Review: Manor Hill Sixfold

I recently started a new job and am trying to figure out where to go for beer after work and between 5 and my occasional evening appointments. Generally, I’m happy to buy beer to drink and review at home, but here is a small chunk of time to kill, so what better way to handle that than with a craft beer? Enter my old reliable, Gilly’s. It’s about halfway between work and my appointment, so it’s a fine place to camp out for a while.

This week, they had a selection from Manor Hill that I hadn’t tried before: Sixfold Imperial IPA. Coming in at 8.8%, this is no lightweight session beer!  Sixfold might be seasonal or a small run, but I feel like I’ve seen it listed on beer menus in the past. It was apparently originally brewed under the name of Hidden Hopyard: Volume 6 and strongly features Eureka and Equinox hops, which I don’t really know well. Manor Hill brews out of Ellicott City, MD, which is very close to me. Clearly, I’ll need to visit them sometime soon.

This came out a really lovely, rich amber-gold color with no head. There’s a little wisp of foam on the surface of the beer, but no lacing left behind as we go on. There’s not a strong nose to this beer at all; it’s perhaps gently green and floral if anything at all. I get some faint bread scents and maybe a hint of pine.

With the first sip, it’s clear that this Imperial IPA is jam-packed with flavor. Citrus and hops and resin and honey and freshly-baked baguette. Wow! It’s not dry in spite of being a decent 70 IBUs. It’s maybe even just a hint sweet and it’s fruity without being too refreshing. I know, that sounds weird. But it’s a good thing in this case. It’s not a super-bright, citrusy beer, but it’s spring-like and really delightful.

I’m absolutely going to keep an eye out for this one in the future! I’d have it again any day of the week. Five out of five delicious mugs!

Review: Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ale

This one was an odd duck. Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ale hails from Garratsville, NY and comes in cans. And, as you may recall, I’m a big fan of cans (even if they are kind of controversial in the beer world). This one traveled with me when I went to visit my father and my very ill mother near Philadelphia. I decided to try and tempt her to eat with baked treats, so I made some Chocolate Crinkle Cookies from Joy of Baking.

There weren’t any decent glasses to be found at my parents’ house, so I just drank this from the can like an animal. No regrets. The nose is yeasty, bready, and perhaps slightly herbal. It’s hard to sniff from a cold aluminum can, though.

The taste is very malty! I was definitely surprised. It’s still a little bit hoppy, too, but it’s malty up front. There’s something sweet about it that’s maple-like and warm. It’s malty on the back end, too. The hoppiness in this beer is so, so mellow and it’s not even slightly dry. The finish is clean and maybe a little bit sweet.

At 4.3% ABV, it’s an easy-drinking beer, but it’s far too malty to be really refreshing at the beach or during the height of summer. I’d definitely buy it again, but it doesn’t feel like a pale ale to me. It’s a pale ale for amber or brown ale drinkers. Four out of five.

 

Review: Ballast Point East to West IPA

Fresh out of undergrad in 2006, I packed up my life and moved to Japan to teach English for a year. Kind of crazy, sure, but I didn’t know what the heck to do with my life at that point (I had been so sure that I wanted to be an English professor and write and teach and then, while working on my senior thesis, I realized that it just wasn’t for me – so I felt totally lost) so I figured some adventure abroad would be the right choice. I spoke the language well enough to survive – and picked up a ton more through immersion – and was ready to give it a try.

Overall, it was a great year. My health, unfortunately, forced me to come home after just one year, when I had planned to stay for two to three. There are parts of me that regret not having more time there, but then my life would have turned out drastically differently… and I hate the What If game.

Ballast Point East to West IPA has been on a journey as well. It’s a collaboration between California-based Ballast Point and COEDO in Japan , and a close relative of another Ballast Point beer (West to East IPA), which uses sake rice and yuzu peel. This beer, however, uses the same recipe only with brown rice and Meyer lemon. It’s got some roots in Japan, but it’s been given a twist and a home back in the US.

