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REVIEW: Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Location: Cleveland, OH
Style: Porter
ABV: 5.8%
IBU: 37
Appearance: Solid Dark Brown with Creamy Tan Head
Aroma: Roasted Malts, Coffee Beans, Caramel, Dark Chocolate
Flavor: Roasted Malts, Bold Hops, Coffee, Dark Chocolate
Availability: Year-round — Bottle & Draft
Pairs With: BBQ Ribs, Steaks, Oysters, Chocolate

The names of beers are sometimes whimsical, playing on the names of styles or ingredients, or using pop culture references. Great Lakes Brewing Company has gone the other way, naming its beers to pay tribute to their city. They are proud Clevelanders, and it comes through in their beers and the names they give them.

Great Lakes as a whole is a fairly unique company, established in 1988 by two brothers in the middle of Cleveland, as the first microbrewery in the state of Ohio. They brew all of their beers in accordance with the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, not jumping on the bandwagon of outrageous flavors, simply brewing great beers using limited ingredients.

Most representative of their outlook on beer and their city is their award-winning Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. The name is taken from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter that sank in 1975. The majority of the freighter crew, all of whom went down with the ship, were from the Cleveland area, and the brewery felt it appropriate to pay tribute to them with this brew. Supported by the families of the victims, this porter was originally released in 1988 and has been the flagship beer of the brewery ever since.
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REVIEW: Rosée D’Hibiscus from Dieu du Ciel

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Dieu du Ciel!
Location: Montreal, Canada
Style: Hibiscus flower Wit
ABV: 5.9%
IBU: not available
Appearance: Orange-Pinkish, Cloudy
Aroma: Wheat Scent, Tropical Flowers
Flavor: Light-Bodied, Delicate, Sweet Aftertaste
Availability: Year-round — Limited
Pairs With: Caesar Salad, Grilled Salmon, Mozzarella, Key Lime Pie

When you think of Canadian beer, certain images spring to mind. Molson, Labatt, Moosehead, the Bob and Doug MacKenzie. Canada has long been home to strong beers to help give that warming feeling during nasty winters, but until recently, it hasn’t been big on taste. Over the last few years, one thing that they have proven is that a craft beer culture can blossom in cities where they spend months avoiding frostbite.

Montreal-based Dieu du Ciel! microbrewery is leading the way as far as experimental beers go in Canada. Not the largest or oldest craft brewery, Dieu du Ciel concentrates on producing innovative, drinkable brews that push the limits of styles. While many of their beers are darker and heavier, with nods to the Belgian styles and incorporating native ingredients, one of their most impressive brews comes from an entirely different direction.

Appearance

Rosee D’Hibiscus is a bottle conditioned (meaning it is bottled with live yeast) wit beer brewed with hibiscus flowers. The bottle itself is a work of art – literally. All Dieu du Ciel! bottles feature beautiful, funky, stylized labels that grab the eye. On shelves full of shiny, brazen labels, Dieu du Ciel!’s bottles stick out as muted and handsome – Rosee D’Hibiscus features a pale maiden with hibiscus flowers in her hair. When it is poured – preferably into a lager glass or shaker pint – it comes out intriguingly orange-pinkish and cloudy, with a very small head. The head itself is white, but with a light pinkish hue to it, slightly effeminate.

Aroma

Rosée D’Hibiscus

The aroma is very clearly that of a wit beer, with a well-defined yet soft-spoken wheat scent highlighted by notes of berry and florals. This combination creates one of the lightest, most agreeable fragrances of any beer available – that of tropical flowers and wheat fields. The flavor is of a similar profile, albeit on the sweeter side. The hibiscus comes through more in the flavor than it does in the aroma, pushing the berry flavors to the back while providing a tang of acidity and sourness. It is very refreshing, a taste that is welcome on a warm summer’s day.

