Review: Southern Tier Porter

Sometimes, it’s nice to appreciate the simpler things in life. I’ll take a meyer lemon gose or a cardamom IPA or an espresso stout any day of the week and love that variety. But today, it’s back to basics: a simple, standard porter from Southern Tier. I love a good porter and was a loyal drinker of the style for many years. I’ve lately turned away from it and sought IPAs and more exotic beers – but today, I’ll return to my roots and put my fate in the hands of Southern Tier, a brewery that I’ve generally liked in the past.

Again, this is what I get for experimenting with different tea towels as backgrounds.

Poured from a bottle into a pint glass, this is a beautiful, rich, dark brown with a slightly auburn tinge to it. No light seems to pass through it. It has just the tiniest head of a lovely cream color – a puff that dissipates very quickly. There’s a small trace of an island of foam left behind, but it’s not much. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by some recent stouts and porters on nitro.

It smells roasty, like dark bread , dark chocolate, coffee, brown sugar, and raisin. It’s only 5.5% ABV, but it smells boozy to me. Maybe it’s that brown sugar and raisin smell that’s often associated with higher ABV dark beers and brandywines.

Honestly, the taste is really lacking the punch that the nose suggested there would be. It over-promises and vastly under-delivers. It’s a little watery and thin, as porters sometimes are (and which I do not care for). It’s not at all full-bodied in either flavor or in mouthfeel. It tastes the most like that raisiny booziness that I got off of the nose. There is some flavor from the dark, roasted malts, but it’s also distressingly thin. The carbonation is relatively low. And there’s something sticky about the texture.

It’s a fine enough beer, it’s very much signature of the style in many ways, but maybe it’s not the style for me any longer. I think I’d pass up this particular porter in the future. Three out of five mugs for me.

Review: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across the World Dry Hopped Berliner Weisse

Somehow, I had never heard of the Beer Camp project from Sierra Nevada. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock. If that’s the case, I still need beer for my dark, dank rock-home. Enter Gilly’s on a fateful afternoon when I went in for a pint and some bottles and stumbled into the Beer Camp Across the World promotion/tap takeover. I was given a little paper passport and told that if I drank seven of the BCAW beers, I’d get a prize (it was a Nalgene-like water bottle plus some stickers and sunglasses, I think). Even seven half-pints is a lot of beer and anyway I had a BBQ to hit later that day, so I couldn’t loiter all day and drink a bunch of beers.

I first tasted the the ginger lager and the Thai-style iced tea and they were both amazing. It was genuinely hard to choose. Then my next door neighbor recommended the Dry Hopped Berliner Weisse, which I had overlooked, so I gave it a try.

It’s a cloudy straw color with a slight foamy head. There’s a touch of lacing, but nothing very strong there. There isn’t much of a nose. Maybe there’s a hint of lemon peel or something else citrusy and similar. It smells sour. Can something even smell sour? I vote yes.

Its taste is not overwhelmingly sour, but it is absolutely packed with flavor. It’s zingy and gently wheaty up front, which makes sense because they use their in-house kellerbier/Hefeweizen yeast. The dry hopping definitely comes through on the back end of the taste with a nice, resinous green hint. It really rounds the beer out. It’s not just sour; it has layers. There’s no dry finish to be had, this is a very clean beer.

Would I buy this again? Over and over. I actually did buy the sampler case for BCAW this year and then brought it to a party and drank the whole thing with friends. So, sadly, no more BCAW beer reviews. You’ll have to forgive me. Five out of five mugs!

Review: Sam Adams Rebel Juiced IPA

I’m growing attached to Beers and Cheers Too in Gaithersburg. It’s very convenient to my work and their rotating tap selection is pretty varied most of the time. I went ahead and got my growler filled here again on a Friday. This time, I went with a brewery that I’ve learned to lean on when I can’t decide what I want: Sam Adams. They’re not exceptional, generally, but they’re very reliable. I hadn’t had this IPA before and I was in the mood for something bright and fruity, so this seemed like a good match based on the taste that I tried.

I had a pint glass of this at home that same evening and, as usual, made another somewhat sloppy pour from the too-heavy growler, full of beer. This picture and review are of the second glass, poured a day later, and which still tasted perfectly fresh after being open for a day. There was a finger of fluffy head on day two. There’s some strong lacing and a little wisp of foam that’s slow to fade away.

