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.

Bar and Beer Review: Rams Head Tavern in Savage, MD

Here’s another bar and restaurant, tucked neatly into my back yard. Yes, readers, I am still on a quest to find My Bar. Will Rams Head Tavern in Savage Mill, MD fill that opening? That’s debatable. It has some highlights, but it doesn’t really have the right vibe for me to feel comfortable there all that often. For one, it’s pretty big. It’s a three story restaurant with many tables and a bar on the main floor, more tables upstairs, and then a basement pub all the way downstairs. I’m usually a fan of cozier set ups than that.

The food is decent, though maybe a few dollars more than I generally like to spend. I’ve only been there on weekends, so I haven’t been able to take advantage of any happy hour specials (which include $3 draft beers and some free appetizers on weekdays from 4-7). Their house beers come from Dominion and Fordham Brewing in Delaware.

I grabbed a seat at the bar ahead of some friends (I’m chronically early everywhere) and was taken care of by the bartender, Mike, who I quizzed on their relationship with Fordham. As he explained it, neither Rams Head nor Fordham owns one another, but that they sort of grew up together in the Annapolis location and are now considered partner businesses.

They look like they carry at least six Fordham beers at any given time, plus about a dozen guest taps. The manager, whose name I didn’t catch, told me they have “hundreds” of bottles. Now, I’m a draft girl most of the time, but I may need to explore this in the future. Plus, on the first Thursday of every month, a new beer is released and a promotional pint glass is part of the deal (first beer is $5, you keep the glass, and refills are $2).

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My friends and I feasted on crab dip and Old Bay dry rub wings that night and, I have to say, the food was solid.

Fordham Wisteria Wheat

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This draft beer pours a clear yellow straw-like gold, so I figure it must be a filtered wheat beer. No head was present when I got this beer, but there was some mild, creamy lacing. The low light may have obscured the color of the lacing (and maybe even the beer a little). Mike said its taste trends toward banana and clove, which I like very much in wheat beers.

There’s a definite bread or grain smell with some light banana notes. There’s also a yeasty zing to the scent. It has a very light and crisp taste that mellows into banana bread and clove, just as promised. I would call it very crushable.

Crash Zone IPL

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This beer looks like an amber with a rich, creamy-looking head. There’s not much nose here, maybe a little hoppy, with some sweet grains. It smells like an amber to me. And it tastes a bit like a hoppy amber as well. The aftertaste is a little dry to the point where the finish of this beer makes me want a tall glass of water or something else on my palate. I tried a sample and I wouldn’t order a full pint.

Gypsy Lager

This is perhaps their flagship beer as well as the one I am most familiar with. I also happen to really like it. It’s solid. Pours a light golden brown. It’s clear with minimal head. It’s a very easy drinking beer. It’s mild, crisp, and refreshing when cold. Even after warming up a bit, it’s still really solid. Not impressive or special, but a genuinely good go-to.

Fordham IPA

Here’s a short review for you (because I didn’t care for it and also because I was enjoying my night with friends and not taking many notes at this point): it’s too dry and bitter for me. There’s a very dry finish. As it warmed (and as I got more inebriated), it became a little less overstated and a little more drinkable.

 

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…

 

 

 

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: Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison

Bend, Oregon haunts me. I did enjoy my short jaunt there about a year and a half ago, during which my friends and I tried at least two dozen beers across eight breweries. Two days wasn’t enough to see all of the places we would have liked, but it did give me a taste of the place: beautiful high plains country and mountain slopes as far as the eye could see. It was peaceful there. Peaceful and full of beer.

 

Worthy Brewing hails from Bend, like so many other wonderful small breweries do. Like several other of the beers that I’ve had this trip, they call the central Oregon town home. In this way, I swear, Bend is haunting me. I just keep arbitrarily grabbing beers that piqued my interest and they turned out to be Bend natives.

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Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison was another off-the-shelf pick from the Belmont Station bottle shop. It is a seasonal brew, available from June through September, and Worthy calls it a Belgian-style ale. A Saison beer is generally a French or Belgian spring-time brew using a European Pilsner malt. They were traditionally made in a farmhouse brewery to quench the thirst of the farmhands that would populate the farm in the summer. It tends to be low ABV (alcohol level) often made with local yeasts and other local ingredients, giving each take on a Saison a unique flavor profile.