Flavor

It is also a very light-bodied beer – it will not weigh you down or make you feel full. It has moderate carbonation, just enough to tickle the tongue and stick around throughout the bottle. Rosee D’Hibiscus is not a heavy hitter, either, coming in at 5.9% alcohol by volume, meaning that you can have a couple of them without becoming too inebriated. It finishes dry and leaves a light, sweet aftertaste that fades quickly, no sticky residues left behind.

Tasting Notes

Overall, Rosee D’Hibiscus is an incredibly interesting beer, capable of grabbing the drinker and bringing them back for more. It might not be for everyone – the delicate flavoring might not be strong enough for folks used to heavy-handed flavorings. It is overall an effeminate beer, which may make the big, burly, manly hop-heads feel a bit girly. Their loss, though, as Rosee D’Hibiscus is one of the most enjoyable summertime beers out there.

One of the drawbacks to Rosee D’Hibiscus, and Dieu du Ciel! beers as a whole, is their limited availability and high pricing outside of Montreal. While they are incredibly productive – having produced over 150 beers in the course of 15 years – many of their beers are available only at their brewpub in Montreal, on Avenue Laurier. Only a dozen or so are bottled and shipped worldwide, but thankfully, Rosee D’Hibiscus is one of them. It currently can be found in ten or so countries worldwide, as well as a few dozen American states.

It’s hard not to like Dieu du Ciel! as a whole, as aside from the great beer, the attitude of the company is one that everyone can get behind. On their website, they have posted a Via Dolorosa, or Act of Faith, spelling out their commitment not only to quality beer, but to being quality citizens as well. Masterbrewer and co-founder Jean-Francois Gravel started the brewery after getting his degree in biology, and hasn’t looked back, incubating it from making a few gallons per week through today, where it is available in hundreds of stores in Quebec and has become what many consider to be Canada’s best craft brewery.

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REVIEW: Wake ‘N Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout from Terrapin Beer Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Terrapin Beer Co.
Location: Athens, GA
Style: Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout
ABV: 8.6%
IBU: 50
Appearance: Deep brown, almost black
Aroma: Roasted coffee & malts, hints of chocolate
Flavor: Medium-Roast Coffee With Semi-Sweet Chocolate
Availability: Seasonal — Winter
Pairs With: Grilled Steak Topped With Blue Cheese; Cheesecake

It wasn’t very long ago that Georgia was a wasteland for craft beer. Very little was made there, and even less made it out of the state. That has changed over the last few years, spurred on by the success of a fairly young, Athens-based brewery. In the decade they have been open, the Terrapin Beer Company has built up quite an impressive roster of beers, accompanied by plenty of medals.

Perfect for the winter season, their Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout is a pleasant, warming brew that has drawn accolades from beer drinkers and critics alike. Brewed with coffee roasted by Jittery Joe’s Coffee just down the road from the Terrapin brewery in Athens, Georgia, the blend is a custom mix specifically for Terrapin. It is available for sale online, so you can treat your non beer-drinking friends to a taste of this acclaimed mix.

Appearance

Packaged in 12-ounce bottles, the beer pours out thick and dark, brown bordering on black in color. It is dark enough that light will not shine through it, a great look. It creates a high, thick head that is mocha in color. It takes a while to subside, and the beer leaves good lacing throughout the glass. It is best served in a shifter glass, but is acceptable in a pint glass as well.
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REVIEW: Götterdämmerung IPA from Stone Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Stone Brewing Company
Location: Escondido, CA
Style: West Coast IPA (with Pilsner Malts)
ABV: 9.5%
Appearance: Bright, Deep Gold
Aroma: Hoppy Grains/Grass, Grapefruit and Lemon
Flavor: Smooth Citrus, Slightly Bitter & Well Balanced
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Rotisserie Chicken, Crab Cakes, Cajun Shrimp

Stone Brewing, out of Escondido, California, has long been an unapologetic purveyor of high-flavor beer. One of their mottos – “Fizzy Yellow Beer is for Wussies” – is pretty emblematic of their approach to beers. Over the years, they have begun releasing anniversary beers, once-a-year beers using flavor combinations, beer styles, or brewing methods that have not been found in Stone beers before.