I had this on draft at Frisco Tap House in April. It’s a deep goldenrod-colored pour that’s nice and clear in the glass. There’s no head, really, just a light smear of foam on top. There’s not much clinginess in that foam and so there’s no real lacing, either. The nose is bright, with citrus and floral notes. The hops smell is also fresh and fruity. This is, I think, what’s often referred to as “juicy.”

The taste is fairly tropical with a sharp brightness to it. That fruit-forward taste is balanced with just a hint of dankness from the hops. And there’s that late kettle addition of lemons, giving it a zippy flavor as well. The mouthfeel is light and the carbonation is fairly low.

I think it’s great for a warm, sunny spring day. I’d happily drink this all summer long. It’s just my speed. I sometimes like a big, piney hop flavor, but a nice fruity IPA can win my heart, too. Five out of five.

Beer Pairings: Dice

You read that right. I’m talking about little plastic geometric shapes with numbers on them. The ones that you roll for board games. The very same.

Please don’t eat them! This isn’t that kind of beer pairing.

To me, few things go better together than rolling some dice and drinking some beers. In case I haven’t yet been explicit about it: I’m a huge nerd. Every Sunday, I get together with some folks to play a few hours of Dungeons and Dragons. A few times a year, I also play some other tabletop RPG systems as well. I even run a game for my friends now and again.

Yeah. You heard me. I’m that kind of nerd. The kind your mother warned you about.

  

Board games, pencil and paper RPGs, video games – it’s all good by me. And these already great things can be vastly improved through the addition of a good brew (or two). So support your local breweries as well as some indie game makers and plan out a game night with friends soon. Embrace your inner nerd!

 

Review: Captain Lawrence Barrel Select Green

Can I just say: the soundtrack at Gilly’s is always so, so good (even on the days where one of the bartenders gets a wild hair and plays nothing but Phish – this is rare, but it does happen – be warned). There’s always lots of classic rock or indie playing. This day, the siren sounds of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream were a treat for my ears. I love that song and it even inspired a short story of mine (heyyyyy anybody want to buy a 6,000 word time travel/Weird West tale?). Anyway.

The Captain Lawrence Brewing Company brings us the Barrel Select – Green, a sour ale with a nice flavor to it. This beer is a blend of several brews, which are being aged in Italian oak barrels, some for up to three years. It sports a low IBU (bitterness rating) of 15 and a moderate ABV (alcoholic percentage) of 6.5%. The taste, however, isn’t quite what I had expected.

I had this in a 10oz tulip glass at Gilly’s (I love those 10oz pours so that I can try even more beers!). It’s an faintly orange  golden color that is very appealing. It is slightly hazy in appearance, but I can’t be confirm on the brewery’s website if this beer is filtered or not; other reviews talk about its haziness as well, so this is a feature, not a bug. It has a very small, whitish head with a few streaks of lacing to be seen. There’s not much nose to it. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of flavor, but I do tend to like sours/wild ales that also have a sour smell to them. This does not have that, though it smells faintly of green apple to me.

Upon tasting, there is no sour punch. I was bracing for one, but this didn’t deliver – not much of a surprise considering the lack of a strong smell. It is, however, gently bright and fruity. It’s crisp. It feels more like a dry cider than a beer to me. The carbonation is pretty high on this one. It’s refreshing.

This could be a very enjoyable beer for someone intimidated by too much sourness in a beer. It might go over well with dry cider drinkers. It’s very drinkable and wonderful for warm weather. Three out of five glasses, mostly because I was looking for a greater saturation of flavor in this one.

Review: Old Dominion Grapefruit Pale Ale

Old Dominion Brewery started life as a humble brewery in Ashburn, VA, way back in 1989 (this is fairly old by craft brewery standards, considering that much of the craft movement didn’t gain traction until the 2000s). They lovingly crafted beer and sodas for many years, supplying the Mid-Atlantic with reputable products in bottles and kegs. In 2007, they joined up with Fordham brewery out of Annapolis, MD – and in 2009, the breweries consolidated and moved their base of operations to Dover, Delaware. These two breweries are partners with the Rams Head Tavern in Savage, MD, who keeps several of their beers on rotating taps at all times.

