Autumn in a glass: Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale

September 22, 2010

I’ve seen Tumbler out nearly in every store I’ve been to for the past few weeks: beer stores, convenience stores, grocery stores… I finally picked it up to give it a try this evening. I wasn’t disappointed one bit.

As I poured from the bottle into a pint glass, the first thing that caught my eye was the full cream-colored head that formed despite how gingerly I tried to pour. The head is very light but holds firm, and sparkles with life. The last time I heard this sound (albeit louder) was when I poured milk onto Rice Krispies. While there is some serious fizzing of gas escaping the head, the foam does not die down quickly. A good quarter inch remains atop the beer, and it leaves a firm coating on the glass. When the snap, crackle and pop subsides, the result is a very smooth, creamy head that you’d usually find on a perfect pour of Guinness.

The color of this beer is a very warm brown with crimson highlights. Crystal clear, it truly is a sight to behold when held up to the light. I can only describe it as the sight of fall foliage on a perfect sunny, crisp day. Through the beer you can see the gentle rise of carbonation bubbles, letting you know that this beer will have a prominent physical character on the tongue.

Upon a first smell, you are greeted with a very mild, warm bouquet of lightly toasted grains, a mild spice from the hops, and a subtle sweetness that begs you for a sip. Not to be corny, but it’s a smell reminiscent of freshly raked fallen leaves. I actually recalled jumping into a big pile as a kid, and raking pile after pile for my kids to jump into.

Now, the taste. This is one smooth tasting beer! Up front you get a strong malty, lightly toasty character that breaks toward a mild but unmistakable bitterness. There’s a bit of a tart, dry finish to this beer that keeps my pint tipping for more. What I find most impressive about this beer is that while it’s seasonal, this beer makes no use of special adjuncts. This is a simple, honest, and wholesome beer from your most basic of ingredients, and it works exceptionally well. This beer does not pretend to be anything other than what it is – a fantastic mildly toasty brown ale. And the best part, this beer is perfectly balanced. No one flavor overpowers another. Rather, each flavor compliments the next.

What can I say about mouthfeel and drinkability that I haven’t already touched upon? This is a light-bodied, full flavor ale. It’s quenching, with a nice dry, slightly tart finish. It goes down easy – perhaps too easy – as I’m about to get up to pop another already!

Overall, I’m sold. This is a perfect autumn beer. Among all of the adjunct-heavy seasonals that you find these days, this one is as basic as you get, and is perfectly executed. And what’s better? You can pretty much find it anywhere from what I’ve seen! Excellent job!

Goose Island’s Sofie 2010 Belgian style ale

September 10, 2010

Sofie (2010)
Belgian Farmhouse Ale
Goose Island
ABV: 6.5%

I was browsing through my local beer store this past weekend and my eye caught a couple of fairly stark yet striking labels. Both were from Goose Island; one was Sofie, and the other was Pere Jacques (to be reviewed soon). Of note with these labels, they look more like wine labels than beer labels, and is likely why they caught my eye in the store amidst all the other bombers.

Appearance: Nice light straw color, mild haze, high carbonation creates a thick white head that quickly dissipates.

Smell: Strong citrus and coriander bouquet. Very traditional for a farmhouse style. Smells very inviting.

Taste: Strong citrus and sugars, tart but not overpowering. Mild spicing. Well balanced.

Mouthfeel: Light and thirst-quenching at first, dry and tacky finish leaves you wanting more.

Drinkability: Highly drinkable and enjoyable.

Overall: I was very pleased with Sofie.  Though I’ve never had a bad beer from Goose Island specifically, in general I’ve found limited bombers from craft breweries – particularly non-Belgian breweries producing limited run Belgian ales – to be hit or miss. But Sofie was right on the money. Very enjoyable.

Smuttynose Big A IPA

September 9, 2010

Style: American Double IPA
Smuttynose Brewing Company
ABV: 9.6%
Grade: D

Appearance: Hazy light tan color, weak head but solid lacing.

Smell: Spicy hops and lots of sugar on the nose.

