Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jefferson Stout Sweet Potato Cream Stout Beer Review

Yep, I’m trying another weird ingredient beer. This time, Mississippi’s Lazy Magnolia Brewing has come up with a dark, dark stout that’s flavored with sweet potatoes. If you want a layer of marshmallows across the top, you’re on your own.

There is absolutely no light passing through this coffee-colored pour with a short head the color of cappuccino. The aroma is what you’d expect from a brew this dark – charred grain, smoke, and yes, maybe I can get just the faintest whiff of those sweet potatoes.

Taking that first sip, Jeff Stout is sharper than expected. Since it’s brewed with lactose (milk sugar), I expected sweet. That’s there on the finish, but this is a little more tart. There’s also a mineral edge that reminds me of Guinness, though this is edgier. I can’t taste anything I would call "sweet potato," so let’s wait a minute and try again.

Nope, still nothing.

Jefferson Stout is a nice cross between a full-on creamy milk stout and something heavier and scorchy like an imperial stout. At a relatively low 4.65% ABV, it’s also a session stout (beer snob talk for “you can drink more than two in a night without taking a nap in the corner). Still no idea what the sweet potatoes bring to the table besides a good gimmick.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

ApriHop Beer Review

Go back over my reviews of India Pale Ales, and you’ll see I tend to think they taste a bit like apricots. When I spotted Dogfish Head Brewery’s ApriHop – a spring seasonal IPA actually brewed with the velvety little things, I was in. Dogfish bottles it in four-packs, calling Aprihop “a fruit beer for people who hate fruit beers.”

Aprihop pours a fizzy, rusty, orange with a hoppy, piney aroma very much like a big, booming IPA. I can smell the fruity apricot in the background, but it’s very close to pineapple too.

In the drinking, the apricot is buried, which is a little disappointing. If it’s in the name and on the label, you shouldn’t have to hunt for the flavor. At least the apricot does serve a purpose while hiding in the background. That faint sweet fruitiness mellows the double-barreled hops, buffing the raspy edge off the resiny green that makes an IPA.

Doghead’s Aprihop is a pleasant and (at 7% ABV) powerful IPA. I’d like to see a little more fruit in the flavor, but after a pretty dreadful flavored beer, I’ll take some subtle.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate, Banana & Peanut Butter Ale

More a dare than a real beer, this is the second co-branded beer between Oregon’s Rogue Ales and Voodoo Doughnut. The first was the absolutely terrible Voodoo Bacon Maple Ale. I've tried it and I don't suggest you do. I don’t know anyone who didn't pour part of the 750ml bottle down the drain. Sounds fun, tastes evil.

Let’s keep an open mind on this new novelty Rogue. The roasted flavors of chocolate are common in dark beers. Hefeweizens are often described as having a banana essence. Peanuts are turning up in porters and could go well with malt. Hand me that church key.

On the pour, Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate, Banana & Peanut Butter Ale is a deep cola color that light barely passes through. The head is tan and lasting with lots of tight bubbles. I definitely get the chocolate aroma and there’s a whisper of sweetness that must be banana. No peanut butter coming through at all.

The first sip reminds be of that chocolate cherry diet soda that was popular a few years back – kinda artificial. The cocoa is right up front, but the banana tastes chemical and false. There’s a mustiness than I’m going to say is the peanut butter, but it’s really in the background.

By the second sip, everything but the chocolate begins fading until you’re left with a decent roasty ale with some off backnotes. Compared to the Bacon Maple stuff, this is at least drinkable, but Rogue already makes tastier brews … and for cheaper. Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate, Banana & Peanut Butter Ale is an excuse to sell you that crazy bottle for your collection of other crazy beer bottles. If you don’t have one of those, you can skip this.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Old Crafty Hen

It’s St. Patrick’s Day as I post this and I didn’t think about that until a couple hours ago. So while I’ll be enjoying a Guinness in just a bit – fish bladders and all – I’m writing about a UK beer this week (first brewed in Oxfordshire, now Suffolk).

