunate enough to get to try batch 1 on tap, batch 1 canned, and an ever so slightly tweaked batch 2 on tap. Now while batch 1 and the first canned version I tried were both magnificent, both A level beers, batch 2, the batch that I suppose will be the recipe from now til iniquity, blew my mind and is clearly one of the best IPAs I have ever had.  This is a darker than normal DIPA, a rich and gorgeous caramel with potent smells of tropical fruits and hops.  The taste is as good as it gets–an over-explosion of hops with strong brunch tastes of grapefruit and sugar, a perfect combination that adds a kiss of sweetness to balance out the bite stripping the enamel from your teeth.  Wow.

A+

Tea Bagged Furious

6.2% ABV on cask

This has long been a most wanted beer of mine even though, like a dope, I didn’t even know what exactly it was.  I naively assumed it was your typical delicious Furious somehow infused with some tea flavoring.  Eh…I don’t know.  I now feel like some idiot 10 year old that never quite understood the birds and the bees until an older kid explained them to him.  Luckily, I finally did learn what the tea bagged refered to, right around the time I got to try this magnificent beer.  Tea Bagged Furious is simply Furious that has been dry-hopped in a firkin cask with various hop varieties in a bag.  OK, I think I get it now.  Kinda like Surly’s novelty answer to Dogfish Head’s Randall I suppose.  Whatever the case, this is a brilliant beer, packed full of juicy hops, made all the more interesting to enjoy on cask where that pesky carbonation doesn’t get in the way of your tongue picking up all those subtle flavors.  Not that this sucker is subtle in the least.

A

Town Hall Mango Mama

6% ABV on tap

A tap-only selection, pretty much only available at the brewpub, Mango Mama is another beer, another IPA, I’d long wanted to try.  I’m a typical “more is better and please Supersize that shit” American, so I usually skip right over IPAs and tell ‘em to make mine a double, but Town Hall’s regular 365 days a year offering, Masala Mama is a nifty little production, a no frills, incredibly drinkable and delicious effort.  The slightly rarer Mango Mama blows that one away and has to be arguably the best 6% ABV or lower IPA around.  I expected a sweeter IPA, but I guess I just don’t know what a mango is (most of my knowledge of fruit comes from the various Skittles packs, so that’s no surprise) because this was a shockingly citric and bitter IPA.  One of the more bitter ones I’ve ever had.  Seemingly no malt backbone or sweetness at all, this is just like straight fruit juice mixed with hops.  And that ain’t a bad thing.  Highly recommended.

A

Ale Asylum Bedlam!

Finally, we come to a Wisconsin IPA, and a Belgian one at that.  Bedlam!–I love when names of things force you to punctuate–is my first introduction to the brewpub’s offerings and one of my first introductions to citra hops, a semi-rare hop varietal that seems to add a somewhat green onion aroma and flavoring to the beer.  A not unpleasant and certainly unique sensation that makes you feel like you just got chives on your baked potato, scallion cream cheese on your bagel.  As we know, Belgian IPAs are pretty de rigueur right now and there’s several new and good ones on the market (Nebraska Hop God and The Bruery Mischief most notably) and this one stacks up for sure.  While not quite as good as those two, it’s certainly a unique offering as the citra hops meld with the overwhelming Trappist yeast for a nice bite and a silky finish.  Obscure, but worth seeking out fo’ sho.

A-