I was meeting friends for dinner at Rams Head one April evening and, as per usual, I was heinously early. I grabbed a pint of this Grapefruit Pale Ale, their summer seasonal, which had just premiered earlier that week. Worth noting, I really don’t like trying to snap pictures of my beers in this venue because the lighting is so dark and kind of red-orange saturated. It doesn’t make for good photography.

This is (probably) a pretty, honeycomb gold color (again, those lights make it hard to tell) with a fluffy, off-white head on its beery shoulders. There’s plenty of full-bodied lacing remaining inside of the glass as the head settles. The nose is faintly hoppy, fairly grainy, and with some light notes of citrus fruit in it.

The bartender described it as “bright” and I agree: it’s very easy to drink and nicely crisp. Now, I don’t really usually like grapefruit anything, so this beer was kind of a risk – but it paid off. It’s great served cold on a warm day. It’s a little piney and reminiscent of an IPA in that way. The finish is a little dry (probably the number one complain that I make on this blog…), but not so dry that I’d never get this again. I think I would order it in the future, especially to support local craft beer.  Four out of five frosty mugs!

Review: Green Flash Sea to Sea Lager

San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Co. is best known for their West Coast IPA, which I’ve seen in bottles and cans and on tap here in Maryland. Many years ago, I tried their West Coast IPA and, not yet being a hops fan, didn’t find it to my liking. I need to put it on my To Drink list. They’ve been around since 2002 and it was that aforementioned IPA that really put them on the map. They’ve been reaping craft brewing awards regularly since then.

Today, we’re going to take a quick look at what a Zwickel lager is… other than just being what the Sea to Sea Lager is classified as. The German Zwickelbier is a subset of the Kellerbeir (cellar beer), which is a kind of unfiltered lagered that tends to be low in carbonation and high in vitamins (from the boatloads of yeast found in it). It’s traditionally unbunged (that is, left open to the air) and fermented in deep vaults or cellars. The Kellerbeir is an old style of beer, from the Middle Ages, and the Zwickelbeir is its more modern, more subtle cousin.

The can says, “Unfiltered crisp” which has my attention; I like both of these things. I poured this from a can into a pint glass, revealing a really lovely orangey/warm yellow color. My notes say, “looks very carbonated,” but I now believe that what I was seeing was a slight haze from being unfiltered. There’s minimal head here with just a touch of lacing.

It smells bright, wheaty, citrusy, and with a rich, herbal hop impression (this last part is probably the Saaz hops, which I don’t know well). There’s even a slightly sour smell that makes me think of lemon.

The taste is very crisp with a moderately dry finish on the tongue. There’s something like a light, white bread taste to it, but I don’t really detect much maltiness to speak of. For perhaps a second, it reminded me of a gose, but it is, in fact, neither sour nor salty. Those herbal, floral-tasting hops are nice and mellow.

I don’t know that I love the drier finish after a few sips.  For me, a too-dry finish can ruin an otherwise delightful beer experience. This beer really delivers on the crispness that it promises, but something about the finish left me wondering about a glass of water for my parched-feeling tongue. I’d probably buy it again and drink it extremely cold. 4 frosty mugs out of 5.

Review: Stillwater Artisanal Classique

The last time that I had a Stillwater Artisanal brew, it was from a bomber that I bought while in Portland, Oregon. That’s a little far to have traveled for a local beer. So, close to home again, I picked up another of their beers. And, I have to state the obvious here: their label art is always eye catching to me. It’s great design work.

Classique – which calls itself a Post-Modern Beer, but, let’s be honest here, is a farmhouse or a saison – pours a beautiful golden color that looks slightly hazy to me. There’s two generous fingers of fluffy, white head that falls pretty quickly after pouring the beer out into a pint glass. I didn’t see any lacing on this one. While pouring, I get a big, biscuit nose and some yeast funk from this. With a deep sniff, nose in the glass and everything, there are even some lingering notes of tropical fruit and a whiff of some malted grains as well.

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The taste is bigly yeast funk right up front. It’s light and kind of dry with something that makes me think of pink peppercorns. There’s even a light lemon tartness there. Toward the end, there’s a kind of “heat” sensation that I often get from Belgians. The mouthfeel is pretty light, with decent carbonation. It’s crisp and drinkable in general, but there’s this dryness in the back of my throat that I don’t love. Not bad, not great. I don’t think I’d buy this again, though. 3 mugs out of 5.

