Review: 2014 Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale

Dogfish-Head-Punkin-Ale-labelI’m surprised that I never posted a review of Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale over the last few years.  This year was special – a local retailer added growlers to their offerings and I got to have Punkin’ from the tap!

The half-gallon went pretty quickly, but I did take some notes.  I have said in the past that I didn’t want to do quantitative reviews, but if I don’t keep to some kind of standard I’ll never be able to keep up with what I’ve experienced.  I have decided to use the Beer Judge Certification Program‘s beer scoresheet to take my notes and give ratings.  This will also allow you to bench my scores against other ratings, though others may be on a different scale.  BJCP scores are 0 to 50.

Aroma

Sweet alcohol, cinnamon & nutmeg.  To my olfactory, this was a lot like last year.  Appropriate for this style.  (9/12)

Appearance

It pours clear in a deep amber color.  The keg it came from was perfectly carbonated.  It has a foamy yet crisp head that lingers.  (3/3)

2014-punkin-in-globe

Flavor

Hoppy up front, followed by sticky sweetness with an only slightly-floral bitterness in the alcoholic finish.  The next breath is of alcohol and spices. (16/20)

Mouthfeel

Positive.  The palate is well-compensated as it comes in to balance.  Warm in the throat.  The low carbonation makes it very smooth.  (5/5)

Overall Impression

After drinking for a few minutes, it begins to warm up (and so do I).  More spices surface and everything comes into play.  The alcoholic finish, while a bit strong at first, subsides and becomes quite enjoyable.  If I could change anything about this beer, it would be the quantity of spices present – its festivity gets a bit overwhelming in the same way that a strong scented candle does in a small room. (9/10)

Score

The tally is 42 out of 50 (Excellent).

With that said, I want to make sure no one reads this review as a desire to change what Dogfish Head does.  There’s absolutely no way I’d tell any brewery to do anything differently – from my I love Craft Beer perspective, it’s perfect.  I wouldn’t believe for a second that a batch of Punkin’ that reached consumers wasn’t what Dogfish Head wanted to serve, so I know that this beer is exactly what they wanted me to have.  Besides – Dogfish Head makes “Off-centered ales for off-centered people.”  It would only be an odd beer if it were a perfect example of a particular style.

In the end, I highly recommend Punkin’ to those adventurous enough to tackle this year’s craft Pumpkin beers – it’s worth the time.

Epic Brewing Hopulent IPA (Release #79)

1-IMG_2221I’ve just opened this and I can’t stop sniffing it.  Hopulent IPA from Epic Brewing in Salt Lake City, UT is part of their Elevated Series of beers, and this one certainly smells so.  I can barely detect some sweetness in this low-carbonated copper-colored IPA over the  delightfully clean hop aroma (Centennial finishing hop, I’m guessing.  I’m probably wrong).

But I guess I should taste it.

And – Wow.  There is absolutely nothing excited on the front of my tongue.  This one’s pure hop juice – all over the center and back of the palate, where the sour and bitter tastes are detected (okay – I just learned that the Tongue Map has been disproven many years ago, but I seriously don’t taste any of this on the front of my tongue.)

That isn’t all Centennial or Cascade hops though.  Let’s have a look at the label (thanks, panoramic iPhone capability):

Epic Hopulent #79

Well, nothing.  However, when I looked at their site I discovered I’d overlooked one detail on the label: the release.

The release details give the beer a very personal view.  This bottle is from release number 79, of which I can see the details of that specific batch:

hopulent_release79_detailsI was right – Centennial hops on the nose (disclaimer: I grow Centennial on my front porch and simply got lucky at guessing what I smelled).  There are no Cascade hops to my surprise.  Columbus, Chinook, Centennial, and Simcoe.

I don’t know what to tell you – try this one, no matter what release.  I will say that the “release” stuff is no bullshit.  #77 was 0.1% higher ABV, and #78 was brewed in a different city (Denver).  That personal touch really does it for me.  I like small batches of hand-made quality beer, and I believe I’ve found it in Epic Brewing.  Knowing that these details are kept and that I can easily find the nitty-gritty on what exactly is in this bottle is enough for me to get another brew from Epic just so I can think about what all went into making that beer.

That’s partly (read: mostly) what my other new blog is about, by the way.

Some details about my particular bottle:

Epic Brewing Hopulent IPA

Style: India Pale Ale

Delivery: 22oz bomber

Brewed: September 18, 2013

Bottled: October 22, 2013 (this IPA was in the bottle for 69 days)

IBU: Not published and not available on BeerAdvocate, but I’d guess in the mid-to-high 80s.

Enjoy this one.  Just reading the BA reviews, it seems to keep getting better with each iteration.  Cheers!