It’s very aromatic, I don’t even need to put my nose right up to the glass; I get tons of big, juicy, citrusy hops without getting in close. But when I do put my nose down to the beer, I get plenty of the same. It’s not a simple one-note orange smell, but lots of tropical fruit and citrus and even some green notes. Not dank green, not sharp or bright, but a fresh and somewhat grassy green.

The first taste is orange with maybe a little mango or pineapple flavor to it. Again, not one-note orange, it’s fairly complex. It’s very refreshing up front with some well-balanced hoppiness that’s a hint dry, but not more than I like. I’m very into the wide range of tropical and citrus flavors at work in this beer. I would buy it again for sure, but it’s nothing terribly risky from Sam Adams as citrusy IPAs are really having their day right now. This is a gentler IPA for the crowd that isn’t into too high an IBU rating. Four out of five for me.

 

Review: Deschutes Obsidian Stout Nitro

On this fateful day, I decided to try a new little bottle shop close to my work: Beers and Cheers Too in Gaithersburg, MD. They’ve got a decent tap selection for a smaller place as well as some bar, high top, and outdoor seating. I came for a growler fill but stayed for a pint.

And what a nice pint! They had several selections of stouts on nitro and, let me tell you, a velvety smooth stout or porter is a big hit with me. I trust Deschutes, they’ve knocked it out of the park with me plenty of times before, so I went in for this beer.

Obsidian Stout pours a beautiful, opaque, almost-black color with a silky tan head that’s about one finger high. It’s served up pretty cold, so I only got some slightly toasted grain and maybe a hint of cocoa notes. Also, maybe a warm, grain alcohol smell. Can something smell like that alcoholic heat? Maybe it’s whiskey that the smell reminds me of.

The first taste is a hint metallic, but immediately fades off into malty sweetness and roasted coffee. There’s a backbone of bitterness here and it’s like dark chocolate to me – and I love love love 70-80% dark chocolate bars (and cannot stand white “chocolate,” but that untruth which is perpetuated upon Americans regularly is a rant for another day).

This stout might have been a little watery were it not for the richness that the nitro brings to the table. It’s a little but thick, but never heavy. It’s such an excellent experience on nitro that I doubt I’d want to drink it any other way. Five out of five tasty beers for this one.

Review: Maine Beer Company A Tiny Beautiful Something

Gilly’s always smells like bacon and is full of good beer. Of course it gives me a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings. Some of that is nostalgia-based, as I spent many happy afternoons there a few years ago when I lived in the neighborhood. But is memory really all that reliable? How much can we trust our senses when viewing something through the lens of nostalgia?

I initially had this beer in 2015 and loved it – thank goodness for Untappd! Maine Beer Company’s A Tiny Beautiful Something set me down a path of pale ales that I might have otherwise ignored. I can’t point to one beer for sure, but this was definitely part of the crack team that got me to where I am today. It features El Dorado hops, which are a pretty young varietal, and which were fairly new to the scene in 2015, when I first learned about this beer.

It pours a rich gold, maybe slightly hazy. There’s one finger of white head, which shrinks away very slowly. It smells like a green garden with floral and piney hops. There are also scents of orange peel and something slightly earthy.

The taste is light and bright. It’s a little malt sweet, but it leans more toward caramel and orange than it does rich, brown sugar. I get some faintly peppery hints as it warms up. There are melon or berry notes that linger and, while there’s a slightly bitter note on the back end, it’s a very clean finish. It’s as good as I remember. Maybe we can trust in nostalgia after all. Five out of five.

Review: Trois Dames Sainte Ni Touché Saison

For my part, I was going out for a beer and to watch Caps vs Pens playoff game 5. I decided to don my red Holtby T-shirt and grab a drink at Frisco without realizing one key thing: it was also the Kentucky Derby that evening. So when I arrived, it was crazy-crowded. Luckily, I found one lone stool at the bar (it’s easiest to rad the beer list form the bar and the tasters come faster when you’re not waiting on a server to bring them). When I asked for a sour, I was offered this, but warned it was a little bit pricey ($10 for 10oz). One taste and I didn’t especially care about the check.

