Beer Review: Southern Tier Old Man Winter

It never got above freezing today (and hasn’t for over a week now) and the wind is whipping something fierce. As a hater of the cold even on a good day, I was pretty properly miserable on my drive home, during which I had to stop and gas up my car. Shivering in a coat, hat, and gloves isn’t really my favorite thing. When I got home, I desperately needed something cozy to help me warm up.

Enter Southern Tier Old Man Winter, some manchego and salami, and some episodes of Critical Role (a D&D actual play stream, which I love, and which I am sadly almost caught up on – just in time for their new season). This is the kind of comfort that I needed this day.

Old Man Winter pours a handsome brunette color with a light cream colored, fine, smooth head that’s about one finger tall at its fullest. The head falls quickly enough, but leaves a bit of lacing behind when it does. It’s a good-looking beer. It smells warming to me, like brown sugar or honey. I’m not detecting any spices, but there is some depth and some richness to the malt profile.

The first taste is a little like a scotch ale and there’s some alcoholic heat to this. It’s 7.5%, so that’s no real surprise. It’s very balanced, inviting, rich, and just a hair sweet. Nice clean finish without any problematic dryness. It’s roasty like dark cocoa or maybe a touch of coffee – something just a hair bitter, but again, balanced.

A really enjoyable sipping beer for a winter’s night. Five out of five, and I’m so glad I bought a six pack to enjoy.

Beer Review: Stone Brewing Stochasticity Project Grainiac

Stochasticity (n)

The quality of lacking any predictable order or plan.

If we can intuit anything at all about a brewery as successful as Stone, I don’t imagine that chance has much to do with anything. Their line of small batch, experimental brews has been given a name that means happenstance or dumb luck, but they’re clearly the result of anything but.

Grainiac, a member of the Stochasticity Project from Stone Brewing, is “a multigrain ale dry-hopped with Cascade and Centennial.” It uses nine different grains (including some unusual ones like millet and buckwheat), so between that and the dry-hopping, this is bound to be a real powerhouse of flavor.

Poured from a bomber into a glass, Grainiac is a refined, deep brown amber, filled with warm hues. There’s a tan head that’s about two fingers tall, made from fine foam. It leaves behind a bit of clingy lacing inside of the glass. The first smell I get is an alcoholic heat, mixed with those rich brown sugar and maple notes that higher ABV beers tend to have. This is 8.5%, which is hig though not insane by any means, but I also know I’m not finishing a whole bomber by myself on a weeknight. This would be inadvisable, though likely delicious. The scent reminds me of a rich amber or brown ale, with deep notes of stone fruit and honey or brown sugar.

The taste is full of grains (obviously) and a lot of malt flavor, with a huge punch of complex tastes. There’s a pleasantly dry finish from the dry-hopping process. Additions of hops in the latter part of the brewing process (originally used to stave off putrefaction around the 12th century) give a mild bitter flavor to beer, which is very in demand in today’s IPA-rich market. This is a beautiful beer, wonderful for sipping, and there’s an awful lot going on here. Notes or rye or dark bread, rich honey and maple, apricot or plum, and a note of wheatiness at the end all come together in harmony. It’s not too dry, but the sweetness does not linger on the tongue, which is great because it could very easily be cloying in nature.

What a great beer! With an ABV like that, I’d buy it again, but certainly plan on splitting it with someone. Five out of five.

 

Beer Review: Tall Tales Blue Ox

Sometimes, we have to try new things! I was angling for somewhere near my office that I hadn’t been yet – somewhere I could enjoy a variety of craft beers after work – and where I could also enjoy a snack before a late dinner that night. Enter Old Town Pour House in Gaithersburg, MD. With over 90 craft brews on tap, you know I’m here for that. Plus, they do small 6oz pours, which is my preferred method of beer consumption most of the time.

This beer, on their limited menu, had me at the description of a blueberry stout with coffee and chocolate notes. I had to try it. It sounded like it could be great or really iffy. Adventure, excitement – a Jedi craves not these things. But a gamble on a tasty beer? Just maybe.

For $4, I got my teensy glass of 6.8% ABV Blue Ox and I threw in some $7 fried cheese curds with smoked tomato coulis, so chalk another one up to Team Adventure. The coulis is strange and I keep trying to decide if the smoke flavor is too much, too acrid, but then I go ahead and just dunk the next cheese curd and the next, so I guess it’s a winner in my book.

The beer is a deep, dark mahogany with a little over one finger of sturdy, tan head. It smells like dry, roasted malt and even a little like toasted bread – and, trailing behind that, is the faint smell of blueberry that reminds me of a fresh baked pie. I can’t wait to try this.

The first sip is simply fantastic. A slight roasted cocoa flavor, immediately followed by a bright, nut not overwhelming blueberry taste hits me – it’s got plenty of layers, but it’s not sweet or too much of a punch. It’s really delightful all around. It finishes on the tongue with more dry, roasted coffee and malt flavors. There’s a nice, clean finish that is pleasantly dry, as a stout ought to be.

This is a really beautiful little beer and I would definitely seek it out again any time of year. Five out of five mugs for me.

Beer Review: Burley Oak Sorry Chicky

A friend was kind enough to lend me a book that I’m pretty excited about: From a Certain Point of View. It’s a collection of 40 short stories/character pieces to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Wars Episode IV: A New  Hope. It’s a nice, quiet evening at home with birds, books, and beer (my fav!) and a chance to reflect on the transformative power of stories. There’s hardly a better way to relax, if you ask me.

I opted for a can of Burley Oak‘s Sorry Chicky, which is a dry hopped sour ale that I picked up from Total Wine in Laurel. I’m very jazzed about the sound of this beer because when am I ever not excited about a sour beer?

