Review: Elysian Punkuccino

Pumpkin beer! How I love pumpkin beer! Sure, there are some watery, metallic-tasting, total stinkers out there that call themselves pumpkin beers – but there are also some fantastic brews out there, too. Elysian, in my experience, makes damn fine pumpkin and autumnal beers.

Punkuccino by Elysian is not only a pumpkin beer, but it’s a coffee beer as well, made with Stumptown coffee – a Pacific Northwest classic. The hits just keep on coming! This beer sounded like it was checking all of the boxes on my list of I Have To Drink This. Frisco in Columbia, MD, was happy to oblige.

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This very handsome beer pours a deep, dark brown with a reddish undertone that lit up when light hit the glass. The’s no head at all save for a creamy smear of foam on the top of the liquid. It leaves some clingy lacing behind as it goes.

It smells like roasted cocoa, pumpkin pie, graham cracker crusts, and even sweet iced coffee. The taste is definitely pumpkin beer right up front, but it’s backed up by brown sugar, some heavy cinnamon, rich chocolate, and coffee stout as a sturdy backdrop. It’s not tinny like some pumpkin beers/pies/canned pumpkin can sometimes be. It’s not watery at all and has a decent mouthfeel, low carbonation, and is very smooth.

As both a pumpkin beer fan and a coffee stout fan, this beer is seriously everything that I could want. It is so rich and full of flavor and is perfect for a cool weather beer. I’ m so into it.

Review: New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA

Spontaneous movie night with friends – we opted for Beetlejuice, which is generally the right plan. I brought over a selection of beers that I’d picked up at my favorite bottle shop and, when the host, J, saw the bottle of Voodoo Ranger, his face lit up. He told me that it was a fantastic beer so of course I had to crack that open.

This beer pours a rich honey straw gold with a very clear appearance – not cloudy at all. There’s a generous head, though I definitely poured a little too aggressively and caused some of that to form. There’s at least three fingers of fluffy, off-white head that trailed lacing behind as it settled down into the beer.

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger

It has a piney, dank, hop-forward nose. And yet it smells a little bright, almost tropical, to me. There’s also a whiff of sweet malt in the background as well. Based on the smell, though, I was anticipating a hop punch in the face.

The first sip is bright with tangerine and features a smooth hop finish. Then there’s that slight tropical aftertaste mixed with green pine. It’s very clean-drinking, immensely enjoyable. The mouthfeel is smooth and just a little thick. It’s a seriously excellent beer. I would absolutely buy this one again!

Review: Sierra Nevada Sidecar

I was meeting someone out for dinner, but, true to my fashion, I was insanely early. This usually happens when I use the metro to go into DC – I don’t trust it one bit and always budget way too much time to get anywhere. Oh no! Stuck at a bar with time to kill? I guess I’ll review a beer!

At the City Tap House in DC, I was unimpressed with the selection of IPAs that day; I’d had most of the ones on offer that day and I generally like to try and review a beer I’ve never had before. Enter Sierra Nevada Sidecar.

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This draft beer came to me as a rich, orangey gold colored liquid in the very dim light of the bar. It has no head and just a tiny amount of lacing around the outer ring of the liquid. It doesn’t have a huge nose of any kind, but I could swear I’m getting a whiff of passionfruit. It’s also smelling a little biscuity and hoppy. It’s made (I looked it up because that’s what I do) with Cascade, Equinox, and Mandarina hops – which might be why it tastes so…

Orangey. I looked up the bottle label and, on there, it’s advertised as an orange pale ale. This was not indicated on the beer list’s description. That said “a hint of orange peel” and this is bright and orange from the very first taste. It’s very light, tropical, and has some sweet citrus notes – but the beer itself isn’t sweet. The finish is clean and just a hint dry. It’s very easy to drink. It’s light and breezy at 5.3% ABV and not really hoppy tasting at all.

Would I drink it again? Sure. But now that I know how very orange-tasting it is, I’m prepared to pair it with the right weather or food next time.

Review: Max’s Taphouse Sour Beer Festival

While drinking IPAs with a friend at Gilly’s several weeks ago, I lamented the lack of sour beers that day. Now, Gilly’s does have sours pretty often, but didn’t this day. And my friend says, “I think there’s a sour beer festival in Baltimore next weekend.”

I WAS SO IN.

I hadn’t been to Max’s in probably 10 years, so I didn’t remember anything about it other than the plethora of taps. There are 102 of them to be exact. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The sour beer festival took place on Monday, February 20th – President’s Day. I may not celebrate the holiday, but I’ll celebrate some great wild ales or sour beers!

