Beer Blogging: With Boston having already made up the two runs we got in the first [update: And the two we got in the second], I must seek every possible way to take the edge off this afternoon and retain my calm. So what better time to let Dogfish Head's 120-Minute IPA kick my ass?

The Pour: Delivering the brew into a wide-mouthed goblet, we get about 1/8" of golden-tan foam. Carbonation levels appear moderate in the cloudy, amber-hued body. The bouquet was initially malty but then a blast of flowery hops came through.

The Taste: They may call it an IPA, but this has the body, texture, and even some of the flavors of a Belgian. There's a complex, densely woven quality to the malt. Sweet and sour notes are present, as is a hint of fruitiness that suggests a mead. Just behind that are the hops, which as the scent suggested are to the flowery side and which lend a zippy, citrus-like flavor to the proceedings. If you swish this beer it foams up aggressively, filling your mouth with the pungent, sour note of the malt. By contrast, if you swallow it straight down you get a better appreciation of the hops, which dominate the surprisingly short aftertaste. According to Chemist, who sampled this at TartFest, this beer is 21% ABV. Doesn't say anything on the label, however, and I'm getting only a little alcohol in the flavor, even as it makes itself known to me in other ways.

The Verdict: Funky. Not what I was expecting. Very flavorful and fairly challenging. A little unbalanced and unpleasant in some ways, and yet powerful and rewarding in others. Tough call on the rating, but let's go with a...

Rating:



Tourney Beer Blogging time! The first of many, I hope. We return to the Chemist Gift Pack for a look at New Belgium Brewing's 1554 Enlightened Black Ale.

The Pour: Very little head here, and the tiny 1/8" layer of smoky brown foam we do see only appeared after I deliberately chose to provoke it at the end of the pour. Carbonation in the glass is low enough to almost completely avoid visual detection. The body is a beautifully deep cherry oak color. Scent is minimal.

The Taste: The first thing I notice here is that, for a darker ale, this has a remarkably light body. It's downright chuggable. But I shall restrain myself so as to better appreciate it. Malt flavors clearly predominate here: Milk chocolate, a hint of caramel, and a trace of fruitiness. The aftertaste, which is medium-to-short in length, is all about the chocolate. Although the hops are not particularly pronounced, the overall flavor still feels reasonably well balanced, and the "dry" finish advertised on the label is surely their doing. Alcohol content is a meager (oh, how my standards have changed) 5.6% by volume.

The Verdict: Ridiculously easy to drink and very pleasant on the palate. The light, crisp body makes this beer taste colder than it actually is, which is a plus. Could use a little more of a kick, but that's a minor quibble considering the enjoyment level delivered.

Rating:



As we prepared to depart from New York last Sunday, Chemist was kind enough to bequeath unto me a mixed six-pack of microbrews which, unfortunately, do not make their way out to northeastern distributors. I am jealously guarding these in the fridge so that I may give them each a proper review. First up is New Belgium Brewing's 2° Below Ale.

The Pour: Pouring our specimen into a wide-mouthed frosted mug, we are greeted by a half-inch thick, sandy-colored head, the bulk of which fades away inside a minute or so. There is little to no fragrance coming off of the glass. The body is light bronze in color and carbonation appears to be very faint.

The Taste: The first thing I notice here, immediately, is that there's a very crisp, bracing edge to the texture of this beer. The second is that, about 1.5 seconds after taking a sip, there's a strong and somewhat biting sour note that really reaches out and gives a twist to the tip of your tongue. Despite the lack of much visual carbonation noted earlier, the brew foams up quite nicely as you swish it around in your mouth, bringing out notes of nut and straw in the malt. The assertive Sterling and Liberty hops add to an overall flavor that feels quite busy, although not in an obnoxious or unbalanced way. Aftertaste is to the malty side and shorter than I was expecting. Alcohol content is listed at a reasonably robust 6.6%.

The Verdict: 2° Below is a beer that would slot very nicely into any reputable bar's tap rotation. It has enough distinctive characteristics that you could identify it in a lineup, and yet it retains the drinkability and user-friendliness of a mainstream microbrew.

Rating:



Well, the football game might suck, but there's still beer to drink! Time to take a look at Anchor Brewing's "Our Special Ale". Yeah, we all think of it as their Christmas Ale, but right on the label it says "This is the thirty-second Our Special Ale from the brewers at Anchor". It's a very confusing name, true. Especially when you've been drunk for the better part of the weekend. But there you go.

The Pour: This edition of Anchor's holiday offering exits the bottle smoothly, revealing a silky, dark brown body. A small (1/4") but substantial head results, dissipating after a few minutes and leaving a dark tan film on the surface. Carbonation is fine and appears pretty persistent.

The Taste: Mmmmmm-yeah. This is very nice. Big, sweet malt hit right off the bat, which provides the delivery mechanism for the sweet caramel-chocolate-nutty flavors that characterize this brew. Deliciously chewy body that coats your tongue and keeps you entertained way after each mouthful hits the south-bound trail. The confectionery goodness more or less buries the hops, but that's OK. The tiny trace of bitterness speaks to a hoppiness that's woven deep into the recipe, and it's there to provide balance and roundness, not to assert itself in the flavor. Quite a long aftertaste, most of which centers on the nut flavor, although there's just the smallest hint of smoke in there.

The Verdict: This seasonal falls somewhere between a nut-brown and a stout, with a nod, perhaps, towards a scotch ale. As this description would lead you to believe, it's complex. It's a beautiful complexity, however, rather than an overwhelming one. This beer lets you take your sweet time discovering it, and doing so is a highly-enjoyable experience.

Rating:



Damn! I just looked in the fridge and I don't think I've ever had such a ginormous backlog of beers that need reviewing. Ah well, add that to my list of "chores" for the weekend.

We start with a look at Flying Bison Brewing Company's Aviator Red ale. Flying Bison is out of Buffalo, NY, home of VMH, so I'm holding him accountable for the quality of this beer.

The Pour: Aviator pours with very little head and not much of an aroma. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably note that my sense of smell is sub-par, so when I say I can't smell anything off the top of the glass, take it with a grain of salt.) There is scant visible carbonation. The body is a deep, clear cherry oak.

The Taste: This is one robustly flavored beer. The label describes it as "malty" but the hops keep pace with the malts quite nicely, lending to a taste that's well balanced. The malt profile actually feels like a brown ale to me, all nut and oak with a beautiful roasted character to it. The hops lend to a brisk, dry finish. Mouth feel, oddly enough, is much lighter than you'd expect from the appearance and the assertive flavors. For an ale, it's actually a bit watery. The aftertaste is a little on the short side too, which is unfortunate, because these flavors would certainly be welcome to stick around for a while.

The Verdict: Nice little beer. If they'd beef up the body a bit, this could be a true champ. As it stands, however, this is plenty drinkable. This brew gives you a whole bunch of flavor without ever being particularly demanding.

Rating:



Post-game Beer Blogging!!! Sticking with the Hat, let's take a look at Batch 373, the newest in their "Mystery Beer" series. For those of you who are deprived of the singular pleasure of having Magic Hat available in your area, here's the deal: A couple of times a year, they add a mystery beer called "Batch ###" to their seasonal variety pack. They don't tell you anything about what type of beer it is, what style, what their intentions were. It's up to you to figure it out. It is a beer afficionado's dream.

This current offering is... odd. Weird. Strange. Puzzling. Family-wise, I'd classify it as a stout. It's dark, dark brown in color with a small head. A little light on the carbonation. Thick mouth feel. Now, the flavor. Right. There's a lot going on here, not all of it good. A little bit of caramel, a little bit of chocolate, a lot of smoke. Also a bit of... what? Some kind of fruit that makes you pucker. Not the way a lemon or lime does, but the way you pucker when you bite into a piece of fruit that's a little off. There's some hoppiness at the front end too. Nothing like the HI.P.A., mind you. These hops are standing off to the side, doing their own thing.

Now, you see, I don't mind a complex flavor, as long as everything harmonizes well. If you're going to throw a lot at me, do it Bach style. Stick to a theme. The overall sensation I get from 373, however, could be likened to a Stravinski piece. It's a bit of a cacophony. It's like the "mixed drinks" I used to make at the frat where I'd grab one of every bottle and pour everything together at random. Yeah, that's it. That's what I'm tasting. Like they grabbed a ton of random ingredients and tossed them into a stout base to see what would happen. Not truly awful by any stretch, but not altogether pleasant either. Like I said: Weird. Oh well. Gotta let these guys flex their creative muscles. From the seeds of each random batch may come the next Number 9 or Blind Faith, after all.

Rating:



Next up, we've got an Oatmeal Stout from Maine's Belfast Bay Brewing. These guys are new to me. I was in the mood for something heavy, saw that they'd won a silver medal at the World Beer Championships for this brew, and decided to give them a look.

The Pour: Pouring this head into a pint glass, it develops about an inch of beer at the bottom which slowly - slowly - grows into something I may be able to drink later in the evening. Seriously, the head on this beer is a sight to behold. From the top it's smooth like tan shaving cream, but I see a whole bunch of coarse bubbles through the glass. I'm pouring the rest of the beer in now and the foamy head is rising above the top of the glass like a yummy mountain range. Oh, um, yeah: The body is black as pitch. The primary note in the aroma is dark chocolate. OK, cover me, I'm going in...

The Taste: As you'd expect from this style, we've got a very chewy beer here. Or, since this offering is from Maine, "beah heah". The malts predominate, yielding a flavor profile that's mostly sweet and candy-like but also has an odd sour note in the background. Can't put my finger on it, exactly, but I'd go with "over-ripe fruit" to describe it. Funky. I'm getting a faint but agreeable hop note at the end of each sip which pushes back against the sour malt note, although not enough to truly smooth things out. The body is satisfactory, if a tad watery around the edges. The aftertaste is dry and sort of ashy.

The Verdict: This is not a bad beer by any stretch, but a "silver medal" winner? In the stout category, one assumes? I think not. A little off balance in taste and the body is too rough around the edges. This beer gets a participation trophy, and that's about it.



Warm, muggy Sunday afternoon of a four-day fourth of July weekend. Took a long bike ride yesterday, and I've got an even longer one planned for tomorrow. But today, shopping is done, the chores are under control, and leisure beckons. What better time for... The TRIUMPHANT Return of WEEKEND BEER BLOGGING!

Berkshire Brewing MaibockLet's kick things off with Berkshire Brewing's Maibock Lager. Berkshire, a regional brewer here in western New England, is probably best known for their Steel Rail Pale Ale, a staple at bars and restaurants out this way. Being a fan of Steel Rail, I thought I'd see what Berkshire's interpretation of a Maibock (traditionally a German bock-style beer brewed in the month of May for Spring festivals) was like.

Pouring the Maibock into a frosty mug produced a giant, foamy head with a flowery fragrance to it. The body is a rich, deep amber in color. Taking a swig, I encountered a texture that could best be described as syrupy smooth. The carbonation is relatively fine and initially abundant, but it's no match for the viscous liquid it inhabits and it quickly dissipates, leaving a body that seems as if it's straining to revert to the wort stage. There's a sweetness to this brew that is frankly cloying. After a dozen or so sips, I could actually feel a sweet, sticky film coating my lips. Berkshire describes this beer as having a "delicate hop finish". In my opinion, that overstates the hop presence here by quite a bit. If you can detect hops in this brew, you've a more sensitive palate than my own.

None of which is to say that Berkshire Maibock is an unpleasant experience. It's just a bit much in the malty sweetness department. The sweetness here doesn't end at the flavor, but somehow penetrates straight to the core of this beer's being. Part of the problem for me was that this is clearly a beer that's best in small doses and yet, me being me, I bought the bomber. So there you go. Bottom line: Nice effort, but too aggressively one-dimensional.

Rating:



I'm going to do some beer blogging right here on the Couch™ because while I'm too lazy to make a separate post for it today, this task just needs to get done. Why, you ask? Well, take this first beer. It's Unibroue's Blanch de Chambly. And it's been sitting in my fridge since December of 2006. Yeah, I'm ashamed of that. I just hope it hasn't gone horribly bad in all that time.

The Pour: WHOA! Popped the cap on this and BAM, it spewed all over the place like a bottle of champagne that's been rattled around before being uncorked. After cleaning up the mess on the floor, I poured the beer into a room temperature pint glass. An inch-high head of coarse white foam built up, made a racket, and then quickly vanished. The aroma, yeast and citrus and grass, suggests a witbier. The body is light gold and translucent and carbonation levels appear healthy.

The Taste: Well, the good news is it didn't go south on me. Still very tasty. Big, mouth-puckering punch of sour malt and lemon up front, carried on a weiss-ish body. Very intense; very refreshing. The hops are dry, not too bitter, lending the beer a nice, clean mouth feel. Swishing it around a bit, Blanche de Chambly foams up vigorously, releasing even more flavor. The aftertaste, a pleasant lemon-drop, is medium in length. There's just a tiny hint of Unibroue's signature cloying film around the lips after each sip. The label advertises an ABV of 5%, which doesn't seem like much until I stop and think how quickly I could throw back a half dozen of these.

The Verdict: I need to revisit this beer in its proper season: Mid-Summer, when it's hot and sticky and I need a cold, refreshing brew or three. This is a very nice Belgian white. Highly recommended if, like me, you like that style.



Time for some Halftime Beer Blogging! Last night I had to make an emergency packie run to get Tracy some cognac for a recipe*, and on a whim I picked up a six pack of Brooklyn Brewing's Black Chocolate Stout. This, it turns out, was an excellent decision on my part.

The Pour: Thick and glistening coming out of the bottle. Visions of used motor oil. Exactly what a stout should suggest. Thin, dark, mahogany-colored head that dissipates almost completely inside of a minute.

The Taste: Oh, yum. Whopping hit of roasted malt right off the bat. Big, bittersweet chocolate presence that starts on the tip of your tongue and then rolls straight back and down your throat. Heavy mouth feel, as you'd expect. As the malt fades, the hops take over. Nice, deep bitterness going on here. Assertive without being overpowering. Aftertaste is loooooooooooooooooong. This beer leaves a film on the roof of your mouth and a lingering ashy/smoky flavor on your palate that isn't going anywhere for a good long time.

The Verdict: A deeply satisfying beer experience. This beer has everything you want in a chocolate stout. It's rich, fairly complex and loaded with flavor, and yet the brewmasters didn't go overboard like many do with this variety. This is a chocolate stout you won't get tired of halfway through the glass.

Rating:



Appropriate, I suppose, that on the same weekend we take down the X-Mas tree and put away the decorations, I close out the holiday season with Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. I mean, is Taking Down the Tree one of the most satisfying-yet-sad things ever? It's a melancholy affair, wrapping up the season of warmth and sharing and joy, and yet at the same time you're like "I'm glad that shit is over." Hmmmm. I believe I will create a new word: "sadisfying".

Anyhow, yes, beer.

Sometimes I think my expectations for beer have gotten too high. Personally, I blame Magic Hat. See, Celebration is a nice little beer. It's basically an amber ale. Amber body. Good head, nice carbonation. Hoppy. In fact, I have to reprise my criticism of Southern Tier's Old Man Winter Ale here: Winter/Holiday beers aren't supposed to be Hop Fests. They're supposed to be heavier, maltier, and a little spice on top. Celebration is a hoppy amber ale. A good hoppy amber ale, but it doesn't rise to the occasion like I'd expected. See? Sadisfying.