Old Crafty Hen is a blended beer from Greene King using the Morland brand. Most of the beer is Old Speckled Hen - a smooth English Pale Ale. Like Guinness, OSH is bubbled with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide, which means it goes down very smoothly. The flavor of unblended OSH is malty and fruity, but not overly sweet on the finish.

Old Crafty Hen takes OSH and kicks in a percentage of a beer called Old 5X. Trick is, you can’t buy Old 5X. The brewery only uses the oak-aged brew to flavor other blended beers. The thought is that Old 5X is too potent to drink solo, like drinking peppermint extract instead of a Shamrock Shake -- assuming there’s peppermint in a Shamrock Shake.

Old Crafty Hen pours a darker copper than OSH with a quickly-fading light tan head. The aroma was a bit skunky, but it didn’t come through on the taste. The flavor is very much like OSH, but with more bite. I see a lot of folks taste “raisin,” but I’ll leave it at “dried fruit.” The oaky Old 5X imparts a deepness I associate with bourbon. I get vanilla and browned sugar, but a bitter finish keeps the sweetness from dulling the palate.

I’ve been a fan of Old Speckled Hen for years and the introduction of this more powerful cousin is welcome. Interesting that it only comes in single 50cl bottles instead of multi-pack cans or bottles. Probably has something to do with the higher alcohol content – 6.5% instead of OSH’s 5.2%. That hen can sneak up on you.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dogfish Head Noble Rot

Before you get turned off by the name alone, “noble rot” is a fungus that grows on wine grapes. Too much funk and the grapes are ruined. Just the right amount of stink and you can use the grapes to make tasty, sweet wine. It reads better in French – pourriture noble.

Dogfish Head takes a saison ale (spicy, fruity) and adds grape juice that’s been infected with the noble rot fungus. (This has got to be the first time I’ve read a beer label that proudly used the word “infected.”) As the brewmasters say in this video, the final product is a mash-up of beer and wine.

Having no idea what kind of glass to use for this Brundlefly, I broke out a Kentucky Derby glass. Noble Rot pours a straw yellow with a head of loose bubbles that vanish within thirty seconds. The aroma is like a hefeweizen with a shot of white zin – malty, fruity, sweet.

The first sip is beery, then a wave of white wine, then a lighter wave of grape skin bitterness. The second sip turns the two around – sparkling wine with a malty finish. Yes, this is – not surprisingly – a lot like a wheaty beer topped off with wine. If you gave it to someone and didn’t say, I’ll guess they’d guess it’s a semi-dry pinot with an odd aftertaste.

As a guy who doesn’t care for white wine, I will say it’s not cloying like so many whites. Maybe that’s what you can do with it. Give Noble Rot to your wino friends who refuse an ale and your beer snob buddies who walk past the Riesling. Either way, Noble Rot has a wine-style kick  – 9% ALC.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager

As a rule, I don’t care for fruity beers – which is what makes this seasonal all the more interesting. Even though it’s flavored, post-brewing and post-filtration, with Louisiana strawberry juice, there’s enough malt and wheat to keep it from veering into soda pop.

In the glass, Abita Strawberry is the color of straw (how about that?) with a tight, white head that lingers. You can smell the berry, but again, it’s surprising - to me, at least - that the fruit doesn’t dominate. The malt and grain have enough savory notes pushing back against the sweet that they find some kind of balance.

I hesitate to give this a full-on recommendation. If it wasn’t for the strawberry juice, the remaining beer would be a bit thin … but is that like saying a tuna sandwich would be dry without the mayo? I’ll just say it’s the first fruit beer I’ve had that I might buy again. 4.2% ALC

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Two Quickies

My tastebuds are still kinda fried from a cold a couple weeks ago, so here's a couple quick reviews.

Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve: First brewed in Oregon in the 1850's, but now owned by Miller (technically SABMiller - which also owns Fosters and Grolsch). Very bland, would rather drink a MGD and save $2-$3 a sixer.

