Brewery: The Lost Abbey San Marcos, CA
Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale
Served: Chalice from a 750 ml bottle. Purchased at Julio’s for $8.99/bottle.
This review kicks off a series of ales I got Julio’s Annual Spring Beer Fest. Certainly the biggest tasting I’ve ever attended and, for a free event it’s pretty amazing. I’ll post on the event later in the week.
The Lost Abbey brews under the same ownership umbrella as Port Brewing. Both are based in San Marcos, CA, and until recently I didn’t see many of their offerings in bottle shops here. Both have produced excellent ales, with Lost Abbey tending towards alternative interpretations of challenging European styles.
After popping the (reluctant) cork, Red Barn pours a hazy, rusty orange. The crown piles up quickly and thickly; you could almost walk across the foam. The nose is fairly mild, yeasty, and with a little citrus and ginger. The taste is the equivalent of rye bread sandwich with granny smith apples. Tart fruity notes and a bitter bready funk. Ginger is present. And the hops, while not overpowering, have a solid kick.
I warmed to this ale on the second or third pour. It’s fairly challenging and aggressive for a saison, a style which tends towards subtlety. I don’t think I’ll buy again, but it’s a very reasonable summer ale for those who enjoy potency in every beer. B
Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Co. Portsmouth, NH
Style: Belgian-Style Ale
Served: Pint glass from a 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at Julio’s for $8.99/6-pack.
I’m back! After a 13 month hiatus, the brew reviews can continue. Many travels, job searches, hopes and fears have come to pass, but the love of beer continues. Many thanks to my sister Megan for setting up the new domain for me. Now that I’m back in the saddle, I’m planning a mess o’ beers I’ve never tried before. To the review!
Who else but Smutty would I kick off the brew reviews with. The Star Island Single was an offering just then filtering down to consumers when I went AWOL on the blog. I tried a sip at Bert’s last spring, but hadn’t actually sought it out again until this week. The ale pours a hazy burnt orange with a wafer-thin white crown that fizzles quickly. The aroma is excellent, with mild citrus and bread. Very nice on a warm day. The taste is very fulfilling, with medium dryness, spices, subtle hop presence, and a clean finish.
This Belgian is more understated than most in the style, though with the American penchant for crisper hop notes than its European brethren. It’s no standout against Smutty’s roster of excellent brews, but it does nothing to discredit the name either. B+
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Chico, CA
Style: Barley Wine
Served: Pint glass from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at Julio’s for $2.25/bottle.
A good friend of mine who is a central California native asked me when I was going to review some west coast beers. I have been remiss in not tipping my cap to the ales of more Pacific persuasion. I still think the best beer in the world is made on I-95 between D.C. and Portland, ME, and I’m not at all biased. That said, I will be featuring exclusively west coast brew for the next week or so. Sierra Nevada is a close 2nd to Sam Adams when it comes to balancing availability with integrity. Their year-round beers are more than respectable, let alone their seasonal and specialty offerings.
The Bigfoot is a dark honey amber in the glass, with a few bubbles, and a dense persistent off-white crown one finger thick. The aroma is amazing. Full and well-rounded, with an aggressive hop presence followed by pine, melon, pastry, and earth. Complex and powerful. The first taste is a blitzkrieg of big brown sugar sweetness and cantaloupe. This is quickly is taken over by big-time hop bitterness. The sensation is not unlike a grapefruit, sweet and bitter in turns. The bitterness sticks to the palette and is hard to shake. Tasting hoppy beers is tricky, because you can’t go back for a second taste with a clean slate. The mouthfeel is medium-bodied, and smoother than I might expect for such an overpowering bitterness
Hop-heads might guffaw at my medium tolerance for hop presence. I certainly wish I had a better appreciation for Double IPAs and aggressive barley wines. But I’ve heard it opined from more than one source that making extreme beer is easy. Crafting a balanced, subtle ale takes skill. This is a good beer, but I didn’t get the balance I have had with others in this style. This is probably my most subjective review to date; I have seen too many glowing reflections on this beer to believe I’m the normal one. That said…C+
Brewery: Troegs Brewing Co. Harrisburg, PA
Style: Amber Ale
Served: Pint glass from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at Julio’s for $8.99/six-pack.
Hopefully the sunny days are here to stay for good this time. You never can tell with the Granite State when winter is gone for good. I’ve had snow squalls on my birthday (May) and brown New Years alike. But blue skies today call for something I don’t need a knife and fork to consume.
I got this a little too cold in the fridge for my taste, so upon pouring the crown didn’t really take off as I expected. The tea-colored body is crystal clear, with a little carbonation and thin white lacing. The aroma is a pleasing understatement of floral hop presence, multi-grain bread, spring water, and a bit of lemon. The first taste is enough bitterness to get your taste buds’ attention. But the brisk knife of the hops melts away to a mellow butter and citrus aftertaste. Mouthfeel is thin but not watery, and the beer finished with hint of bitterness, bread, and summer.
The “HopBack” portion of the moniker is not an arbitrary title. It’s so called because of a transitional phase between the wort and the fermentation tanks. A special chamber called a hopback is stuffed with fresh hops and the already cooked wort is steeped in the vessel for a time. This imparts the stronger hop presence than you’d expect in most ambers. I confess to not being a huge IPA fan, but this may the balance in a well-hopped beer I am looking for. Exceptionally drinkable, layered, and delicious without overwhelming. This is a keeper. A
Style: English Porter
Served: Pint Glass from 16.9 oz. bottle. Purchased at Table & Vine for $5.99.
I’m excited to make my first of many reviews of international beers. Plan on plenty more, from the likes of Scotland, Belgium, Ireland, and Canada. A glancing blow of rain and cool temps from a parting winter has me reaching for another dark ale, this one from Norway, a nation not particularly known for its beer. There’s an interesting article about this brewery and Norway beer culture here.
The Winter Ale (known as God Jul outside the U.S.) pours a tarry black, with a steady and dense mocha crown about two fingers thick. The nose is a bouquet that brings all the tidings of Christmas. Amazing aromas of toffee, raisins, licorice, rock candy, dark roasted coffee and chocolate make amazing promises. The taste is a bit more subtle. The coffee follows through, with dark chocolate, smoke, and a port-like quality striking a softer tone than the smell indicated. The mouthfeel is very smooth and creamy, but not the oily viscosity of an Imperial Stout. The dark ale finish is dry, classy, and evokes black cherries and burnt roasty malt.
This beer is not self-described as an English Porter. The brewer merely recommends it as a dark ale good for cold winter nights. This brew seems to be attempting to reconcile more traditional porters and dark ales with the new generation of challenging impies. It’s a very solid beer, but it doesn’t quite land with me. I think I’ve tried enough traditional porters and Strong Ales, that this compromise is just that: a compromise, not the best of both worlds. Very good, but not in my Keeper’s List. B+