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Archive for the ‘Grade: A-’ Category

The Abbey Brewing Company

April 11th, 2011 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: The Abbey Brewing Co., Country: America, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Style: IPA, Style: Stout

South Beach is the land of skinny people drinking Coronas, skinny people drinking margaritas, and skinny people (or Nicole Polizzi) drinking margaritas with Coronas dumped into them (for real).  Now, any one with tastebuds should rightfully detest Coronas and while I can occasionally enjoy a tropical beverage on a hot day, I’m not sure why one would want to water down a fruity boozebath with 4% skunk beer.  As for me, even in the land of skinny people, when there doesn’t seem to be a decent craft beer in sight, I like to find the large bearded guys.  They usually know where the good brews are.  Even in craft beer wastelands, you can usually find an oasis or two.  I found one such spot on a recent trip to Miami:  The Abbey Brewing Company.

A tad off the beaten path–if the “beaten path” is Ocean Drive*–I located The Abbey Brewing Company.  Minuscule in size, it’s been standing proud on 16th and Lenox since 1995.  Dark and cool inside, brewmaster/owner/former New Yorker Raymond Rigazio is a seasoned pro, having homebrewed (and home-wined) since well before you drank anything halfway decent.

On my quick jaunt there last Friday, Raymond had two of his house beers on tap, both of which were sublime.

Immaculate IPA

The same recipe since ABC opened, it’s good enough that there’s no reason to change it!  Settling in at a solid 6.2% ABV, this brew uses three different kinds of hops but is balanced quite nicely, and flawlessly refreshing.  I could have slugged these all day.

A-

Father Theodore’s Stout

Now the last thing I wanted at 3 PM on a sweltering Friday, mere hours before I had to appear respectable (and standing) at my sister’s wedding, was a big bodied stout.  But, surprisingly, this 9.5% monster is light.  I don’t mean light in mouthfeel or body, it’s a full-figured gal packed with complex flavors of chocolate and licorice, I mean light in that typical boozy taste that plagues many imperial stouts.  I was stunned at its ABV, double-checking with Raymond just to make sure.  Dangerous.

A

The Abbey also has a dubbel and quad (which I hear is amazing), but neither was on during my visit.  Raymond makes small batches and only brews a few times a year so enjoy what you can get!  He also has several other taps from great breweries across America, an impressive bottle list, and solid booze and wine selections.  I would set up a permanent camp in this joint if I lived in Miami Beach, and hope to be back sometime soon!

*In the oddest comparison you’ve surely ever heard, Ocean Drive reminds me of Mulberry Street in NY’s Little Italy.  What with the cookie cutter menus, the aggressive maitre d’s, and the outdoor dining and waddling tourists getting in your way and making movement a struggle.  Then again, you rarely see the bottom ass curvature of modelesque women on Mulberry Street.

COOP AleWorks

December 22nd, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: COOP AleWorks, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Grade: A-/B+, Grade: B plus, Grade: B regular, Grade: B-, Style: Amber Ale, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Style: IPA, Style: Stout, Style: Wheat (Hefeweizen), Style: Wild Ale

Back when I lived in Oklahoma, back in the 90s, there really wasn’t any decent craft beer.  (Of course, I was a teenager.)  I kinda felt like it would always be that way.  This is a state where you can’t buy cold beer over 3.2% anywhere.  Then, I started hearing some rumblings that a brewery called COOP AleWorks was really cranking out some legit shit.  So, when I made my triumphant return to town over the weekend for a “How to Fail” book tour signing, I knew I would have to seek it out.  On both Thursday night and Saturday, I met up with COOP partner/bon vivant J.D. Merryweather (above) for some serious tippling, pretty much drinking anything in the brewery he would let me.  I was like a kid in a candy shop.  Or, to be less trite, like a drunk in a brewery.  And, wow, was it all good.

Horny-Toad Cerveza

One of two canned COOP offerings (along with Native Amber; the rest are currently tap only), this 5.3% ABV American Blonde Ale would seem to be the “lamest” offering from COOP, the one meant to convert the Bud Light drinkers…and it is.  But that doesn’t mean it’s lame.  No sir, this is a 5.3% beer with some serious flavor.  The Noble hops, the malt body, the carbonation, made me think this was more along the lines of a pilsner, but whatever it is, it’s damn good.