Rating:



Magic Hat Circus BoyOn a lighter note, next we bring you Magic Hat's Circus Boy unfiltered Hefeweizen. The Hefeweizen is the beer of Summer, designed to refresh, lighten, and perk ones spirits up when the oppressive mugginess is beating you down. Let us see, then, if Circus Boy is up to the task, for I am one sweaty, sticky, lethargic motherfucker right now.

Circus Boy has a very small head. I'll pause while everyone snickers at that. No, but seriously, it's true: The head on this brew is light, unscented, and quickly dissipated. Beneath it we see a beer that is light yellow and cloudy in color with fine carbonation. The mouth feel here is very light indeed, quite easy to drink. Coming to the flavor, however, I am somewhat disappointed. As one would expect for a Hefeweizen, the malt predominates over the hops, although unlike our previous glass, the hops here are at least present once the brew has cleared your mouth and things have dried out a bit. What's missing here is the tartness that this breed is typically known for. There's a hint -- and only the barest hint at that -- of lemony flavor but virtually none of the pucker that I'm used to in weissbiers. It's as if they took a standard weiss, with the right weight, mouth feel, subtle hoppiness, etc., and then neutered it, resulting in a beer that is mildly enjoyable, highly drinkable, but otherwise unremarkable. And that is not what I expect from the boys at The Hat.

Rating:



Up next, a beer whose name and label really grabbed by attention at the packie last week, Shmaltz Brewing's Coney Island Sword Swallower. I mean, there's just something about that picture that's so suggestive of... something. Besides, these are the guys who brought us He'Brew. Would they do me wrong?

The Pour: As Sword Swallower is swallowed up by a room-temperature mug, it builds up a half-inch head of off-white foam that dissipates inside of thirty seconds. Tracy describes the aroma as "clean and beer-like". I would translate that as "slightly malty with a hint of grass". Not a lot of carbonation, as the underwhelming head hinted at. The body is translucent and copper-gold in color.

The Taste: Nice, big body on this beer. That's the first thing that came to my attention. Very bready and yeasty. The hop character asserts itself right away. More bitter than floral, they leave a dry, refreshed feeling after each swallow. The malt characteristics are robust enough to keep up with the hoppy goodness. Mainly I'm getting a sour malt vibe, but there's a bit of oakiness as well. Not at all an unpleasant blend. Strangely enough given the low apparent carbonation, this beer foams up like a champ when you poke it around, filling one's oral cavity with a huge load of flavor. (ahem). Aftertaste is a bit shorter than you'd expect from such a full-flavored beer, and what's there is all bitter. Sword Swallower packs a 6.8% ABV, which is a nice reward for any drinker's efforts.

The Verdict: This beer feels like a good, solid IPA. It's not going to blow you away in any particular department, but it's certainly a worthwhile beverage experience. Given my 'druthers, I'd like to see it priced at about $8 a six-pack rather than $4 and change for a bomber.



CoronaNow before you say "Toast, come on, don't you like any normal beers, ya beer snob?", I give you... Corona. Two Summers ago, Tracy's dad was coming down to visit, and Tracy said we should get a 12-pack of Corona because that's what he liked. I had tried Corona once or twice and found it decent, but nothing special, and I said as much. "But have you tried it with lime?" Tracy asked. No, I had not, I replied. The rest, as they say, was history. Corona is now our default Beer of Summer. As such, I must give it its due.

When Corona first became popular back in the 80's, it quickly gained a reputation as "Yuppie Beer". The Great American Beer Renaissance was still several years away, and so La Cerveza Mas Fina's import status gave it a certain cachet. Now, two decades and ten thousand microbrews later, in a day when you can walk into your typical Mom & Pop Liquors and find rare Belgian ales, Corona seems about as exotic as Coors.

In it's natural state, Corona is a somewhat bitter and heavy lager. The body is certainly more robust than a mainstream domestic lager and the flavor has an edge to it that's part Heineken, part ashtray. Ah, but insert a wedge of lime through the neck of the bottle and an amazing bit of alchemy occurs, transforming this sour, standoffish brute into a suave party boy. The sweetness and zest of the lime bond with the beer's natural characteristics to create a rich and refreshing taste experience. The body actually seems to become lighter after the addition of the lime (the beer's body, that is). The malt is brought out more too, and the ashy aftertaste is completely gone. Truly, I don't know how or why these synergistic effects happen. I suppose, in the interest of science, I should try adding lime to other lagers to see if something similar transpires. In fact, I'll get right on that. For now, though, I just want to give mad props to whoever it was who took that first bottle of ordinary Mexican lager and decided to give it a wedgie. Sir/Madam, I raise my bottle to you.

Rating: Au Natural - With Lime -



All right, it's New Year's weekend, and I'm not letting Joe Lieberman, George Bush, or Saddam's ghost put me in a bad mood. I think it's time for beer blogging. With some trepidation, I return to Ridgeway Brewing for a look at their "Criminally Bad Elf", which purports to be a barleywine. If you recall, I tried their "Seriously Bad Elf" a few weeks ago and found it, well, seriously bad. Here's hoping for a better experience this time around.

The Pour: Dispensing it into a wide-mouth half-liter mug, this beer failed to develop any head until the very end of the pour, at which point about a quarter inch of light tan foam developed. A mild worty smell comes off of this. The head subsides into a thin film within a minute or so, and shortly afterwards only a few wisps of that remain. Carbonation in the glass is very weak, as one would expect from a barleywine. The body is new-penny copper in color and fairly translucent.

The Taste: Big, abrasive screech of flavor. The malts start out extremely aggressively, pinching and poking at your tongue with a loud sweet-and-sour cacophony of flavors. There's a strong cider overtone which seems to be having a heated argument with some insubordinate notes of caramel and honey. Without warning, a gang of spices sneak up and shiv these characters in the back. And while all of this is going on, some hops are surreptitiously sliding in the back door and ransacking the place, leaving a bitterness that is only discovered in the longish aftertaste, once the malty-spicy racket has subsided. All of this occurs, somewhat disconcertingly, in a body that has the feel of a common pale ale. There is a slightly alcoholic edge to this beer as well, but nothing compared with better barleywines I've had in the past. Certainly nothing suggestive of the whopping 10.5% ABV payload.

The Verdict: As you can infer from the bar fight metaphor, this beer is chaotic. It's all rough edges and conflicting impulses. It is certainly not a classic barleywine. More like an attempt at a holiday ale by a homebrewer who got carried away. Looking at my review of "Seriously Bad Elf", I would say that "Criminally Bad Elf", as the name suggests, is a more robust and intense version of its sibling. On the whole, this is a good thing, as will be reflected in the rating I give it. But while CBE compensates for SBE's tepidity, the flipside is that it really brings out the contradictions that before went relatively unnoticed. A better effort, but still flawed.

Rating:



This next brew has been in the fridge for a couple of months, waiting for just the right moment. And I declare that moment to be... now. The name on this one caught my eye: "Dark Force". I mean, that's a pretty awesome name for a beer, right? So intimidating. I felt like it was sitting there on the shelf just daring me to drink it. Then, drawing closer, I saw the description: "Double Extreme Imperial Wheat Stout".

Stop it. You had me at "Double Extreme".

The Pour: Dark Force pours like liquid silk into a wide, frosted mug. It is indeed dark; the kind of brown that's almost black. A sizeable head of brownish-tan foam (Tracy called it "camel" but I don't associate camels with something I want to put in my mouth) develops as I pour. It takes a long time to fizzle down until a mere eighth of an inch or so remains atop the opaque body. Aromas of chocolate and caramel waft off of the head.

The Taste: Wow. The brewers at Haandbryggeriet (that's a mouthful) knew what they were doing here. An absolutely delicious blend of sweet malts greets me at the first sip and makes me swoon. Chocolate and caramel, as advertised in the nose, but also hints of sherry or brandy and some oaky notes, all supported by an immense-feeling body. The texture is pleasantly chewy; substantive enough to provide a home for all that flavor but not so heavy as to make drinking the beer feel like work. There's a very nice bitter hoppiness that's playing hide-and-seek behind the malts. It's quite pronounced when you pay attention to it, yet it seems to disappear when you look away. The aftertaste is, as you'd expect, fairly long and dominated by a Hershey's dark chocolate vibe. Extremely pleasant. Also, if you let this beer get up on your lips it will stick there, forcing you to lick the film off. As if "forcing" is necessary. Oh, and lest I forget, Dark Force packs a rewarding 9% ABV.

The Verdict: This is a damned fine beer. Very impressive. Big, tasty, complex, Dark Force has everything I look for in a stout. I will absolutely be taking a look at Haandbryggeriet's other offerings after this debut.



The Pour: This brew pours into the glass like dark brown liquid silk. Very pretty to witness. A quarter-inch head of rich, tan-colored foam develops and sticks around for a few minutes, very slowly fading to film. A strong chicory/coffee note wafts off the surface as the head settles. The body is completely opaque, but from the scant activity on the surface I'd say carbonation levels are fairly low.

The Taste: That is yummy. A rich, complex malt profile offers a lot to taste in a body that's nice and chewy up front like a stout should be. The roasted chicory is the most assertive flavor of the bunch, but there are hints of coffee, dark chocolate, and I'm even getting a little smoked almond or some other nut in there as well. (Note: Checked Dogfish Head's description and they claim to use licorice in this beer as well. Only after they pointed it out could I pick up on it.) The Cascade and Fuggles hops lend a nice, dry finish to each sip. Surprisingly, given the fairly intense flavor, the aftertaste here is a little on the short side and doesn't extend down the palate into the throat at all. I credit this to the nature of the body, which feels substantial at first but evinces a bit of wateriness around the edges as you swallow it. ABV is only 5.2%, which strikes me as on the low side for such a robust beer, but I'm not complaining since I've got two heavy hitters coming up later in the day.

The Verdict: This beer's major vices - the short aftertaste and a body that backs off a little early - could also be considered virtues in a way. While one gets the full-flavored impact of a good, solid stout, the lack of persistence means you don't find yourself exhausted halfway through the glass. One might say that this is a stout with... drinkability.



Halftime Beer Blogging! Back to the Unibroue gift pack we go for some Don De Dieu.

The Pour: Silky smooth as it flows into the mug, this wheat-colored beer develops a medium head which dissipates inside of two minutes leaving a thin, white, opaque film on top of the beer. A strong aroma of maple comes off the head. Carbonation level seems above average.

The Taste: Like its brother, Maudite, this is a malt-dominated beer. Different flavor profile, however. Don De Dieu tastes like a cross between a hefeweizen and a maibock. There's a very tangy lemon flavor that predominates here, woven deep into the body of the beer. As that fades, a hint of sweet candy flavors -- caramel and maple sugar -- remains behind on the tongue. The mouth feel is where the maibock-like characteristics come out. There's a slightly sticky feel to it, and the beer thoroughly permeates your mouth. No cloying film left behind, however, which is a good thing. The hops in this beer are a tad more assertive than those in Maudite, which is to say you can actually detect them. Aftertaste is medium in length and similar to what your tastebuds remember after eating a lemon-filled donut. Alcohol content is 9% by volume but, amazingly, you can't taste any of it.

The Verdict: This is a very nice beer, one that I'll absolutely have to revisit in the Springtime, when its sweet, tart flavor is more in season. Unlike Maudite, which was excellent but a little overwhelming, Don De Dieu has some long-term drinkability going for it. I could easily put away a four pack. Robust, flavorful, zingy and packed with alcohol, this beer gets a big thumbs-up.

Rating:



The neck label on Long Trail Brewing's Double Bag Ale reads:

"This full-bodied double alt is also known as "Stickebier" -- German slang for "secret brew". The secret is that this brew is so smooth you'd never believe it has an alcohol content of 7.2%!!!"

Well, score one for truth in advertising. This beer is easy to drink. Absolutely nothing about it screams "I'm Kicking Your Ass!!!" It's more of a "killing 'em softly" kind of vibe.

Double Bag is dark tan in color with a slightly-heavier-than-medium body. The taste is a hair to the hoppy side of dead center on the spectrum. In fact, "well balanced" is what best describes this beer. It's got a fair amount going on, but everything seems to offset each other. The result is a flavor that hints at intensity but ultimately holds back, like the brewers didn't want to risk offending you. This eager-to-please "play nice" personality would normally leave me unimpressed, but the knowledge that it's being used to sneak ass-loads of alcohol into one's system... well, I have to respect that.

Rating:



Ho, Ho, HO!!! It's X-Mas Beer Blogging Time! Admit it. You were worried I wouldn't be here to hook you up this weekend, that I'd be too busy entertaining, too distracted by the joy and mirth and and and... Come on, now. Did you think I'd let you down? You? My peeps? Of course not. So here is a little X-Mas brew sampling. Let me take you through my day in beer, as it were.

First up, Allagash Brewing out of Portland Maine brings us Dubbel Ale, which they describe as a "dark amber Belgian Style" ale. They've got the dark amber part mostly right (see below - I'd call it a brown) but the "Belgian Style" thing, eh, not so much.

The body on this beer is the weight of a typical brown ale, and in fact if you take a brown ale as a starting point and pace off about a quarter of the distance towards an abbey ale, that's where you'll find Dubbel. Very malty first impression, with a bit of a nutty flavor (again, like a brown ale). A slight, slight trace of hops can be ascertained if you concentrate, but nothing assertive. Carbonation is fine-grained, as you'd expect, but a bit too prominent for anything that styles itself a Belgian. I will say that something about the overall mouth-feel has just a hint of the headiness you'd be waiting for -- not much of a nod, but certainly welcome. Alcohol content comes in at a smooth 7%, but you don't taste it quite as much as you'd like to. All of which is not to say that this is a bad beer. It's actually quite tasty and I recommend giving it a whirl if you like, say, Newcastle. Just understand that, labeling aside, this is no more a Belgian-Style ale than Sam Adams Cherry Lambic is a true lambic.

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Can't let Labor Day go by without taking care of one particular labor of love: Beer blogging! I picked up a singleton of this week's featured brewski, Eel River Brewing IPA, while prowling the aisles at Liquor Depot. Let's see what's what.

The Pour: Depositing Eel River into a tall, frosted glass yields a nice, three-quarter-inch head of sand-colored foam that throws off a mild malty scent. The head has decent staying power, fortified by the strong levels of carbonation in the cloudy, amber body.

The Taste: A big, creamy body is the very first thing I notice taking a swig of this beer. Very pleasant mouth-feel here. Rich and unusually dense for this style. Next in line in the sensory parade is a huge burst of hoppy goodness. Quite bitter, but with hints of floral hops at the outskirts, Eel River packs a satisfying smack on the tongue. The malts here are offering a strong, earthy undercarriage for the dominant hop flavors. I'm getting a little bit of honey and a little bit of grassy wheat, both of which know their place as supporting actors rather than stars. The aftertaste is on the long side, leaving a pronounced tracer of bitterness that stretches the length of the esophagus. In addition, there's a bit of a yeasty feel that settles in under the tongue once each sip heads South. Eel River advertises the ABV at a healthy 7.2%.

