Review: Bell’s Amber Ale

I moved at the end of November after ending a relationship and setting out on my own, which mean that that month was a flurry of packing and throwing things out and donating other things and just general chaos. My whole life was in flux as I moved to another state.

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In times of madness, it’s sometimes nice to have something reliable to turn to. With my life in a series of cardboard boxes, I needed something refreshing and not too challenging to slake my thirst. After all, I’d been working hard all day!

This beer from Bell’s Brwery pours a beautiful, dark honey color into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint Glass. It has a fluffy off-white head that sticks around for several minutes and left some nice lacing behind. The nose features some roasted grains, something sweet like caramel, and maybe a little citrus or orange peel. There are hops there, but they’re really singing backup to the other smells.

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This is a very balanced beer with a slightly bitter kick at the end of the first taste. The finish comes off a little dry, but not enough to offend me. It’s pleasantly hoppy, with a malty sweetness that reminds me of toffee. I even get some hints of a crisp red apple from this beer. It’s a hoppy amber ale, which I definitely like. It has a lightweight mouthfeel with mild carbonation.

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Bell’s Amber Ale could absolutely be a solid, go-to beer for me. I recommend  it highly if you’re not feeling too adventurous and need to enjoy something refreshing.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 2

Continued from Part 1

On the Saturday that I visited for my brewery tour, I had the chance to try two more beers. One of those beers came free along with the brewery tour ticket, along with a Jailbreak pint glass. Bonus! I definitely recommend checking out the tour if you have about an hour, and I’ll be talking about some of what I learned in Part 3 on Friday the 10th.

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The first beer that I tried – when I’d arrived way too early for the tour (which I always, always do) – was their other amber ale, The Infinite. It pours a rich, red-brown color with a handsome, off-white head of about 1/2 inch. This leaves behind some rich lacing behind. It smells, to me, like caramel and some hops and maybe even with a touch of apricot as well.

The taste starts out very sweet, but then finishes dry on the palate. You also get the hops on the back end. And while I like hoppy reds and ambers, this one is maybe bordering on too dry for me. I still like it, but it is pushing its luck in my mind. It has a graham cracker-reminiscent sweetness to it – the plain kind, not that business with cinnamon sugar all over it.

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The second beer I had, after the tour had finished up, was the jalapeño IPA called Welcome to Scoville. It pours orangey gold with a very thin head that generates a little lacing over time. It smells like a broke spike of spice or heat, like a freshly cut open jalapeño pepper. It doesn’t have a bold flavor, though it’s maybe a little sweet, because it is primarily about the heat. And that heat grows as the beer warms up. There’s a sharpness to this beer that’s hot, but refreshing. Very different from smokier chipotle beers that I’ve had before.

Finally, there was a delicious steak and cheese sandwich! Jeno’s operated a food truck (parked in the handicapped parking spots, which I was very displeased about) out front, which served up a tasty sandwich that I would definitely buy again – after lodging a complaint with the brewery and the truck owners about their parking behavior.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 1

This past week, I spent two days at Jailbreak Brewery (which, it turns out, is really close to my house!). One day, I grabbed a few happy hour brews with a friend on Wednesday evening and then, when I learned they give tours of their brewing and canning operation, I bought a ticket and came back on Saturday. So maybe that makes me look like a bit of a lush – I can live with that! And I just moved and still need to find “my” local bar. Could it be Jailbreak? We’ll see.

I didn’t try every beer that they had available, but I did have quite a few different tasters and pints – so I’m calling this a review of the whole brewery, tour included (that will be in Part 3). And, heck, I’ll even throw in a food truck mention, too!

First point of order: $5 pints every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 3-6pm. Yes, please! Notably, they are only open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays thanks to some strange taproom-specific laws in Howard County, Maryland (which I have been having the darndest time pinning down with online research). Definitely worth at least checking out for that price.