A-/B+

Zeppelin German Wheat

Yeah, no craft beer drinker likes American wheat beers, right?  If more places were making great efforts like Zeppelin, that might not be the case.  5.6% and packed with tastes of wheat and rye with just a little hops coming through, this is a solid drinker, better than most on the market.

B+

Native Amber

Red ales are always a crap shoot for me as they are a delicate balance between hops and malt that if you fuck up, they are just gross.  But COOP nails this one.  Caramelly and biscuity with a nice hoppy finish, this is the beer Fat Tire wishes it could be.

A-

Gran-Sport Porter

Porters are another beer that breweries never seem to completely nail.  Often too bitter and acrid, COOP has made one of the best I’ve had recently.  Chocolately and nutty, this had such a smooth, fluffy finish I was certain it had to have been served on a nitro tap.  Nope.  I really enjoyed this one.

A-

F-5 IPA

I highly doubt there’s an IPA this good made within 500 miles of COOP.  The classic West Coast bitter grapefruit and pine IPA, a little hefty at 7%, this is the beer that will turn a ton of Oklahomans into hop heads.

A

DNR Belgian Style Golden Ale

What an insanely intriguing beer.  An over-the-top complex mix of Noble hops, European malts, and Belgian candi giving this tastes of vanilla, cinnamon, and dark fruits.  And, at 10% this is one of the most deceptively alcoholic beers I’ve ever had.  You’ll want to keep sucking them down.  But don’t.  Or do.  I don’t really care about your health.

A

Territorial Reserve Oak-Aged Imperial Stout

By now every brewery is trying bourbon-barreled stouts and they should excite me as much as another boxing movie being released.  But just like “The Fighter” stunned me and found new ways to tell the pugilist’s tale, COOP has made a real corker of a barrel-aged stout.  Aged on Bulleit bourbon barrels, this might seriously be the smoothest, most perfectly melded bourbon-barreled stout I’ve ever had.  It’s not lacking in boozy taste, no way, but it’s not something that brings you to your knees either.  Rich, chocolately, and a “mere” 9.0%, it’s quite dangerous when you’ve become friends with a guy with the ability to over-serve you this.  I probably had five full pints and never got sick of it.  Wow.

A+

Red Zeppelin

This final beer is one that isn’t even available yet, one whose recipe isn’t fully created yet, and one that I’m not even sure I’m allowed to publicly discuss (I’ll wait for a cease and desist from J.D.), but it was my favorite beer I had from COOP so I want to scream to the hills about it.  Red Zeppelin is Zeppelin German Wheat aged in barrels on wild bing cherries.  This is a recipe they’re still working on and, admittedly, by now the souring had given the beer a slightly vinegary nose which some more amateur beer drinkers found unappealing, but I fucking loved it.  Just the perfect tart, sour, yet still slightly fruity taste I love.  It actually reminded me of Cantillon Kriek if I can be so bold.  I will be.  I hope they release and bottle this one day–it’ll sweep the beer nation.

A+

COOP is only available in Oklahoma so for now you’ll have to hope your company sends you there for work if you want to get some (or maybe write a book and go on tour there???) and I’ll have to hope J.D. is kind enough to build a pipeline to my house so I can always have some around to enjoy.  COOP is gonna be a big player in the beer world soon.

Pick up a last minute copy of my book, HOW TO FAIL!!!

Black Betty Imperial Stout Reserve Series Aged In Whiskey Barrels (2009)*

July 19th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 10 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Nebraska, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Stout

9.3% ABV from a 1 pint, 9.4 FL oz

You’d be surprised how often I get solicited.  No, not solicited for paid sexual services.  That rarely happens any more.  Rather, solicited to talk about a product here on my blog.  Usually one that’s vice related, no surprise.  I’ll get an e-mail along the lines of something like…

Hello The Vice Blog!

