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.

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!

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.