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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Real Ale 17th Anniversary Party

real ale anniversary party banner

On April 13th, Real Ale held their 17th anniversary party at their brewery in Blanco, TX. This year they decided to have it in April when it is much more pleasant outside than in previous years when it was held in the middle of the sweltering Texas summer.  The beautiful weather and the promise of FREE beer was a great excuse for a day trip into the hill country to see what the Real Ale 17th Anniversary Party was all about. It didn’t take much convincing to get several people to tag along with me.

The history of Real Ale Brewing Company begins in 1996 when Philip and Diane Conner, along with their son Charles, started brewing their first three beer recipes in the basement of an antique store in the town square of Blanco, TX.  The three beers they began brewing were Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, Rio Blanco Pale Ale and Brewhouse Brown Ale.  All three of these recipes are still brewed today.

Real Ale brewery beer

The Full Moon Pale Rye Ale is an American amber ale with 5.70% alcohol by volume.  This ale is described as “tawny red and full of malt and hops, Full Moon’s unique flavor truly satisfies. The smooth sweetness of malted rye and barley is complemented by generous helpings of Willamette and Cascade hops.” The Rio Blanco Pale Ale is “a uniquely Texan interpretation of an English-style pale ale,” coming in at 5.30% alcohol by volume.  It is described as “deep golden and malty, with a spicy hop flavor and well-balanced hop bitterness.”  It is the 2010 Great American Beer Festival’s Gold Medal winner in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category.  Finally, Brewhouse Brown Ale is their brown ale coming in at 5.40% alcohol by volume.  It is described as “rich and roasty, yet with a dry finish…the perfect companion for a hearty meal.”

In 1998, they sold their brewery to Brad Farbstein, who was a big fan of the Real Ale beers and often found himself in Blanco helping Philip and Charles bottle and label their beers in exchange for taking home some beer of his own.  The year that Brad became owner of Real Ale they brewed 500 barrels of beer.  In 2006, they maxed out the basement space and their 15-barrel system when they brewed 5500 barrels.  Their brewery is much larger now and consists of “a 60-barrel, four-vessel, steam-fired brewhouse capable of producing between 54,000 and 72,000 barrels a year.”

The party was held from 12-5 PM and we arrived at the brewery around 1 PM.  It seemed that word had spread about this once smaller anniversary party as parking was filling up quickly and people were filing in.  We got to the entrance shortly after walking by their bulk silo that holds 50,000 lbs. of 2-Row malted barley.

real ale bulk siloreal ale party entrance

At the entrance we were handed a Real Ale 17th Anniversary booklet.  In it were four drink tickets to use as we wished from the selection of 30 different kinds of beers they had available.  We staked our claim and set up our lawn chairs in an area between the food tent and the warehouse where the beer lines were.  We then headed inside the warehouse to the beer line and quickly realized that Real Ale hadn’t anticipated the popularity of their anniversary party.  The line was insane for the keg and cask-conditioned beer, so we first opted for the canned beer line to quench our thirst with a Hans’ Pils (a 2012 Great American Beer Festival Silver medal winner in the German-Style Pilsner category) and vowed to go back to the giant cask-conditioned and keg line when it looked to have settled down a bit.

real ale hans pils

We settled in our chairs and listened to the band as well as got a bite to eat.  In year’s past, food was free, but this year, they were selling food with proceeds going to the PAWS Shelter and Humane Society.  I didn’t mind paying for the food since it was for a good cause and they were already giving me free beer. The food they offered were the perfect quick bites for coupling with a beer.  The choices included a sausage tortilla wrap, Frito pie or soft pretzel and, of course, the one condiment available was mustard. They had live bands throughout the day as well as brewery tours every 20 minutes.  There was also plenty of Real Ale merchandise for sale from T-shirts to glasses.  We all opted to purchase some pint glasses as you can always use another good pint glass to add to your collection and we decided we could put it to use that day.

four squared dry-hopped aleWe ventured into the warehouse again to check out the beer line and quickly realized that to wait in the long line for the keg and cask-conditioned beers, you needed to first have a beer in hand.  We each got another canned beer from the much shorter canned beer line and then proceeded to wait in the keg and cask-conditioned beer line while happily enjoying our ice cold canned Four Squared, a seasonally-released dry-hopped Ale that I have now spotted in some stores around town in Austin.

Finally, we got through the line and enjoyed a cask-conditioned Firemans 4 which is one of the breweries more popular beers and one of my personal favorites.  When we finally ventured back to the beer line, my fourth selection was the Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, which, along with Firemans 4, is among the seven beers that Real Ale brews year-round. Now, some of you may be thinking I should have tried some more of the harder-to-find or seasonal beers, but I can’t help it… a girl likes what she likes.