I am a huge fan of The Vice Blog, keep up the great work! I am writing to you about a fun new campaign that would be of great interest to The Vice Blog readers: LAME BREWERY’s “Salute to Summer’s Web Jam,” an initiative launched by CORPORATE BEER USA in association with MyspaceTM. In honor of the program, celebrity chef Tyler Florence and celebrity celebrity Maria Menounos have created an exquisite new menu of fun summer treats and grilled dishes that pair perfectly with the delicious flavor of LAME BREWERY’s new line of 55 calorie products.

Below, we have included a press release and high-res images which would make for a GREAT The Vice Blog post your readers would surely love.  Can you blog it?

Also, please URGE your The Vice Blog readers to become a Facebook fan of LAME BREWERY and “Salute to Summer Web Jam” at http://www.facebook.com/#!/lamebrewerysalutetosummerwebjam

Regards,

Stacy Dumbass
Social Media/PR
Lame Brewery

Lazy, impersonal, artificial, and worst of all boring.  Wait, no, even worst of all–insulting.  Ten minutes ago I didn’t even know about your product, now I fucking hate it.  And once I sober up I’m going to write something bashing you and your product. Do these companies think I’m so hard up for material and so entranced by transparent consumerism to be suckered into doing their online bidding for them?!

Can you imagine if I tried to treat these companies the way they treat me?

Dear Lame Rum Company!

We here at The Vice Blog know you like your alcohol, so how about naming a future rum bottling after us?!  We’d suggest calling it Vicey Pure Cane, but feel free to come up with any idea you see fit.  Below we’ve even offered a prospective recipe as well as some classy label art we designed.

Thanks for the time and don’t forget to tell all your friends about the Vice Blog as well as becoming a Fan of us on Facebook…

What morons at these beer and booze (and other) companies think these are effective means of getting their product name out there?

Yet I get several of these e-mails per week.  Perhaps they’ve noticed my blogging has tapered off to a few measly posts per month and they think, “Man, I really used to love Aaron’s site but now he’s clearly starved for content.  Let’s help the guy out!!!”  But, no, I really doubt that’s it.  They’re just lazy and feel superior to a meager blogger and assume surely he’d love to be an e-whore and help the big guys out.

Here’s my favorite recent, unsolicited e-mail.  I’m still not sure whether it’s a sly joke or from the pen of a crazy person.  Whatever the case, they got me to talk about them and offer a hyperlink so I suppose they won.

I just ran into your site and wanted to say hey! I’m Matt - I’m a college student and I run a little site on the side.I just wrote a post about necktie cakes for Father’s Day that I’d like to offer you to use (I know how hard it is to come up with blog posts). But if anything - it may give you inspiration for your own Father’s Day themed post :)

Here is the link to the post - http://www.tiepedia.com/tie-blog/49-crafts/155-tie-cake

My site is pretty new and would definitely benefit by getting linked to from you. Let me know if you have any questions or if you need anything!

-Matt

At least tie guy is incredibly honest:  “My site…would definitely benefit by getting linked to from you.”

Isn’t that exactly the same thing these other unsolicited e-mails want from me?

Our beer would definitely benefit by getting linked by you.

Our booze would definitely benefit by getting linked by you.

Our book would definitely benefit by getting linked by you.

Fair enough…but how the fuck do I benefit?  How the fuck do my readers benefit?  This shit has to be quid pro quo friend-o (ask your corporate lawyer way down the hall what that fancy Latin term means.)  And it’s not just enough of a quid pro quo that you’re giving me a little corporate-speak content.  Howzabout giving me something I might like?  Like, oh, I don’t know?, some free fucking beer?  Or booze?  Then you might get me to write about you.

Admittedly, most of these terrible solicitations come from corporate giants.  Faceless beer and booze makers, behemoth book publishing companies, and the like.  Almost never from craft beer makers and artisanal booze crafters.

Here’s a hint, morons, actually develop relationships with your customers or would-be customers.  It ain’t that hard.  Take Nebraska Brewing Co. for example.

