Beer Review: Southern Tier Pumpking

Look, I warned you that I like pumpkin beers. Get ready to read about a lot of them for a long, long time! I have fond memories of this beer, but it’s not really official until I review it here on Beerily Thus, right? Right. This is, luckily, not one of those unpleasant, tinny pumpkin ales. This is a robust pumpkin beer with lots to offer!

I had a 6oz of this at Beers and Cheers Too in Gaithersburg because even though I’d had a stressful Monday at work, it wasn’t so stressful that I felt like I needed twelve-to-sixteen ounces of an 8.6% ABV beer in the afternoon. Taako’s good out here.

Southern Tier Pumpking is a beautiful marigold color, which is appropriately autumnal in appearance. There’s a thin, pure white head with a little lacing, but this is an Imperial Ale and a lot of head isn’t necessarily something to expect. The clinginess of the lacing is likely due to a somewhat high sugar content; I remember this being a fairly sweet-tasting beer. It smells very warm, sort of peppercorny, but I’d bet that’s the allspice that I’m getting.

The first sip is alive with sweetness, warm spices, and rich pumpkin flavor. This is more like liquid pumpkin cake than many of its lackluster pumpkin beer cousins. It warms my tongue and the back of my throat. The taste of the spice blend stays on my tongue for a minute or two of quiet contemplation (I am of course meditating on how darn good pumpkin beers can be). It’s very easy to drink, which is dangerous because of that aforementioned high ABV. Enjoy, but watch out for it. It’ll bite you.

This is a seasonal treat that I look forward to every year and time hasn’t change that one bit. It’s as good as I remember, if not better. Five out of five, I’ll drink this for as long as I can find it.

 

Beer 101: Pumpkin Beers

Pumpkin beer is a surprisingly divisive issue. It seems like folks either love it or hate it. I’m on the love side of the equation, but I’ve also been burned by enough mediocre pumpkin brews to be cautious when trying a new one.

These beers can be bursting with fall flavors , or watery and taste a lot like the tin can that pumpkin puree comes in. My best friend, M, is firmly in the pumpkin beer hate camp and, while I’m not trying to convert her, I am certainly always looking for the best pumpkin beers, as if proving to both her and I that this category can be really good.

I’ve noticed some common threads among really, truly excellent pumpkins beers – the most major of which is depth of flavor. More than a one-note, vaguely gourd-flavored ale, the best pumpkin beers incorporate rich pumpkin flavor along with spices or secondary flavors to keep them interesting. These beers have to be so much more than JUST full of orange gourd goodness!

Elysian’s Punkuccino uses coffee as a backdrop for their excellent version of this seasonal beer.

Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale has plenty of cardamon, ginger, and nutmeg flavors.

Two Roads Brewing Co. Roadsmary’s Stepchild resembles a Flanders Red, tart and with hints of spice.

Firestone Walker El Gourdo is earthy, tart, and funky.

Beer Review: Peabody Heights Mr. Trash Wheel’s Lost Python Ale

I learned something today. In Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, there is a large trash-collecting water wheel vessel, featuring big cartoon eyes to give his dirty work a charming appearance. His name, it turns out, is Mr. Trash Wheel. I appreciate the directness in that. I’ve never seen him in person, but maybe I need to change that. Peabody Heights says that a portion of the proceeds from this beer go toward keeping the harbor clean, which is something I can get behind. Beer and cleaner waterways? Yes, please!

There’s still more to this tale. Because of course there is. Because Baltimore has to be a weird sort of place. The second part of the name? The Lost Python Ale? That’s a nod to a five-foot-long African ball python  that found its way onto the water wheel a few years ago.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

This is in the style of a session ale and when I got the pint at Beers and Cheers Too, there wasn’t much of a nose going on. There’s something slightly tropical and a little bit vibrant, not really hoppy- or dank-smelling. There are also maybe some notes of orange zest in a very spring or summer fashion, making it an odd beer choice for the first day of fall. It’s a beautiful marigold color that’s bright and clear in a pint glass covered in condensation on a humid, warm September day.

Right away, there’s a nice burst of flavor – juicy and bold, but not sweet or excessively fruity. There’s plenty of bright hop flavors and just the right amount of dryness on the back end of this beer. It’s tropical, but not sweet, I am sure, thanks to the Mosaic hops. They’re a goldmine of bold flavors and a wonder of modern hop farming.

This beer is supremely easy-drinking, but never exactly mellow; it’s so flavorful! The dry sensation is mild and well-balanced with this flavor punch. Five out of five from me.

Beer Review: Captain Lawrence Powder Dreams IPA

On a warm and bright day, I required an equally bright beer. It was surprisingly hot, honestly, given that this was basically fall at this point – and humid, too. Weather like that calls for something exceptionally refreshing.

Enter Captain Lawrence Powder Dreams IPA. I’ve had good experiences with New York-based Captain Lawrence before (Barrel Select Green, I think) and this sounded like just the craft brew to make my evening at Frisco Tap House complete.

Because this is a precious, carefully crafted beer, it was sold to me in a smaller sized goblet (not my favorite way to drink a beer – I don’t personally prefer this unwieldy and heavy vessel) at a higher price, but I was willing to go for it. The taster that I’d tried had really impressed me.

Through the thick walls of the glass goblet, the beer is a light and bright yellow color with slightly orange undertones. It looks hazy to me and there’s a tiny smear of white head in this wide-mouthed and thick-walled monstrosity of a glass. Right away, it smells very tropical and juicy, backed up with the promise of plenty of pine resin. The scent is bright, yet earthy. It’s a real powerhouse of aroma.