This year’s 17th Anniversary beer, Götterdämmerung IPA, translates to an apocalyptic event, while the beer itself translates to a hoppy IPA. Not just any hops, though – all of the hops have ties to German brewing. Whether it is Sterling, a US-bred hop developed from the German Saaz hops; Herkules, a new breed of hops from Germany that imparts stone fruit characteristic; or Hersbrucker, a classic German hop with intense floral aroma, all the hops and malts are what is traditionally used to brew German lagers and European pilsners. By changing up ratios and the recipe, Stone has taken these traditional lager ingredients and fashioned a new twist on a West Coast Double IPA.

Appearance

The bottle has the usual Stone appearance – the gargoyle and artwork, the story on the back of the bottle. But once you pop the cap off and start pouring, you’ll notice this isn’t the typical Stone beer. Best served in a snifter glass or a shaker pint, the appearance is a nice, bright gold, a very deep color, while the head is frothy and white, leaving some lacing along the sides of the glass as you drink it. It is a clear gold, no murkiness or particulates.

Aroma

Gotterdammerung IPA

The aroma is not too punchy or overpowering, surprisingly. Usually Stone’s beers punch you in the face with hops aromas, but this is subdued. There are hints of grains, grass, grapefruit and lemon in the aroma, but it is all smoothly blended with no one note overpowering the others.

Flavor

The taste is also quite surprising. Labeled a West Coast Double IPA, and being one of Stone’s brews, you expect overpowering hops, with relatively poor balance. Götterdämmerung doesn’t do that though, as it has a very smooth, balanced flavor profile. Sweet, biscuit malts are very much present, reflecting the pilsner and lager background of the ingredients. There are hints of citrus fruits throughout a mouthful, especially lemons and grapefruits. It is slightly bitter towards the end but, again, not overpowering. They have balanced it well enough that the taste of alcohol – it does clock in at 9.5% alcohol by volume, after all – is almost completely buried, with only a hint of alcohol working its way through. They have also managed to balance it well enough that, even though it clocks in at 102 IBUs (International Bittering Units), it doesn’t taste like it, and it doesn’t produce the dried-out, soapy post-beer taste and feel in your mouth.

Tasting Notes

Götterdämmerung is medium-bodied, leaning towards the light end of the spectrum. It also has a medium amount of carbonation, just enough to liven it up, but not too fizzy. This makes for a crisp, refreshing beer that is well suited for the warmer weather, but is also welcome into the cooling fall temperatures. This is not a beer that will age well though, so you’ll want to crack it open and drink it in short order.

Located in Escondido, Stone Brewing is often recognized by craft beer fans as one of the top breweries in the United States, as well as around the entire world. They are not as thoroughly decorated as some, with only a handful of GABF and World Beer Cup medals, but their sturdy, flavorful year-round brews, special releases, and Anniversary Ales keep customers coming back year-round. The attitude of founder Greg Koch is also some of the attraction – he is opinionated, a major voice in the craft beer scene who doesn’t just tout his brand, but pushes for the success of craft beer as a whole. He personifies the brash attitude behind the brand, one of big character and rebellion.

Stone Gotterdammerung IPA

Some of Stone’s Anniversary Ales have been revived at later times, for special releases. One, the Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, an American Black Ale introduced as Stone’s 11th Anniversary ale, has even become one of their year-round staples.

So it’s possible that we could see Götterdämmerung again in the future, or a version thereof. Even if we don’t, you can be assured that Stone will try and top this ale for next year’s 18th Anniversary beer, so you should start looking forward to that.

Stone 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA

To learn more, watch as Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele explains Götterdämmerung IPA in the video below.

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REVIEW: Storm King Stout from Victory Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: American Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.1%
Appearance: Dark Brown
Aroma: Caramel, Roasted Malts
Flavor: Caramel, Espresso, Bitter Chocolate
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Chocolate, Brisket, BBQ

Imperial stouts, like many imperial styles, have devolved over the years. Where they were once smoky, flavorful brews with a slight uptick in alcohol content, they have transformed into dark, syrupy messes with overbearing alcohol notes. For some, the aim has shifted from flavor to inebriation. On the other end of the spectrum is Victory’s Storm King.