I’d heard about this new brewery from Nebraska who had just brought their beers to the New York market and who were getting some decent buzz.  Nebraska?  “Could there really be great beers coming out of Nebraska?!” thought this east coast elitist and former Tom Osbourne hater.  I had to find out.  I got a growler of their Hop God.  Wrote a semi-positive review of it.  Tweeted it.  Paul Kavulak and Tyson Arp from NBC began following me.  Began to respond to my tweets.  When out of my own pocket I paid, what I assumed to be, a fairly steep $30 for Hop God Chardonnay I tweeted how awesome it was and Tyson responded with a “Toldja!”  They even posted my review in their brewpub.  One day a few weeks later, I got a DM from Paul.  “What’s your address Aaron?”  Soon, I received bottles of Black Betty and their Fathead barley wine.  Later some Melange a Trois, a chardonney-barreled Belgian blonde.  Now, a few months later, I consider myself friends of Nebraska Brewing Co.  Friends of Paul and Tyson and even his wife Angela.  I HAVE NEVER MET THESE PEOPLE.  I am some 1200 miles from where they live.  Fuck, I have never even spoken to them in more than 140 character bursts.  Yet I consider them some sort of friends.  And, you better believe, I love evangelizing to my “real” friends about the greatness of my Nebraska friends’ beer.  They have won me over for sure.  And it doesn’t hurt that they are making some DAMN fine product (which when it comes down to it is more important than the most savvy advertising/marketing/networking in the world.)

Black Betty[...] poured thinner than I’ve come to expect from the myriad of syrupy and sticky barreled aged imperial stouts that have deluged my life in the past few years.  But that’s fine as the oak and bourbon come through even better and aren’t overpowered by any sort of hotness.  The taste is ridiculously smooth, I kept checking the ABV to make sure it wasn’t 5% or something as it goes down like a lower ABV dry stout.  But the taste is pure Russian Imperial.  Boozy but not scorching, more creamy than dark chocolaty, like a mix of vanilla and fudge.  Mild roastiness and espresso-like qualities.  Nice carbonation and splendid mouthfeel.  A really delicious effort I was sad to see go.  Nebraska has quickly gone from off the radar to the hottest new brewery of the year, one I demand you check out if at all possible.

If the crux of this post looks to be like I’m giving a little lesson to bloggers on how to score some free shit, I’m not.  My lesson is for these corporations that don’t understand social media and networking.  The ones that claim to read The Vice Blog and enjoy The Vice Blog and think The Vice Blog and it’s readers would love to hear about X, Y, and Z (and who love to use form letters and e-mails as well.)  Guys, don’t worry about me and my content.  My content is just fine.  I don’t need some 300 word “corporate speak” press release to get my post totals up.  If I like your fucking product, if I LOVE your fucking product, I’ll have no problem cranking out a 1500 word love song to it like I just did here.  Now beat that.

A-

*I think we have a new longest beer title record, breaking Nebraska’s previous effort Hop God Reserve Series Aged in French Oak Chardonnay Barrels.

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.

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Hop God

April 8th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Nebraska, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: IPA

9.2% ABV from a growler

Pretty much every American brewery has a neologistically hop-named beer, whether in the format of Hop ____, or ____ Hop, or even ____ Hop ____.*  Nebraska Brewing Company out of…uh, Nebraska, has their own hop-named beer, Hop God.  Great name for a beer, not necessarily a great name for this beer.  Though this beer is a pretty great beer, so a minor nomenclatural quibble.

The first and only beer I’ve ever had from out of Nebraska–the first and only beer I’ve ever heard of coming out of Nebraska–is a draught only offering that has just begun popping up around New York City in the last few weeks.  With a name like Hop God I assumed a classically bitter and uber-hopped San Diego-style India pale ale, but was pleasantly surprised to pop the plunger on my growler to be hit with that beautiful scent of Belgian banana esters just like a glorious Aventinus, which is a German beer actually, come to think of it.  The taste is indeed perhaps more Belgian, that of a golden yeasty tripel with an underlying silky hoppy taste and a nice hint of Laffy Taffy with a little spiciness and bitterness.  Imminently drinkable, I really really enjoyed this bad boy and went through my lone growler in a hurry.

