Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Review

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine‘Tis the season for Goose Island’s annual release of their Bourbon County line of beers. With this year’s release, the product line has grown to include a barrel-aged English-style barleywine in addition to their very tasty imperial stout offerings. Beer geeks around the country are giddy at the thought that this beer could be of the same lineage as King Henry — many a beer geek’s White Whale. It’s been over a year since I’ve sampled King Henry, but if my memory serves me correctly, this is a relatively similar beer.

Beer Data:

Purchased: 12/5/13 – $24.99 per 12 oz. 4-pack
Availability: Annually
Alcohol: 12.1% ABV

Commercial Description from Website:

Aged in the third-use barrels that were once home to Kentucky bourbon and then our renowned Bourbon County Stout, this traditional English-style barleywine possesses the subtlety of flavor that only comes from a barrel that’s gone through many seasons of ritual care. The intricacies of the previous barrel denizens – oak, charcoal, hints of tobacco and vanilla, and that signature bourbon heat – are all present in this beer. Hearty and complex, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine is a titan and a timeline; a bold, flavorful journey through the craft of barrel aging.

Tasting Notes:

Reviewed as a BJCP Category 22C. Wood-Aged Beer (English Barleywine base).

Aroma: (10/12)
Lots of big, sticky malt dominates the aroma. Most apparent on the malt side is a rich and luscious deep caramel as well as some molasses. There is a ton of pleasant oxidized malt character reminiscent of dark fruit and tart cherry — likely a consequence of the micro-oxidation that occurred while in the barrel. There is a surprisingly light oak character that has hints of vanilla and toasted coconut, which blend well with the base beer. Some hot alcohol is apparent, but it is minimal considering the high ABV. No hop aroma.

Appearance: (2/3)
Very deep mahogany — almost black. The beer is clear with a minimal tan head. This is an attractive beer, but a few shades too dark for the style.

Flavor: (16/20)
There is a richness to the malt that fills the palate with flavors of dark caramel upfront and toasty biscuit and bread crust on the back end. Again, there is lots of oxidized malt that comes off as raisin-like in the flavor. There is some definite boozy hot alcohol, which actually helps balance the heavy-handed malt sweetness. The hop bitterness is barely enough to balance the large amount of sweet malt. The bourbon flavor is definitely present, but not nearly as intense as other beers in the Bourbon County line.

Mouth Feel: (2/3)
“Chewy” is a fitting description of the mouthfeel. The beer is slightly slick and leaves the mouth a bit tacky and sticky. The carbonation is very soft, which serves to enhance the full-bodied nature of this beer. The beer is a bit syrupy on the finish, which detracts from the overall impression of the beer.

Overall Impression: (8/10)
This is a big and intensely complex malt-bomb. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, this beer will greatly exceed your expectations. A touch more attenuation seems like it would help the beer out in terms of drinkability (if there is such a thing for a 12.1% beer). There are some prominent oxidized notes in this beer that are pleasant, but not something I’d want to enhance by aging the beer any further. This would work well as a dessert beer or replacement for something like a Sauternes paired with a Roquefort cheese.

Score: 38 / 50 (Excellent)

Double Dose IPA Review – Otter Creek / Lawson’s

Last spring, I serendipitously had the chance to try Lawson’s Finest Double Sunshine while on a beer pilgrimage up to Vermont. Sitting on the sunny deck of The Reservoir in downtown Waterbury, the stars aligned — by pure luck, I happened to be seated for lunch at the very time that Double Sunshine was being tapped. In this case, the perfect atmosphere, company, and beer aligned to build a wonderful experience greatly exceeding the sum of its parts. The beer was absolutely fantastic and ever since I’ve been eager to try another of Lawson’s hoppy offerings.

Luckily Lawson’s Finest has teamed up with Otter Creek Brewing to produce a collaborative IPA called Double Dose. Thanks to Otter Creek’s distribution capabilities, a good amount of this beer made its way down to NYC and I was able to get a 4-pack.

Double Dose IPA

Beer Tasting

Judged as a BJCP Category 14B American IPA.

Aroma (8/12)
Big in-your-face hops hit you as soon as your face nears the glass. Tangerine, pithy grapefruit zest, a very light hint of pine resin, and a substantial amount of ripe mango dominate. The intensity of the hops is quite high, but in many ways feel a bit muddled. There is just a hint of malt aroma. Some hot alcohol is apparent.

Appearance (2/3)
Very muddy and hazy. The beer paints a golden hue, which turns somewhat brown due to all the suspended solids. Head is bright white and persistent with tight creamy bubbles.

Flavor (13/20)
Citrus fruit dominates the flavor with a touch of pine sap. There is some very light crackery malt and maybe just a touch of sweet caramel. The bitterness is fairly moderate at first, but transforms into a fairly coarse and abrasive bite on the finish. The finish is further disturbed by a fairly substantial amount of hot alcohol.

Mouthfeel (4/5)
The beer is medium to medium-full bodied with a very distinct creaminess that is very reminiscent of Heady Topper to me. The beer finishes too full to fit well stylistically into the IPA category.