Founders Backwoods Bastard

This is a first review in a long time.  I scored a few bottles of Backwoods Bastard a couple Backwoods Bastard bottleof weeks ago and decided to have it today.  Backwoods Bastard is Founders Dirty Bastard aged in oak bourbon barrels and offered as an annual limited November release.

It pours darker than a brown ale but not completely opaque.  It is heavy on the charred-oak smell and the taste of wood is prevalent.  A friend described it as “very bourbon-ey,” and I can’t find any other word for it.  It’s a mouth full of bourbon without the burn.  I can detect the sweet malts and a hint of chocolate, but the woodiness is almost overpowering.

At 10.2% ABV, Backwoods Bastard is beyond a session ale; the palate just can’t take the beating from the oak and alcohol.  The 50 IBU comes from some hops, but they are also smothered by the redneck whiskey.

Backwoods Bastard in a tulip glassI must say it’s hard for me to appreciate, but if you like bourbon and the sweet taste lent to the beverage from the oak barrel, this one may be for you.  I do believe I have enough of it to keep for next year and compare it to 2014’s batch.  Wouldn’t that be something!

For what it’s worth, I’d still drink it again – but just one at a time.  It’s not a bad ale, just perhaps woodier than I expected.  I believe the last scotch ale I had was Monday Night’s Drafty Kilt, which I remember as being very heavy and sticky, with a highly alcoholic finish.  Backwoods Bastard isn’t as sticky or thick, but still finishes alcoholic with a lot of wood.  We’ll see if Founders changes the algorithm next year, and I won’t fault them if they don’t.  The name says it all – it tastes like it might belong in the trunk of a car headed down the mountain at night with no lights on…

Cheers!

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils

I finally got a chance to try Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pils Pilsner this week, and it just so happens that it was worth the wait (and the $10 for the six-pack). It pours a golden yellow (closer to hazel, I guess), telling you that there’s real ingredients in there. Like REAL pale malt and a proper amount of hops and love.

I’ve talked about Pilsner before on the show (we had Victory’s Prima Pils), and this is in the same style. Let me rephrase that: this is another Pilsner, but not a whole lot like Prima Pils. It’s more its own style, very far from megabrew quality and still not extremely Americanized with hops. It’s a delicate balance between light maltiness and a crafty-handed hoppiness. It would pair well with just about anything from chips & salsa to cold air, except chocolate.  I think they put it best on the site:

Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pills is an uncompromising, small-batch version of the beer that made Pilsen, Czech Republic famous. Unlike mass market “pilsners” diluted with corn & rice, Mama’s is built with 100% pale malt, German specialty malts, and Saaz hops. While it’s rich with Czeched-out flavor, its gentle hopping (35 IBUs) and low ABV (just 5.3%) make it a luxurious but low-dose (by Oskar Blues standards) refresher.

There’s an air of confidence we get when trying something we’ve never had from a brewery like Oskar Blues. They typically don’t go way outside the definitions of styles we expect to taste and they do what they do so well. They use quality ingredients, give back to the environment and to the community, and provide us with a superior product we can enjoy every day.

Oskar Blues should open their second location on the East coast by the end of 2012, and soon the cans I get might say “Brewed and canned at Oskar Blues Brewery, LLC in Brevard, North Carolina.” I can’t wait.

Monday Night Drafty Kilt

Have you ever wanted to wear a kilt?  I know a certain restaurant chain where the female servers wear kilts too short, but then again those aren’t kilts and they serve a different purpose.  I also saw Samuel Jackson wearing a kilt in a movie but that’s probably irrelevant.  Anyway, I stopped in to Moondog Growlers in Dunwoody, Georgia during my conference over the weekend and had a few tastes of what they had on tap.  Scott was super-nice and made us welcome to stay and enjoy ourselves.

Moondog Growlers Sign

Or until 9:00, at which time he promised to kick us out.  This was completely understandable – it was Saturday night and this was a store, not a bar.  It is a great place and I recommend it to any- and everyone.  The Dunwoody store has 40 taps and is decorated in an excellent fashion.  Never have I seen such fantastic woodwork in an independent retail location.

I tasted some IPAs I’d never had a chance to before, such as Jailhouse Brewing’s Mugshot IPA, Red Brick Brewing’s HopLanta, and Hop Head Red by Green Flash Brewing.  I also had Victory Lager since I had the chance to grab a quick half-pint.  And it was excellent as expected.

Back to the kilt – I wanted to take home something in a growler that I wouldn’t be able to find down south where I live, and I knew a beer from Monday Night would certainly be impossible to find outside of the Atlanta Metro area.  At the time, Moondog Growlers had two of their beers on tap: Fu Manbrew Belgian-Style Witbier and Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale.

I have previously been unaware of exactly what style the Scottish Ale is, but after pouring this one and putting my nose down the glass, I found it: Scotch.