The first beer that I tried was the Maple Ridge Amber Ale; I figured a nice, solid amber or red would be a good start. It pours a pretty golden brown color with a very clear appearance. There was no head on this beer, just a few webs of foam and a small ring of lacing on the inside of the glass, leaving behind very little lacing as I drink it down. I think I have the slightest cold – or maybe the nose on this beer is very faint? I get a little biscuity sweetness from it. No hops on the nose, which matches my idea of an amber ale profile. I don’t know if I’m smelling maple, per se, but I’m getting some burnt sugar on the nose.

The taste is malt-forward and sweet, both in the front and back of my tongue. There’s a heat that feels like it’s from the alcohol, though it clocks in at just 5.4% ABV. As it warms, it gets more bready and graham crackery and that warm sensation keeps up. That burnt sugar or maple taste hangs on, too. It’s a very pleasant beer, but it skews quite sweet.

Next, I asked for a taste of two of their IPAs: Poor Righterous American IPA and Ephemeral Vol. 1 New England IPA.

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First, the Ephemeral. It smells piney, resinous, but maybe a little sweet. There are some notes of bright orange and fruit. But wow. Wow. Holy wow, that is hoppy. It’s a palate wrecker and I just can’t do it. It’s dry and a punch in the face. It tastes like hay to me. It is not my thing at all.

Next, the Poor Righteous has a very dank, wet pine floor smell to me. Seriously, it smells like how I imagine licking the floor of a pine forest must taste. And yet, somehow, it makes me want to try doing just that. It tastes very hop-forward, very green, yet still a little dank. It has a slightly dry finish, but isn’t overly aggressive. Not a palate wrecker like its sibling, but bold and strong. I don’t know that I’d quite call it “drinkable” because it could maybe scare people off. It is hoppy, but not aggressively so.

Continued in Part 2…

 

 

 

Review: Goose Island Oktoberfest

If I had to pick one beer style to drink basically forever, I think I would have to go with Märzen. It’s generally a really well-balanced brew with some maltiness, but without being sweet and without being hoppy, either. One of my all-time favorite beers is Sam Adams Octoberfest; I used to buy a few cases of it in season and then store it for the spring and summer time to enjoy then.

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Goose Island Oktoberfest sounded like a beer that would suit my needs and wants! I’ve had the Goose Island IPA a thousand times at Capitals hockey games, but I couldn’t remember for certain if I’d had the Oktoberfest so I grabbed one from my local bottle shop and brought it home in a build-your-own-six-pack arrangement.

Poured from a bottle into a Perfect Pint Glass, this beer is a nice, strong, dark golden color. It has a decent off-white head that dissipates in a few minutes’ time.  It has a very bready nose, malty and sweet, very indicative of a classic Märzen.

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It is, as this style should be, balanced in flavor. It has a slightly sweet finish with maybe a hint of apricot or orange. It has, I would say, moderate carbonation and a good mouthfeel. It’s very mild on the hops front, really more malt-forward, but not sweet, really. I drank this while eating some spicy chicken fajitas that I’d made and the beer held up just fine against those – maybe fajitas aren’t traditional Octoberfest fare, but pretty tasty none the less.

Review: Port City Ways and Means

I had to run some errands in Crystal City/Arlington a few weeks ago and ended up with some free time between two appointments. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to grab some lunch and a beer! I was right near a place I’d been once before, Highline RxR, which had a decent beer selection. I was hungry as heck and walked by their place, where an outdoor sign proclaimed that it was Taco Tuesday – they won me over so fast.

With a list of 32 craft beers on draft, Highline strikes me as a place with a lot of potential. I went to a birthday party there a few years ago and enjoyed good beers, decent food, and some of the board games that they keep in house for entertainment. It’s kind of inconvenient to get to, and in a more city-like area than I prefer (meaning I may have to pay for parking, which I take as a deep, personal offense).

I can’t remember my first choice of beers, but they didn’t have it, so the waiter suggested Port City Ways and Means, which I’d been eyeing up as well. Easy-peasey. It pours a handsome, rich golden hue that was maybe just a little bit hazy. It has almost no head, just a smattering of white across the top of the beer, which stuck around as I drank the beer down.

