Beer Review: Ninkasi Sleigh’r

I picked this beer up in a crowler (something I’m really starting to like as I live by myself a whole growler is a bit much) from Frisco  Tap House the other week and saved it for the Dungeons and Dragons game that I play online every other Monday. I know I’ve written about beer and dice going together so well before and I stand by it. A brew and some imagination just go hand in hand.

Ninkasi Sleigh’r pours a very, very dark and rich brown with a faintly tan head that’s not quite one finger high. The head doesn’t have much staying power, but it leaves some very pretty whorls of foam behind once it falls. The smell, to me, is all dark berries or stone fruit or raisins with hints of brown sugar and other rich, sweet things. There’s maybe some notes of dark bread or maple.

Upon tasting, this is a rich and flavorful stout with plenty of dry, roasted malt flavors. It’s barely sweet, which is perfect to me, as the nose hinted that there might be a lot of sweetness at work here. Luckily, that was a little misleading. There’s a hint of banana and clove flavor in here, or maybe that’s just some saison-like funk that I’m getting and associating with banana notes. This is an alt beer that ferments ale yeast at a colder lagering temperature, which makes it pleasantly crisp.

There is an aftertaste that is a hint metallic, which is the biggest flaw of this beer. That’s ultimately forgivable as this brew is very enjoyable on a cold winter’s night. I’d say four out of five mugs. I think I would order it again if I found it somewhere, but I won’t necessarily be seeking this out.

Books on Beer

Drinking beer is all well and good (honestly, it is very well and good if you ask me), but there are more ways to get your brew fix during daylight hours. If you’re looking to add some more books on beer and brewing to your reading list this year, check out these collections of books:

Beer Review: Uinta Season Pass

I spent a recent Friday night watching Wonder Woman and giving myself a pedicure. The only way I could think of to improve this otherwise perfect evening was a beer. I toweled off my feet from their warm water soak and grabbed a bottle of Uinta Season Pass Vanilla Porter to enjoy.

This pours a deep, dark brown with a very fluffy light tan head. Maybe I poured too aggressively? I didn’t mind, it was a handsome beer. The nose has lots of the usual suspects: roasted cocoa, dark bready malts, hints of sweetness. There’s no coffee that I’m detecting and nothing maple-sweet.

The first taste is just a hint metallic (this is not uncommon in my years of experience with stouts), but it isn’t watery or thin at all (which, again, is all too common with mediocre stouts). The mouthfeel on this is excellent. It tastes of graham crackers, dark chocolate, and pumpernickel bread with honey. The chocolate malts give this beer a real depth of flavor. It’s sweet, but not overmuch and a taste of dry cocoa lingers on the back of my tongue, but the flavors are never overpowering.

This is a great beer for cold winter nights, perfect for watching TV or movies, and having a little solo self-pampering at home. It’s a fine treat and I give it four out of five frosty mugs.

Beer Review: Lagunitas Eroica Sour Ale

What can I say? Frisco Tap House is a good a reliable source for a quality beer selection. They have over 100 rotating craft beers to choose from at any given time – they do not mess around! I had off from work for MLK Day and was running some errands in the area, so I decided to grab a pint and maybe a crowler or two. I left the place with a crowler of Two Roads Brewing’s Roadsmary’s Baby Pumpkin Ale and, while there, enjoyed a Lagunitas Eroica Sour Ale.

I cannot be the first person nor am I sure to be the last person who misreads this name as “erotica” because brains are strange and unhelpful creatures sometimes. This draft beer came in a goblet (which I pretty much hate), which is handsome, but clunky in my small hands. I have seen this classified as a Flanders oud bruin as well as a farmhouse ale, which all seem reasonable; this beer has a lot happening in it. It’s a handsome, deep golden color with no head at all, which is fine because I don’t drink sours for their head retention. This smells tart right from the get go: sour cherry, green apple, and maybe even some vinegar on the nose. It smells like it’s going to pack a wallop, which is what I want in a sour.

This is all sour cherry and tart apple up front when I taste it, and there’s a slight funk that’s also enjoyable. It’s sort of like grass or hay with some hints of overripe pear in there. There are some notes of dry red wine, too, which confused me at first until I read that this beer is aged in red wine barrels – so I’m not crazy after all! It finishes relatively sweets and is never overly sour. There’s plenty going on here with the Brettanomyces kick, but it doesn’t make me pucker or make my cheeks hurt.

At 7.7%, it’s worth really taking your time with this beer and enjoying all of its complexities. Five out of five and I’d definitely seek this out again.