Overall Impression (7/10)
This is a nice example of an IPA that pushes, and likely exceeds the bounds of what most people would consider a standard IPA. I would be much more inclined to call this a double or imperial IPA. I enjoyed the hop intensity, but couldn’t help but think that the recipe could benefit from some hop varietal editing in order to allow individual flavors to pop on their own. Additionally, I found the amount of very apparent alcohol a bit overwhelming. I enjoyed this beer, but not nearly as much as my last Lawson’s experience.

Total: 34/50 (Very Good)

New Belgium / Alpine Super IPA Review

New Belgium / Alpine Super IPA

New Belgium / Alpine Super IPA

The nature of the craft beer movement encourages trends. Currently, it seems that collaboration beers are all the rage. Stone does it all the time (even with homebrewers) as does Russian River, Deschutes, Hair of the Dog, and many of the greatest breweries in the country. Super IPA is a collaboration between one of the biggest craft brewers (New Belgium) and one of the smallest and most sought after (Alpine Beer Co.). At first glance, this seems like an amazing opportunity for a small and critically-acclaimed brewery to get distribution well-beyond their typical geographical influence. Unfortunately, while quaffable, this beer misses on many marks which would have made it amazing.

Beer Data:

Purchased: 10/5/12 at Whole Foods P Street, Washington DC
Consumed: 10/7/12
Bottled: No decipherable date on bottle
Alcohol: 9% ABV

Commercial Description from Website:

The Alpine Beer Co. and New Belgium have come together for the love of IPAs. This collaboration is hop-wonderful with Amarillo, Columbus, Simcoe and Centennial hops, bringing the bitter all the way to the front. A nice balance is present with Pale, C-80 and Carapils malts, but the tropical and citrus tones of the American hops dominate. This Super IPA pours a sheened copper and carries a bright, white head. Consider yourself a hero for getting an  Alpine beer outside of San Diego.

Tasting Notes:

Aroma: Big green grassy raw hop aroma. Hops are quite resinous and herbal. This beer is dominated by Columbus hops, which are very rough around the edges. There are some nice mango and tropical fruit notes which seem bullied by the heavy piney and grassy characters. Little to no malt aromas are present on the nose; quite characteristic of Alpine’s other offerings. This beer smells like homebrewed beers I’ve had that sat too long on the dry hop. 5 / 12

Appearance: Very light copper bordering on golden. Off-white head with great retention. Clear, but not crystal clear. 3 / 3

Flavor: Big grassy raw hop flavor. Lots of resin on the palette. The flavor is pretty one-dimensional and dominated by the grassy / herbal hop flavor. There is a very light sweetness / honey character to the malt, but it is by no means easily perceived. This is a very smooth beer whose bitterness is quite low for the style, but balances with the dryness of the beer. This is where I see Alpine’s biggest influence.  11 / 20

Mouth Feel: Medium / medium low body. Average carbonation. Some astringency reminiscent of chewing on a raw hop pellet. 4 / 5

Overall Impression: Alpine is known for producing over-the-top hoppy beers with huge tropical fruit flavors and very lean malt profiles. I feel like this beer tried to hit those notes, but fell short in the hop selection arena. I can’t help but think that perhaps the need to produce New Belgium scale quantities of this beer forced the hand of the brewers into compromising on their hop selection; using massive quantities of Columbus hops which come off harsh, grassy and herbal in this beer rather than the more tropical varietals like Amarillo and Simcoe listed on New Belgium’s website. The malt is perfectly in line with Alpine’s tradition; dry and lean which would set the stage perfectly for a cleaner, fruitier hop experience. Unfortunately, this is where it falls short. 5 / 10

Score: 28 / 50 (Good)

Note: Evaluation done according to BJCP Scoring System. This beer was reviewed as a Category 14c. Imperial IPA.

Dark Horse Brewing Co. Crooked Tree IPA Review

Crooked Tree IPA by Dark Horse Brewing Co.

Crooked Tree IPA

In spite of my limited tenure in New York, I can already tell it is an exciting time to be a beer lover in the city. It seems like each new day brings news of yet another brewery distributing to the state. It is hard to keep up, but my liver is trying its best. When I saw that Bierkraft had tapped several kegs of Dark Horse beers, I hustled on over for a reasonably priced growler fill. Dark Horse has gained some following outside of Marshall, Michigan and I am excited to try the beers they send my way.

Beer Data:

Purchased: 9/17/12 at Bierkraft – 64 oz. Growler $11.95
Availability: Year-round (according to Dark Horse Brewing’s website)
Alcohol: 6% ABV

Commercial Description from Website:

Inspired by West Coast I.P.A.’s, but brewed with Michigan style. The Crooked Tree is heavily dry hopped to give it a big aroma of pine and citrus. The flavors are big, yet very balanced between fresh hops and malt. Often described as “grapefruit” our hops give this beer an excellent fruit flavor that finishes dry, crisp, and clean. It will pour a nice deep copper color with a bit of haziness. Because of our almost patented “Intense Transfer Methods” our Crooked Tree has won several medals in the India Pale Ale category.