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This beer poured out a beautiful golden hue from a 22oz bomber and into a pint glass. It featured a lacy white head, which dissipated very quickly. I really was taken by the color. It had a slightly sour, funky nose to it. Maybe a little fruity and a bit grainy-smelling. The first sip was very highly carbonated to me, featuring only a very, very faint hint of banana and clove essence. It was a touch bready-tasting. There were notes of peppercorn and fresh, green grass.

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It was very drinkable, very enjoyable, nice to sip on over a few hours while watching a movie with friends. It warmed up nicely, continuing to be pleasantly grainy. I suppose I have to say that I wanted more banana and clove taste from this beer. It’s personal taste, but I really like the banana flavor profile that a lot of Saisons tend to bring to the table. This may be because I am allergic to bananas and this is the only way I can get my fix, but I still just like the taste of them. So, I guess, Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison is solid, but maybe just a little lacking in depth of flavor.

 

 

 

Review: Burnside Brewing Company Sweet Heat

Back to local Oregon beers with this one. In fact, this one was brewed only a few miles from my home base in Portland, OR. Burnside Brewing Company is based in the heart of Portland and runs a 15 barrel business, allowing them to make a few flagship beers along with some regular experimental brews, 7 days a week.

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Sweet Heat was a suggestion from James, my host for my Portland stay. He said that this was one of his favorites from Burnside, so I knew I had to give it a try. What kind of a guest would I be if I turned down his hospitality? So we split a 22oz bomber of this brew while we both did some work on our respective computers and, I have to say, it really grew on me from the first sip onward.

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Sweet Heat is an unfiltered wheat beer that’s made with apricots and dry-hopped with Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers. Poured from a 22oz bomber bottle into a pint glass, it was a pale golden yellow (not hazy, though) with minimal white head. It has a sweet nose (you can really smell the apricots) and makes for a sweet few first sips, too. There is a touch of tartness from the fruit, but it is mostly just sweet (though never cloyingly so) with a heat that really starts to build up.

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That sweetness begins to mellow after about half of a pint and that’s when the heat of the Scotch Bonnets really starts to kick in. It’s a heat that lives in the back of the throat, hot but never overwhelming to me. I really like spice, though, so I may be a touch biased on this one. Scotch Bonnets clock in at 100,000 – 350,000 units on the Scoville Scale (the standardized measure of spiciness for peppers). By comparison, a jalapeño pepper ranges from 2,500 – 8,000.

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This beer is exceptionally well-balanced in my mind. The sweetness is never overwhelming and the heat builds but doesn’t numb or mess with the taste of the beer. It remains light and refreshing throughout the entire drink, even in spite of the spice. I’ve had a lot of spicy beers before and few have remained this enjoyable to drink over the duration of the pint. I think this one is a summer seasonal, so it may be hard to find for a few months. But be sure to add it to your to-buy list for the next time it rears its head.

 

Review: Against The Grain Citra Ass Down IPA

Maybe it’s a little odd that I went to Oregon, seeking local beers, and ended up buying one from Louisville, KY. But hey, weird things happen… and my beer selections during this Portland trip continue to get weird.

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Ciara Ass Down by Against the Grain brewery is a double IPA that comes in a can. When I saw the name of it as I browsed the beer selection at Belmont Station, I giggled to myself and moved on. But then I doubled back to that beer and decided to give it a go. I’ve learned from some experimental, small-batch, single-hopped beers that I really like the flavor profile of Citra hops.

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Ciara hops are a relatively new varietal on the market. Introduced in 2008, they are a hybrid of a number of different hops. They’re very strongly citrusy and tropical in taste.

Poured from the can to a pint glass, Citra Ass Down was a beautiful medium golden yellow color with a delicate light tan head that dissipate quickly, leaving some lacing behind. It had no strong nose that I could detect, maybe because it was quite cold when I poured it. It was floral and sweet, with the Citra hops standing front and center, as they should be.

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It’s a Double IPA, so it had a higher ABV than a lot of the other beers I’d been drinking. At 8.2%, it was very easy to drink, which is maybe its great danger. The Citra hops keep the taste light and never too sweet and heavy like some DIPAs. I have to say, though, from experience: this beer does not pair well with candy corn.

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But then, what does? I spent Halloween night sipping on Citra Ass Down and watching old episodes of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? together with my friends – a really perfect way to spend some time.