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It struck me as a sort of tropical, fruity smell, sweet, with a mild hop smell. I think there’s some orange in there, too. It has a bright, hoppy taste with a dry, slightly bitter finish. It tastes balanced at first, but ends up being a little drier than I prefer my beers to be. It’s bright and easy to drink, but I just don’t like that finish at all.

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I liked it less and less as it warmed up. That dryness just came forward more and more. It was a fine beer, I guess, but I wouldn’t order it again. It was refreshing, paired with an order of chicken tacos. For $8 for three beef, chicken, or fish tacos (or a selection of all three), Taco Tuesday is a solid deal.

Review: New Belgium Brewing Company Fat Tire

If you’re on the east coast like me, this is a pretty prevalent beer. It’s easy to find six packs of it, even in convenience store fridges, and it’s not hard to locate it on tap at many bars. Even if you’re at a dive bar or sports bar, which may not serve the widest variety of brews, Fat Tire is becoming a more common option on draft. For me, it’s a solid go-to beer in bars that I might otherwise be very unhappy in.

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New Belgium Brewing Company, based out of Fort Collins, CO, has been brewing since 1991. They opened a second location in 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina, a notoriously beery town. This opened up their ability to distribute in the east and southeast of the US and the beer has spread like wildfire since then. As of October 2016, New Belgium beers are available in 45 states.

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It pours a dark golden color with a slight reddish hue to it. There’s a small, off-white head that sticks around for some time. The beer smells grainy and bready to me, but doesn’t have a particularly strong nose to speak of.

The taste is malty and balanced with almost no hops at all. It’s sweet (but not cloying or unpleasant) with caramel and toffee notes. I’d say that the mouthfeel is a little on the thin side and with a higher carbonation level. It paired well with chicken breast roasted with Turkish spices (garlic, cumin, oregano, paprika, and sumac) and some roasted root vegetables. I’d say it stood up fine to some of those stronger flavors and continued to be refreshing as it warmed up.

Review: Founders Porter

My house is full of birds. No, really. This isn’t a euphemism for anything. There are seriously just a lot of birds in my house right now.

I’m currently bird-sitting for a friend, so I’ve got two more birds in addition to my usual two. That’s 100% more birds! And one of them (Stewie, the beautiful yellow-orange bird) is a screamer. My poor ears. In all of the chaos of packing up to move house and being screamed at all the time from 5:30 am until about 8 at night, I needed something reliable.

In my county in Virginia, it isn’t always easy to get the best variety of craft beer. Founders, though, abounds here. They’re a given. I hadn’t had a Founders Porter in a year or two, but something felt comfortable about this beer, which I used to drink when I clung dearly to dark beers and didn’t try a lot of varieties. Hey, I was still learning! I got better!

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I know that I loved Founder’s Breakfast Stout back in the day, but I just couldn’t for the life of me remember what impression their Porter had left on me. Well, there’s a reason for that: it’s just not very interesting.

It pours a brown so dark it’s almost black with a deep burgundy head that’s just barely there. A whiff of the beer gives off molasses, bread, and roasted grain notes. The taste is honestly a little metallic to me; this is something that I’ve noticed in a lot of porters, actually. Maybe it’s my taste buds interpreting something weirdly, but some porters taste a little like I’m licking aluminum foil. There are still hints of brown sugar and molasses on the back of my tongue. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but that’s kind of common with porters.

Generally, I’m unimpressed. I guess my inability to remember something interesting about this beer is due to it just being not interesting. 

Review: Dogfish Head Namaste White

It’s always good to have things that we know we can rely on. People we trust, that pair of jeans that always fits just right, cell phone service in emergencies. One of the things that I know I can rely on is the consistently good brews that come out of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. If you’re on the east coast, you’ve probably heard of them. They’re kind of a big deal in the craft brewing movement. They’ve been doing their thing since 1995 and, if you ask me, they’ve been doing it well.