The Verdict: IPA lovers take note: This beer is worth your time. Exquisitely well-balanced, full-bodied, and jumping around with enough hops to make it past India and all the way to Australia. An impressive debut from the River of Eels.



Einbecker Mai-Ur-BockNext up, our tastebuds travel to Germany for a taste of Einbecker Brauhaus' Mai-Ur-Bock. (Not just Maibock, people, Mai-Ur-Bock.)

The Pour: Silky smooth, with plenty of medium-grained carbonation, yielding a dense, small head that quickly dissipates. Rich hop and clover smell. Copper-colored body.

The Taste: The body is medium-to-heavy and syrupy. It has that cloying, sticky feel to it that I noted previously in Berkshire Brewing's Maibock. The malt quickly enshrouds the tongue, delivering a flavor hit that's 4 parts honey, 1 part caramel apple, with maybe a dash of lemon thrown in. There's a ghostly hoppy apparition that glides by in the periphery, but it's easily missed. You have to be looking in just the right direction to catch it. (Odd that you can smell the hops so strongly but not really taste them.) Long aftertaste with an even longer aftertexture, if you know what I mean.

The Verdict: If my recent experiences with maibocks are any indication, it would seem that the intention with this style is to shock and awe the drinker's sweet sensors into submission. Einbecker's Mai-Ur-Bock certainly succeeds in that department, providing a rich, sugary sensory experience. While you'll enjoy the first half of the glass immensely, however, finishing it off can be something of a chore, and you won't want to reach for seconds without first cleansing your palate with something lighter and brisker. Definitely a "dessert" beer.

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I think we need to start this second day of football off with some beer blogging, no? Let's hit the Unibroue again for a sip of their Ephemere. (Remember X-Mas weekend, when I first bought the Unibroue gift pack and said I was going to review all six of the beers in there over those three days? Yeah.)

The Pour: Sliding into a tall, frosted glass, Ephemere develops a tiny head (about 1/4") that is off-white in color. A very strong flowery bouquet blasts off the top of this head as it quickly disappears. Carbonation in the glass is reasonably robust. The body is a light wheat color and is somewhat cloudy.

The Taste: Mmmmm. We've got the typical Unibroue malt/hop balance here (80/20) but the volume and loudness of those flavors are muted across the board. The body, too, is lighter and more effervescent than Unibroue's other offerings. Wrapped up in the dominant malt hit is a veritable fruit basket. Tracy notes a strong strawberry flavor. I'm picking up lemon and citrus and a hint of cherry around that. All of these flavors glide beaufitully around the palate and then slide effortlessly down the throat, leaving almost no aftertaste. A very low-key hops presence puts the bow on top of this very pretty package, rounding out the flavor. %ABV is a "meager" 5.5% (meager by this brewer's standards).

The Verdict: What a fantastic first beer of the day! Not a tour-de-force, but Ephemere is light, refreshing, and bursting with flavors that perk you up without beating you over the head. Were it not for Unibroue's asking price, I could drink these all day long.

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Halftime Beer Blogging! Woo Hoo! OK, so yesterday Tracy and I drove up to Opa Opa Steakhouse and Brewery for a late lunch. Ever since Tracy tried their Watermelon Ale at the Big E she's been jonesing to get some more of it, and since it's a limited-edition seasonal you can only get it at the brewery, not in stores. It was a beautiful day, so I figured what the hell, let's go pay them a visit. Great decision by me. Let me tell you, Opa Opa is skyrocketing up the craft-brewing charts in my estimation. They had over a dozen beers on tap, so we got a couple of sampler flights, and after exploring their full range of brews I was truly and righteously blown away. I grabbed a growler of their F-15 Eagle Double Red Ale before heading out. Let's have us a glass.

The Pour: F-15 lands gracefully in a wide-mouth frosted mug. A faintly worty aroma wafts up as the beer develops a half-inch head of dark tan foam. The head doesn't hang around long, and after a minute or so we've just got a little bit of film sitting on top of a body that is new penny copper-red in color with just a tiny hint of cloudiness. Carbonation levels appear faint.

The Taste: Oh my god is this beer delicious. It wasn't just the atmosphere at the bar skewing my perception. The first thing to note about F-15 is the huge, creamy body. This beer is brawny. Unpacking the flavors in that big body is a wonderful experience. Malts definitely predominate in what feels like an arsenal of flavor. I'm getting caramel, maple, apple-pie, and hints of roasted almond. The hops are subdued as you savor the fat, malty mouth-feel, but they come out a little bit after you swallow, lending a drier-than-expected finish and filling out the long aftertaste. This beer also yields a slightly cloying stickiness that stays on the roof of your mouth and around your lips a bit, but I'm disinclided to complain about it right now. Oh, so you know, we snuck a peak at the ABV listings for all of Opa's current offerings, and F-15 came in somewhere north of 12%, a fact you can sense in both the flavor and the warm glow that settles in halfway through the first glass.

The Verdict: Boy, I guess since I opened the growler I better finish it. I mean, I wouldn't want this fine beverage to go bad or anything. (Bwuh-huh. Bwuh-huh-huh-HAH! HAHAHAHAHAHA!) Okay, seriously though, this is an amazing beer. I haven't sorted out my faves recently, but if I were inclined to do so I'd bet this would land in the top ten. Spec-fucking-tacularly flavorful brew here. Shout it with me, people: "Opa! Opa!"



I decided to go local this weekend, picking up a mixed 12-pack from Farmington River Brewing, a fine little craft brewer from right here in my backyard in Connecticut. (We actually live within a mile of the Farmington River. But then, so does half of Connecticut, as I swear that thing winds its way pretty much everywhere west of the Connecticut River.) Farmington's Mahogany Ale is my favorite of the bunch. It's kind of a hoppy brown ale. Great body. Develops a nice foamy head. Hops are pronounced, but not devastating. There's a solid maltiness playing in the rhythm section, staying out of the spotlight but doing its job. All in all, I would describe this beer as "pleasant". A warm and happy beer, if you will. A great way to start the day.

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Because I'm waaaaaaaaaay overdue for some Beer Blogging, and it is time to make amends. First up, let's have a taste of Magic Hat's Fat Angel.

The Pour: Pouring into a tall, frosted pilsener glass, Fat Angel develops a meager 1/4" head on top of a coppery body. Aromas are malty and very faint. The head dissipates to film fairly quickly, and carbonation levels appear to be fairly low.

The Taste: The boys at the Hat bill this as a Pale Ale, but I'm getting something a little heavier and chewier than that. (By way of comparison, I consider Bass the benchmark for a Pale Ale.) The malt/hop balance is straight up the middle in this brew, with the two components presenting themselves to your taste buds more or less simultaneously. The malts are a nice, semi-sweet blend of nut and caramel with a bit of a sour note at the back end. The hops are assertively bitter but not punishing. What really impresses me about this beer, however, is the body. It's quite a bit bigger than your typical Pale Ale, delivering a rich, nicely textured mouth feel that's more like an Octoberfest or even a Winter Ale. Aftertaste is hoppy and medium in length. Alcohol content is not displayed on the label, but I'd guess around 5%.

The Verdict: Full-bodied and exquisitely well-balanced, Fat Angel delivers craft-brew quality flavor with mass-appeal levels of drinkability. This is the kind of beer you could spend a whole afternoon with.

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You know what? I think I've got more beer blogging on tap. I mean, on this glorious day, how can I not? The thrill of victory still courses through me, and what it says to me is... beer. You must have more beer. It is a drive that, unlike the Pats final possession, cannot be denied. So let's take a swig of Geary's Autumn Ale.

The Pour: Nice healthy head that stays around for a bit. The body is a medium-to-dark brown with hints of copper. Very little carbonation present after the pour.

The Taste: While the immediate impression is of a nicely-balanced ale, things swing decisively towards the malt side after a few seconds. A sweet-and-sour malt flavor dominates here, swelling up with each mouthful. The hops feel like they're making an effort at the outset, but then they recede into the background, leaving the suggestion of bitterness but never taking center stage from the assertive malt. The body is medium to heavy and the aftertaste, while not truly long, hangs around for a bit. An odd hybrid beer, overall. Kind of an unusually malty and sour brown ale.

The Verdict: I'd like it if the sour part of the malt were a little less prominent, but other than that I can't find a ton to fault here. Very drinkable and certainly interesting enough. Worth checking out if you run across it.

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While hunting for beer options for this weekend, Tracy espied Flying Dog's Gonzo Imperial Porter. Examining the exterior of the four-pack, she quickly learned that this brew was a tribute to the late Hunter S. Thompson ("gonzo" journalist). She then further discovered two flavor scales, one of which indicated that this beer was very dark, and a second which placed it well towards the malty end of the spectrum. Her hop-o-phobia thus assuaged and her interest piqued by the association with the venerable Mr. Thompson, Tracy prevailed upon me to make this our selection for the week. (OK, she didn't have to twist my arm too hard.)

My impressions: This is an aggressive but somewhat one-dimensional porter. The texture is chewy and kind of coats your tongue. Long, long aftertaste. The kind of long I could still be tasting tomorrow morning. The flavor is intensely smoky. Not quite Someone-Put-A-Cigar-Out-In-This smoky, but awfully close. Despite the advertised maltiness, any sweet overtones this beer might have are overwhelmed by the charbroiled taste. Very mildly hopped. Most of the time you won't notice the hops at all, because you'll be preoccupied with chewing the embers before you swallow them, but every now and then the hops will poke through and strafe the side of your tongue a bit. Overall I'd say this particular porter is intense, edgy, imbalanced, and a little over-the-top. Definitely grabs your attention out of the gate, but I can see it becoming tiresome pretty quickly. Best in small doses. Hey, sounds like a certain writer you might be acquainted with...

(Tracy says: "That must be why they sell it in four packs.")

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Grimbergen Double AleFirst up is Grimbergen Double Ale, two bottles of which have been languishing in my fridge for weeks now, waiting for me to get my act together. Well, fear not, little bottles, I have arrived.

My immediate impression? Grimbergen Double is what I'd call an "approachable" Abbey Style ale. The alcohol is a relatively low 6.3% and doesn't present itself too much in the flavor, and the body is somewhat more conventional than most Abbey styles, with a bit more carbonation and a slightly less heavy feel. Put another way, this is an Abbey Ale you could give to your uncle who drinks Bud Light without completely freaking him out.

This ale develops a nice foamy head as you pour it. Color is caramel with a bit of a reddish hue. The label describes a "chocolaty, toffee taste with a brandy-like finish." I would partially concur with that. Toffee is certainly there, but I don't get anything from this that I'd describe as chocolate. As for the "brandy-like" finish, there is the cloying sweetness of brandy -- actually I'd liken it more to Port wine -- but none of the alcohol undertones that would suggest. What I detect most strongly is a cherry flavor that lays a patch right down the center of your tongue. This is predominant enough that I'd almost guess they threw some cherries in for the second round of fermentation, but as they do not advertise this, I'll just have to write it off as an emergent property of some sort, a specter that beckons perhaps only to me. As the preceding would suggest, Grimbergen Double is all about the malt, as is usually the case with this style. Any hops which found their way into this recipe are completely subsumed by a robust, complex, and entirely pleasant sweetness.

Highly recommended. Buy a six pack of this and break it out for dessert some night when you're having guests over. I guarantee you'll enjoy it.

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I first discovered Gritty's Brewery while driving back from Acadia National Park in Maine. I was taking the coastal route so I could stop at L. L. Bean, and there was this nice cozy Brew Pub on Route 1. The Octoberfest beer they had on tap that year was astounding, and their "Best Bitter" wasn't bad either. So, this weekend, I decided to pick up a six of the latter and see how well my memory served.

Gritty's Best Bitter could well be described as an IPA for people who don't like IPA's. It's definitely got the aggressive hop flavor you expect in an IPA, but it has a creamy consistency to the body that somehow moderates the overall impact. Take a mouthful of it and while you're savoring the flavor the beer seems to foam up on you right then. It goes down nice and smooth with only a mild aftertaste. All in all, a nicely crafted, easy-drinking beer. It won't rock your world, but it'll put a nice, mellow smile on your face.

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Next up, we've got a Halloween Ale from Gritty McDuff's Brewing of Maine. I had planned to have this beer before leaving for my birthday, but I dropped the ball. Better drink it now, while we're still in Samhain's shadow, or I'll have to leave it in there until next year.

The Pour: Transferring the beer into a wide-mouth frosted mug, I detect a hint of... root beer? Despite my best efforts at provocation, I can barely get a quarter-inch head of coarse tan foam to build up, and it's gone inside of a minute, leaving film and a few clots of bubbles on the surface. The body is copper-colored and translucent. Carbonation appears quite scant.

The Taste: Tracy actually took the first sip of this beer and liked it immediately. That should tell you something about the malt versus hop balance. Yes, we are in malt land, people. I'm detecting a lot of brown ale flavors, notably almond, wood, and a hint of caramel. This is a relatively sweet beer; an observation which is borne out by the sticky film each sip leaves on the lips. As for the hop characteristics of this brew, there's little to report. I'm picking up a little bitter flourish on the sides of my tongue - you have to look for it - but in all honesty the biggest hop giveaway is the dry, crisp finish to each swallow. Now, so far, that's still a decent fall seasonal. Gritty's fell woefully short, however, in a key department for a fall beer: The body. There's simply no foundation to this beer. The malt flavors seem like they should be more robust, but they struggle to fully come out because they're being conveyed by such a thin, insubstantial liquid. The aftertaste - mostly dryness and almond - never even makes it down your throat. Instead, the final impression left behind by each swallow is one of wateriness. Not a strong parting shot.

The Verdict: Boy, this kills me, because I love Gritty's, but I have to report that I'm disappointed in this offering. The flavor starts out promising, but in the end there's not enough there there. For a Halloween beer, this ain't scaring anyone.



Had to do a return run last night as the garage was overflowing with empties. Now I don't know about you, but when I dump a cartload of empties on a store, I feel morally obliged to buy something from them. So over to the cooler I strolled, and no sooner did I start browsing than I saw Lagunitas Brewing Company's Hairy Eyeball Ale. There's a name that gets your attention.

The Pour: This beer develops very little in the way of a head. Maybe a quarter inch or less of light tan foam that is gone inside ninety seconds, leaving the wispiest of films behind. I can see almost zero visible carbonation in the glass. The body is a very dark brown with hints of cherry. The aroma off the top of the glass is faint and vaguely malty. Not a ton of character for the nose to attach itself to.

Taste: The very first thing to present itself here is the alcohol flavor. It's strong and right up front, suggesting a barley wine. Next in order of intensity is the malt hit. In the main I'm getting something that's typical for a brown ale here. There are hints of sherry and rising up in there too, however, lending a sweetness that sits nicely on the tip of the tongue. The hops come in behind the malt initially, rounding out the flavor and providing a nice balance, and then take full control of the medium-length aftertaste. This beer has a fairly heavy body which, combined with the sweet malt flavors, walks things right up to the line of syrupiness, stopping just short. Oh, and did I mention the strong alcohol taste? The 9% ABV alcohol taste? It's right there through to the end.

Verdict: For a beer that's heavy, malty, high in alcohol and low in carbonation, this goes down way too smoothly. (He says as he opens a second one to confirm his tasting notes.) Seriously, if you're looking for a six pack to get you fucked up with minimal effort, grab some Hairy Eyeball.