Review: BTU Brewery and Brasserie in Portland, OR

I’ll admit that I, personally, wouldn’t have thought to pair Chinese food with a brewery, but BTU proved to me that this is a concept that really works. Located in the Rose City Park area of Portland, BTU Brasserie and Brewery is next to a Thai restaurant by a fairly residential neighborhood. Its interior is set up, seating-wise, more like a bar that happens to serve food than it is like a restaurant, and so I couldn’t help but worry that the food would be mediocre fare, sacrificed to make the beer shine. Myself and two friends, S and J, grabbed a corner booth and got cozy with the menu.

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Photo by Rafael G via Yelp

There were eight beers on the menu at the time: the Brumanator (a strong, dark ale brewed with rye and blood orange), the Jade Tiger IPA (an American-style IPA), the BTU Lager, the Horned Hand (a dopplebock), the Imperial Red, the Wet Tiger IPA (their Jade Tiger, brewed with mosaic hops), the Ghostman White Lager, and the Buttah-Nut Gose (a tart ale made with butternut squash and sea salt).

As a team, the three of us ordered 5 of these selections and I stole a sip from each of them to taste. We also ordered a selection of food (not as much as we would have liked, which would have been all of the food on the entire menu). As a table, we shared Sichuan chicken (delightfully spicy at medium level heat), Copper Well Noodles with chicken (tofu was another option), Pork Bao Buns (like make-your-own little tacos!), and Garlic Chive Dumplings (amazing, savory, meaty, with a great dipping sauce). Most of the dishes are or could be made vegan, which is definitely a must in Portland.

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Bao Buns with Pork

The Wet Tiger IPA was my first beer of the night. An IPA brewed with mosaic hops (one of my favorite varietals), it was very refreshing and leaned toward sweet and lightly citrusy. It was maybe a little dry on the back end of the taste. A green-tasting, fresh sort of beer. I also had the Horned Hand myself, which was their higher ABV Dopplebock (8.5%, I think), and stood up well to the spicy Sichuan Chicken that we had tucked into by that point. It maybe grew a little sweet to for my palate once the food was done.

My friends ordered the Brumanator dark ale (a hint sweet, didn’t think I’d like it but I did, very dark/roasty/malty), the Buttah-Nut Gose (not overly sour, crisp, well-balanced saltiness), and the Imperial Red (smooth, slightly hoppy, not bitter, great mouthfeel and enough flavor to stand up to the spicy food).

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Photo by Chris B. via Yelp

We went on a Tuesday, which turned out to be all-day happy hour, meaning $5 dim sum dishes and $3 brews. Overall, everything was priced well, even before that discount. Perhaps more expensive than a traditional cart dim sum place, but not by very much. We stayed for two rounds of beer and talked about everything from football to writing to sewing. The restaurant grew busy around us with plenty of families with children filling it up; it grew noisy but never so loud that we couldn’t talk easily.

If I lived in the area (and wasn’t just visiting), I’d probably make BTU Brasserie and Brewery a pretty regular stop for small plates and beer. Especially with the happy hour prices, and all-day happy hour Tuesdays, it’s a wonderful local spot.

 

Review: Grupo Modelo Negra Modelo Lager

Go on, laugh if you’d like, but this particular beer was offered to me by a friend while she was building her annual Dia De Los Metros shrine to honor her grandfather and other friends who have left us. I can’t think of a better reason to accept the gift of beer, especially when it’s one that I’d never tried before in my life.

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As a middle-class white girl of dubious European heritage, I had almost no knowledge about Dia De Los Muertos, other than the translation to “Day of the Dead” and a vague understanding that it was to honor those who had passed on. There’s a lot more to it than that, or than just sugar skulls, flower crowns, and pretty skeleton face paint (we can talk about racism and cultural appropriation more another time – that’s a mighty big idea to conquer in a beer review post).

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Dia De Los Muertos, as it is today, has come from a mix of indigenous Aztec beliefs like the month-long festival of Mictecacihuatl, the tradition of The Lady of the Dead (which corresponds to the modern La Calavera Catrina), and Spanish Conquistadors Catholic traditions of All Souls/All Saints Days. One of the very common ways to observe the Day of the Dead is with an altar that combines both traditional and Catholic imagery, honoring those who have passed through the veil to the other side. It has nothing to do with American/European Halloween traditions.