Howl Black as Night Lager: This one's from Vermont's Magic Hat - a coffee, roasty lager with a bit of bitter hops spicing up the mix. Probably not a summer beer, but I've got the heater on here in Florida and it fits.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Budweiser Black Crown

Last year, Anheuser-Busch InBev asked its regional brewmasters to come up with some new Budweiser beers. Three ended up in the variety pack I reviewed here. A fourth is now Budweiser Black Crown, the big brewer’s attempt to … I don’t know. Despite the promotional push, nothing about Black Crown is distinctive or special to merit its existence.

Like all the Bud “microbrews,” brewers were told to use the standard Bud yeast strain, so for better or worse, that’s a flavor quality they all share. The aroma in the glass is boozy with a banana essence really coming through. The head is just like a Bud, tightly bubbled and quickly gone. Color is a deeper yellow that Budweiser, moving toward copper.

Carbonation is light, so it goes down easily -- sweet, malty, corny with no notable hops. Black Crown is basically a more expensive Bud with a roastier malt and, at 6%, a higher alcohol content. (Regular Bud is 5%.) If you want a Bud that’s sweeter, a little buzzier, and higher in price -- there’s this. Otherwise, I’m not sure who wants it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Innis & Gunn Rum Cask

Before Scotland’s Innis & Gunn Brewery started bottling its unique oak-barrel-aged ale, the brewmaster was making a similar beer for a whiskey distiller. (They don’t say, but it’s most surely Grant’s.) The beer was used to season whisky barrels and then dumped – thousands and thousands of gallons down the drain. Turns out, the distillery crews were drinking some of the waste and enjoying it. I first had the original Innis & Gunn last year, and while I suspect my bottle was skunked, it has interesting notes of wood and peat, vanilla and cinnamon.

Now, I’ve got a bottle of an Innis & Gunn variety that does its time in both fresh oak barrels and barrels that held maturing rum. In the glass, it’s an orange-red ale and very fragrant. I can smell the rum (almost like banana), the oak, and malt. What little head there is doesn’t last long.

The mouthfeel is thicker than expected, but not overly heavy. The oak and fruity rum are right up front, and while that could be overwhelming, the bite is nicely rounded off and balanced by malty, caramelized, brown sugar sweetness.

There’s a bit on alcohol “heat,” but you’d want some of that in a rummy beer. At 7.4%, be careful it doesn’t sneak up on you. I think I like this better than the “original” Innis & Gunn. A beer this dark and deep usually says “winter” to me, but the rum barrel influence is putting it on my summer schedule.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Peppers and Dandelions

It’s a two-fer this week …

Billy’s Chilies Beer is from Twisted Pine Brewing in Boulder, Colorado – the same folks who make Ghost Face Killah, another pepper-spiked beer that I wrote about here. Billy’s Chilies is milder, but still includes five peppers: anaheim, fresno, serrano, jalapeƱo, and habanero.

Billy’s is an unfiltered wheat beer that pours a cloudy, pale peach. There’s definitely that “green” aroma of peppers, like say in a queso dip. After a couple healthy pulls off the glass, I get a little heat at the back of the throat. After a couple more, it’s lingering on the roof of my mouth. If you can handle Flamin' Hot Cheetos, you can surely handle Billy’s Chilies. That said, there’s not any beer flavor here. Fun to try, but doesn’t demand a second bottle.

And ...

Pistil Dandelion Ale from Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing is called a “summer ale” on the website, but is only in release from January to March, so go figure. According to the video, Pistil started as part of a variety pack and has now apparently earned the right to be sold in solo sixers.

As I understand, Pistil is unfiltered, but my glass looks clear and straw-yellow. I can definitely smell the hops but if there’s such a thing as dandelion whiff, it’s subliminal here.

That first sip hits you with a sharp/bitter note that’s unusual but not unpleasant. At first, the lemony hops made me think sour, but after a couple more sips, it’s more astringent than puckering. I’ve lopped the heads off countless dandelions while mowing the lawn. I suspect that once summer actually gets here, Pistil would make a good lawnmower beer.