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Pre-game beer blogging! With three brews to cover today, I think we need to kick things off a little early. Let's start with Harpoon's new Barleywine.

The Pour: The body is golden and perfectly translucent. A huge head develops as you pour it into the glass. We're talking an inch or so of rich, creamy foam that sticks around for a good long time. Carbonation is initially robust but seems to be flattening out now at Pour plus three minutes and counting. No scent whatsoever as you stick your nose down into the mug.

The Taste: The malt clearly predominates here, and it's a strong, sour note that completely fills your mouth, drowning out any other hints of flavor. There's really not even a suggestion of sweetness here, and I'm looking hard for it. There are also no hops in the house. Even Tracy, a confirmed hop-o-phobe, could not detect a trace of bitterness in this brew. While you wouldn't expect a full-on hop blast in a barleywine, I figured with the one-note malt I'd be able to find something else in here to talk about. Not the case. There's not even a hint of alcohol in the taste, which is amazing considering this sucker clocks in at 10.3% ABV. About the only real positive I can note here is the weight and mouth feel. This is a big-bodied beer. Very substantial. But that's all I can say in its defense..

The Verdict: Big disappointment here. How could anyone put out a barleywine with such a one-dimensional taste? Barleywines are supposed to be rich and complex, intense and demanding. This tastes like a heavier-than-normal pale ale that someone forgot to hop. Blah.

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Boulder Brewing Hazed And InfusedNext up on the agenda is Boulder Beer Company's Hazed & Infused, which they describe as "dry-hopped and unfiltered" and I describe as "pretty damned good". Hazed is amber in color, cloudy (unsurprisingly) and develops a dense, medium-sized head on pouring. The body is typical for an amber ale, full but not cumbersome. Flavor-wise, there's lots to talk about. The malt has a little bit of the sweet and sour quality I tried to describe in Brooklyn's Pennant Ale. This intense taste dominates when you first take a sip, giving way to the hops after a noticeable delay. When that hoppiness does make its presence known, the sensation is brisk. Twin streaks of bitter hoppy goodness trace right down the sides of your tongue, gradually fading into the overall aftertaste. The label doesn't list %ABV, but I'd guess somewhere in the 5-6 range. Boulder lists this as the first in their "Looking Glass" series of specialty beers, and based on this experience, I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for the ensuing offerings.

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3:40 PM: Halftime Beer Blogging!!! The beer you saw me holding earlier as I was driving the living room lane was none other than Magic Hat's HI.P.A. Now, maybe it's the warm glow of the Huskies' 12-point halftime lead talking here, but I do declare at this moment that this is the best I.P.A. I have ever had. Leave it to Magic Hat to slam this style -- one of my favorites -- straight out of the park. Wait, sorry. Tournament weekend. Rather than a home run, then, lets say that HI.P.A. is a halfcourt shot that draws nothing but net.

The body is a cloudy dark gold, medium-to-light in weight (well, light for an ale), and develops a fine head. But you know what? Fuck this. Let's get to the hops, shall we? Oh, allmighty Spaghetti Monster, the hops on this baby. Just astonishing. Here's the thing: Unlike the typical assault on your bitter sensors that occurs when a brewer tries to craft a kick-ass I.P.A. (take Victory's Hop Wallop for example), the hops in HI.P.A. go after you like a trained masseuse, wrapping pleasure around pain, artistry around intensity. You've got a hop/malt balance here that's around 80/20, and somehow it's not overwhelming. It's just crazy good. The malt isn't entirely buried, by the way. It's just a delicate flower in the background. Tracy describes it as "clover honey". I'll sign onto that, even though I'm not entirely sure what clover honey is. Well, the clover part. Anyhow, the overall effect is perfect. This is an I.P.A. lover's I.P.A. To the brewmasters at Magic Hat, I bow before your greatness.

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It's the New Year; a time for new beginnings, when we clear away the clutter in our lives in preparation for a fresh start. As it happens, I've got some serious clutter in the beer section of our fridge. Can't make a fresh start with that, can we? Let's get to it.

First up, we've got a holiday offering from High & Mighty Brewing called "Home for the Holidays". In a classy move, the brewers are donating all profits from the sale of this beer to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. So even if the beer sucks, it's for a good cause.

The Pour: Cracking the bottle open with my sweet Starship Enterprise bottle opener (thanks, Fridge!) and pouring this beer into a wide-mouth frosted mug, we get a light malty aroma with a hint of flowery hops. Efforts to provoke a head meet with no success whatsoever. An uneven 1/8" of brownish foam quickly dissipates to a single puddle of film in the center of the glass. There's very little activity at the top of the dark brown, slightly translucent body. This beer appears almost flat.

The Taste: Mostly malts up front. Syrupy sweet, with notes of caramel and burnt sugar (like the top of a crème brûlée, Tracy suggests, using all the proper accents over her vowels). The "liberal" dose of noble Halletauer and Saaz hops in the brewer's description is muted for the most part while the beer remains in your mouth, but it comes on strong in the aftertaste. The big weakness in this beer is the body, which is surprisingly watery and insubstantial. The flavor profile is pretty robust as it is, but you wonder what could have been if they'd put a foundation under this house. ABV is listed at a healthy 7%, enough to warm the sub-cockle region of any returning veteran.

The Verdict: This beer's one glaring flaw - the sub-par body - takes it down a notch from "Good" to merely "Fair". If I'm drinking a brown ale, the style intended here, I shouldn't be left thinking "Mmmmmmm, watery." It's really a shame, too, because the more I drink of it, the more I'm appreciating the neatly balanced one-two punch of the malt-hop interplay. Ah well, it was still $4 well spent.



The Pour: Nice head on this bad boy. About 3/4" of frothy off-white foam. Aromas off the top are strong and very flowery. Just a hint of malt coming in at the end. The body is a very cloudy golden wheat color. Absolutely no visible carbonation in the glass.

The Taste: Jesus Christ with a double-fermenter is this a fantastic beer. As the name warns, the hops jump on your tongue immediately. The blend of bitter and flowery they deliver is almost transcendental in its awesomeness. It's a hop symphony. Without researching it, I'm guessing at least three or four varieties here. Nice primary bite, but the complexity behind it is what's truly awe-inspiring. The body is a shade to the light side of a pale ale. Nothing to stop you from drinking a half dozen of these bad boys, aside from your better judgement, that is. The malt here is semi-sweet and it stays in the background. Aftertaste is long and profound. Very dry, very bitter.

The Verdict: Paper City, a regional brewer out of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has always struck me as one of those nice little local brewers that you feel good buying 'cause they're hometown guys who done good. Their beers have been consistently tasty, but never, before this, have they knocked me out. Well, Paper City People? Consider me knocked out. Down for the ten count. This is, without a doubt, one of the best beers I've ever tasted. Complex but drinkable. Intense but not overbearing. You killed with this recipe. I bow before you. I am not worthy...

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Showtime, puppy dogs! Got a persistent headache and I'm still a bit groggy, but you know what? Sometimes you just gotta play through the pain.

Southern Tier Hop SunStarting off, let's have a taste of Southern Tier Brewing's Hop Sun Summer Wheat Beer.

The Pour: Lots of coarse carbonation and a big old foamy head. The body is pilsner gold, with only the tiniest hint of the cloudiness one expects to find in a wheat beer. I have to assume this is not a traditional, unfiltered wheat. No scent to speak of.

The Taste: Light body, as befits a Summer seasonal. Not much malt presence. Any detectable sweetness is utterly overwhelmed by the hops, which assert themselves at the outset and leave a long, persistent aftertaste. No tartness, no citrus, nothing whatsoever besides the words on the label to let you know this is a wheat beer.

The Verdict: A few weeks ago, the Times ran a story on wheat beers wherein the experts criticized American craft brewers for abusing the style, all too frequently departing in directions that betray expectations. The folks at Southern Tier might want to take heed. Granted, they warn you what to expect with the name here, but still, I fail to see how this merits the distinction of being a Summer seasonal. It's essentially a light-bodied IPA. In fact, it strikes me as a somewhat watered-down version of their Old Man Winter Ale which - surprise! - also tasted more like a mainstream IPA than anything that would qualify as a Winter seasonal. If there's one thing domestic microbreweries do that pisses me off, it's when they take an off-the-shelf recipe, tweak a few settings, and try to sell it as something it's not. I'm very close to writing Southern Tier off as a one-trick pony. If I buy their Oktoberfest and it's a friggin' full-bodied IPA, they're through. (Note: I have nothing against IPA's. I just expect brewers to flex their creative muscles when they put something new on the market.)

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Per my friend Paul's recommendation, I decided to check out Victory Brewing's Hop Wallop Ale. Now, I like well-hopped beer, believe me. But nothing prepared me for the first mouthful of this brew. Hop Wallop truly does wallop you with hops. I mean -- BOOM! -- bitter sensors all over the tongue lighting up and informing the central nervous system that, HEY, this is a BITTER BEER. (Meanwhile, as I'm processing this, I'm thinking to myself, hmmmmm, are those hops or did someone put marijuana in this? The two are not dissimilar in their pungent immediacy.) So, yes, Victory, you've made your point. You own the Hoppy Crown. You can hop a beer like nobody's business. Hell, this beer could sail around the world 10 times and never go bad it's so well preserved. But is it good?

Tough call. Let me put it this way: You really need to be in the mood for this one. The recipe makes no pretense towards being balanced. The texture is a little rough and the malt is undetectable. This beer is about one thing and one thing only, and that is kicking you in the mouth with a hop-tipped boot. If you like bitter -- if you're an IPA guy and you can handle this sort of thing -- then I say go for it, just for the novelty if nothing else. I'd be hard-pressed, however, to picture anyone stocking up on this by the case. It's just a little too much of a good thing. (In the "Credit Where It's Due" category, this sucker clocks in at a relatively whopping 8.5% alcohol by volume, so the drinker is certainly rewarded for his or her efforts.)

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Boring basketball got you down? Me too. Let's try some beer. Today we'll be visiting the three winners of Sam Adams' 2006 "Long Shot" American Homebrew Contest. First up is the Old Ale, created by California's Don Oliver. Don describes his Old Ale as "a full-bodied, heavy ale" good for Winter drinking. Well, we've sure got Winter going on, so let's give it a taste.

The Pour: Score one for good looks. This is a visually stunning beer. The body is a deep, vibrant, reddish-copper color which pours with a weird solidity suggestive of molten glass. The head is on the small side of the spectrum but for the minute or two it hangs around it's very active. Lots of popping and sparkling as it fades to film. The bouquet is strong, sweet, and worty.

The Taste: WOW is this beer sweet. According to Don, this beer "offers a rich and malty taste that doesn't overpower". The label goes on to claim "a fairly balanced bitterness with some residual sweetness." Incorrect on both counts. The malt vs. hop matchup here is a 2 seed toying with a 15 seed. For a brief moment just before halftime it seems like the hops are going to make a run at it, but by the time the aftertaste kicks in it's a rout. To their credit, the malts are worthy of their high seeding. Strong notes of toffee and scotch weave themselves through a richly textured body that coats every surface inside your mouth and even leaves a thin beer moustache film if you're not careful. In fact, this might be the stickiest beer I've seen outside of a Maibock or a Unibroue label. There's a mild tinge of alcohol running quietly underneath the rest of the beer, hinting at the powerful 10.6% ABV payload.

The Verdict: This is a demanding beer - the opposite of "easy drinking", if you will. Strong, heavy, and cloying with pretty complex malt profile, it's a beer you need to be in the mood for, and even at that drinking the second half of the glass may feel a bit like work. That said, it's not boring and it rewards the drinker's efforts with a nice, warm glow almost immediately.

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Our second Long Shot winner is a Dortmunder-style lager from Massachusetts' Bruce Stott.

The Pour: This beer develops a medium-sized head of rich, off-white foam. There's the slightest hint of a flowery malt coming off the top, but it's hard to catch. The color is 14-karat gold and carbonation levels in the glass appear moderate.

The Taste: A little bit of Grolsch, a little bit of Pilsener Urquell. It's funny that, being raised in the U.S., when you drink a lager of any kind your brain's first impression is "Oh, Beer." (OK, funny and a little sad.) This brew has strong central European lager overtones. It's dry, crisp, a little bitter, and just a tad... skunky. Those of you familiar with, say, Heineken, will know what I mean. There's something that's at once a bit off and yet at the same time lends the beer its character. I'd give the flavor edge to the Pilsener malts, although there's a slightly hoppier flavor that briefly lingers in the medium-length aftertaste. Alcohol content is a pedestrian 5.5%.

The Verdict: Nothing special. A decent European-style lager -- better than the vast majority of its American counterparts -- but nothing to write home about. I almost suspect that the guys at Sam Adams included this just to have an unchallenging lager to offer people.

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Long Trail HefeweizenNext up, we travel to Germany Vermont for a taste of Long Trail's Hefeweizen.

The Pour: Moderate-sized thick, rich head, with a fair amount of medium-to-coarse carbonation present in the glass. Strong, fruity scent. Tracy says it smells like bananas. I can smell that but also some strawberries. Body is 14-karat gold with just a hint of cloudiness.

The Taste: Medium-weight body with just a tiny hint of syrupiness. Foams up real nice in the mouth. Mellow, sweet, and malty up front. A real fruit salad going on flavor-wise. The banana and strawberry are there as the bouquet advertised, but you've got rasberry and lemon too. Quite the complex array of flavors. The hops wait a while to present themselves. You can really only get at them during the aftertaste. A tad sticky around the lips, but not maibockish or anything.

The Verdict: Stop the presses, people. An American microbrewery has finally nailed a traditional, old-school, German-style hefeweizen. The body is right, the taste is right, everything is right. It's textbook. A little rasberry syrup at the bottom of the glass and you'd swear you vere seeting in der Rathskeller, taking un break from der summer heat vit a nice, revreshing brau. (My German accent is sucky in person, too.) Seriously, though, kudos to Long Trail. I love it when an American brewer demonstrates this kind of technical proficiency, absolutely nailing a traditional European style like this. I don't see that nearly often enough, and when I do, it's both a surprise and a pleasure.

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Yo, peeps! Time for some Jets Are IN THE PLAYOFFS Beer Blogging! I think it's most appropriate to go with Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde, since this Jets team getting into the playoffs was roughly as likely as the end of the world.

The Pour: Depositing this beer into a frosty pilsener glass, it develops a ginormous head. At least two to three minutes pass before I can pour the rest of this beer into the glass. The head is thick and dense. Aromas are light and flowery, not at all assertive. The body is cloudy and wheat-colored. Carbonation is somewhat short of robust.

The Taste: This is a very tart beer. The malt immediately gives you a big -plop- of lemon right in the center of your tongue. Following that is a long, fruity aftertaste. No bitters to this beer at all. Not that the brew is unbalanced, in that "un-hopped", unfinished, "I'm Still A Wort" way that some brews are. It's just all tangy malt on the tongue. Pretty big mouth feel here. Very robust, very full. And yet, while this beer fills you up nicely in the mouth, it's almost instantly forgotten down the throat, as its aftertaste is short-to-non-existent. Alcohol is 9% by volume, but there's only the slightest hint of it in the flavor.