It pours a rich straw gold  that looks awfully carbonated at a glance, which might just make for a very fun sour to drink. There’s no head, just a thin trace of foam that vanishes in less than a minute. It smells very richly sour with a real punch that will hopefully cause a bit of puckering. But it’s a complex smell that isn’t just bright and citrusy; there’s almost something earthy and spicy in the nose here. And maybe even a sweet melt backbone at work here? I have to dig in.

And whoa! It’s very sour and in your face! What a wallop!

But then there’s that unpleasant sort of cheerio taste that indicates that it’s a flawed sour most likely made with Brettanomyces. This beer is not at all enjoyable to me because of that wheaty cereal aftertaste. Now, does it pack a pucker punch? Yes. It does that right. It’s ambitious and unusual and I salute the creativity, but I feel like it wasn’t well-executed.

Two out of five mugs. I would not buy this again unless I heard that they changed their recipe.

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: Abita Turbodog Brown Ale

Some things in life are very important to me: these include: dressing up for the Renaissance Festival, dressing up for Halloween, and beer. Lucky for me, I can combine all three of these things right here, right now. I donned the pirate ensemble I made for RennFest this year both for my office and for Trick or Treaters. I love how the dress/coat turned out!

As it got dark and more of them came out, I decided to level up my pirateness by getting out my mug, which I use at the RennFest as well as whenever I play or run tabletop games. Let me tell you what, this thing keeps cold beers mighty cold!

I wasn’t in the mood for anything with bite or fruit taste to it. Luckily, I had grabbed an Abita Turbodog in my last make-your-own-six-pack run to Total Wine in Laurel. This brown ale would be my Halloween beer! It poured out with a ton of off-white, creamy, fluffy head. The nose was a true brown ale with lots of malt and a little burnt sugar or caramel in there. It took a few minutes for that head to settle down before I could drink it.

The first sip is flavorful, not really sweet… but there was something tinny about it. Something metallic. And, yes, it’s the beer and not my long-proven mug – my first sip was even from the bottle. I’m not sure I love that imperfection that’s at work here. There’s a slight aftertaste of cinnamon or maybe apple. It’s autumnal and pleasant, but I can’t get past the metallic hint. It really ruins the whole thing.

I’m not sure if this was a flaw in the batch or if this is true to this brew, but I’m hesitant to buy this beer again because of that flaw. Two out of five, I think I’ll pass on it in the future.

 

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: Lakefront Brewery Inc. Fixed Gear Red IPA

Recently, I visited Green bay, WI to meet some long-time online friends. We know one another as fellow crazy bird people from Instagram and Facebook and, kind of on a whim, I bought a plan ticket to go and meet them for the first time. Adventure! It was sort of a crazy thing to do, meeting strangers from the internet, but they felt like longtime friends and I knew I had to try.

Silas the Senegal (left) and Pepper the Green Cheek Conure (right), along with their humans, were there to greet me.

We spent the weekend eating, playing board games, drinking beer, cooking, and going up in a Cessna over Lake Michigan. It was pretty great!

Being in a new city meant I had to try some new beers that were local and that I couldn’t get anywhere near me. Obviously. We went to a bottle shop with a massive collection of beer, lots of which I’ve never seen in my area, and I made a bee line for the Wisconsin local beer section. Lakefront Brewery Inc’s Fixed Gear Red IPA was one of the six packs that I grabbed.

This was a lovely amber color, reddish with a fluffy off-white head. It left behind some fine lacing as I drank it. It’s a very pretty beer overall. There’s not a lot of nose there. Maybe a little raisin-scented, which I often find in those higher ABV beers – which this is most definitely not. We’re talking about 6.8%. Pretty middle of the road, honestly. There’s also some notes of floral hops going on here, but nothing especially green or bright.

While playing a few rounds of The Game of Things (which is a little bit like scattegories), I dug into this beer. It’s a tad dry, but very flavorful overall. It’s sooth and slightly fruity with a little bit of a hop punch, but never too much. It’s really easy drinking. I could happily enjoy this beer all day long.

If I could ever possibly find it in Maryland, I’d buy this one again. Easily four out of five mugs for me.

Beer Review : Atlas Brew Works Ponzi IPA

New-to-me DC-based Atlas Brew Works is, I can tell, a brewery that I will be going back to for more interesting pints. I like to drink local when I can and, while it’s not a guarantee of quality (everything in life is a mixed bag), keeping in a small geographical area can get you to try things you might have otherwise overlooked.

I pulled up a stool at Beers and Cheers Too in Gaithersburg and stared down their sizable beer list. Ponzi was described as being “criminally hoppy” which is sort of my equivalent of “you had me at ‘hello.'” I ordered up a pint and settled in.

I could smell this beer when the waitress set it down on the bar about a foot away from me – big biscuit and wheat smells wafted over to me along with some herbal hops. This IPA pours a rich straw gold color that’s fairly clear in a frosty pint glass. There’s a nice, fluffy, slow-to-fall white head made up of a fine matrix of bubbles. A close-up sniff gives me more citrus notes to go along with the initial hop-forward smell.

The taste is a big, west coast punch of flavor. The male (Munich) is light, yet flavorful and the hops cover a wide range of tastes from bright green on through dank. The finish is dry, yet very balanced. And there’s a sweetness here that reminds me of milk stouts and that made me wonder if there was any lactose added to this brew. The description that Atlas gives doesn’t mention it specifically, but there’s something going on with the malts here that is a little bit brown sugary.

There’s a whole garden full of hop varietals in here: Cascade, Chinook, Centential, Mandarina, and Ahtamun. Just bring the whole crew, why don’t you?

The nose on this beer promised big flavor and the taste delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed this and would definitely order it again. Five delicious mugs out of five.