3 Mugs

Review: Union Craft Brewing Rye Baby IPA

Frisco’s, a favorite of mine, has a fun new machine. It means you can get any of their beers on tap and take two pints home, sealed airtight in a big, tall, silver can. This changes things! I’m just one person and I can’t always finish a growler in the two days before the beer loses its freshness/carbonation. This can is just 32oz ad that I can handle solo.

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Well, I cracked that thing open one evening – after about two days in my fridge – to test it out. Union Rye Baby IPA pours a rich, warm honey color with coppery hues. There’s a light cream-colored head that is fluffy and a little over one finger high with some sturdy lacing.

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It smells hoppy right up front, green and foresty, with maybe a little bit of pine resin to it. There’s maybe something a little fruity, as well. The piney nature of the nose gives me a strong idea of a west coast influence.

The taste is good and rye for sure! Rye IPAs ted to be malty in my experience, often showcasing the rye malt flavor profile. This, however, is hop forward, but with a sturdy malt backbone. It’s not a palate wrecker, but it skews a little better (though pleasantly so to my tastes).

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There’s a dry, bitter finish, but not a lingering, unpleasant aftertaste. Though, as it warms, the bitter flavor does get a little more zingy. Still, two whole pints of it in one evening was a pleasant experience. I’ve seen this come up on menus since then, and hopefully will continue to see it more in the future because I’ll absolutely order it.

Beer 201: Tetrahydropyridine

I like to call this one, “Excuse me, waiter? There’s some Cheerios in my beer.”

Time to drop some knowledge. So, remember the sour beer festival that I went to a few months back? Well, I ran into something that I hadn’t really been able to pin down before: sometimes, some sour beers tasted… weird. There was an aftertaste there. Something wheaty and kind of unpleasant. But I couldn’t place it.

Then my friend M said, “Ew, this one tastes like Cheerios” and everything fell into place. Cheerios! That was exactly the weird taste that I’d been getting! But what the heck would cause this kind of strange flavor that, in my opinion, clearly didn’t belong there? It was time for some Google fu.

There is a chemical compound called Tetrahydropyridine, produced by some yeasts*, that is responsible for this imperfection in the flavor of beers – and it is generally considered by brewers and wine makers (who battle this off flavor, too) to be a flaw. Brewers usually abbreviate it to THP (thank goodness, because that is not a word I feel like typing for a second time) and it is considered a ketone (which is something I actually know a bit about because of a diet I followed for years… ANYWAY). It is responsible for the Cheerios, biscuit/cracker, or – according to some people – urine-like “off” flavors in sour beers.

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What I have experienced the most is a Cheerios/dry wheat taste on the back end of a beer taste or as an aftertaste that lingers. This is apparently a pretty common experience… except I’ve read that not everyone is able to detect this funky flavor. The acidity/low pH of sour beers can mask or overwhelm the flavors (and usually the aroma, too) of THP. Since everyone’s tongue has a slightly different natural pH level itself, some folks’ mouths will cause an increase in the pH of the liquid and they will be able to taste the THP’s effects; some people’s natural pH levels won’t cause enough of change in the beer to reveal this flavor. I have a pretty attuned palate, generally speaking, so I’m not surprised that I’m sensitive enough to detect this kind of weirdness.

It sounds like aging beers will reduce or remove this flavor, in bottles, kegs, or fermenters. But this can take a few months’ time and small breweries, especially, don’t have the money or time to just sit on a beer – they have more beer to make and ship as soon as possible. I would bet money that sour beers from smaller breweries with more limited storage are more likely to have this problem.

Now, I wouldn’t say that this is a common problem; most sour beers I’ve tried don’t have this flaw. But the ones that do? Well, they stick out in my memory as being particularly off-putting. Would I send back a beer with this taste? Probably not. But I also just might not finish the glass and move on to something else.

*Brettanomyces, which is popular for sour beers and wild ales, is a common culprit for producing THP. Lactic Acid Bacteria and Acetic Acid Bacteria can also yield the compound.