Very alcoholic on the nose, with hints of red wood and a cider-like tingle.  It has a very strong flavor profile that presents itself on the middle of the tongue, with a warm alcoholic finish and little aftertaste.  Scott told me this was a daily drinker, and I believed him.  Not for me, though.  My daily drinker must be a session beer so I can enjoy a few over a few hours; this one kicks my ass at 7.2% ABV.  Still a wonderful reception, to be had again or given as a special gift to someone who enjoys heavy, tasty, malty beers.  I have a few friends, and this might just blow their kilts up.

Style: Scottish Ale/Wee Heavy
Pairs with: Itself and strongly-flavored dishes; chocolate, some cheeses, I expect.
ABV: 7.2%
Availability: Year-round

Find out more at mondaynightbrewing.com

More about Moondog Growlers at moondoggrowlers.com

Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout

I got to go to Atlanta this weekend for a work-related conference and took the opportunity to visit a couple of the new growler stores that have popped up into the scene in the northern metro area.  One of these was The Beer Growler, of which there are currently five locations total – I went to the one in Alpharetta.  I should also mention it was a Sunday afternoon.

I chose Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout, because the fact that it’ll be in a growler I’ll need to drink it over a few days after opening it, but no longer than three.  A good stout is easy to drink and light on the palate, a definite for a daily drinker since I have no friends who’ll come over to help.  The folks at The Beer Growler also mentioned that this was a special edition and wouldn’t be around long or found in bottles.  Therein lies the greatness of the growler store – the ability to take home something the brewery didn’t put in a bottle.

A first pour of this rich, dark treat gives notes of wood, chocolate, and even some coffee.  A thick khaki head forms and stays a while, but not the whole time.  It is thick without feeling like a loaf of bread, and flavorful without being too hoppy.  To me, this is the right amount of malt so that it doesn’t overstay its welcome in my mouth.  It warms the back of the tongue and the throat with an aftertaste of alcohol, and at 6.1% ABV subtle enough not to get upset about.

I did find from the page at Bell’s Web site that it’s a Winter seasonal, and it is available in bottles and draft.  However, it wasn’t found in the bottle that day and I took a chance on a Bell’s beer being fantastic.  I won.

I had three in a row that night and I must say I forced myself to stop there.  I’d hate to think I ruined a chance at my second opinion, but the first one speaks for itself.  I’d get this one again, only I’d love to share it next time…

Style: Stout
Pairs with: Spicy and/or tomato-based (Italian, Thai) and even milk chocolate and caramel, I’d say…
ABV: 6.1%
Availability: Winter

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale

It’s been so long since my last beer review that I should be ashamed.  I mean, I was doing so well there for a while

Ah, life.  Something we can’t get away from and still keep writing.

I was at the local supermarket earlier this week when I found myself unable to leave without a bit of beer.  This particular store only carries one beer from a craft brewery, and for some reason I wasn’t in the mood for Sweetwater 420.  It just wasn’t that kind of a night.  Instead I settled for a seasonal Harvest Pumpkin Ale from Blue Moon Brewing Company, which we all should know (or should know) is owned by MillerCoors.  No matter how you look at it, MillerCoors influences the feel and taste of this beer.

It also explains why I found it at a grocery store in Adel, Georgia.

With flash, so you can see the label

Without flash, so you can see the color of the beer.

From the neck label:

A pumpkin ale crafted with autumn’s bounty of vine-ripened pumpkin and flavors of cloves, allspice, and nutmeg.  Then brewed with a touch of wheat for a smooth, lightly spiced finish.

The average brewer with experience in spiced ales knows immediately that this is bullshit.  That aside, it’s a drinkable ale.  When I twisted off the top and poured the first one, I put it to my untainted nose and could detect the nutmeg and allspice flavors.  It’s a clear reddish-brown ale, and a bit fizzy with little head retention.

First taste is a bit astringent, but held in the mouth one can get the “wheat” and liken it to Blue Moon’s Belgian White.  The two have a strikingly similar finish.  It could be the water out there in Golden, or an addition of corn sugar to push up the alcohol by volume to 5.7%. The carbonation is the same level as an American lager, another tell-tale sign of large-brewery influence.  You cannot bottle-condition with twist-off caps.

Aside from the aroma that I sometimes have to close my eyes and breathe in very slowly to really get in, I’m not impressed with this brew.  Drinkability was an obvious factor when this was created.

My wife brought me some Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (8%) and Terrapin’s Pumpkinfest (6.1%) tonight.  It’s my birthday tomorrow and I hope to have good quality beer in the evening.  Until then,

Cheers!