Taste: Very sweet (like artificial sweetener), strong hop spicy bite, some booziness. Not a lot of character, just big malt and big bitter payload.

Mouthfeel: Heavy at first, finishes dry. Strong spicy burn from hops.

Drinkability: Poor. For me, it’s not balanced well. Very strong sweetness and hop characters clash more than play off each other. Hop burn all down my throat. And it all builds repeatedly with every sip. Unenjoyable.

Overall: A disappointment, to be sure. I was expecting much better out of this one. I think more than anything else it was the sweetness that killed this beer for me. I can tolerate strong hops (hell, I recently brewed a 100+ IBU cascadian dark ale). I won’t be getting this one again.

Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew

September 4, 2010

Bitches Brew
a fusion of three threads imperial stout and one thread honey beer with gesho root
Dogfish Head
ABV: 9.0%
Grade: A-

I was very happy to be able to try this within days of its release!

Appearance: The beer pours pitch black with a thick, dark tan head. This beer looks thick on pour, but develops a solid head of foam, unlike what you usually find with a thicker, stronger beer.

Smell: There’s a nice thick meaty aroma of burnt sugars, charred wood, honey, carob, and molasses going on here.

Taste: Slight booze, toasted grain, lots of sugars, mainly caramels, and some bready-tasting spice (sensation of rye, though not the flavor).

Mouthfeel: This beer feels thinner than expected. It comes in smooth but leaves a slightly tacky soda-like finish. There’s a slight alcohol bite at the end.

Drinkability: Moderate; some sweetness there that keeps the pint tipping but intensity of flavors and a slight boozy bite makes it a sipping beer.

Overall: This was a quite enjoyable beer, and not nearly as thick as it looked on pour. I’m going to try to grab a couple to stash away, as they should age well.

Saison du BUFF – Dogfish Head/Stone/Victory collaboration beer

September 3, 2010

This past Sunday my buddy John and I had the opportunity to stop at Moe’s Tavern in Lee, MA for a very special treat: Saison du BUFF on tap! Saison du BUFF is a collaboration beer from Dogfish Head, Stone and Victory breweries. I have two bottles at home that I’ve been saving, and now can compare them against the kegged beer. This beer is brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme… yep, a big ol’ glass of Simon & Garfunkel.

Appearance: Nice hazy straw color beer with frothy white head.

Smell: Quite a bit going on here. A tart spiciness that was peppered with herbs. Mainly sage and thyme coming through as far as the four herbs go. Some tacky sweet notes to the nose as well, like the faint aroma of honey that’s been stirred into tea.

Taste: Wow! Even more going on here! Initial light sweetness breaks quickly to lemon zest, rosemary and yes, parsley (so the other two herbs come marching in). Nice back end herby notes, again with more tartness and now some bittering.

Mouthfeel: Thinner feel than it looks in the glass. Clean, somewhat dry finish. Very enjoyable.

Drinkability: This goes down like water on a hot day. The sweet-tartness up front combined with the clean bitter finish really lend this beer to be finished off quite quickly (as we discovered first hand).

Overall: I am exceptionally pleased with this beer, and can’t wait to try it in bottle. Perhaps that will be on the menu this evening. If you see this beer, get it. It’s limited, and is worth trying. And if you live within radius to Moe’s, call to see if it’s still on tap!

Wexford Irish Cream Ale

July 31, 2009

Wexford Irish Cream Ale
Cream Ale
Greene King/Morland Brewery
5% ABV
Grade: B+

Poured from nitro-can into an imperial pint glass. Comes out a thick, rich foam that takes a good 10 seconds to start breaking down. As the foam settles you see a beautiful cascade of foam as it breaks down into beer. The beer itself is a beautiful clear brownish orange color, and the foam a slight yellow in color. Superb head retention on this ale. Even toward the end of the glass there is a good half-finger of creamy foam atop the beer.

The smell is very bready and sweet with a touch of lemony tartness behind it. Not much else to note.

The taste is definitely bready, almost with a bit of rye. Any hops in here are solely for bittering, as there is nothing up front but a nice mild bitterness on the finish.