The Verdict: I'm starting to wonder if Unibroue is familiar with the whole hops concept. This is my third beer from them and, once again, it's a malt fest. This is not a complaint, just an observation. They brew some deliciously malty beers.

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What do you say? Time for a little beer blogging? Yep, I believe it is. Yesterday, while I was at the packie stocking up with a mother lode of beer, wine, and spirits for this weekend, I got myself a little X-Mas present: A gift 8-pack from Unibroue Brewing. I've been jonesing to sample their wares for some time, what with the cool names and bad-ass labels they give their brews. So I decided to treat myself. I'll be reviewing all six varieties (they doubled up on two of them) over the next several days.

First up is La Maudite (the Damned), which the label describes as a bottle fermented malt beverage of uncommon smoothness. Let us see for ourselves.

The Pour: This beer develops a monster head when poured into a frosted glass. We're talking a 4" tower of fluffy foam. Took me several iterations to get it all poured in there. A strong, sweet, almost flowery scent emanates from the head as it dissipates. The body is tan and cloudy, and the carbonation remains quite robust even after things have settled down up top.

The Taste: The malt jumps on your tongue with both feet the moment the first sip enters your mouth. The predominant flavors it delivers are honey and lemon. There's a suggestion of raspberry as well, although just a hint. The trace of hoppiness that lingers after each swallow is faint to the point of ethereal. Really, the malts bury the hops with sweetness. There's a creamy mouth feel which is very pleasing, and if you swish each gulp around it foams up beautifully, which brings out the flavors and scents all over again. A very rich sensory experience. Aftertaste is actually a little short, although there's a sticky, cloying film that stays up around your lips to remind you what you've been drinking.

The Verdict: This would make an absolutely beautiful dessert beer. Can't see drinking more than one at a time -- the malt-fest would lose it's attraction after the first one -- but then at the price Unibroue asks, it's doubtful you'd be doing that anyhow. Alcohol, by the way, is 8% by volume, so underneath that confectionery goodness is a beer that's not fooling around.

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Decided to go Old School this weekend, revisiting Mackeson Triple Stout, which was one of my favorite beers back in the old Holmes & Watson days, when I first began exploring the wide world of beer in earnest. (H & W is a pub in Troy, NY, that, in the late eighties/early nineties had an unrivalled beer selection -- over three hundred types typically in stock, both in draft and bottles.)

Mackeson is still a very good beer, but I have to say up front that coming back to it all these years later is just a shade disappointing. The beer hasn't changed, but, alas, I have. Back when my twenty-year-old tastebuds were first exposed to Mackeson's pitch-black brew, it seemed downright exotic. Now, hundreds upon hundreds of microbrews, specialty brews, and high-end imports later, it's, well, just another very good beer.

The first thing you notice as you're pouring a Mackeson is that someone has replaced your beer with used motor oil. It is dark and shiny in appearance and fills the glass silently, as there's very little carbonation in the body and almost no head to speak of (note: Now that I think about it, that last part could be an artifact of using a frosted mug). Take a mouthful and you are overwhelmed by the bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate. The body is thick, cloying even, and its syrupy texture leaves a thick lining on the roof of your mouth. The malt is cranked all the way to eleven on this brew, but beneath the intense sweetness lurks the lingering flavor of hops. Not a well-rounded mixture by any stretch, but not one-dimensional either. A word of warning: Mackeson is a heavy beer. It settles in your stomach like cement. Two in one sitting is the most you want to do before switching to a lighter-weight beer. Something like Guinness, for example. Overall, Mackeson still delivers. And the good news is that it's cheaper to buy than ever before, down to around $8 a six-pack as opposed to the same for a 4-pack back in the day. Love those market forces.

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The Pour: The champ, by contrast, develops a very meager tan head -- maybe 1/8" at its peak -- which is gone inside of a minute. Carbonation levels appear low. Aromas off the top are strong, sweet, and alcoholic. The body is a deep, oaky brown.

The Taste: This beer is intensely sweet and rich. The first sip almost overpowers you with molasses-like maltiness. A strong alcoholic note presents itself immediately, weaving its way through the back of the malt like a nice sherry. Precious little in the way of a hop presence here. There's a slight bitterness that suggests itself immediately after you swallow, and it appears again at the tail end of the very long and boozy aftertaste. Mouthfeel is thick and heavy and there's a bit of stickiness that stays behind after each sip.

The Verdict: A clinic in what a Scotch Ale should be. In my opinion, it remains the benchmark for the style.

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Being a pair of hopeless pun addicts, every time Tracy and I see a six pack of He'Brew (the Chosen Beer) sitting on the shelf, it completely cracks our shit up. Why we haven't bought it before now is a mystery, but this weekend, for whatever reason, He'Brew's Messiah Bold just jumped out at me as I was scanning the selection at our local beer emporium. "Oy", I thought, "What is the matter with you? Why haven't you tried this yet, you schmuck?"

The menschen at Shmaltz Brewing bill Messiah Bold as a nut brown ale. The body starts with a few brown ale hallmarks -- right weight, right level of fine carbonation in the glass, smooth mouth feel (for your reference, I consider Newcastle the benchmark for brown ales) -- but then departs in the direction of portertown and stoutville. The color is very dark, almost black. The flavor hits you with nut brown on the tip of the tongue first and then surprises you with a long, slightly bitter, sweet/smoky aftertaste (no doubt a product of the Dark Chocolate malt they use). Percent ABV isn't listed on the label, but my finely tuned spirit detector is feeling something in the 6-7 range.

The verdict? I can definitely see myself buying this again. Well balanced, nicely crafted, and yet kinda quirky, Messiah Bold serves up a very enjoyable glass of beer.

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In a very special looking bottle from our friends at Shmaltz Brewing, this brew is called "Jewbelation". See, I can't help myself with these guys. I love the schtick. I love the gimmick. And I loved their Messiah Bold. So when I saw "Jewbelation" there was no chance of a non-buy scenario. Here we go.

The Pour: New motor oil. 10W-30 weight. Not quite opaque but damned close. Amazing head. We're looking at 3/4" of thick, dark tan foam that collapses to about 1/4" with an unusual clumpy character to it. Large bubbles dot the head a full two minutes after the initial pour. I get a slight malty hit off the top. Tracy detects cherries, but I can neither confirm nor deny that. Impossible to tell the carbonation levels in the glass, given the darkness of the body.

The Taste: "Chewy and rich" is what immediately strikes me. I'm getting a dark chocolate stout here. Thicky thick body, chocolate malt that's almost harsh in its assertiveness, but there's an intensely bitter hop presence that's right there from the start as well. Adding to the chocolate malt is a strong hint of smoke that sticks to the palate long after the swig is gone. The rest of the aftertaste, sadly, is a little on the watery side, with the hops diappearing entirely. Only a hint of the 10% ABV presents itself, making this a dangerous brew indeed.

The Verdict: If the body didn't leave that weird watery taste at the end, this would be yet another five-banger. As it stands, this is still a fantastic Chocolate Stout. Rich, tasty, and fabulously intense, I would strongly recommend you indulge in a little Jewbelation of your own.

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That's right! That's right! It's a Weekend Beer Blogging Two-Fer! Yeah, Baby! And to what do you owe this pleasure, you ask? I'll tell you what: The MONSTER is in the hizZouse!!!

The first snow has fallen here in the Shire, heralding the arrival of Winter -- real Winter as opposed to "calendar" Winter (now there's a SSTAM post just waiting to be written) -- and what is Winter if not the time to sip from that most exquisite sub-species of genus Beerus, the Barley Wines? Ah, yes, here they come to a packie near you: Sweet, silky smooth, and ready to Kick. Your. Ass.

First up this season is an old friend, Brooklyn Brewing's Monster Ale. I almost missed it today as I scanned the racks, but, just as I was about to turn away, there it was, it's mylar label winking at me from the bottom corner of the domestic microbrew section. Immediately, I was transported into reverie. Ah, Monster, I remember when we first met. It was our mutual friend, Hank, who introduced us. I was having a football party at my spankin' new bachelor pad, and he was kind enough to bring a six-pack of you along for the fun. Somehow, in the excitement, I missed the informative blurb on your packaging that read "11% alcohol by volume". So it was that, after imbibing the better part of the aforementioned six-pack, I missed several other things, including the AFC Championship game and the pizza we had ordered. Ah, Monster. Good times.

A word of warning to those who don't already know: Barley wines are an acquired taste. Starting from the swill that Americans know as mass-produced domestic lagers, a barley wine could be seen as a third cousin, twice removed. A good barley wine has a stronger spiritual kinship to a single-malt Scotch than it does to, say, Budweiser. The barley wine is no casual beverage. It is to be sipped. Slowly. It requires -- nay, it demands -- your attention.

Monster is an absolutely splendid spokesman for the family. It has the silky texture that comes from the ultra-subtle carbonation that characterizes the type. It has a sweet and heady aroma. There is a strong enough suggestion of hops to remind you that you are, in fact, drinking beer. And there is the kick. The kick that says a high-octane alcoholic beverage is en-route to your gastrointestinal system. Ah yes, while Monster is not nearly as overwhelming in this regard as other barley wines, it does let you know who's in charge. Firmly. No talking back.

If you are a beer aficionado, you absolutely need to give Monster a try. If you're a casual beer drinker looking for a little adventure, then for you, my friend, this qualifies as Living on the Edge.

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It's time to get horizontal. As in Victory Brewing's Old Horizontal barleywine. Hey, come on, do beer names get better than that? I laughed out loud when I saw this one in the store yesterday. Horizontal indeed. That's what I'll be in short order.

The Pour: Sizeable head for a barleywine. About a half inch of rich looking light tan foam. Beautiful malty aroma with a strong alcoholic note. The body is a deep caramel color and cloudy to the point of being opaque.

The Taste: Yesterday, as we trundled into Liquor Depot in Avon, I noted the mid-thirties temperatures and thought "HA! Barleywine season, bitchez!" Man, I was so right. Summer beers are fine. They have their place, really. But cold weather brings out the big fucking guns. The Winter Ales. The spicy holiday malts. And the barleywines. Oh, dear FSM in his bowl, the barleywines. Has Man ever crafted a tastier beverage? A fine barleywine is roughly equivalent to a great single-malt Scotch. Just incredible. This particular offering is an outstanding example of the breed. Sweet and malty with a heavy note of alcohol, Old Horizontal is almost mead-like in its smoothness. The predominant notes in the malt -- which is front and center, true to the style -- are honey and caramel with a slight hint of dark cherry. The hops are flowery and demure, ceding the stage to their sweet brewmates. The body is extremely rich and thick. You can really chew on this beer if you feel like it. There's a tiny bit of cloying stickiness around the lips, and the aftertaste is sweet, alcoholic, and ridiculously long.

The Verdict: Two five-bangers in one day. I definitely woke up on the right side of the bed. Victory Brewing has a tendency to go to extremes. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much (Hop Wallop). Stylistically, a barleywine really plays to their strengths. This beer is truly delectable. Almost Ommegang quality. I am very pleased.

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Halftime Beer Blogging! Picked up a six pack of Weyerbacher's Old Heathen Imperial Stout last week. Liquor Depot in Avon had it on special for only $5.99. The combination of "Imperial Stout" and "$5.99" is not something I'm likely to pass up. Besides, the name? Come on, it's like this beer was out shopping for me, not the other way around.

The Pour: Silky smooth coming out of the bottle. Deep, dark mahogany in color. Holding it up to the light, I have to report that not a single photon makes it through this body. About a 1/4" head which quickly fades away, leaving a wispy tan film on the surface. Not much carbonation to report.

The Taste: Mmmmmm. Nice flavor. Assertively malty. Hints of both chocolate and caramel here. Slightly chewy mouth feel although, oddly enough, the body feels somewhat light for a stout. The hops are on the bland side. I mean, I'm looking for them right now and I'm just not getting much. Their presence is implied from the overall feeling of balance, but that's about it. Medium-to-long aftertaste with just a tiny hint of the smokiness you'd expect in this breed.

The Verdict: Well-crafted and flavorful, yet the brewers seem to have deliberately reined themselves in. The result is a rarity: A user-friendly imperial stout. Or, put another way, an imperial stout your wife or girlfriend will actually like.

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Picked up a six pack of Southern Tier Brewing Company's Old Man Winter Ale on Friday. A couple of weeks ago I tried Southern Tier's Fall sampler 12-pack, and I was sufficiently intrigued that I figured I'd give this new offering a try.

The executive summary: Very tasty beer, atrociously mis-labeled.

Winter ales are typically rich, thick, maybe a little spicy, and more towards the malty end of the spectrum than the hoppy side. What the boys in Lakewood, NY have created in their "Winter Ale" is nothing of the sort. It is, rather, a classic IPA, and a very good one at that. Light to medium body, crisp, and hopped like crazy. Seriously, this is a bitter, bitter beer, so if you're into that (I am) by all means run out and grab this brew.

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Next we have something from the Oldies but Goodies file, Theakston's Old Peculier Ale. I first sampled this particular brew twenty years ago at Holmes & Watson's in Troy, NY. Here's hoping it's as good as I remember it being.

The Pour: Old Peculier's body is slightly cloudy and caramel-colored as I pour it into a room temperature pint glass. A small, tan head briefly makes an appearance and is quickly gone, leaving nothing whatsoever behind. A few fine streamers of tiny bubbles gravitating towards the edge of the glass provide the only evidence of carbonation. The bouquet offers a heady dose of candied fruit.

The Taste: Welcome to the candy store. I never realized how heavy this ale was on the confectionary malts. Creamy, malted milk balls, a strong caramel note, and just a bit of apple in the background. Old Peculier is foamier in the mouth than its appearance would suggest, and each sip leaves a bit of cloying film around the lips. The body feels somewhere between a Scotch Ale and a Belgian, and it goes down very smoothly. The slight dryness as the aftertaste fades is the only real sense one gets that the Fuggles hops are participating in the proceedings. ABV is not listed, but I'm guessing we're around six percent or so.

The Verdict: Richer, creamier, and more complex than I remembered it, Old Peculier is quite the flavorful experience. It's actually got some strong dessert beer qualities, which means you won't be drinking more than one or two. Recommended.



Sorry I'm a day late with this, but yesterday I just had too much important shit to do. Like, you know, destabilizing the reactor core on the Pillar of Autumn in order to blow up Halo and thereby save every sentient life form in the galaxy. Tough job, but I was up to it. Anyhow, on to beer blogging!

Serendipity, baby. This first beer wasn't even on the plate for this weekend. Tracy and I had to stop and pick up a white wine for a recipe she was making, and, um, since I can't go into a packey and not get beer, well, you know. Right?

So here's this beer on the end cap of one of the aisles. Caught my eye. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing. I mean, look at that label. You're going to say no to that man? Frankly, I was too afraid to not buy this. Dude looks rather serious. Anyhow, I am so glad I did. This is a classic stout, a masterpiece of stoutiness. Thick, rich, foamy body. Nice hoppy edge to it. Hints of smoke and chocolate, but the flavor is balanced, it doesn't clobber you over the head. Long aftertaste. Everything that arises from this brew feels right, feels natural. You know from the first sip that you're in the hands of professionals here. Nine percent ABV which, if a quick scan of my memory banks is correct, is rather high for a stout, but hey, that's not something I'm prone to complaining about. A bit pricey at $8 for a four pack, but you have my word that it's worth it. A fine, fine beer.