Quantities Abound

This project is finally coming to an end.  This isn’t intended to be a full-on review of the beers mentioned in the article but to illustrate a point: the mega-breweries do not produce a unique product.  I took nine different cans and compared them visually and by taste to see if any one of them stood out in any way.  Read on to learn what I did and didn’t do.

I don’t have a whole lot of notes; I didn’t really take any.  I tasted the Natural Light first, as it was simply the first in line.  The next, Coors Light, has a distinctly different taste to it than Natural Light, though that difference cannot be described in terms of ingredients.  I believe I could only tell this because I tasted them together.  The next, Coors, had just the slightest bit more body than the two light beers before, but still had that same old smell that American lagers have.

When I got down to the Bud Light, that familiar yet still indescribable taste was found, right where I left it in 1996.

 

Old Milwaukee somehow comparatively tasted like some cleaning solvent found in a motorcycle repair shop.  Seriously.

After my tasting that included spillage down my beard and onto my shirt, I concluded that the smell of bile is something they all have in common once they begin to get warm (I’m talking low 60s F warm, not room temperature).  That is simply something I cannot get over, and was not able to drink them all during the video/photo shoot in my back yard.

I must admit I wasted beer, but it wasn’t really beer to begin with.  I’m sure that at some point in the 19th and 20th centuries these breweries, while still separately owned and producing for quality, made something worth drinking.  I do not believe that to be the case today.  Enjoy craft beer and know where it comes from.  Get to know or read about the people who make it and make sure it’s good.  If you don’t know where to start, just ask me!

 

New Belgium Blue Paddle

Randy Mosher, in his book Tasting Beer, says to have patience when pouring to get good foam. His method described in the text usually goes past anyone’s level of patience while waiting for a beer (depending heavily upon the quality of the beer and the head retention). Given that, I present you with an astonishingly boring video of my pouring New Belgium’s Blue Paddle, a Pilsener I have evidently been unaware of until I found it in a sampler. I poured it according to Mr. Mosher’s directions in the book. No one typically wants to wait this long for a beer at home:

Blue Paddle is a decent Pilsener, but I’m comparing it to my memory of Pilsner Urquell and the likes of Stella Artois (a Belgian Pale Lager). There’s a bitterness that I’m looking for in this one but only finding smoothness and the slightest citrus note. It could be that my palate is wrecked tonight, making this little chat of ours moot. It is very drinkable though – 4.8% ABV and 33 IBU with that hint of citrus, perhaps lent by the Saaz, Liberty, and Target hops. From the bottle:

Blue Paddle Pilsener Lager crafted with malt-only brewing and noble hops, explores the boundaries where American Lagers seldom journey. Reflective of Europe’s finest Pilseners, BLUE PADDLE delivers a refreshing bitterness, vibrant finish, and a subtle but intricate depth of flavor.

If that’s all really there, my palate is certainly not detecting it tonight. It has a light sort of taste that now makes more sense after I’ve let it warm up a bit. Even then it still doesn’t have that smell of vomit that other beers of the same color possess. It’s clean all-around and, served cold, goes down the gullet with much haste.

Pick some up when you get the chance and try it – even if you have to buy the whole sampler. New Belgium is proud of what they make and rightly so; top quality beer is all I have ever had from Fort Collins (and soon Asheville, NC!).

Cheers!

Unibroue Trois Pistoles

I just drank this Trois Pistoles (translated by Google as “Three Pistoles,” but I’m guessing it’s supposed to be “Pistols”) and my breath is atrocious. This stuff is thick, like an Imperial stout, and feels like a loaf of bread.

 

It’s got a bottle-conditioned taste to it as it is in fact bottle-conditioned, and subtle and smooth carbonation. I can’t really see the carbonation in the glass, and there’s little head retention. The label states at the bottom “bottle refermentation,” and that’s what defines “bottle conditioning.” Dogfish Head does this a lot, as do most home brewers. A little bit of priming sugar (and sometimes more yeast) added when bottling reawakens the remaining yeast in unfiltered beer, which consumes the sugar through fermentation inside the bottle. This creates the by-product of carbon dioxide which can’t escape. The CO2 is then forced back into the beer – carbonating it for your pleasure. This differs from forced carbonation in which a keg or other container is pressurized with CO2.

Unibroue has been brewing Trois Pistoles since 1997 and they describe the flavor as I never could:

Slightly sweet. Enhanced by accents of roasted malt, cocoa, ripe fruit and dark spices with a smooth finish like an old port.

They also include “Brown Rum” in the description of the aroma, which somehow more accurately describes that nose-flavor than I would have ever considered words for. The sharp fruitiness lent by the roasted malts and high alcohol content really make it come alive when you uncap it.

I recommend this Canadian monster for an after-dinner dessert, as long as it’s a light dinner. On the other hand, you could probably just have one or two for dinner. That would save time and get you to bed early too.