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I grabbed a six pack of Namaste White recently at my local grocery store for $9, which is a price that I sure like. They’ve been brewing this beer since 2009, but I could swear that this is the first  time I’ve seen it for sale in a six pack in a grocery store fridge.

Poured from a bottle and into a Perfect Pint Glass (how I sing the praises of thee), this beer pours a light golden yellow color with a minimal head. It smells a little bready, a little citrusy, and there’s maybe some spice there, too – it could be the coriander that I’m smelling.

It’s a nice white ale with a light mouthfeel and an overall light taste. It’s has a grain taste to it, some orange, and a little peppercorn, too. I poured and drank it pretty cold, so it’s possible that I’m not tasting a ton of the subtler flavors. It wasn’t until the beer warmed up a little bit that I started to taste the peppercorn and spice as it came forward.

I enjoyed this beer while making a green apple and cherry chutney to enjoy in the cold weeks ahead. I feasted on a grilled cheese with my freshly made chutney for dinner and really like the refreshing nature of Namaste White with the vinegary, spicy flavors of the chutney.

Beer Review: Southern Tier Old Man Winter

Winter. I do not like winter. Every year, as spring and summer and fall go by, I seem to overlook how bone-shakingly cold it gets. Absence makes the heart grow… forgetful? Winter always slaps me across the face and surprises me with the first cold snap of the year. Today, I had to stop for gas while driving home from work and it was so cold and so windy that I very much needed something to warm me up.

A snack of salami and manchego and a beer sound like just the right way to enjoy watching an episode of Critical Role (a web series that follows a group of voice actors in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign – yes, I am exactly that kind of a nerd). I opened up a Southern Tier Old Man Winter, a winter ale, and got nice and cozy with my heat turned way up and a blanket draped over my shoulders.

This beer is a handsome brunette color with a light cream colored head made of fine, smooth bubbles, which is about one finger tall at its highest. This falls quickly enough, but leaves a lot of lacing behind when it does. It’s a good-looking beer and it smells warming to me, like brown sugar or honey. I’m not detecting any spices, but there are smells that speak to a rich, malty characteristic.

The first taste is like a scotch ale and there’s some decent alcoholic heat to this beverage. Clocking in at 7.5% ABV, this should come as no surprise. Still, it’s very balanced and inviting and it’s just a hair sweet. There’s a nice, clean finish without any problematic dryness. It’s roasty like dark cocoa or perhaps just a touch coffee-ish; there’s something that’s a hair bitter, but – again – it is very well balanced.

This is a very enjoyable sipping beer for a cold winter’s night. I’m so glad I bought a six pack to enjoy this month. A definite five out of five. 

Review: Hofbrau Münchner Hefe Weizen

This beer might be called  a happy accident. I used the shopping service at my local grocery store and, while I ordered the Oktoberfestbier from Hofbraü Münchner for myself, it turns out that the shopper accidentally grabbed the Hefe Weizen instead. Now, me? I didn’t notice the mix-up until I went to open the beer up a few days later. And, while I prefer Oktoberfest/festbier styles over Hefes, it’s still a style that I like well enough. So I went with it!

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Hefe Weizen beers are a type of German wheat beer that is made with at least 50% malted wheat (remember Beer 101: Malt?). It gets a lot of its punch from the yeast that is used, from the nose to the taste. “Weizen” means “wheat” and “hefe” means “yeast,” after all, so this beer strongly relies on those two elements to shape its flavor profile. The hefeweizen yeast style tends to create clove and banana notes in beer.

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It was poured from a green glass bottle into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint glass (more on that glass in a later post!). It was a light, cloudy golden color with a fluffy white head that sticks around for a good long while. It smelled lightly grainy with no spice or banana nose to speak of. It has soft flavors like banana, bread, grass, and lemon.

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Honestly, it is weakly flavored overall. I like my Hefe beers stronger than this with a lot of banana and clove flavor to them. So while I’ve got a six pack of these to go through, I’m not too unhappy about it. They lack something in flavor, but are definitely refreshing beers all the same.