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Next up we've got North Coast Brewing's Old Stock Ale. Picked this up about a month ago on our trip up to Saratoga to visit Angelos & Mrs. Angelos. They've got a truly first-rate beer store a few miles from their place and I, uh, went a little crazy. Anyhow, I was quite impressed with North Coast's Old Rasputin Stout, so when I saw this offering I decided they deserved a second go round.

The Pour: On a hunch, I went with the goblet for this one. Good call by me. This beer -- deep, dark brown in color with a shade of cloudiness -- poured into the glass with the thinnest of heads, and the micro-layer of foam that did develop was gone in an eyeblink. Lifting the glass to my nose, I immediately detected the sweet, alcohol laden notes of a barley wine. It was then that I realized yumminess was in my immediate future.

The Taste: Deep, rich, sweet malt tones dominate as I take my first sip of this beer. Then the winey, slightly fruity (cherry?) flavor kicks in. Then the alcohol. Oh, yes, that 13.25% ABV is not shy. The body is very thick and sticky, verging on cloying. Each mouthful leaves behind a tiny bit of film on your lips and the roof of your mouth. Not a bad thing, mind you, as the longer these flavors "stick" around the better. The aftertaste is long, of course, and in it you'll find a hint of oak and nut, rounding out a sensational taste tour-de-force.

The Verdict: Delicious. Hard core. Really freakin' intense. We're talking Ommegang's neighborhood here. North Coast Brewing? You're making me your bitch.

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Our second contestant this week is a fine Belgian-Style Abbey Ale from the brew monks at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. Angelos and Maurinsky (on behalf of Mr. Maurinsky) both recommended this one, so when I ran across it at the CT Beverage Center, I had to scoop some up.

They should rename this stuff Omygod. Because that's what I said when I got my first taste of it. Ho ho ho ho is this good beer.

Dark cherry brown in color. Offers a nice, foamy head when served at room temperature, slightly less so if you cool it down for half an hour in the fridge (not a beer that you drink cold). Serve it in a goblet or other wide-mouthed glass, something that lets you stick your nose down in there. Mmmmmmm. Nice, heady aroma. Then the taste. Big sweet hit on the tip of the tongue to start, then a slow savory flavor burn as you swish it around, and finally a short aftertaste that's part cherry liqueur, part tobacco (in a good way). The body is rich without being syrupy or overbearing. Good alcohol bite to it, but nothing that will scare anyone away. This is definitely a keeper.

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At Liquor Depot today, I finally broke down and shelled out the $10 for a bottle of Brewery Ommegang's latest concoction, Ommegeddon Funkhouse Ale With Brettanomyces. I'm not really sure where they were going with the name of this one. "Ommegeddon" sounds really cool, but imagery-wise it clashes with the "Funkhouse" subtitle. And I haven't a clue what Brettanomyces is... Ah, wait, here we are: It's a yeast that's common in Belgian-style ales. Verruh Nice. Well, for $10, at least it better be...

The Pour: The cork comes out with a feisty little "pop!" and vapor swirls from the neck of the bottle. Pouring into my Ommegang goblet, I hear an almost soda-like fizz from the carbonation. The beer builds up a half-inch head of very coarse, whitish foam. The majority of this fades quickly, but a thin, solid layer lingers on for several more minutes. A strong fruity aroma emanates from the head. The body is a cloudy gold and suffused with champagne levels of bubbles.

The Taste: Sweet and sticky on the lips, my first thought was "Wait, did the guys in Cooperstown steal a recipe from Unibroue? The weight and mouth-feel of the body certainly come out of the Belgian playbook, with the one exception being the carbonation, which feels a little too coarse for that family of styles. The malts clearly dominate this beer's flavor profile, which is as it should be, but they're not nearly as varied and interesting as I expected. A hint of honey wheat, and an undercarriage that suggests some prankster threw whisky sour mix into the fermenter. Ommegang claims that they added a "blast of dry-hopping" to their recipe, and indeed there's a dry, bitter edge that comes out primarily in the aftertaste. Rather than rounding out the malts and working with them, however, I almost feel like the hops are muffling the flavor. Quite strange. One bright note: Ommegeddon packs an 8% ABV, and I'm feeling all 8 of those percents as I approach the end of the bottle.

The Verdict: Well, even Babe Ruth struck out a few times, right? Ommegang took chances with this recipe, and that's laudable, but it just didn't work for me. This beer tastes like it had an argument with itself trying to figure out what it wanted to be, and now it's in the corner sulking. Save your $10. Or better yet, chip in another $2 and buy two of Ommegang's eponymous ale, which is still their best.



Opa Opa Brewing had a tasting booth set up at Liquor Depot when Tracy and I did our weekly packie run on Friday, and I was sufficiently bowled over by their brown ale that I felt I should purchase a growler of it. Let's take a longer look.

The Pour: I cracked the cap and wisps of cloudy beer vapor swirled forth from the neck of the growler. Pouring into a 22 oz. Coors Light football glass - crappy beer, great glass - Opa Opa Brown Ale developed a ginormous head of coarse-grained, tan-colored foam. We're talking 2-3" of head here. This gradually died down to 1/4" or so over a few minutes. Aromas off the head were malty and slightly earthy. Carbonation levels appear very faint. The body is dark but not cloudy at all, and boasts a robust-looking reddish-brown hue.

The Taste: First impression comes from the dominant malty flavor. This ale is sweeter than most browns I've had, with a taste somewhere between chocolate and caramel. Nougat, maybe? Yes, let's call it that. There's a bit of the woody/nutty flavor one expects from the variety that undergirds this sweetness. In addition, there's a nice, crisp hoppiness that rounds out the flavor, keeping the beer's potent sweetness from being overwhelming or one-dimensional. The body is medium-heavy and quite chewy, and each mouthful leaves a bit of sticky film around the lips. The aftertaste is sweet and, in the only real ding I can name for this brew, a bit watery and short.

The Verdict: This is a solid and distinctive brown ale. Not necessarily appropriate to the season, given the heavier weight and dessert-like flavor, but I can sure see drinking a whole bunch of this some Football Sunday. Opa-Opa continues to do Western Massachusetts proud with this offering.



Otter Creek Copper AleNot to say that the B-list doesn't have its charms. Otter Creek Brewing's Copper Ale, for example, is a delightfully unpretentious brew. Exactly the kind of undemanding beer I need to help me through my current miserable state. (Wow, Tracy's right: I do whine a lot when I'm sick.) This little ale is, as advertised, copperish in color with a medium body and average carbonation. The malt/hop balance is -- wait for it -- about fifty/fifty. Of particular note is the way the malts and hops blend together. Usually when I take a sip of beer I can make a clear distinction: OK, the malt hits here and tastes like so, and there are the hops over there. Not so with this one. The two components seem to meet each other halfway, providing an unusual unity of flavor. Alternatively, I could just be high on cold medication. The aftertaste is, literally, short and sweet. Ah, what a friendly little beer. I make it go bye-bye now.

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Lazy Saturday evening here in the Shire. Just got back from running half a dozen errands and now we're just kicking it. So why not do a little beer blogging? First up, you remember that New Yorker article on Dogfish Head Brewing that I had you read a few weeks ago? (You read it, right? Better have.) The piece started out telling the story about the dude who contacted DH owner Sam Calagione after finding this really cool, ultra-hard, aromatic wood down in South America that he thought would be interesting for aging beer in? Yeah, well I got me some. Let's have a sip or twenty of Palo Santo Marron malt beverage.

The Pour: Whoa. This beer has a humongous bouquet. A big, fat whiff of what smells like fig or apricot almost knocked me over as I poured this into my Stella goblet. A half-inch head of dark tan foam developed and held on for a couple of minutes before dissolving to film atop an opaque body that's dark brown bordering on black. Impossible to tell what's going on inside this beer, but from the top it appears carbonation is scant.

The Taste: Palo Santo feels like a Belgian Abbey-style Ale. The silky texture and slightly weighty mouth feel; the sweet, fruity, almost wine-like intensity; the relative lack of carbonation. I don't know if that's what they were going for -- "malt beverage" is a pretty vague descriptor -- but that's where they landed. I was spot on with the fig in the aroma, but there are other fruits in that vein woven in as well. Most notably, I'm picking up strong hints of prune, which makes this a Warrior's drink indeed. Tracy pointed out a licorice note which I didn't pick up on immediately but won't go away after you notice it. This is nice, actually, as there's little else on the bitter side of the spectrum to balance out Palo's sweetness. There is a big alcohol edge underlying everything else this beer has going on. It's up front, in the middle, and all the way down in the long, penetrating aftertaste. ABV is advertised as 12% and they are not trying to hide it.

The Verdict: This is a powerful sipping beer. Very intense. As Port is to wine, this is to ale. It's not for everyone, but if you like Abbey styles or like to live on the wild side generally with your beer, Palo Santo is worth every bit of the hefty price tag ($13.95 for a four pack).



First up, we've got a nice little brewski from Southern Tier Brewing: Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale. I've had this before, but I neglected blogging it, so when I was browsing the shelves on Friday I thought, hey, let's amend that sitchyation, how's about?

The Pour: "Extraordinary" certainly does not describe the meager 1/3" head this ale develops. That was into a frosted mug, too, so you'd expect a little more. No matter; after the whitish foam fades, we've got a cloudy, light-amber body with scant carbonation levels. I caught a slight whiff of malt off the top, and that was it. Note for the record, however, that my nose is functioning even more suckily than usual today.

The Taste: Nice. First impression tells me this beer has very good balance and drinkability. Second impression tells me this beer has some depth to it. Hop characteristics come out slightly more prominently than their malt companions, but only by a nose. Let's call it a 55-45 win for the hops. The green goblins show up with a mostly bitter aspect, but there's a hint of the floral to them as well, which explains why Tracy didn't completely turn her nose up at this offering. The malts here present a strong set of earthy notes, and there's a wonderful smokey taste that rounds matters out on the inside of the cheeks before fading down into the medium-long aftertaste. I like that a lot. Extraordinary Ale falls right about in the middle of the spectrum for weight, which is appropriate as the craftsmen were going for a "Pale Ale". ABV is 5.6% which also places it at the median for buzzy payload action.

The Verdict: This is a very well-structured ale. It's got a good deal of character but it's also quite easy to put away. Perfect six-pack beer.



Brooklyn Pennant Ale What beer to blog about on the first day of baseball season? Why, the choice is obvious, is it not? Allow me, then, to introduce you to Brooklyn Brewing's Pennant Ale.

But wait! First, a short rant. Dear Major League Baseball: It is Sunday. It is freakin' beautiful out. A truly glorious day. There is only one thing I can think of that would improve upon this day, and that is a Yankees game on the television. But, alas, like the NFL, you have decided to do the idiotic single-game opening day thing. Which sucks. Really, really quite dumb, I'll have you know. Next year, please let everyone open on the weekend. Please? Thanks.

So then. Back to the beer at hand. Pennant Ale presents itself with a good foamy head and a body that is light copper in color. The flavor is quite assertive, and it's the malt that grabs your attention. It's maddeningly hard to describe, however. I ran it by Tracy, and the best she could come up with was "like a candy, but not sweet". Paradoxical as that may seem, it's not off the mark. I hesitate to use the word "sour" to get at what I'm tasting here -- negative connotations, right? -- but it kinda sorta is. Like sour candy, perhaps? (My woman's taste buds are smart. Like her.) Maybe a hint of smoke too, or perhaps even a suggestion of scotch. Anyhow, the important thing to note is that this malt jumps on your tongue hard. In a good way. The only fault I'd point out about this is that because the malt is so assertive, the hops get more or less buried. I suspect they're in the house, but they're hiding under the bed or in the closet or something. Not a huge deal, mind you. It's true that I'm a hop fanatic, but this ale brings enough to the table in other departments that I can let the relative weakness in the hop department slide. I will sum up this beer in a single word: Robust.

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Update: Tracy says that Pennant Ale's flavor is really good second-hand as well. Nudge nudge. Wink wink.



So, decided to revisit Dogfish Head's Raison D'Etre this weekend. Tracy and I tried this last year because 1.) We like Dogfish Head and 2.) You have to love that as a name for a beer. When I saw it at my local toy store Friday, I figured, hey, that was good right? I'll tee it up for the blog.

Now I remember what I like about Dogfish Head so much: Their IPA's.

Seriously, this is what I think happened with this beer: They have an allotment of hops, and by the time they're finished brewing their 60-minute, 90-minute, and 120-minute IPA's, there are no hops left. How else to explain Raison D'Etre which is all malt. Here I sit with a mouthful, bathing my tongue in this brew, and I'm trying to sense even the slightest bitterness going on and, nope, nuthin'. All malt. Now, it's a good maltiness, mind you. Very nice taste. Carmelly with a hint of fruit. But it really could use some balance, just a hint of hops to keep things on track. The body is medium weight with decent carbonation. Short aftertaste. This beer definitely isn't looking to kick you in the face. 8% ABV, although you don't get even a hint of that from the flavor. Wish I could give these guys the thumbs-up here, but they broke one of my cardinal rules for ales and went one-dimensional.

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Flying Dog Road Dog Scottish PorterNext up on the agenda, Flying Dog Brewery's Road Dog Scottish Porter. Mmmmmmmm, sweet. Dark brown body, medium-to-heavy in weight, with a meager head. Fine carbonation. The mouth feel has the velvety touch of a porter and leaves a bit of a treacly residue behind. Flavor-wise, however, I don't detect any of the smokiness or edginess that the term "porter" usually conveys. Instead, the malt -- which clearly predominates throughout the proceedings -- carries hints of caramel. This puts this brew more in line with a standard Scotch ale, but mitigating against that label is the absence of the slight alcohol edge that those usually have (BTW, %ABV isn't listed, but I'm feeling a 6.0. Ooops. No, make that a 7.0). A little light on the hops, which are present but distant. Aftertaste is short considering the other aspects of the beer. Interesting. Mehinks we have an odd hybrid on our hands. Taxonomy aside, though, this is a very pleasant beer. I'd been staying away from Flying Dog because the last two or three beers of theirs I'd tried came across as sloppy and imbalanced, but they put together a nice recipe here. Overall, a smooth, almost elegant brew.

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OK, time to air a pet peeve of mine about "flavored" beers. Wait, you say, What's the beer that occasions this X-Mas rant? It's Sea Dog Brewing's Riverdriver Porter Hazelnut Ale. Not a terrible beer. In fact, because I generally like Sea Dog and am fond of their brewpub up in beautiful Camden, Maine, I'm going to go easy on them with the rating. But still...

Here's the thing. You walk a fine line when you decide to flavor a beer. I'm a Master Drunkard, not a Master Brewer, so I don't know where the art lies. What I know is that, if you're going to try to produce a beer that has a non-beer flavor woven into it, you have to somehow make the flavor arise organically. It's not enough to craft a beer of a particular type and then just "add flavor" like you would with, say, a flavored coffee.