I’m now excited to try more Nebraska Brewing offerings, and, luckily, they have a Chardonnay barrel aged Hop God which just sounds so inspired and delicious.  Bottles of this seem to be semi-rare, and I’ve started seeing them around town, but at a price point (don’t you hate when people say “price point” trying to sound smart–”price” will almost always suffice) of $25 minimum, I’m just not ready to take an economic gamble on such an as-yet-still little known beer (a mere four total reviews currently on Beer Advocate).  I’ll wait til some more people try it and hopefully rave about it before I whip out a Jackson and Lincoln for it.  Of course, if Nebraska Brewing wants me to be that guinea pig, they can always just send me a bottle for review (insert winking smiley face emoticon here).

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*A few favorites:  Hop Whallop, Hoptimus Prime, Exponential and Pure Hoppiness, and Me So Hoppy (the name for the nonexistant DIPA my as-yet-nonexistant brewing will brew.)

Brooklyn Dark Matter

April 7th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brooklyn Brewery, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Brown Ale

7.5% ABV on tap

Highlights

J was the most beautiful woman I ever dated.  Using an “out-of-10″ number scale was futile when discussing her, but she was about as attractive as a normal girl could be.  Then again, she came from the loins of two un-normal people–a small-time model and a smaller-time CFL player.  She was modelesque, statusesque, and ultimately kinda crazy.  I tried to force chemistry with her just because I liked having such a tall knock-out on my arm wherever I went.  This was during my more egotistical days.  Though we never had a future, even from the get-go, I wish I still knew her.  I just liked sitting across the table from her in a restaurant and staring.

A was the best in bed, which is odd, because she was a mere 22 years of age when we began dating.  Even though I was 7 years her senior, she schooled me in moves, leading me to wonder how she was so sexually educated.  The fact that she was a neo-hippie that liked to follow jam bands around the country during the summer made me think she probably spent a lot of time on her back in muddy tents at field shows, a bearded stinker on top of her, trying out a Kama Sutra of shroom-influenced positions.  It also made me realize why she had a fairly respectable bush for a 22-year-old in the 21st century.

K was the most sexually willing.  She had a voracious appetite–both sexual and food-wise, come to think of it–and simply could not get enough of me (or Thai food).  She was kinda lazy in bed though, not very flexible, and had some self-lubrication issues.  Yet she always wanted it.  My weekly prophylactics tab was extraordinarily high, my shaft was always chafed, my knees ached worse than a hard court tennis player’s, and I didn’t even need to work out any more, all thanks to her.

S was the ugliest girl I ever dated.  She wasn’t “ugly” per se–not by a long shot–she just wasn’t super attractive with her bland face and slightly doughy body.  Meeting up with her for our first date after having picked her up loaded one evening earlier in the week at a dive bar, I was a little stunned by my false remembrance of her beauty levels.  Nevertheless, I was a trooper and drunk my beer goggles back on before falling into bed with her that very night and then went out with her again and again and again and next thing I knew we had been dating for half a year and I’d given myself a six-month long bender.

P was the kindest and never got mad at me for any of the countless stupid and selfish things I am always wont to do (like writing a female superlatives catalog.)  In retrospect, she was actually kind of a doormat (and would have said nothing about me writing a female superlatives catalog–though would have secretly seethed.)

F was the sexiest and of course wasn’t American because, you know, the anti-jingoistic rumors are true–American women just aren’t that sexy typically.  Then again, when American men call a women “sexy”–a term American men rarely use because it’s just one of those embarrassing words to say unironically–they usually just mean that she has an over-the-top sexuality.  Which, again, few American women possess.  American women wear jeans and hooded sweatshirts and pony tails and flip-flops and subscribe to dumb time-frame rules before hopping into bed.  A woman like F wore slinky dresses and flowing locks where ever we went, whenever we went there, subscribed to no rules besides “tongue kiss any one and every one you find attractive,” and quite frankly made me feel inadequate and inhibited, which is never a nice feeling.

Q was the smartest girl I ever dated but I really don’t have anything to say about her because she was just so boring and never liked to do anything fun and actually was kinda more book smart than smart smart.  Which in retrospect makes me realize she was kinda dumb.  Because any one that is 30 that you are still calling book smart, even though they’ve been out of their US News & World Report Top 10 college for a decade, is probably not that smart at all.  It’s the “cute face” of backhanded intellect compliments.