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Perhaps the most popularized image of Dia De Los Metros is the fancy, painted “sugar skull” image. This originates from the the Calavera Catrina, which, in itself, was actually based in a piece of art by José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican Artist. Posada created the image of a beautiful skeleton woman as a sort of dig at the Europhile Mexican elite class during an era of dictatorship. It became a symbol of the Mexican Revolution in the early twentieth century.

The Calavera Catrina – the beautiful skeleton – is now a highly commodified and generally misunderstood image that makes companies quite a bit of money at this time of year. Even Starbucks is getting in on the profit-train. It’s not wrong to buy these things, exactly, but it is important to understand their cultural significance.

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Right. So. Beer.

Negra Modelo is technically a Vienna Lager style beer, but it is a darker red-brown color thanks to the roasted malts used to flavor it. It is, as the color suggests, malty and roasty. It’s a well-balanced beer that isn’t sweet and isn’t dry. It falls well into the category of easy-to-drink.

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I drank this one straight from the bottle, forgoing a glass completely. Maybe it was the gold foil over the cap, but the bottle felt sufficiently luxurious to drink from this time. It’s different from what Americans call a cerveza-style beer, even though the Mexican-Spanish word for beer is just straight-up “cerveza.” I enjoyed this beer with friends and a feast of fajita burrito fixings that myself and my friend prepared.

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As for me, I’ll take beer, a cultural lesson, and some burritos any day of the week.

 

Review: Deschutes Hopzeit Autumn IPA

Ahh, another Oregon beer! It’s from Bend again. That town just has its beer culture together, you know? I wish it weren’t quite so middle-of-nowhere or I could see myself living among the mountains and breweries happily. We writers can do well with a lot of solitude but I find that I’m happiest not to far from a small-to-medium-sized city.

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Anyway! Beer! The Hopzeit Autumn IPA!

On another grocery run to pick up  pumpkins to carve and some more dinner-making ingredients (chicken and rice soup this time), I thought I’d grab another six-pack to check out. The words “Autumn IPA” caught my attention – why, those are two of my very favorite things! How did they know? I was amused to see the beer was from Deschutes Brewery.

In addition to being yet another Bend beer, Deschutes might be one of the best-known Oregon breweries in the states. Maybe my idea on that is skewed because of where I’m from, but Deschutes is very easy to get in the Washington, DC area year-round, both in bottles and on tap. Now, we only get a few kinds of their flagship beers (mostly the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale) but they’re available and craft beer fans know that they like it.

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Hopzeit Autumn IPA comes in a bottle (not a can like, say, GoodLife) and I picked up a six-pack of them at a Fred Meyer for about $9. It is described on the packaging as an IPA inspired by a traditional Märzenbier – again, two things that I like. Märzen style beers are often a bit on the malty side and while they are supposed to be crisp and refreshing (like a fall day), they can easily stray into the region of “too sweet.”

Before refrigeration, brewing beer in the summer months was a dangerous business – bacteria would run amok in the heat. Brewing season traditionally ended with the spring and resumed again in the fall. Much of the supply for the summer was brewed in the month of March (in German: Märzen) and kept in cellars for cold storage for a few months’ worth of drinking. The resulting Märzenbier tend to be amber to brown in color and have a rich, toasted malt base. In Bavaria and the rest of Europe, these beers have a higher specific gravity and a moderate alcohol content, while the Americanized versions sometimes rock a higher ABV.

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This Märzenbier/IPA fusion, to me, does the jobs of both beer styles reasonably well. I wouldn’t call it exceptional in either field, but it is an easy beer to drink and enjoy. The featured hops are Herkules, Sterling, and Hull Melon – none of which I am very familiar with, I admit. I poured it from a 12oz brown bottle into a pint glass. It’s a lovely medium amber color with a light tan head (I poured better this time than I did last time with the Descender IPA). The nose is a lot like a brown ale with almost sweet, brown sugary notes in it. Hint: it goes very well with making and eating chicken and rice soup.

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It tastes crisp and light and isn’t very hoppy at all, which I expected it to be with “IPA” in the name. The Hopzeit is smooth and easy-drinking like a Märzen is supposed to be. Again, I drank this maybe slightly warmer than intended but that brought out more of the smell and flavor than I might have otherwise gotten. It’s not at all sweet, in spite of the smell.  Perhaps it’s a little dry in the mouth, but it’s the kind of dry that I like and which is the signature of crisp, autumnal beer styles.

We also carved up our pumpkins that night. Can you tell that maybe, just maybe, this is the nerdy house on the block?