At 9.1% alcohol by volume, Storm King barely nudges the heavy hitters of the class – sought after beers such as AleSmith’s Speedway Stout and Three Floyd’s Dark Lord are well into the double digits, while Dogfish Head’s massive World Wide Stout comes up just short of 20%. Even Bell’s Expedition Stout, a stalwart of the style, comes in above 10%. What Storm King provides, however, is a beer that is an all-around winner, well balanced with plenty of discernible tasting notes.

Appearance

The appearance is of a standard imperial stout – dark brown, bordering on black, with amber coloration towards the top of a pour. Poured properly, it will produce a small but stable dark tan head – it won’t overwhelm the glass, but will produce just enough to provide a pleasing appearance and a good opportunity to inhale the scents.

Aroma

Storm King Stout - Victory Brewing

The aroma is one of caramel and roasted malts, with hints of chocolate and coffee thrown in, and a distinct hop note that will pierce through the others in the end. Surprisingly, the smell of alcohol is not as present as in many other beers of the style – it smells more like a standard coffee or espresso stout. As it warms, the alcohol aroma will develop slightly, but will never overpower it.

Flavor

The taste delivers what the aroma promises, but with some surprises. The caramel, espresso, and slightly bitter chocolate is all there, with a slight burn thanks to the Imperial nature. The overwhelming taste is that of roasted malts, with almost a slightly burnt hint, a note that is further enhanced by the aggressive hop finish. This bitterness adds a certain drying snap to the end of a sip, and provides a great change of flavor throughout a mouthful. It definitely leans towards the more bitter end of the Imperial Stout spectrum.

Tasting Notes

Victory doesn’t cheat by providing a creamy texture to counter the bitterness, they let it all hang out. The feel is mildly carbonated, on the dryer side of the Imperials. It is also not particularly thick, allowing it to play the field between a drinking beer or a sipping beer.

When it’s all said and done, Storm King is definitely a winning brew. It is somewhat of an oddity – an Imperial style that you can drink a few of in a sitting without risking alcohol poisoning, a stout with a distinct hoppiness. It is an incredibly balanced beer for its style, wowing the drinker with taste instead of beating them into submission with high alcohol content and one singular, overbearing tasting note.

For the true stout fans, who want to push further, Storm King can sometimes also be found on cask, adding a whole new level to the brew. A hand-pumped pint will produce greater aromas, accentuating the base ingredients, with sharper hops and bigger, toastier malt aromas. The mouthfeel will develop as well, it will be creamier and less carbonated. It is well worth having on cask when available – where sometimes the cask is a mere gimmick, in the case of Storm King, it enhances the beer.

This is the type of beer we’ve come to expect from Victory. The Downingtown-based brewery, founded in 1996, has a history of producing well-balanced, basic beers. They tend not to be too experimental with their beers, instead producing brews that fit the style profiles very neatly. While this has resulted in very little in the way of decorations, it has earned them quite a following as far as beer drinkers are concerned.Victory are one of the most highly respected and distributed craft beers in Pennsylvania, and their restaurant and brewery is a key part of any Pennsylvania brewery tour. It has lead to them being the most highly distributed craft beer from the state – Victory can be found in 30 states, plus Japan and Singapore. It has also helped them to become an integral partner in a number of collaboration beers, working with the likes of Dogfish Head, Stone, and Fat Head’s.

One of the most unique things about Victory is their brewing methods– they are one of the few breweries that use whole flower hops in their brewing process. Their brewers feel that this provides better flavor and aroma to the beers. This move has earned them praise and collaboration on an international level, with the German Hop Growers’ Association tapping their talents for a number of specialty beers for events in the past.

So as the weather cools, grab yourself a nice, warming bottle of Storm King for a little bit of relaxation.

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