The look is a lovely, slightly hazy golden color with some warm, pink notes. There’s a little bit of large-bubbled foam on top, but not what I would call a stable head. Some of that foam grips the sides of the glass, but it’s not really true lacing, either. But it smells so sour and I’m so excited to try this.

While there’s that slight note of that infamous tetrahydropyridine, it’s present without being overpowering. Some sours are unbalanced with this chemical compound and come away tasting like grainy breakfast cereal – not here, though. Just a hint of grain. My notes on this beer read, “Zing. Pow. Huge taste!” There’s cherry undertones and some heat from the 9% ABV (this beer is not messing around). When I lick my lips, I’m still getting sour notes after.

As a sour fan, this Flanders Red is a joy to drink, even if it is a little pricey. It’s worth to me and I’d absolutely drink this again in the future. Five out of 5 delicious beers!

 

Bar and Beer Review: Mully’s Brewery

Located in a little industrial park in Prince Frederick, MD, Mully’s is nestled along the Patuxent River in a sleepy little area. There’s farm land all around with signs announcing fresh eggs , plants, and herbs for sale every mile or so. After Sunday D&D, I followed my DM’s big old pickup truck to his favorite brewery so I could buy him a drink for his upcoming birthday. I’d had quite a few of Mully’s beers since the DM often has growlers from them for us to enjoy during play.

I enjoyed a flight of six of their beers that day and went home with one of their flagships: Patuxent Pale Ale, which is easy drinking while still flavorful. The Shucker Stout was sturdy, but unremarkable. The Jack Straw IPA was a little hoppier than I liked, but well-crafted. They were out of a pepperjack ale of some kind, so this broke my heart a little. Their Belgian strong dark ale was really well-executed.

There is limited seating, some of which faces large windows into the brewery, where massive stainless steel tanks ferment away in the next room over. Pints were all $6 each and, also for $6, my flight was an exceptionally good deal. There’s also a good deal of charming wall art around the small place. I will likely go back again in the future after some game days.

As far as one beer in particular, I especially liked the one-off JedIPA. It was a nerd beer for a nerd day, which is right up my alley. It’s a fairly cloudy, deep golden color with no real head (but a bad growler pour on my part might be responsible for that). It’s hoppy, maybe a touch floral, and a little bit sweet-smelling. There’s a pretty sweet taste up front with moderately hoppy, fresh green (but not piney/resinous green) flavors. Never dry and easy drinking.

Both JedIPA and Mully’s Brewery earn a five out of five mugs even though it’s nowhere near my house!

 

Five American Beers to Drink on July 4th

Cracking open a few beers sounds like an excellent way to celebrate that American classic, the Fourth of the July. Here’s a quick rundown of five interesting and refreshing beers made here in the good ol’ US of A.

21st Amendment Hell of High Watermelon

This strange (and strangely refreshing) wheat beer made with watermelon isn’t usually something I’d enjoy. I’ve had watermelon beers before, and often found them to have a sort of candy-like sweetness that was unpleasant. Hell or High Watermelon, however, beats that rap and is exceptionally good to drink on a hot day. It’s en excellent beach beer, let me tell you.

Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA

Coming in at a little over 7% ABV, this beer packs a bit of a wallop. It’s got some hop bitterness to it, paired with some decent grainy flavors, but it’s an incredibly smooth drinking beer in spite of the alcohol content. If you like your IPAs with a punch of flavor, this is a great choice for sunset on the back patio.

Bell’s Oberon Ale

A wheat ale with a little sourdough funk and some light notes of fruit, Oberon is a great go-to for a wheat ale with some character (and comes highly recommended by my friend, M). It has a fairly light body and some decent carbonation (though not too much), which keeps it feeling nice and refreshing. It’s got enough flavor to stand up to food, so try it while grilling or chowing down.

Anderson Valley Briney Melon Gose

I think you all know where I stand on gose beers. This is a personal favorite (though Anderson Valley makes at least two others that are fantastic) as it’s tart, faintly salty, and incredibly bright. It’s a very easy beer to drink, as long as you like the decent sour punch, and is perfect for hot weather.

Union Craft Brewing Anthem

As a celebration of the recent 200th anniversary of the penning of the Star Spangled Banner, this Baltimore brewery whipped up a golden ale to delight the senses. With a decently grainy base and a Mosaic hop finish, this pairs great with the classic American grilled goods that we so love in summer.

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: 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.