L was the dumbest girl I ever dated.  I had to intentionally make myself about 40 IQ points dumber every time I spoke to her just so she would understand me.  I couldn’t really use polysyllabic words such as “polysyllabic” with her, which is not really a word one should ever use any ways, especially in romantic or sexual situations, but I was just making a point there.  Just like with ugly S, I had to always be drunk with L just so I could exist with her because:  her sober equaled me after about 15 beers IQ-wise at least.

B was the most annoying.  She never quit fucking talking and it wasn’t like she had a silky voice either.  Her voice was shrill and nasally and jarring.  I was embarrassed to take her in public, but alone it was like babysitting a toddler (not that I’ve ever babysat a toddler before, but I can imagine based on some sitcoms I’ve seen.)  There was really no excuse to ever even be in the same room with her except for the fact that I was bored and lonely at that time in my life.  I’m glad I’m no longer bored and lonely.

I’m not sure I’ve ever dated a truly funny women, but B had the best sense of humor.  And by that, I mean, of course, she laughed every time I said something funny, which is rare to find in a woman oddly enough.  But did she make me piss my pants in laughter?  No, of course not.

U was the best drinker.  60 pounds lighter than me yet no matter where we went she could match me drink for drink.  Buckets of beer, pitchers of sangria, shots of Jameson, didn’t matter.  She drank everything, quickly and thoroughly.  I’d have called her an alcoholic but she was far more responsible than me, never seemed to get hungover, never called in sick for work, and oddly seemed a paragon of health.  She may have been a drunkard of a superhero in respect.

And I had my first ever glass of Brooklyn’s Dark Matter with a new girl, which is always the best girl.  Yet another offering in Brooklyn’s stellar every-month-or-two, tap-only Brewmasters Reserve series, this is one of the best I’ve had yet.  Created in the same way as Brooklyn’s stellar Black Ops, though this time using an imperial brown ale for the Woodford Reserve bourbon-barreling as opposed to a big boy stout.  Boozy and rich, with tastes of caramel, vanilla, and oak, this is a quite worthy “little brother” companion to Black Ops.  Decent chilled, as it warms the flavors explode, more so than any beer I’ve had recently, and I’d advise just drinking it at room temperature straight from the get go.

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Gouden Carolus Easter Beer

April 1st, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brouwerij Het Anker, Country: Belgium, Grade: A-, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

10% ABV on tap

Ever had an Easter beer before?  Nope.  Ever even heard of an Easter beer before?  Nope.  Then we’ll call Gouden Carolus Easter the best of this most minor sub-style and what an apropos paragon it is.  (Fittingly, there are no Passover related beers as Jews just get loaded on wines during the holiday–”It’s ceremonial, man!”)  I had this pricey $10 goblet of beer on tap during my first ever sojourn to the East Village’s most unique Burp Castle the other night and went away quite impressed.  A straight up boozy assault, this one is not for the faint of heart.  Absurdly complex with a most unique melange of flavors.  It’s easy to come up with unique and specific flavors for a holiday like Christmas (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc), but what are the specific flavors of Easter?  I have no clue aside from Cadbury-ness, but this beer is loaded with rich dark fruits like raisins, candi sugar, a Brandy-like quality, but an underlying hint of banana esters, Belgian hops, and subtle spices.  Syrupy and viscous, a sipper for sure, but I savored every one of those tiny eye drop sips of this beer.  Honestly, I have no clue how available or unavailable this beer is as I’d never seen it before, but I can’t recommend trying it enough–I’ve yet to have anything but a great beer from Het Anker–and downing a bottle of this by yourself would certainly be a lot more fun on Sunday than looking for eggs and shit.

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Founders Nemesis 2009

March 3rd, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 10 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Founders, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Grade: B plus, Style: Porter, Style: Stout, Style: Wheatwine

12% ABV bottled

You know, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I used to think that Founders Brewing Co. was, gasp…overrated.  The first two Founders brews I ever got my grubby little mitts on, oddly enough, happened to be their two most famous brews, Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout, long-time Beer Advocate top 20 beers in the world*.  I was psyched to acquire these rare-to-me grown up sodas, so eager to suck ‘em down in all their glory, that when I tried them and didn’t spontaneously combust into knickers, I thought, “Ah, I see, another overrated brewery.”  Don’t get me wrong, I gave both those beers A’s at the time, I simply wasn’t OMFG floored.