Riverdriver has a typical porter base to it. Very heavy body, almost pitch black in color, and a somewhat chocolaty bouquet. Chewy, too. Pleasant in all respects as porters go, but then there's the hazelnut. It tastes like they just went to the supermarket, found some hazelnut extract, and added it in after the fact. D'Oh!!! You can't do it like that. It's too obvious. It hits you over the head. No, if you want to add in hazelnut flavor you have to weave it in to the core. When I sip this, I shouldn't think "porter... chocolate... HEY! Hazelnut!" The added flavor should feel immediate and intrinsic to the beer.

Anyhow. Just something I want to get out there. This is aimed mainly at American microbreweries too. It's like some of them, in the quest to expand their offerings, take a recipe they already have on the shelf and then toss a flavor in. Not good enough, guys. Not givin' those novelty beers the love they need.

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Tracy's in the other room wrapping presents for the Toast family gift exchange tomorrow and I'm pondering putting up some additional lights in our windows. I believe I'm up to the task, but I think I need a kick-butt brew to fuel me. So how about we do a little Saturday night Beer Blogging? And I know just the beer, too. The boys in Burlington finally unleashed their 2006 Winter offering upon the world, so let's take a look at Magic Hat's Roxy Rolles hoppy amber ale.

The Pour: Depositing the beverage into a frosty mug, we are greeted by a meager head. Perhaps 1/4" of foam which quickly dissipates to film. Carbonation in the glass is a little light but still reasonable for this style of beer. The body is a dark amber with a bit of a reddish hue. No aroma off the head, but I'm rather stuffed up, so my nose is probably thwarting whatever is there.

The Taste: The immediate impression is that this is a well-rounded beer. Very robust in the mouth, foaming up a little and grabbing your attention in a number of different ways. The hoppy edge asserts itself first, but the malt hit is only a half a length behind. They seem to actually meet somewhere in the middle of your tongue, blending together in a bitter-woody-sour harmony that is altogether pleasing to the palate. While the hops (brewer's gold and simcoe) are forward enough to command your attention, they don't assault you. Likewise, the malt, which, contrary to the descriptoin in the online profile, is almost devoid of sweetness, won't make you pucker or grimace either. The hint of oaky/nutty flavor smooths out the rough edges. Aftertaste is medium in length, long enough to keep your attention, not so long as to monopolize the rest of your day. Alcohol is 5.8% by volume.

The Verdict: What the Hat has given us here is a deeply flavorful, perfectly balanced, rich but refreshing ale. It's got some shades of their legendary number 9, but it also -- and this might just be me being nostalgic -- seems to pay homage to the late, great Catamount Amber Ale. In fact, I'd wager they used the same variety of hops. (Catamount, which went out of business a few years back, hailed from the same area in upstate Vermont as Magic Hat. Their Amber Ale was, at one time, my favorite beer.) Unsurprisingly, another winner for the Northeast's premiere brewer.

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Magic Hat debuted their 2005 winter seasonal brew, Saint Gootz, a couple of weeks ago. The label identifies it as a "dark wheat ale", and like most wheats it's got a nice, tangy zip to it. As a dark ale, however, it's got a lot more body than, say, a summer wheat. Nice, deep, smooth feel to it. Great flavor. No bitterness at all, so you hop-o-phobes out there can enjoy it. Once again, the beer wizards at Magic Hat come through with a winner.

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Rainy Saturday afternoon and I'm feeling too lazy to do much of anything besides zone out in front of the computer. Still, I figure the least I can do is describe what I'm drinking. So how about a little beer blogging? First up on the agenda is Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner.

The Pour: The burst of floral hop aromas that wafts up as I pour this brew into a tall, frosted pilsner glass suggests that this is not going to be a typical Sam Adams-ish offering. Well, OK, full disclosure, I've already had one, so I kinda knew that; but really, it's a nice bouquet. (Shit, I just went to sniff the head again and I snarfed beer foam up my nose.) A head of off-white foam builds to a peak of about half an inch and sits atop the cloudy, honey-colored body for two or three minutes before burning off. Healthy carbonation levels are evinced by the two dozen or so streamers of fine bubbles making their way to the surface of the beer.

The Taste: The folks at the Boston Beer Company are not wrong to label this beer an "intense hop experience". Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner unloads its payload with a vengeance, filling up the mouth with a metric ton of dry, bitter hops. I may have mis-read the floral notes in the pour, because these hops are not the subtle, flowery variety; they're much more agressive, attacking the tongue's bitter sensors along multiple vectors and leaving their target awash in a dense, pungent haze. Lest you think this beer is one-dimensional, however, I assure you there's quite a bit going on in the malt profile as well. A big sour note accompanies the initial hop burst, and if you poke around a bit before swallowing there's a hint of nut and barley in there as well. All of this is wrapped in a big-ass body; heavy mouth-feel, weighty texture, a bit cloying around the lips. The aftertaste is dry, bitter and looooooooooong.

The Verdict: Frankly, everything about this beer defies the label "pilsner". I know, I know, I'm sure it's technically a pilsner or they wouldn't call it that, but believe me when I say it's unlike any pilsner you've ever had. This feels like a double-IPA cross-bred with a Belgian. We can forgive Sam Adams for their taxonomy-bending recipe, though, and instead tip our hat to them for really taking a chance with this brew. You know my knock on Sam Adams: All their beers taste like variations on a single base recipe so that there's little difference from one incarnation to the next, right? Not this time. They started from a blank slate here and concocted something challenging and original. Muchos kudos.



Ah, yes. The great meal is through. The turkey and stuffing are in the belly. You're sitting and watching a little football and letting the day settle in. Nothing like finishing off X-Mas night with a good friend.

Mmmmm... Smoky. Chewy. Dark and silky and... hey, my old buddy Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout. I haven't had this since I was a senior at RPI and I was spending every spare dollar I had down at Holmes & Watson's in Troy, NY expanding my beer repertoire. It's still the sly devil of a beer I remember. Worth every dollar of the $10 a four-pack you'll be charged. Sam's Oatmeal Stout is darker than pitch, smoky like a fireplace on X-Mas day (hmmmm...), slightly bitter, and it sticks to the roof of your mouth in an altogether desirable way, lingering like a friend who doesn't really want to go home. It's a heavy beer -- be warned -- like a 10W/30 at least. But I could not recommend it more warmly.

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(Update: Wow, reading that last one really illustrates the inverse relationship between blood alcohol content and writing ability. I think I'll leave it up there unedited as a reminder to myself.)



The Pour: This beer develops a 3/4" head of sand-colored foam which dies off to a 1/8" remant in a few minutes. The body is a rich copper color. Carbonation is quite robust. A dense mist of bubbles continues to cascade towards the top of the glass a good five minutes after the pour. Not much, if anything, in the way of scents here.

The Taste: The malts lead the hops here with what feels like a 60/40 flavor ratio. Malt notes are semi-sweet. A touch of honey, and maybe a hint of caramel. Nothing overpowering, but they don't need to be, because the hops aren't killing you either, delivering just a trace of dryness around the edges. The body is where this beer really falls flat. Very watery and insubstantial. No aftertaste whatsoever. You swallow this beer and it's gone. Not even a hint of the 6% ABV suggests itself throughout the proceedings.

The Verdict: This is a perfect example of what can go wrong when American craft brewers recklessly expand their catalog by attempting to recreate complex European styles using a variation on their safe, "base" recipe. Saranac's "Scotch Ale" tastes very similar to every other Saranac you've ever tasted. There's none of the richness, none of the intensity, none of the big, dessert-like reward you expect from a proper Scotch Ale. It's Saranac Pale Ale with a bit of caramel in the hops.

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Halftime beer blogging! Lets try to make some mischief with Ridgeway Brewing's holiday double ale, Seriously Bad Elf.

The Pour: SBE is amber in color and more or less clear. Pouring it, we see a moderate head of light, fluffy foam that dissipates inside of a minute. Almost zero carbonation remains in the glass after the head is gone.

The Taste: We have a variety of sweet, malty flavors going on here. A little bit of butterscotch, a little bit of cider, perhaps. Maybe a hint of caramel. None of these are terribly assertive, but they don't need to be because the rest of this beer is utterly tame. There is a mild hop presence which comes out primarily during the aftertaste, as the malt flavor fades away. All of this would work much better if this beer had a body. Unfortunately, the substance of this brew is pure papier-mache. It almost tastes -- dare I say it? -- watery. That is not an adjective one expects to apply to a double ale. Furthermore, this beer is as flat as a ten-year-old girl. After ten minutes in the glass, you feel like you're drinking watery syrup. At least this concoction packs 9% ABV, so I'm not completely wasting my time.

The Verdict: When Ridgeway labeled this Elf "Seriously Bad", I doubt they meant it as a description of the beer's quality, but alas, the moniker is apt in exactly that way. A totally unimpressive experience. I am 0 for 2 on the day. Cranky.

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Today, A Tale of Two Wheat Beers, one from Sierra Nevada and one from Long Trail. Belly up to the bar, friends, as we draw two glasses and see what's what.

Sierra Nevada WheatFirst, the Sierra Nevada unfiltered wheat. Having been quite impressed with their Summerfest a little while back, I decided I just had to check out their wheat offering. One good turn deserves another, after all, right? (I don't actually know what that saying means, but it sounds good here.)

The Pour: Big old foamy head, which seems to be the result of this brew shooting its carbonation load all at once, as there's very little in the way of bubbly going on shortly after the pour. Light yellow in color with a cloudy body. Just beneath the surface there's a layer of extra-cloudy swirliness going on, which is cool to look at.

The Taste: Very lightweight feel here, bordering on insubstantial. Surprisingly, though, this wispy thing packs a decent flavor payload. Sour taste to the malt, which grabs the tip of your tongue and jumps on it. Well-hopped for a nice, crisp edge. Tart, lemony finish. Fairly long (and enjoyable) aftertaste.

The Verdict: Quite a package here. Everything balances really well. Each sip provides a nice little pop-pop-pop experience with the punchy malt, followed quickly by the hoppy bitters, and wrapped up with a tarty, zingy finish. And yet, even though it's so assertively flavorful, it's got a body so skinny you could drink a ton of 'em. Very well-crafted beer. I really like what Sierra Nevada did with this one. Could work its way into the regular summer rotation.

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Smithwick's Irish AleOur first contestant today comes from the fine folks at Guinness. Smithwick's Irish Ale lands dead-center on the beer spectrum between Guinness' two more well-known offerings, the legendary Guinness Stout on the heavy end and Harp Lager on the light side. Coppery in color with a foamy head, it is an unusually effervescent ale, somewhat insubstantial in nature. The flavor is pleasant enough but completely lacking in assertiveness. A hit of flowery malt, a trace of hops, Smithwick's goes down smoothly and is almost instantly forgotten, leaving not a trace of aftertaste. In fact, if I were to rename this beer, I would call it "Smithwick's Mild Ale". Now, this is not an entirely bad thing. In fact, if you're looking for an Ale you can drink a lot of without getting bogged down, Smithwick's might be just the ticket. At 4.5% ABV, it's not going to do you a lot of damage in that department either. (Note to Self: Remember this beer when you get to Ireland in August. This could be the solution to that sprint/marathon problem we always run into.) Bottom Line: A beer with mass-market sensibilities, Smithwick's is user-friendly and in no way unpleasant. I predict, however, that true beer enthusiasts will be unimpressed.

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Halftime Beer Blogging!!! Meant to get to this brew last week, but I was too hammered by halftime of the late game. So here we go: Smuttynose Winter Ale.

The Pour: Small head which dissipated inside of a minute. The body is a very attractive copper color. Carbonation is extremely fine and the tiny bubbles almost seem to hang suspended in mid-beer, creating a cloudy look.

The Taste: First thing I notice here is the foamy mouth feel. This beer really fills up your mouth if you provoke it with a little swishing. The malt has a bit of a sour taste to it, which I seem to sense primarily on the underside of the tongue. Strong hints of spice and a little pumpkin present themselves next. The hops are pretty weak. There's enough there to keep things from being completely out of balance, but they really should have put a bit more emphasis on that end of things. Aftertaste is on the short side, and basically consists of the sour malt note that got us started. Kind of falls flat in the end.

The Verdict: Not bad, but nothing special either. This beer has a bit of a superficial feel to it, like they didn't think the recipe through all the way.

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Next up, we've got a beer I was supposed to blog about months ago, because it's the beer that I sent to John Howard for being the 100,000th visitor to TwoGlasses.com. This was a tough call to make. I must have spent twenty minutes walking around the beer aisles at Liquor Depot. I needed a beer that was available in bomber size - no chincing with a 12 oz. for such an accomplishment as this. I also needed a beer that was at least somewhat interesting but still very drinkable, nothing exotic. Believe me, had Chemist or Mike or Angelos won this thing, I would have gone in an entirely different direction, probably a Belgian or a barleywine. But for a guy who sees nothing wrong with drinking a Bud Light? I knew I couldn't stray too far from the beaten path. Lastly, I figured I'd go with something local, and that's how I wound up choosing Berkshire Brewing's Steel Rail Pale Ale.

The Pour: Depositing Steel Rail into a wide-mouthed frosted mug, we see a body that's very light in color for a Pale Ale, almost a lager yellow. The head tops out at 1/2" of white foam which leaves like it's got a hot date somewhere. A faint grassy scent wafts from the top of the glass. Carbonation appears moderate, and there's a bit of cloudiness in the body, like a mist of fine bubbles that just hang there instead of rising.

The Taste: A strong sweet & sour malty flavor jumps out and asserts itself immediately here, with notes of honey providing the sweet and a puckery fruity taste delivering the sour. Precious little to speak of in the hops department. In fact you can only detect their contribution in the dryness of the aftertaste. The body is a bit on the watery side, to the point where you'd almost think it's flat except that the residual carbonation foams up nicely when provoked with a swish of the tongue. Aftertase is very, very brief. Stylistically, I would simply not classify this as a Pale Ale. It feels more like a honey wheat, with a slightly cloying overtone that suggests a Maibock.

The Verdict: Huh. Not what I remember getting on draft the last time I had it. In fact, I'm almost embarrassed that this is the beer I chose for our contest winner. It's not bad, per se, but the clear style violation annoys me. You can't call something a "Pale Ale" and then omit the hops. For that matter you can't call it an Ale with such a wishy-washy body. (I mean, technically, you can call it that as long as you used top-fermenting yeast, but you know what I mean.) Hmmmmm. I hate to say it, but Berkshire Brewing? You're on Notice.

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(Note: You can read John's review here. He was much more generous than I was.)



Ladies and Gentlemen, we have got a keeper here for you this weekend. Damn! Three straight weeks I've been eyeing Victory Brewing's Storm King Imperial Stout only to end up going in another direction. If only I had known what I was depriving myself of. Curse you, fickle fates of beerdom.

Storm King makes a grand entrance, and I love that. There's a strong hard alcohol undertone that presents itself immediately -- right up front, no waiting for the aftertaste -- and informs you of this beer's intentions. The body here is mildly heavy and the carbonation, while not pronounced in the glass, foams up nicely in your mouth with little provocation. Chewing on it thusly, you discover what I'd call a perfect hop-malt balance, right around 60/40, the hoppy edge predominating but the malty foundation right there at your beck and call. You'll also notice a smoky/ashy tone that really comes through in the medium-to-long aftertaste, as well as a hint of espresso. Very pleasant if your taste buds happen to swing that way. Oh, and since you asked, %ABV is a robust 9.1, making this brew a great way to jump-start your afternoon.