Real Ale Pilsner

All and all it was a good time.  Good people watching, good music, good friends, good food and of course, GREAT BEER.

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Gluten Free Beer

When you have a gluten allergy, not being able to partake in festive treats like birthday cake is something you get used to. In fact the rule is better safe than sorry, and unless you know you can have it, don’t.  But with an abundance of gluten free alternatives showing up in stores over the past few years, it was only a matter of time before the beer industry was infiltrated as well.

Since beer is made from wheat, you can imagine wheat free (and therefore gluten free) beer doesn’t really taste that much like beer. My gluten tolerant coworkers that were nice enough to partake in this taste test certainly seemed to agree. It’s kind of like having a popcorn flavored jelly bean instead of popcorn.

tasting gluten free beer

Bard’s, Omission and Redbridge were the brands we tried. Omission, which is not recommended for people with Celiac disease because it is only “gluten removed” not, gluten free, was the favorite of my coworkers. I can only assume that is due to the remnants of gluten and consequently, most beer-like taste. Bard’s and Redbridge received a resounding “Eh, it’s okay.”

Never really having been a fan of beer anyway, cider has always been my go-to alternative.  It’s light, crisp, refreshing, and oh so delicious. And there is a plethora of brands and varieties.

Crispin is a very popular brand that can be found in most stores and bars and it comes in seven different varieties: Original, Light, Brut, Browns Lane, Honey Crisp, The Saint and Lansdowne. Original and Browns Lane are the most commonly found and not as sweet as other brands of cider.

Ace cider also comes in different varieties; Apple, Apple-Honey, Berry, Pumpkin and Joker, with Pear being my favorite.

If you are new to the gluten free lifestyle, I would suggest sticking with ciders until the taste of real beer is such a distant memory, that the faint beer essence of gluten free beer will be enjoyable. Since gluten free beer is still such a new addition on the market, perhaps with time, breweries will get the hang of it and the taste will improve. Until then, there are plenty of other options to help those of us that are gluten free feel included.

Craft Beer Club: Delirium Tremens

delirium tremens logoOne of my favorite beers is Delirium Tremens, a blonde Belgian style trippel, offered up by the Huyghe Brewery in Belgium. This beer first came into production in 1989 and has since won numerous accolades worldwide for its complex taste that has been proven to please the palates of many beer drinkers. Delirium Tremens is the brewery’s best known beer and one of four beers in the Delirium line up all branded with the signature pink elephant. A strong brew coming in at 8.5% ABV, this one is not for the faint of heart as one might tell from the tongue-in-cheek name referring to the shakes caused by alcohol withdrawal.beer bottle label - Delirium Tremens

Some may be intrigued by the unique label on the bottle illustrating colorful whimsical crocodiles and dragons attacked by a row of Hitchcock’s birds meant to symbolize a state of delirium; the masses agree that they love this beer. Though, it is hard to come to a consensus on what exactly makes up its taste profile. As you pour the beer into a glass you will notice the pale blonde coloring and dense white foam head that dissipates slowly. Upon tasting, I recognized coriander and orange that give it a light, fruity flavor profile. I also noticed the beer is very carbonated with a creamy complexity stemming from the multiple yeasts used in the brewing process. Just when you think you have the flavor figured out, the profile shifts into a dry, bitter, lingering finish.

This is a beer that really develops on the palate, from front to back, which makes it an ideal beer for laid back slow drinking. You definitely want to discover and enjoy each and every nuance and intricacy in Delirium Tremens. Save the chugging for the light macro brew  and enjoy Delirium Tremens at a leisurely pace with friends. Delirium Tremens is a great beer choice year round. The light, crisp, carbonated elements of the beer would make it a great choice for a summer evening on the patio. While the strong alcohol content and its yeasty, dry, bitter finish make it an ideal beer to serve up alongside a bowl of chili in the cold winter months. Let us know what you think of Delirium Tremens and cheers to good health!

Craft Beer Club: Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale

I’ve always had respect for Lagunitas. Almost everything they brew is gold in my book. They’ve been at the forefront of the less conventional side of craft brewing, and their expertise truly shows through the beer they produce. They are your prototypical West Coast brewery – inducing flavorful and aromatic hops and blasts of wonderful complexities at any chance they get. However, unlike some other reputable West Coast names (Russian River, Ninkasi, 21st Amendment, Firestone Walker, etc.), they’ve managed to maneuver their way through endless amounts of state rules and regulations to establish impressive distribution lines, spreading the wealth across the far reaches of the U.S. And because of this, we are very happy to be able to get our hands on all the delicious beer they bring to the table. One of these treats that’s available year-round is an American pale wheat ale by the name of “A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’.”