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We got there early – 11am – and grabbed one of the very last tables. The Belgian Beer Festival, which took up the previous three days, often results in a line out the door before the doors open. I’m grateful my friend knew that arriving early was the right choice. There were pencils and paper slips on every table along with a massive list of beers (on something like 18″ long sheets of paper) and my goal was to pick several, take my paper to the bartender, and get my many small tasters. It was possible to get full pints, but I was in it for the variety.

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Unfortunately, the bartender said she handed my my tasters in the order I wrote them, but some were almost certainly mixed up. I did my best to sort the mess out, but my notes on these beers are all wrong, so this review is moot. I had a great time trying 8 different sours that day and, while the crowds weren’t exactly to my liking, I would definitely go back and do this again next year.

 

Review: BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse

Let’s be 100% honest here: it doesn’t matter which of the BJ’s locations I was at because they’re a chain and chains strive for consistency above all else. Not that that is inherently a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a big key to success in places like Starbucks (notice how they all look pretty much the same no matter where in the country or world you are?) and other big companies. BJ’s has 192 locations in 24 states. They’re pretty sizable. But the good thing? They don’t feel too much like a big chain.

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I’ve been to a few Happy Hours here and the deals are good: $1 off drafts, $2 off select appetizers, and half price 4″ deep dish pizzas. There’s always a selection of their 11 house beers/cider plus a bunch of guest taps. This is the sort of place with something for everyone.

I started with the Nutty Brewnette as I was in the mood for a brown or amber ale. Something slightly sweet. It was rainy and cold and an IPA just didn’t feel right. This beer is a medium chocolate-brown with just a little light passing through around the outer edges of the glass. It comes with a little over a finger of foamy, cream-colored head. This fades quickly, leaving slight traces of lacing behind. It smells nutty, toasty, sweet, and with a hint of cocoa maltiness to it. The taste is sweet on the palate, but it is easy to drink. Not overpowering in any way. Clocking in at just 5.9%, this is a balanced brew that’s not too heavy on alcohol/heat like some browns I’ve tasted can be.

BJs Nutty Brewnette

The Jeremiah Red was next (see? I just wasn’t feeling straight up IPAs that day). This is called an Irish Red Ale, which tends to be a little sweet, but with some hoppy dryness that almost comes off like tea sometimes can. This beer arrived a medium red-amber with golden hues, through which light passes pretty well.

Jeremiah Red

I think I take a lot of stock of this whole light thing because I had an ex who said that a sign of a good beer was one that was totally opaque. He was a stout drinker through and through and rarely strayed when it came to style. I’ve since opened myself up to tons of different beer types and don’t really have a litmus test for “good beer.” Other than that I like it, that is.

Anyway, Jeremiah Red has almost no nose, in part because it’s served quite cold (as all BJ’s beers are). There’s maybe  a whiff of something bready there. Its taste starts sweet with a nice hop finish. There’s caramel and brown sugar sweetness throughout this thing. At 25 IBU, it’s not really bitter at all. Very middle of the road. It stands up to food and I feel like anyone could enjoy this with a meal.

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Review: Diamondback Wack

Another Gilly’s review (you think they’d be a sponsor of mine by now or something) – and a quick one at that. Diamondback Brewing Company is Baltimore based and has been brewing since 2013. They’re based out of a handsome brick building in the Locust Point area of the city, just off of I-95. And yet I haven’t visited them so far. We’ll have to change that.

Their standard brewing lineup favors IPAs and pale ales, but they definitely went outside of their comfort zone with Wack. This is a weird one: a black gose (which I will admit that I had never heard of before). A black gose’s signature color is dark and this comes from the malts used to brew it. In the case of Diamondback Wack, these are Midnight Wheat and Dark Chocolate Malts. The hops used are Ella (which I’m not really familiar with), and the yeasts are a house yeast for Diamonbdack as well as additional lactic acid.

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I had a 10oz pour this particular Monday. It was a deep, dark brown color with a hint of ruby hue to it. There’s not-quite-a-finger of tan head, which vanishes quickly.  I didn’t get much of a nose off of this, probably because it was very cold. There might be a slightly zingy and sour smell and – I know that this sounds odd – I could swear that it smells slightly salted.

It’s malty for a few moments up front, roasty but not sweet at all. There’s a great deal of complexity in this beer. Diamondback’s website says it’s brewed with coriander, which is part of the nutty, layered flavors. It’s very sour. It has a nice pucker punch to it. The salty finish is also pleasantly strong, which is a great taste for a gose – very signature of this beer style. Even when I lick my lips after, they’re still sour and salty tasting. This is a style of beer that I love and this was a really good example of what I think it can be should be.

Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Yes, I am aware, you cannot drink a book. We’ll get back to beer reviews soon enough. But today, something a little different: a book review.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage is not a new book and most people to whom I sing its praises have at least heard vaguely of it. It’s no wonder: the first fifteen years of the new millenium saw a wave of culinary anthropology/history books hit mainstream shelves. The Food Network’s popularity may be partly to blame for this, but it’s certainly nothing to be unhappy about. If people develop a passion for food and reading and reading about food, I’m all for it.

History of the World in 6 Glasses

It is the year 2006. With farmers’ markets cropping up all over, a new generation of celebrity chefs hitting the airwaves, the slow food movement picking up steam, and more and more depressing news about the obesity and diabetes epidemics coming out all the time, people were rethinking their relationship with food for a number of reasons. The term Locavore would soon be coined and the anti-GM and organic farming movements were fairly well-established, even if not mainstream.

Enter Tom Standage, British journalist and history buff. Known for using historical analogies in writing about science and modern technology (see his more recent work, 2014’s, The Victorian Internet), Standage looked backwards at six beverages that deeply influence the development of both ancient and modern economies. Somewhat ahead of the curve (before Michael Pollan’s beloved The Omnivore’s Dilemma was released), he researched and penned a book that would teach a casual reader a little bit about economics and a lot of about food.

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image from prezi.com

A History of the World in 6 Glasses addresses the role that beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola played in the rise of empires, both ancient and modern. It is well-written and accessible and never really drags (unless you’re just not into non-fiction at all, and then perhaps this is not for you), though Standage’s style isn’t exceptionally humorous or light as some other pop culture historians’. This is not a deep dive history text, nor is it extremely focused on the beverages themselves as food items – rather, it skims the surface of world history using these drinks as focal points with which to examine macroeconomics.

I enjoyed the book thoroughly and found it to be a great beach read a few years ago. It’s never too complex and always stays relatable to the average reader. I highly recommend it to anyone with an itch to learn more about what we drink and why.

Review: Laughing Dog Pure Bred Citra

I found this bomber at a local beer and wine shop and, as a lover of citra hops (which have only been around since 2009), I had to grab it. Single hop citra forever! Tonight, I was making ramen (yes, I know it’s trash food, but sometimes I just love making instant ramen and adding a bunch of veggies or chicken or an egg or vinegared onions to). It’s comfort food and I have no regrets.

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An Idaho brewery (look, I can’t always drink local), Laughing Dog Brewery isn’t exactly a newcomer, having been in business since 2005. Still, I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of them before now. They love their dog, Ben, and some dog-themed beer names make their way onto their labels – like Pure Bred.

This beer pours a hazy golden straw color with warm undertones. It produces a light, fluffy head about one finger tall and leaves some serious lacing. There’s a hoppy nose that is green, floral, and herbaceous! There’s also a piney, resin smell, which I don’t think is necessarily signature for this hop.

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As far as taste goes, it is generally fresh and bright the way that Citra is meant to be. It’s green and dank up front with a bright passion fruit pop to it. There’s a slight biscuity-ness to the malt, which must be one of the pale malts based on its flavor profile. This is a nice change, season-wise, from heavier and sweeter winter beers – it’s perfect for the days that are warming up in spring time.

It’s a little dray and abrupt on the finish for me, but I would absolutely buy it again. For less than $10 a bomber, it’s a good deal in my mind.

 

 

Review: Elysian Bifrost Winter Pale Ale

It was Howard County Restaurant Week, I had a night off, and I was craving steak – the stars had aligned for me. I asked a few friends to join me for a lady date dinner, but, in my truest fashion, I arrived about 30 minutes early. Time for a beer? Time for a beer!

Centre Park Grill in Columbia, Maryland, has a decent beer selection and an excellent range of whiskeys and bourbons. Trust me, I love bourbon, but I was in a beer mood. I was even seated before my reservation time, so I didn’t have to sit at the bar (though I would have, even though it was near the front door on a cold night). Which is more depressing: sitting alone at a restaurant table or sitting alone at a bar?

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Elysian Bifrost Winter Pale Ale pours a hazy, orangey gold with maybe one finger of fluffy, foamy head. There’s some lacing to be found, but its staying power isn’t the greatest I’ve ever seen. The smell here is a lot of wet grains or cereal up front with some floral hops in the background. And I may be hallucinating some very faint citrus, but honestly I was second-guessing myself on that the whole time.

This beer leads with malty sweetness, which quickly fades into piney hops. There might be traces of coriander or nutmeg at work here, but just barely. This isn’t a strongly spiced winter ale. There is, however, a quick from that 8.3% ABV. The finish is just a tad dry, very gentle, and then ends on a sweet note. It has a robust mouthfeel and fairly low carbonation.

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Extremely drinkable, I do declare! But definitely seasonal, which is sad. I’d have this pretty frequently if I could find it. I’d absolutely buy this and keep it around at home for cold winter days.