Finally, gotta give props for the great name, the menacing packaging, and whoever it was who wrote this blurb on the label:

"Emerging from the deepest shades of darkness, a rolling crescendo of flavors burst forth from this robust stout."

Seriously, all I could think of when I was reading this was the album cover for Judas Priest's Screaming for Vengeance:

"From an unknown land and through distant skies came a winged warrior..."

Storm King. Check it out. If your local distributors don't carry it, petition them to do so.

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Sierra Nevada SummerfestThe Yankees game is over (they won, sweeping the Rangers on the road) and I'm upstairs in the office now. A few narrow rays of sunlight are slanting through the window, and one of them is passing through my tall glass of Sierra Nevada Summerfest beer. Dozens of columns of bubbles are slowly streaming upwards through the crystal-clear, golden body, where they merge with the soft foamy head. It is a vision that evokes both radiant energy and sublime transcendence. It is a vision of life.

Oh, yes, someone has a happy buzz on, and that someone is me.

Sierra Nevada has crafted us a truly first-rate lager here for the Summer of 2006. The body is crisp and clear and pure and the taste is surprisingly complex for a lager. There's a nice round hit of maltiness up front. Then, as it it settles under the tongue, a slightly sour component edges in, followed by a honey aftertaste. Only after the sip is long gone and your mouth is starting to dry out do you taste the hops, which are on the delicate side of bitter. Just a lot going on for a style that's not renowned for its intricacy. Strongly recommended. (Honestly? I wish their Celebration Winter Ale had been half as interesting as this, and that's a style that's supposed to bowl you over.)

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Ommegang Three PhilosophersAt last, we come to our Grand Finale. The Quad. That's right, Chemist, I'm looking at you. Think you're the only guy who can land a quad this weekend? Oh, no, my friend. (Full Disclosure: I had no idea that this beer was "quadruple fermented", but there you go.)

Ommegang was already well on their way to being my favorite brewer before I uncorked a bottle of Three Philosophers. I mean, there was the eponymously named Ommegang Abbey Ale. Then I had their Hennepin ale down in NYC and was bowled over. So, as you can guess, I've been feverishly anticipating this newest (to me) offering.

I am not disappointed.

Where Grimbergen was an Abbey Ale for the guy on the street, Three Philosophers is a clinic on what a Belgian-style Ale is all about. Rich and deeply alcoholic (kinda like I aspire to be). The body is caramel colored, the head light and short-lived. Ahhhh, how to describe this brew.

Wine-like, certainly. Heady. Sweet. The tip of your tongue lights up with flavor. A hint of fruit, a dash of sweets, a dollop of liquor. It's all there. Did I mention that this otherworldly concoction is 9.8% ABV? Yeah, I only say that because it's kicking my ass at the moment. Oh, good beer. Nice beer.

Hops? Not to be found. At least not upon my inebriated palate. And yet, seeing as it's a quasi-barley-wine, I cannot complain. This beer does a good impression of Nectar. If they sell it in your neck of the woods, buy it.

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I searched in vain for a reason to delay the start of beer blogging, but in the end my efforts were for naught. Well, OK, I didn't look that hard. Didn't move anything. Didn't really agonize over it. Fine, look, it was a perfunctory exercise with a foregone conclusion. That make you feel better? Me too. So off to Unibroue we go once more to sample Trois Pistoles.

The Pour: A deep, mahogany brown in hue, this beer slides into the glass and builds up a nice 3/4" beige head. The first whiff I got seemed to be a mix of malt and mulch. Very Earthy. Carbonation appears moderate, although it's hard to tell because the body is almost entirely opaque.

The Taste: As I've come to expect with Unibroue's offerings, the malt is well out in front, and yet my immediate impression was that this beer is more balanced and a bit more complex than the previous three of theirs I've tried (Maudite, Don De Dieu, and La Fin Du Monde). The malt here has a number of distinct notes: A foundation of almond and oak, a hint of cigar wrapper, and a strong suggestion of sherry that winds over and around the rest. The real shocker here, however, is that this beer has a non-trivial hit of hops to it that rounds things out beautifully, lending just enough of a bitter flourish to fill out the flavor without drowning out any of the malty harmonies. Mouth feel is medium-to-heavy with a trace of stickiness, and there's a bit of a yeast in the aftertaste. As is Unibroue's wont, this beer packs an impressive 9% ABV which comes out in the sherry notes.

The Verdict: My favorite Unibroue yet. A dark, fruity brown ale that gives you a lot to ponder without overwhelming you. No real negatives in this recipe.

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First up we have an IPA from Trinity Beer Company of Providence, Rhode Island. I had quite a time of it trying to pick out a six pack at Liquor Depot yesterday -- ever have that happen where you're just staring at the shelves for what seems like an eternity and you can't make up your mind? -- until finally the cool label on this bad boy caught my eye.

The Pour: Trinity IPA develops a smaller head than I'm used to from this variety - maybe a quarter inch of creamy foam that dissipates to film inside two minutes or so. Visible carbonation in the slightly-cloudy, wheat-colored body is minimal at best. I was unable to detect any scents from the head but, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a little bit stuffed up.

The Taste: Let's go to the hop! (Oh, baby) Let's go to the hop! Yessir, this is a well-hopped beer. Verruh niiiice. Textbook IPA we've got here: Crisp, bitter, no nonsense. The hops are grassy, not flowery, adding to an overall clean presentation. Each swig of this brew strafes the sides of your tongue with hoppy goodness and that bitter payload stays right with you all the way through the fairly long aftertaste. I'd love to comment on the malt, but frankly I'm not picking up much in the way of malt characteristics through this hoppy haze. The body is sufficiently robust to absorb all this bitterness, but it's neither heavy nor overbearing.

The Verdict: I like this beer a lot. In addition to being well-crafted and a spot-on rendition of the IPA sub-species, it has a certain Je Ne Sais I Could Drink A Shitload Of These to it. Gotta give props for that.

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Man, did I have high hopes for this beer. River Horse Brewing's Tripel Horse has it going on there on the shelf. Belgian style, cool label, etc. But, ultimately, it disappointed. The main thing? It feels flat. Now, as I've noted before, Belgians and barley wines generally have very fine, very low levels of carbonation. This beer, on the other hand, tastes flat. I literally thought something was wrong with it when I opened it and poured it into my glass. No head whatsoever. Not a trace of foam. And none of the fine bubbles in the body you'd expect.

And what sucks is this: The flavor puts some serious boots to the bum. Mrs. Toast was digging on it big time. It's a malty hit, but there's a tiny trace of hops to keep it honest. I get almost a honey feeling from it. Yep, honey and ... wait ... grass? Wheat? Odd for the style, but it works. Heavy mouth feel, syrupy even. A strong hint of alcohol (it's 10% ABV). I'm tellin' ya, it's like there's a great beer in here struggling to get out. A little more bubbly, a little polish on it, and they'd have something. As it is, good but not great. As I said, a disappointment.

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Halftime Beer Blogging!!! In honor of the Huskies, I went with Abita Brewing's Turbodog. This is a really nice little brown ale we've got here. The Body is dark brown in color, as you'd expect. Nice aroma as you go to take a sip, like a hint of smoke and peat. Only a middling head, but there's a lightness and airiness to the carbonation that gives it a refreshing overall mouth feel. Turbodog's flavor is well-balanced but also assertive in all the right places. The malt is robust without being overwhelmingly sweet. Instead, it carries undertones of the smokiness that the head suggests. The hops glide about the rest of the body nicely, filling out the experience. Finally, there's a fairly long aftertaste which coats the palate, providing a nice continuity between sips. No real flaws here. A well-executed brown ale with enough of a flourish to keep the drinker fully engaged.

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Switching gears entirely, let's take a look at Harpoon Brewing's UFO. (Which I just learned, from reading the label closely for the first time, stands for "UnFiltered Offering" -- see, reading is fundamental.) No, February isn't weissbier season, but this came with the Harpoon mix pack I bought and dammit, I've gotta go light lest I wind up comatose on the couch at 6:00 PM, passed out at 10:00 PM, and driving to work tomorrow thinking "I will NEVER drink like that again on a Sunday. I will NEVER drink like that again on a Sunday. I will NEVER drink like that again on a Sunday." Again.

UFO is the beer equivalent of meringue: Soft and airy and light but not entirely insubstantial. The flavors float and suggest themselves, rather than asserting themselves outright. This is a good thing after you just got your ass handed to you by a particularly pugilistic stout, but under normal circumstances I like my weissbiers a little more tangy and playful. See, this beer is kinda shy.

More impressions: As is characteristic of the breed, the body is lemony-golden and cloudy. The carbonation is very fine-grained, but in the mouth, it foams up champagne-fast. I sense that, somewhere in here, there might be a hop, but it's hiding, and doing a very good job of it. Malt predominates, but it's a soft, slightly flowery malt, nothing too sweet. The biggest disappointment is the comparative lack of tartness, as compared with most weissbiers I've had. A perfect weissbier should be tart. It should have that tangy, zingy edge to it. I'm not getting that at all from UFO. It could be that the creamy texture is taking the edge off the beer's flavor. Whatever the case, the resulting effect is pleasant but bland, and bland is a cardinal sin in my book.

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UFO Rasberry HefeweizenLast week, as I was perusing the wares at my local package store, I espied a sign that read "Special: UFO Rasberry Hefeweizen $5.99". It's true, I hadn't been terribly impressed by Harpoon's UFO the first time around, but-but-but... this had rasberry! And rasperry is what you put in weissbier to make it zippier! (It actually is. Not making that up. Berliner Hefeweizen, for example, is supposed to be served with a spoonful of rasberry extract in the bottom of the glass.) I just had to investigate. Unable to find any in the cooler, I prevailed upon the manager, who retrieved the last six-pack from the warm shelf. In passing, he mentioned to me that his distributor had delivered a case of this by accident. (See?) I thought. (Serendipity. That's what this is.) Anyhow, this is what I wrote, back in February, about UFO:

UFO is the beer equivalent of meringue: Soft and airy and light but not entirely insubstantial. The flavors float and suggest themselves, rather than asserting themselves outright. This is a good thing after you just got your ass handed to you by a particularly pugilistic stout, but under normal circumstances I like my weissbiers a little more tangy and playful. See, this beer is kinda shy.

Guess what, peeps: Shy and retiring UFO has red-headed sister and she is a wild and crazy girl. That's right, the rasberry did the trick, providing just the tangy assertiveness that was lacking in regular UFO. (Note: I didn't intend this to be Fruity Beer Blogging Day, it's just working out that way.) The body is cloudy, like UFO, but with a slight hint of a reddish hue. Texture wise, it has the same light, fluffy character. The flavor, on the other hand, is completely overhauled by the addition of the rasberry. You get a tart rasberry whallop right on the tongue that lingers through each mouthful. Swish it around a bit and the sour lemon flavor comes through as well. Not much going on in the hops department, but, oddly enough, that's probably for the best. You've got a sweet, fruity, happy bouquet here. Presenting a hoppy edge would probably throw that completely out of whack. Bottom line, this is a fun little beer.

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Widmer Brothers HefeweizenAh, Spring. As the temperature begins to rise, the weight of one's beer must fall. It's a rule of sorts. And so, dear readers, we begin to trend away from the stouts and Belgians that have graced these pages through the cold days of Winter and instead indulge in the joys of lagers and, yes, weissbier.

To enjoy a weiss is no vice. Take Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen, for example. This is a textbook American-style wheat beer. Light gold in color and cloudy with a clean, soft head, this beer goes down nice and easy. Great mouth feel here. Fine-grained carbonation that tickles your tongue. Foams up nicely as you swish it around. The flavor is typical of the genre, tart and just a little bitter with a hint of lemon. There's also a slight hint of honey from the malt, which nicely balances things out. Nothing about this beer is going to blow you away, but if you're looking for a pleasant brew to while away the weekend hours with, Widmer will certainly do the job.

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Now that's a little more like it. That's a little more what I expect from a Winter seasonal. What's the salient feature of Red Hook Brewing's Winter Hook? I'd say it's that... that.. that thing that sits in your mouth afterwards. "Aftertaste" doesn't do it justice. It's like the quasi-physical ghost of a sweet -- caramel? chocolate? butterscotch? no, something in between all of them -- that sits right on the back of your tongue for an indefinite period of time after a swallow. (Beer ectoplasm?) Fascinating. See that's what I want in a holiday beer. Bring the funk to the table, Yo.

As to the rest: Brownish in color. Light trace of hops, but nothing more. Carbonation is akin to a brown ale. But it's not a brown ale as it lacks the nuttiness that breed requires. But it feels like a brown ale, even as the taste suggests a Scotch ale... THAT'S IT! It's a Brown Scotch Ale! Ha hahhhh! (I just did a happy dance.) I have you figured out, my Red Hook brewmaster friends. You cannot fool me. I discerned the Mystery Recipe.

Verily, it is good to be me.

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Our final contestant this week is a local boy. Paper City Brewing is located in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which is a semi-urban satellite of the great, gleaming metropolis of Springfield, Mass. Tracy and I actually went to a Paper City-sponsored show a couple years back where her ex's band was the headliner. They're really cool. (The brewery and the band.)

So, anyhow, when we were loading up last week, I picked up a six of their Winter Palace Wee Heavy Ale. Nice snag, if I do say so myself. They bill this as a Scotch Ale, and while it's not quite that, it gets closer than your typical American microbrew does when they aim in that direction.

Oops. I digressed.

So, back to Wee Heavy. Nice fuckin' beer. Big old slap of flavor. A lot going on. It's got the caramel you want in a Scotch Ale, sure enough. Body is nice and big and foamy -- more foamy than you'd expect, really. Fills your mouth right up. Flavor-wise, the malt almost buries the hops completely. Typical of the species, but I wish they'd let the green goblin step out a bit more in this one. Boy, does that malt stay on your tongue, though. Altogether pleasant sensation. Yummy. This is a highly drinkable beer. Chances are you're not going to find it in your area, though, as PC is primarily a local affair. If you do see it, grab some.

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Young's Double Chocolate StoutSo, Young's DOUBLE CHOCOLATE Stout. Man, let me tell you, they are not kidding. The chocolate malt in this is the most aggressive I've ever encountered. Hershey's Dark all the way. Nice bitter edge to it. I mean, really, wow. I've had my share of beers with "chocolate" in the description, but the guys at Young's are not fucking around here.

Observing our specimen in the glass, the body is dark, dark brown in color. The head delivered was medium and dissipated quickly. In the mouth, though, this brew creams up nicely. Not so much a foaming as a building of the body into a rich, smooth broth. The weight is on the heavy side, as you'd expect. Flavor? Well, refer to the preceding paragraph. Choc-co-late, people. Bittersweet and rich. Oddly, I'm not sure the bitterness comes from the hops. Could be from the chocolate malt. Just doesn't present itself where the hop action usually does. Long, sweet, cloying aftertaste here. (Luckily I've got some cheap whisky on hand to cleanse the palate.)

This is an obvious niche beer, rather than something I'd recommend for general drinking. By all means, pick up a bottle for the experience. Amaze your friends. Definitely not a brew you'll be lining up and knocking down, however. Just a tad too overwhelming in the confectionery dimension.

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