Beer Review: Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale

It was a cold and exceptionally windy night and we haven’t had a whole ton of those yet this season, so I guess we were overdue. This outing to Frisco Taphouse before my writing critique group absolutely called for something warm and cozy and winter appropriate. Why, something at around 7% and on cask sounds like it’ll hit the spot. And with “winter” in the name, how could I go wrong?

In a rare stroke of luck, this pour killed their cask a little shy of a full pint, so they were kind enough to put the drink on the house. Frisco is a good place in my mind and this is just another tick in the Why They’re Awesome column for me. I was happy to take my lucky beer and enjoy it.

It’s a handsome, deep brown hue with hints of ruddiness where light struggled to pass through at the outer edges of the glass. I imagine the head on this beer is all wrong because it was the end of a cask, so it seems silly to try to reflect on what the head is supposed to be like on this one. There are no spices in the nose, which I found a little surprising as that’s common in a lot of winter beers. There’s a strong scent of roasted malts, though, which I’m usually. Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale is apparently brewed with cardamom and vanilla, but I’m not smelling any of that – it just seems like a standard porter at a glance.

The taste is dry and has some richness that makes me thing of Scotch ale, but it’s not at all sweet. Not even a little bit. It’s cozy enough for winter, but it is also overwhelmingly dry to my palate. There’s some bitterness at work here that I’m finding very unappealing. I guess I’m doubly lucky that this was on the house since I’m not really loving it. It reads more like a disappointing porter to me than a winter ale.

It was fine, sure, but not at all what I was expecting and not something I will buy again. Just two 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: Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Owl

If you ask me, it’s never too late in the season for pumpkin beers! I believe I have made my love for them rather apparent by now. After work one Monday, I wanted to grab a six pack of something new to me and so I stopped in to Beers and Cheers Too (which is so convenient to my office). While I was there, I also decided to treat myself to a little something – and that something happened to be Elysian’s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale.

Now, I’ve had some of Elysian’s other pumpkin beers before and adored them, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t had Night Owl before. If you ask me, Elysian are some of the very best pumpkin beer brewers out there, so I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity to taste another one of their creations.

For $3 at happy hour, I grabbed a 6oz pour of Night Owl. It’s a lovely golden amber color with not quite one finger of off-white creamy head. This falls in about a minute and mostly disappears, leaving a white smear behind, in about two minutes. It leaves behind some pretty sturdy lacing as I drink it down. It smells very pumpkiny right off the bat even as I’m snapping pictures. There’s a slightly spicy smell, but the most prominent note is the gourd itself – slightly vegetabley and a little bit sweet with hints of brown sugar on the nose. There’s maybe a whiff of yeasty or malty funk mingling.

The nose is accurate; there’s a little ginger or clove in here for sure, but this beer is legitimately pumpkin-forward, which is rare. Usually these poor beers get strangled with spices. I’ve had an aggressively cinnamony pumpkin beer from them in the past (I wish I could remember the name, it was a few years ago) which was delicious, but it masked the pumpkin taste. This beer plays very nicely with the natural autumnal produce that it’s showcasing.

Five out of five frosty mugs of pumpkiny goodness.

Beer Review: Brookeville Beer Farm Hugelkultur

I love this time of year, when it’s finally properly fall. Crunchy leaves, crisp, cold air, pumpkin-flavored everything, and festbier. My favorites. With a weird, waffling warm/cool fall here in the mid-Atlantic, I was worried that autumn would never show up. I decided to honor fall by having a brew at Beers and Cheers Too in Gaithersburg after work one fine Thursday. Now, do I know why this beer was named after a method of raised-bed farming? I do not. But I did enjoy it

This beer by Brookeville Beer Farm pours a lovely, saturated amber color, through which plenty of light passes. There’s some cream-looking off-white head that leaves a cute little cap on the beer for several minutes before finally dissipating. There’s really no lacing to speak of here. There is, however, plenty of malt on the nose. It’s rich and sweet and smells almost caramel or brown sugary. From this smell, I’m expecting something rather sweet.

The taste  is great, malty, full of flavor – but not actually very sweet at all. This is on the darker, roastier, fuller-bodied end of what festbiers are. Many festbiers are really just Vienna lagers in style (but not brewed in Vienna, so they don’t really take on that moniker). Unlike many of its brethren, this beer packs a lot of flavor. There’s hints of caramel or burnt sugar in here that are really lovely.  It’s not at all bitter and is exceedingly drinkable with lots of flavor. It’s a very approachable beer.

I love this beer and would seek it out again. Brookeville Beer Farm seems to be churning out a lot of winners in my book. Five out of five mugs!

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: 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 : 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.

Beer Review: Evolution Craft Brewing Roasty Oats

Hello again, Beers and Cheers! I don’t come in often enough to be considered a regular, but I definitely wander in every other week or so. Their taps rotate frequently, so I only see the occasional repeat on two back-to-back visits. Someday, I swear I’ll eat something there so I can review how their food stands up to their beer selection. I’m very much a “come for the growler fill, stay for a pint” kind of gal.

With a name like Roasty Oats, I had some pretty specific expectations for this beer from Evolution Craft Brewing. It pours so dark that it’s practically black with maybe one finger of short-lived tan head. This leaves a little bit of creamy lacing behind, but this slides down the glass fairly quickly; it’s not very clingy. It smells appropriately roasty with some notes of coffee in there as well. Unlike some porters or browns, there’s no hint of sweetness from the smell itself.

The taste is all roasted grain up front (good, that makes this an aptly-named beer) with the darkness of coffee and cocoa behind it. There’s maybe a tiny hint of sweetness on the rich, mapley side of things, but it’s mellow. I would definitely not call this a sweet beer by any stretch, but it’s not completely on the dry/bitter end of roasty, toasty stouts, either. It doesn’t suffer from the metallic taste that some stouts and porters seem to end up with. There’s a decent mouthfeel on this and, while it’s perhaps on the thin side, it’s not at all watery. I love my dark beers with a little bit of body to them and this one is generally fine.

Absolutely a well-balanced beer in my eyes. Five mugs out of five and I’d love to order another one of these in the future.

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.

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.