There’s a flavorful punch of orange and mango that is immediately chased down by a faintly spicy earthiness that’s almost reminiscent of an herbal tea. I say this partly because of the dry finish (a little drier than I’d like), but for this much flavor in every sip, that’s a trade off that I’m willing to make. There is perhaps too much resin and dryness to be considered easy drinking in my opinion, but it’s still a joy to taste.

Despite the higher price tag, I’d absolutely order this again in a heartbeat. Five out of five, easily.

 

Beer Review: Mendocino Brewing Co Red Tail Ale

Two friends are about to get married and I couldn’t be more excited. Although it was not on purpose, I still like to take credit for having introduced them. I met one in a writing group and dragged the other to it and they hit it off right away. Now, they’re getting hitched! They’ve asked me to be in the wedding, give some speeches, and even make some very minor alterations on the bride’s gown. For love, I’m more than happy to help.

This will be a picnic wedding, potluck style, so I’m bringing some of the stuff for a charcuterie plate (though there will also be a mini fonude pot because my friends and I are nothing if not ambitious). One thing I’m cooking off is some pork and apple sausage made at a local buthcer shop. It smells amazing. While a work, there’s nothing like a beer to keep me company.

To celebrate one union (my friends), I’ll opt in for another: birds and beer (two of my favs). Poured from a bottle into a pint glass, this rich, honeyed brown beer is just a touch hazy looking to me. Though there is an extremely minimal head, there’s a bit of a dusting of foam that dissipates in about a minute. The smell is sweet and raisin-like, which must come down to the malts in this beer as it’s only 6% ABV. There’s no hops smell at all – I get nothing but malt (but not the roasty kind), all sweet amber brown scents.

The first taste is as sweet as is to be expected. There’s not a lot of depth here, flavor-wise, and it’s a little watery-tasting or thin to me. There aren’t layers of flavor at work here. It’s malty, it’s brown, it’s sweet. That’s really it. I feel like the carbonation is a little high for what this is trying to be. There’s actually something slightly acidic and off about it to me.

I bought a six pack and I’ll probably drink them, but I doubt I’d buy this again. Two out of five. No thanks.

Beer Review: Manor Hill Experimental IPA

I love growlers. Don’t get me wrong there. But the first pour from one is always a challenge for me. I’ve got sad noodle arms and have a hard time hoisting a growler and pouring with one hand, so I use two to make sure I’m not going to drop the thing on the floor. Unfortunately, this means that I can’t tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle like I normally would and this definitely impacts the pour that I get out of growlers for the first one to two glasses.

All the same, I get the things filled now and again and then fight with them to get a good beer out of them. This time, I went to Gilly’s in Rockville, MD and got my growler filled with Manor Hill Experimental IPA.  This is a beer that I wish I knew more about (I even have in my notes, “research hops”), but there is really no concrete information about it out there. I don’t even know what hops they used. My impression is that this is a rotating series and that different hops will be used in different batches. Basically, I have no way of knowing exactly what I was drinking.

This is a somewhat hazy pour with a rich golden color and a very fluffy head (no doubt from my ham-fisted growler pour). The head loiters for a few minutes, but then sinks slowly, leaving some decent diamonds of lacing behind. It smells hoppy in a green way with notes of pine resin. It’s fresh and bright, but there aren’t any fruity smells.

The first sip is full of flavor. it’s lightly grainy and bright with refreshing, almost herbacious hops. It’s piney, but never dank. This is a great beer for warm months because it’s both flavorful and light at the same time. Hoppy, but not overwhelming at any point. There’s no dry finish to be found in this beer, so I definitely love that.

I give it five out of five because I would absolutely drink this again… but I can’t be sure that I’d ever have the same beer twice. It’s a conundrum, but I’m willing to take a risk, I think.

Beer Review: Blue Moon Cinnamon Horchata Ale

Do you ever just get an idea for a dish stuck in your head and it pesters you until you finally buckle under the pressure and try to make it? That’s what happened with this sandwich. I had some leftover brie and a bag of brussels sprouts in my fridge and the thought of this creation haunted me.  I wanted a brie grilled cheese stuffed with roasted brussels sprouts and smothered in grainy mustard.

Well, it was a mess. It oozed out all over the place. I had to pick globs of brie up off of the plate with my hands and just sort of tuck in like I had no manners at all. It was an experiment, but it was a damn delicious one, even if it was maybe a failure in some ways.

This beer was, similarly, an experiment that I think didn’t really pay off. It pours straw gold with a hint of orange from the bottle. There’s a very ephemeral, short-lived head that’s less than a finger high, which disappeared in about 30 seconds. Maybe less. The carbonation in this beer is very active in the glass, bubbling away.

It doesn’t smell like much: faintly bready and almost like a witbier. I don’t smell a whiff of cinnamon, though, which is disorienting. You think it’d be in there, front and center.

The cinnamon is the dominant taste, though. It’s nice and strong up front, but fades about as quickly as it came. Honestly, the aftertaste of this beer, once the cinnamon disappears, taste a lot like applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled into it. The beer is made with long grain rice so it’s no wonder it has a very light body and flavor.

Honestly, there’s not a lot going on here. It’s refreshing enough if you like cinnamon (and I do), but nothing really great in the end. Personally, I wouldn’t bother buying this experiment again. Just two out of five mugs.

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.