Tasting Notes:

Aroma: This beer eschews the brash tropical and over-the-top hop aromas of trendy (and proprietary) hop varietals like Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo, and their New Zealand brethren.  Instead, what is immediately apparent are the classic aromas of grapefruit with a hint of an herbaceous note, reminiscent of classic hops like Cascade and Centennial. Aside from the hops, there are fairly strong malt aromas of toasty biscuits and crackers. The aroma is very nice, but perhaps a little understated by measure of other American IPAs. As the sample warms, a touch of alcohol presents itself.  8 / 12

Appearance: This is not a pretty beer. Out of the growler came a muddy copper devoid of any exciting highlights. The beer easily produced a nearly white meringue-like head that unfortunately dissipated rather quickly (perhaps because the carbonation was low from the growler fill). The foam is quite sticky, likely due to the large amount of hops used. 1 / 3

Flavor: Lots of grapefruit are the initial impression; however, this is followed by a very large malt flavor. The malt is less in the range of sweet caramel and toffee and more in the spectrum of heavily toasted malt. I get the impression that there is a firm Munich or Vienna malt presence with perhaps some biscuit like malts (Victory, Special Roast, Biscuit, etc.). The malt is more reminiscent of an English IPA and provides an interesting, but stylistically incorrect, counterpoint to the classic American hop profile.  The hops finish with a slight grassiness, likely from the dry hop. 13 / 20

Mouth Feel: This beer presents with a medium / medium-low level of carbonation likely the side-effect of the growler fill. This lends to an appealing almost cask like mouth-feel.  There is a firm bitterness that balances any residual sweetness and finishes with a touch of grassy astringency. Quite quaffable for an IPA. 3 / 5

Overall Impression: I very much enjoyed the balance of this beer. Unfortunately, to me the hallmark of the American IPA category is an assertiveness that celebrates huge in-your-face hop flavors at the cost of balance. This is America, dammit, and more is not always less when it comes to the IPA category. The beer is obviously well-crafted with no technological faults. It is a great drinker that one could easily empty a growler of (I did), but I doubt it would win many competitions as an American IPA. 6 / 10

Score: 31 / 50 (Very Good)

Note: Evaluation done according to BJCP Scoring System. This beer was reviewed as a Category 14b. American IPA.

Founder’s Harvest Ale Review

2012 Founder's Harvest Ale

2012 Founder’s Harvest Ale

When it comes to fresh (wet) hopped beers, I am a very difficult consumer to please. The majority of wet-hopped beers I’ve tried have a distinct ‘dirty’ flavor that I do not enjoy. It is a flavor that is hard to describe, but one I chalk up to the massive amount of raw plant material that tends to go into these beers. For lack of a better word, I tend to call it chlorophyll-like. Some people like this flavor, but I tend to enjoy bright, clean hop flavors. Founders managed to impress me with this beer by avoiding a lot of the flavors I find rough or harsh in wet-hopped beers.

Beer Data:

Purchased: 11/3/12 at Bierkraft ($16.50 / 4-pack)
Consumed: 11/3/12
Bottled: 10/4/12
Alcohol: 6.5% ABV

Commercial Description from Website:

This liquid dream pours a hazy golden straw color with a white, two-finger head. Your first sip rewards you with a super juicy hop presence bursting with fresh citrus, then finishes to introduce toasted malt undertones.

Tasting Notes:

Aroma: Sweet orange peel and tangerine dominate the nose. There is a touch of pine resin and light grapefruit as well. Aromas are clean and defined; not dirty at all. The hop intensity is somewhat subdued compared to other IPAs. Very light malt sweetness. 8 / 12

Appearance: The golden appearance alludes to the fact there isn’t going to be a ton of darker caramel malt or toasty flavors in this beer. Clear, but not brilliantly so. White persistent head. 3 / 3

Flavor: The hop flavor is lighter than what the nose foreshadowed. Grapefruit flavors are much more apparent on the palate along with some light tropical fruits (pineapple). The bitterness is firm, but moderate for the style. There is a light toasty / crust-like malt character. No caramel or alcohol flavors. There is a hint of dirty chlorophyll-like flavors. 14 / 20

Mouth Feel: Very light, crisp, and dry body. Medium carbonation with a slight amount of astringent bitterness. 3 / 5

Overall Impression: Harvest is an enjoyable light and clean IPA. The hop flavor is balanced and doesn’t overwhelm you, making it quite sessionable (if that is possible for a beer of 6.5% ABV). Founders managed to avoid much of the negative flavors which I get in a lot of wet-hopped beers. If the hop intensity was dialed up and the roughness of the bitterness toned down a hair, this would be an outstanding beer. That being said, this beer is very good. 7 / 10

Score: 35 / 50 (Very Good)

Note: Evaluation done according to BJCP Scoring System. This beer was reviewed as a Category 14b American IPA.