Beer Review: Southern Tier Old Man Winter

It never got above freezing today (and hasn’t for over a week now) and the wind is whipping something fierce. As a hater of the cold even on a good day, I was pretty properly miserable on my drive home, during which I had to stop and gas up my car. Shivering in a coat, hat, and gloves isn’t really my favorite thing. When I got home, I desperately needed something cozy to help me warm up.

Enter Southern Tier Old Man Winter, some manchego and salami, and some episodes of Critical Role (a D&D actual play stream, which I love, and which I am sadly almost caught up on – just in time for their new season). This is the kind of comfort that I needed this day.

Old Man Winter pours a handsome brunette color with a light cream colored, fine, smooth head that’s about one finger tall at its fullest. The head falls quickly enough, but leaves a bit of lacing behind when it does. It’s a good-looking beer. It smells warming to me, like brown sugar or honey. I’m not detecting any spices, but there is some depth and some richness to the malt profile.

The first taste is a little like a scotch ale and there’s some alcoholic heat to this. It’s 7.5%, so that’s no real surprise. It’s very balanced, inviting, rich, and just a hair sweet. Nice clean finish without any problematic dryness. It’s roasty like dark cocoa or maybe a touch of coffee – something just a hair bitter, but again, balanced.

A really enjoyable sipping beer for a winter’s night. Five out of five, and I’m so glad I bought a six pack to enjoy.

Beer Review: Stone Brewing Stochasticity Project Grainiac

Stochasticity (n)

The quality of lacking any predictable order or plan.

If we can intuit anything at all about a brewery as successful as Stone, I don’t imagine that chance has much to do with anything. Their line of small batch, experimental brews has been given a name that means happenstance or dumb luck, but they’re clearly the result of anything but.

Grainiac, a member of the Stochasticity Project from Stone Brewing, is “a multigrain ale dry-hopped with Cascade and Centennial.” It uses nine different grains (including some unusual ones like millet and buckwheat), so between that and the dry-hopping, this is bound to be a real powerhouse of flavor.

Poured from a bomber into a glass, Grainiac is a refined, deep brown amber, filled with warm hues. There’s a tan head that’s about two fingers tall, made from fine foam. It leaves behind a bit of clingy lacing inside of the glass. The first smell I get is an alcoholic heat, mixed with those rich brown sugar and maple notes that higher ABV beers tend to have. This is 8.5%, which is hig though not insane by any means, but I also know I’m not finishing a whole bomber by myself on a weeknight. This would be inadvisable, though likely delicious. The scent reminds me of a rich amber or brown ale, with deep notes of stone fruit and honey or brown sugar.

The taste is full of grains (obviously) and a lot of malt flavor, with a huge punch of complex tastes. There’s a pleasantly dry finish from the dry-hopping process. Additions of hops in the latter part of the brewing process (originally used to stave off putrefaction around the 12th century) give a mild bitter flavor to beer, which is very in demand in today’s IPA-rich market. This is a beautiful beer, wonderful for sipping, and there’s an awful lot going on here. Notes or rye or dark bread, rich honey and maple, apricot or plum, and a note of wheatiness at the end all come together in harmony. It’s not too dry, but the sweetness does not linger on the tongue, which is great because it could very easily be cloying in nature.

What a great beer! With an ABV like that, I’d buy it again, but certainly plan on splitting it with someone. Five out of five.


Beer Review: New Belgium Fat Tire

New year, old beer. New Belgium is, if you ask me, a great success story for craft beer. They distribute to all 50 states and some countries and their beers have become widely available, even in sports bars that aren’t necessarily going to have a good beer selection. In the old days, you’d go to So and So’s Sports Bar and the best you could hope for, beer-wise, was Yuengling. Let us not return to those dark days, please.

This beer is a lovely, deep orange color with a small cream-colored head, which does vanish fairly quickly. Right out of the gate, it smells like a Belgian: wheat and caramel and some slightly clove-scented funkiness. New Belgium’s house ale yeast is designed to be slightly fruity in nature, creating a decent doppleganger of traditional Belgian flavor profiles.

The taste is very smooth, extremely balanced, and just a tad sweet. There’s no overwhelming spice to this, but it has just a hint of that banana flavor that Belgians so often rock. It has the malty notes of an amber ale, though nothing quite so rich as a brown ale. It has enough flavor that it can stand up to salty snacks or food. It works well with big flavor, and it’s no shrinking violet.

This is a great tasting beer that’s relatively easy to find just about anywhere. It’s one of the great success stories of craft brewing distribution, a real Cinderella tale. I love this beer for its careful flavor balance and will often seek it out. Five out of five frosty mugs.

Beer Review: Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale

It was a cold and exceptionally windy night and we haven’t had a whole ton of those yet this season, so I guess we were overdue. This outing to Frisco Taphouse before my writing critique group absolutely called for something warm and cozy and winter appropriate. Why, something at around 7% and on cask sounds like it’ll hit the spot. And with “winter” in the name, how could I go wrong?