So, whereas I tried my first two Founders beers with overly lofty expectations, I’ve tried my last dozen or more Founders efforts expecting nothing special.  But, damn, if those Grands Rapids boys haven’t won me over, and then some.  It started with their wet-hopped Harvest Ale, one of the most eye-opening drinking experience I’ve had in the last 365 days and a beer I’d put near #1 in the uber-hopped beer category.  I already can’t wait for the next release of it.

Every since that Harvest Ale, damn if every Founders beers hasn’t tasted absolutely glorious to me.  From their double and “triple” IPAs, Double Trouble (mind-blowing fresh on tap) and Devil Dancer, to their old ale Curmudgeon**, to countless more of some of the most disparate styles around.  They don’t knock everything out of the park–who does?–but they surely have a better slugging percentage than even a juiced-up Barry Bonds.

I’ve probably tried more different and new-to-me beer from Founders recently than from any other brewery and, now, my expectation levels are appropriate.  I now expect a good to great beer and I always get a good to great beer.  And since they seem to have a never-ending stream of releases, there’s always another Founders beer to try that I haven’t yet.  The only problem being that they don’t distribute in NYC at the moment.  Good thing I got good friends in Virginia, Minnesota, and other places who can hook me up.

My most exciting Founders acquisition of recent was their limited Nemesis release, the first in a new series.  I’d never had a wheatwine before, but as a barleywine nut, I was certain to like this effort.  And I did.  Probably not the most “normal” example of the style, Nemesis 2009 is maple bourbon barrel-aged using bourbon barrels which were once used to age local maple syrup.  The beer poured lighter for me than expected, much lighter than a copper barley wine, more the color of a golden ale of some sort.  The smell is straight boozy, just like I like it, with the flavor a combination of boozy bourbon, vanilla, oak, sweet syrup, and of course wheat.  Surprisingly more drinkable and less syrupy than I expected, this is a truly interesting creation.  I only wish I had another bottle!

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Founders Imperial Stout

10.5% ABV bottled

It’s heartening to try a delicious imperial stout that can actually be bought on store shelves!  That isn’t a limited release!  And more things to add exclamation points to!!!  This effort from Founders stacks up with the best of the style, limited release or not.  Amazingly complex and rich, with a mild roasted bitterness and a nice chocolaty booziness on the back end.  This beer is just so silky, I loved to let it dance on my tongue and gargle in the back of my throat.  Arguably the best on-the-shelves, non-barreled stout in the market today.  Though, unfortunately, not my market.  Come on, let’s get Founders in NYC!

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Founders Porter

6.5% ABV bottled

As I’ve mentioned a lot recently, the porter has become one of my favorite styles, even though I’m still not quite sure what differentiates them from stouts.  Kinda like how I can’t tell a real blond from a bottle blond.  I don’t ask and just enjoy them both.  This is a great effort with another great label–besides making great brews, Founders is in the running for best labels in the biz too and I love their squat little bottles for even more plaudits!  Rich and tingly, a strong-roasted flavor with next-to-no sweetness, smokey and earthy.  Full-bodied yet drinkable, quite enjoyable.  This is a no-frills beer, but there’s nothing wrong with that sometimes.

B+

Now that I’ve fallen in love with Founders, now that it’s become one of my favorite brewers in America, in my mind one of the best in America, I’ve even gone back and tried those two famous beers, Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout, with my now acceptable level of Founders expectations, and realized those two are truly glorious beers, some of the best of their styles.

In a world of such scrutiny nowadays, things aren’t overrated or underrated.  They are, for the most part, rated correctly.  It’s you, or me, that simply hasn’t encountered enough of the sample size to know that.  I know that now.  All hail Founders.

*Son of a bitch, why can I still not get a taste of Canadian Breakfast Stout?!?!?!?

**Or another old ale, Black Biscuit, for that matter?!?