Mouthfeel is surprisingly creamy for such a clear-looking beer. It’s nice and thick-feeling.

Drinkability is high. It goes down easy and has a wonderful bitter aftertaste. Very thirst-quenching, in my opinion.

Overall I’m quite happy with this one. I’d walked past these cans for months and finally decided to try it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Julius Echter Hefe-Weiss

July 28, 2009

Julius Echter
Hefe-Weiss Hell
Würzburger Hofbräu
4.9% ABV
Grade: A

Poured from a 500ml bottle in traditional inverted fashion into a traditional weissbier glass. Pour was highly carbonated with excellent head formation. Beer is a beautiful hazy gold color. With minimal agitation I was able to swirl out the yeast. Beautiful fine foam of yeast indicates minimal caking. Final head on the beer was about 2-3 fingers. Excellent head retention even throughout drinking.

The smell is a wonderful mix of spice, citrus and banana. Heavy lemon and spice up front, with a nice mild banana base to back it up. A very unimposing and inviting aroma!

The taste is quite solid. There’s a nice bready quality to this beer with more spice coming in (fennel?), rounded out beautifully by the nitrus notes from the yeast. Beautiful in composition!

Mouthfeel is light and crisp. There is substantial carbonation but it’s quite soft on the tongue. It has a very juicy, refreshing feel, and is exceptionally thirst-quenching and drinkable.

Weissbiers are ideal in warm weather, but this one really stands out. I wouldn’t call this a perfect beer, but it’s damn close. Look for it and enjoy it while the weather is warm! You won’t regret it!

Weyerbacher Zotten

July 23, 2009

a Belgian style Pale Ale
Weyerbacher Brewing Company
6% ABV
Grade: B-

Pours a hazy dirty gold color with quite a bit of head (2+ fingers), and quickly reduces to a thin layer of light foam at the surface. Moderate lacing on the glass. A bit of a funky color, almost like 50/50 lemonade/iced tea.

Strong malty nose with coriander, citrus, and peppercorn. Slight wildflower notes.

Dry hoppy taste with malted barley, citrus zest, coriander, and a touch of black pepper.

Mouthfeel is surprisingly mellow and juicy at first, but turns to dryness afterward. About average drinkability on this one.

Overall, a good session ale.

Weyerbacher Blanche

July 23, 2009

Weyerbacher Brewing Company
4.6% ABV
Grade: A

Poured into a wit glass, this beer foamed up on pour but quickly thinned out to a small ring clutching the glass. A beautiful hazy light golden color, with some noticeable lacing on the glass.

This beer has a nice light, crisp aroma of citrus and spice. One sniff and I think summer.

The flavor is also light and crisp, delivering more bitter citrus notes and less noticeable Belgian spices.

Mouthfeel is, again, light and crisp. This is one very refreshing beer with exceptional drinkability. I’m having a hard time putting this one down to type!

Overall, I’m extremely satisfied. Though many wits taste similar, this one is just done well. I would choose this over a Hoegaarden, and likely over a Witte from Ommegang as well. Very well done, Weyerbacher!

Stone 13th Anniversary Ale

July 22, 2009

Stone 13th Anniversary Ale
Stone Brewing Company
9.5% ABV
Grade: B+

Poured clean with a solid finger of head. Decent lacing on the glass but head retention was fairly short. Beautiful deep mahogany color.

Smells of caramel and very grassy, spicy hops. Little bit of citrus zest coming through.

Incredibly hoppy taste with an almost peppery bite to it. Heavy citrus zest coming through then mellowing against some solid malt notes. Not too sticky sweet, not too dry.

Mouthfeel is full but not overpowering. I definitely get that “this is not a session-strength beer” feeling but there’s hardly a bite from alcohol at all.

Despite the heavy hops this is quite a drinkable beer. I’ve been trying to pace myself because this is, after all, a 9.5% ABV beer, and it’s a bomber.

Overall I’m very pleased with this beer and will be looking for more while it’s widely available.