In a rare stroke of luck, this pour killed their cask a little shy of a full pint, so they were kind enough to put the drink on the house. Frisco is a good place in my mind and this is just another tick in the Why They’re Awesome column for me. I was happy to take my lucky beer and enjoy it.

It’s a handsome, deep brown hue with hints of ruddiness where light struggled to pass through at the outer edges of the glass. I imagine the head on this beer is all wrong because it was the end of a cask, so it seems silly to try to reflect on what the head is supposed to be like on this one. There are no spices in the nose, which I found a little surprising as that’s common in a lot of winter beers. There’s a strong scent of roasted malts, though, which I’m usually. Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale is apparently brewed with cardamom and vanilla, but I’m not smelling any of that – it just seems like a standard porter at a glance.

The taste is dry and has some richness that makes me thing of Scotch ale, but it’s not at all sweet. Not even a little bit. It’s cozy enough for winter, but it is also overwhelmingly dry to my palate. There’s some bitterness at work here that I’m finding very unappealing. I guess I’m doubly lucky that this was on the house since I’m not really loving it. It reads more like a disappointing porter to me than a winter ale.

It was fine, sure, but not at all what I was expecting and not something I will buy again. Just two out of five.


Beer Review: Tall Tales Blue Ox

Sometimes, we have to try new things! I was angling for somewhere near my office that I hadn’t been yet – somewhere I could enjoy a variety of craft beers after work – and where I could also enjoy a snack before a late dinner that night. Enter Old Town Pour House in Gaithersburg, MD. With over 90 craft brews on tap, you know I’m here for that. Plus, they do small 6oz pours, which is my preferred method of beer consumption most of the time.

This beer, on their limited menu, had me at the description of a blueberry stout with coffee and chocolate notes. I had to try it. It sounded like it could be great or really iffy. Adventure, excitement – a Jedi craves not these things. But a gamble on a tasty beer? Just maybe.

For $4, I got my teensy glass of 6.8% ABV Blue Ox and I threw in some $7 fried cheese curds with smoked tomato coulis, so chalk another one up to Team Adventure. The coulis is strange and I keep trying to decide if the smoke flavor is too much, too acrid, but then I go ahead and just dunk the next cheese curd and the next, so I guess it’s a winner in my book.

The beer is a deep, dark mahogany with a little over one finger of sturdy, tan head. It smells like dry, roasted malt and even a little like toasted bread – and, trailing behind that, is the faint smell of blueberry that reminds me of a fresh baked pie. I can’t wait to try this.

The first sip is simply fantastic. A slight roasted cocoa flavor, immediately followed by a bright, nut not overwhelming blueberry taste hits me – it’s got plenty of layers, but it’s not sweet or too much of a punch. It’s really delightful all around. It finishes on the tongue with more dry, roasted coffee and malt flavors. There’s a nice, clean finish that is pleasantly dry, as a stout ought to be.

This is a really beautiful little beer and I would definitely seek it out again any time of year. Five out of five mugs for me.

Beer Review: Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Owl

If you ask me, it’s never too late in the season for pumpkin beers! I believe I have made my love for them rather apparent by now. After work one Monday, I wanted to grab a six pack of something new to me and so I stopped in to Beers and Cheers Too (which is so convenient to my office). While I was there, I also decided to treat myself to a little something – and that something happened to be Elysian’s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale.

Now, I’ve had some of Elysian’s other pumpkin beers before and adored them, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t had Night Owl before. If you ask me, Elysian are some of the very best pumpkin beer brewers out there, so I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity to taste another one of their creations.

For $3 at happy hour, I grabbed a 6oz pour of Night Owl. It’s a lovely golden amber color with not quite one finger of off-white creamy head. This falls in about a minute and mostly disappears, leaving a white smear behind, in about two minutes. It leaves behind some pretty sturdy lacing as I drink it down. It smells very pumpkiny right off the bat even as I’m snapping pictures. There’s a slightly spicy smell, but the most prominent note is the gourd itself – slightly vegetabley and a little bit sweet with hints of brown sugar on the nose. There’s maybe a whiff of yeasty or malty funk mingling.

The nose is accurate; there’s a little ginger or clove in here for sure, but this beer is legitimately pumpkin-forward, which is rare. Usually these poor beers get strangled with spices. I’ve had an aggressively cinnamony pumpkin beer from them in the past (I wish I could remember the name, it was a few years ago) which was delicious, but it masked the pumpkin taste. This beer plays very nicely with the natural autumnal produce that it’s showcasing.

Five out of five frosty mugs of pumpkiny goodness.