A Little Sumpin Sumpin Ale

We can say right off the bat, that this beer always looks delicious. It pours a substantial white head you’d find in a wheat ale and an orange-amberish color and level of clarity more typical of a pale ale. The initial look can leave you with a certain sense of slight confusion, and perhaps a little apprehension, only to be immediately swept away upon first sip. The taste is reminiscent of a delicious West Coast IPA, but with a seemingly fuller body and bready character. Give it a swirl and you’ll release an enormous amount of absolutely amazing aromas. The hops don’t lend much to the piney aspect but rather take you on a trip into a floral and fruit-filled place with an abundance of grapefruit and other various citrus. It’s certainly on the sweeter side, but the hop bitterness provides a balance akin to that of an Olympic gymnast. The mouthfeel is beyond great and the alcohol is there but it’s not boozy at all – definitely a great beer to session, that’ll get the job done any time of year.

The style of A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ is obviously unique as it’s not too often that you come across a beer like this. It’s not a pale ale. Not a wheat ale. Nor is it an IPA. It’s just an awesome mixture of wheat and pale malts with loads of floral and fruity hop goodness. There isn’t a single thing about this beer that we would change. If your favorite pale ale and favorite wheat beer were to have a child – this would be it. We tip our hats to Tony Magee and all of Lagunitas Brewing Company for creating and maintaining their own path in the ever-growing jungle of craft brewing.

Craft Beer Club: Kona Koko Brown

This week we tried something from a brewery that we’d all like to visit – Kona Brewing Company in the far-off land of Hawaii. While they have many beers readily available for enjoyment, we decided to go with their Koko Brown – a nut brown ale with some island flair.

Kona Koko Brown

This is a nut brown ale unlike the rest of the pack. From what we’ve seen, craft brewers like to use nuts that are either readily available to them or don’t have to be shipped long distances even if they’re not within arm’s reach. Typically, in the contiguous U.S., we see flavors attributed to more widely-seen tree nuts like walnuts or pecans, but with this Hawaiian version, what other to use than the coconut? And that’s exactly what the crew at Kona did use.

The beer pours a brown that’s reminiscent of cola – not the deepest we’ve seen and it has a pretty thin and somewhat “soapy” head that dissipates fairly quickly. Right away, you can smell the coconut coming from the glass, however, the Victory and Chocolate malts, among others, bring that oh-so-wonderful caramel and chocolate presence to the palate. Start sipping and you’ll get the coconut, caramel and chocolate right off the bat. This beer is definitely on the sweeter side. It’s like a Mounds candy bar in a cup. The coconut is present from start to finish, but fades to a more roasted characteristic on the back-end. The mouth-feel is a little on the thin side but is completely sufficient.

Overall we like this one. It was definitely “a nut brown worth cracking”, and while it may not be an everyday drinker in our book, it’s definitely one worth revisiting. In fact, we envision it being even more enjoyable in the colder months. It is, after all, a winter seasonal. Good work, Kona.

Craft Beer Club: Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat

The days are only getting hotter here in central Texas – we’re almost at 100 degrees and it’s only May. We pretty much just accept the heat, as we don’t really have a choice. However, we do have choices when picking methods to ease the pain. One of our personal favorites is a nice cold beer. So, in honor of the season, this week we went with a style that’s just got that summery feel – Boulevard Brewing Company’s Unfiltered Wheat Beer.

Boulevard Wheat Beer

Touted as their “most popular offering, and the best-selling craft beer in the Midwest,” we were pretty excited to indulge. While some of us have had this tone before, there’s definitely nothing wrong with taking a stroll down memory lane.

If the color of this beer doesn’t shout “summer,” then I don’t know what does. It’s about as golden as the sun. No real orange or amber hues at all – yellow through and through with a cloudy appearance that you’d expect from an unfiltered wheat beer. Atop sits a nice clean white head that dissipates quickly. Give it a whiff and we’d swear we’re standing in the middle of a Midwest wheat field. America’s amber waves of grain were put to good use here as the aroma comes through with definite prominence. Give it another smell and we can also find some banana and an ever-so-slight breadiness that beg us to drink it.

No need to fight it, so on to the taste test! First impression – wow! This beer is really well-balanced. The wheat-heavy grain bill provides the perfect malt backbone while some of our favorite hops for the style (Simcoe & Summit) bring just a little bitterness to balance it all out. In our opinion, it’s carbonated to provide a refreshing mouthfeel that’ll keep you coming back. Luckily for us, at a relatively low ABV of 4.4%, this thing is dangerously drinkable. No surprise that it took a gold medal in the Session Beer Category at the 2008 Great American Beer Fest.

If you’re in search of the perfect summer quaff, put that iced tea down and pick up a 6-pack of this summertime treat. It’s available year-round, but there’s just something about the warm weather that accentuates this beer’s characteristics.

What do you think of Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat?