Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 Lagunitas Sucks

The Lagunitas Brewing Company certainly does not suck. 

Yet, the subject of tonight's review is of the 2013 vintage of Lagunitas Sucks (the Brown Shugga Substitute Ale).

Merry Christmas to me!
2013 Lagunitas Sucks, 8.0% ABV

Being the Eve of Christmas, patience may be short.  So let's not delay. Straight away to the review!

Sucks appeared a dichotomy in the glass.  Per expectations, over-delivering in a trait and the opposite in another.  The head was thin but surprisingly creamy.  Equally unexpected was the lightness of the body. 

That hue was close to apricot but a bit lighter.  Its effervescence was apparent with bubbles chasing each other to the more splendid cream head. 

The aroma was a point of no disappointment.  The scent was tremendously pungent.  It did, truthfully, lack complexity.  Alas, a meager complaint.  The fresh wave was embodied pointedly by two notes.  The first, and most prominent was freshly mowed lawn. And, in a secondary role was something akin to a sweat-soaked tee shirt, which was more pleasing than it may sound.  

What the scent lacked in complexity, it overcame in pure unadulterated might. 

The 2013 Lagunitas Sucks violently threw a Mike Tyson hook of an aroma that was heavy, powerful and delivered via a massive wallop.  

Take an 8-count to recover before diving in!

This year's Sucks was certainly a bitter beer. It induced jaw-clenching not seen since pre-Gladiator bouts. 

However, its bitterness was detected in a way that made it unlike any beer not of the Lagunitas collection. The profile was completely unlike other hop-bombs.  This would never be confused with Ruination or, even, Deviant Dale's.  Unlike its peers, Sucks was not particularly resinous.  Nor, by any means, thick. The bitter bite was delivered via peppery, fleeting, spiciness, and not from an oily, "wet" lasting hop base.  

That may be this beer's most noticeable flaw.  The 2013 Sucks amassed a powerful strike, but, unlike a true world-beater combination of blows, lacked the sort of follow-up that would make it devastatingly complete.

Moreover, the tart/bitter splash too quickly evaporated from the palate, and little was left lingering for a fulfilling finish. 

This year's Sucks was most powerful in aroma and that scent likely influenced the sensibility of the palate. It was difficult to distinguish what was being perceived by the tastebuds  given the boldness funneling through the nose. 

Though, that flavor profile, whether in the nose or on the tongue, was decent. To no surprise, Sucks was unmistakably reminiscent of another Lagunitas beer, DayTime.  Consider this the bigger, bolder, and definitely stronger elder sibling.  Fans of the fractional IPA, yearning particularly for a version more tart would not do wrong by this year's Sucks. 

One note that was exceptional on the palate and missing in the aroma was from intriguing sour citrus.  Precisely, 'twas ruby grapefruit, and especially tart.  Along with the previously mentioned bitter jaw-clenching, this aspect induced some puckering. This specific trait reminded of the same background hint that was present in this year's Brown Shugga (for which, Sucks is billed a "Substitute"). 

The ruby grapefruit, though, was more pronounced in this year's Sucks than in Brown Shugga.  Such is a highlight for Sucks. 

Brown Shugga is a beer so unique, it is almost hard to compare.  Yet, as Sucks is labeled as the "Brown Shugga Substitute Ale", the comparison is natural.  Both have appealing aromas, though Sucks' is much more overwhelming in the very best way.  One-for-one, however, Brown Shugga is the fuller, more complex beverage.  And, truly, better. 

A more apt comparison for this year's Sucks may be with the 2013 Victory Dirt Wolf. Dirt Wolf is juicy, with a big moist punch that Sucks lacks.  That, alone, doesn't make Dirt Wolf better, per se, but it exemplifies what Sucks is not.  If one is harking for last year's Hopslam, the 2013 Sucks is not that.  Dirt Wolf is much closer.  

Sucks is very very good.  But not great.  And not Lagunitas' best of the year which, for this reviewer's money, remains Brown Shugga.  The 2013 Lagunitas Sucks earns 3.5 stars (out of five), and receives a recommendation.

If you would like to learn more, please enjoy EPISODE TWO of TheCraftBeerGuru.com Podcast.  Besides Sucks and Brown Shugga, other topics include: 

  • The best weekend ever
  • Goose City Pere Jacques
  • Cigar City Brewery
  • Blue Jacket Brewery
  • Long Beach
  • Tampa
  • And, life aspirations

Please listen, and thanks for reading. 

Happy holidays!  And, during these holidays, cheers!

TheCraftBeerGuru.com Podcast #2

Please enjoy the 2nd episode of TheCraftBeerGuru.com podcast. 

Subjects include: 

  • Reviews of Lagunitas Sucks and Brown Shugga, Goose Island Pere Jacques 
  • Recounting of the best weekend ever
  • BlueJacket Brewing
  • Cigar City Brewing
  • Mr. Dundebak's
  • Tampa, Long Beach, and career aspirations 

Check it out!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist

A nearly religious experience.  

Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist made an appearance at DC's best craft beer bar, Churchkey. The specific batch number on tap was not clear, though it was described by Churchkey as a "Blend of 1 Year Old Whiskey Barrel-Aged Stout & Fresh Stout..." It's likely Batch #20, though the ABV indicated by Churchkey, 11.7%, did not match Epic's website (10.5%).

An absent batch number was about this beer's only flaw. Nearly every other aspect of the Big Bad Baptist was positively remarkable, and it began with a flush aroma that was rich with roasted chocolate.  The scent revealed the first hint of whiskey which supplemented rather than supplanted other enticing elements.  Those included nutmeg and spice flourishes. 

In the snifter, the Big Bad Baptist was opaque like a powered-down television screen.  The resilient head was the color of espresso froth, though a bit more bubbly than creamy.  As it eventually settled, dirty bath water-like suds laced the inner glass. 

The pungent aroma served well to introduce a tasting experience that was equally as dazzling.  First sip revealed a surprising effervescence.  The flavor profile was immediately bold with chocolate, black licorice, and subtle Coca-Cola.  

The whiskey was initially subdued, providing only slight peat. Also masked well, at least at first, was the high alcohol percentage.  

For being Big and Bad, this Baptist was, for a moment, gentle, and dangerously so.   

As the beer opened, the alcohol began to present itself.  The whiskey developed in the character and its warmth produced a welcome tingling right in the middle of this drinker's chest. The coffee remained secondary (tertiary?) to chocolate and the toasty alcohol.  

Pro tip: This beer is best enjoyed patiently.  Allow it to rest on the palate and build.  Swallow slowly and relax with the gentle creeping burn as it settles.  Enjoy the lingering pepper in the aftertaste.  

Delight in what was one-part beer, another part chocolatey whiskey-coke, and in all regards, absolutely delicious.     

'Tis the season of wonderful stouts, and the Big Bad Baptist is certainly that.  Tremendous, in fact. 

Few brewers have utilized whiskey barrel-aging as well as Epic has here.  It is a testament to their mastery that the whiskey notes showcased without overwhelming the excellent stout at the beer's base.  

TheCraftBeerGuru.com enthusiastically recommends the Big Bad Baptist.  Epic Brewing is rewarded with 4 (out of 5) stars for this superior stout.  


PS: Check out the first TheCraftBeerGuru.com podcast, HERE.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Victory Brewing's DirtWolf

Words today are dedicated to one of the most hyped new beers of the moment, Victory Brewing's DirtWolf.  

DirtWolf, a double India Pale Ale from the Victory Brewing Company
8.7% ABV
IBUs unknown (TheCraftBeerGuru.com estimate: 80-90)

DirtWolf replaces Hop Wallop in the Victory arsenal, and has garnered lofty comparisons, most often to Lagunitas Sucks, which is heady company, indeed. 

There is much about DirtWolf to whet one's appetite; from the praise it has generated to an enticing hop profile (consisting of "Whole flower Citra, Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic hops").
With all that going for it, it may be challenging for DirtWolf's quality to meet the anticipation leading to it.  

But, let us see. 

DirtWolf hits the glass with a straw yellow hue, not unlike many other double IPAs.  Light shines through easily but the liquid is sufficiently opaque to completely blur beyond recognition opposing objects. 

Only a minimal head settles atop the beer, and its presence is fleeting.  Bubbles collect at the bottom of the glass and, in passing, take turns traveling to the top.  The head, though, resists and remains thin. 

Notably, Victory didn't date this bottle, only indicating to "Enjoy by" March of 2014 (not sure the wisdom in such aging for a hop bomb).  There is no indication, however, that this one isn't fresh. 

The scent is floral with hints of orange rind.  Surprisingly, the aroma is rather subtle given the expected character of the beer (as a whole-flower double, after all).  One could go so far to describe what meets the olfactory as underwhelming.  

What's there is pleasing. But what's there is not enough. 

The first sensation encountered upon drinking is what initially seems to be soda-like carbonation.  The true nature of that tingling sensation reveals itself throughout the experience as a powerful peppery hop spice that delivers a big, bold, and lasting bite. 

Almost no lacing to speak of

Two unanticipated and interesting characteristics of this beer include a very gentle corn syrup sweetness that touches the middle of the palate, and an onion-like finish that lingers at the top of the throat and the back of the mouth. 

In general, DirtWolf's flavor profile consists of mostly floral goodness, tweaked by a little lime splash.  There is a dank, pine characteristic familiar to Lagunitas drinkers, and likely the cause of the comparison to Sucks. 

Unfortunately, those enjoyable notes are completely overwhelmed by that extraordinary tingling singularity brought forth by this beer's immense bitter spice.  

Bitterness in a big IPA is rarely negative and is typically expected.  It just, sadly, in this case, dominates in such a way to mute the many things about DirtWolf that could make it a unique standout among its style.  

Moreover, DirtWolf's mouthfeel is rather thin, and lacks the nuanced chewyness of, say, most editions of Stone's Enjoy By.  

The hops here surface in a way more juicy than resinous.  But one only receives hint of that juicy deliciousness before it burns up in a peppery blaze.  

Overall, DirtWolf is a good beer.  It simply lacks the complexity that makes the beers to which it is compared so interesting (and pleasing). 

Yet, this is certainly the best of Victory's offerings, and one of the better beers from the upper east coast.  Of course, not in the same stratosphere as Heady Topper, or even DC Brau's On the Wings of Armageddon.  

Does TheCraftBeerGuru.com recommend DirtWolf?  Absolutely.  It's a three star beer (of a possible five).  

But its hype seems, one: overdone; and two: likely due to east coasters reaching for some new, bold thing to match game-changing product constantly emanating from the west.  

DirtWolf is new. Not unique.  And good. Not great.  Yet, worthy of a try.  

So, do so, and enjoy.  And feel free to respond with your opinion.  And, as always...


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dark Horse Brewing Reserve Special Black Ale

While craft beer is often associated rightly with the west coast, a competing hotbed certainly exists in the state of Michigan. 

What, with Bell's, Founders, and others pumping out excellent brews, one could certainly make the case that Michigan is at least geographically the heart of America's craft brew scene. 

In Michigan this writer trusts.  Tonight's beer is the pride of Marshall, a Battle Creek suburb of that state. And home to some 7,000 and, thus, over ten-times more inhabited than this man's childhood town.   

From Marshall, we are offered the Dark Horse Brewing Company's Reserve Special Black Ale. 

Reserve Special Black Ale, 7.5% ABV

Adequate description of this unique beer could stretch paragraphs (see below), but summarizing takes but three words: liquid, smokehouse barbecue.

Delivered in a bottle... 

...And what an interesting bottle indeed.  

The standard of beer art is set by 21st Amendment.  Dark Horse labels are a bit less artistic, but equally as fun. This one depicts a horse, though not so much dark, rather gray, and sketched leisurely with broad strokes by simple marker.  In the background, lightning strikes upon the tophat of a figure who appears mostly concealed but, by outline, appears Colonial in nature.  Ol' Benjy Franklin, one would assume. 

Playful.  Here's to hoping the quality of the beer matches that of its vessel. 

To the eye, the beer seems properly named.  It is, in fact, black.  Like midnight.  In a cave. With any opening thoroughly barricaded.  Explicitly dark. 

A small but creamy head settles atop the liquid like dimpled, dirty whipped cream resting upon a glass of Brent Crude

The aroma is fun and interesting.  It's the scent of just-extinguished campfire.  The olfactory apparatus is teased with the rustic scent of smoldering embers.  

As the Reserve Black Ale meets the tongue, the beer's damp peaty characteristic is immediately unleashed. Imagine the scent of wet moss on the north-side of a tree twisted in to some sort of delectable nectar. 

The follow-through delivers Mesquite liquid smoke that lingers. 

That's the beginning and the end of it.  And, in between, the beer's fullness emerges and splashes the palate with robust anise, like that of black licorice. 

Despite all the smoke and "dark" flavors, some brightness is revealed via an infinitely subtle tropical hop presence that serves only to accent the more bold aspects at play. 

The Dark Horse Brewing Company struggles to categorize this beer, indicating that "The Reserve Special Black Ale has a hard time being called a stout or porter" (see here) and TheCraftBeerGuru agrees.  Too dry to be a porter and certainly lacking the creamy mouthfeel of stouts.  

So what is this, other than unique, tasty, and good? 

The Special Reserve Black Ale is a nice "change of pace" beer. 

Let's apply a college football analogy   This is definitely not the "Alabama" of beers.  More like a Boise State or TCU; a sort of intriguing, playful little diversion worth occasionally paying attention to.  

As a three star beer (of a possible five), The Special Reserve Black Ale from the Dark Horse Brewing Company receives TheCraftBeerGuru.com's recommendation


Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Belgium "Hop Kitchen" Hoppy Bock

This is certainly a lager like no other.

Hoppy Bock is the product of New Belgium Brewing's "Hop Kitchen," a series best described by the brewer on their websiteThe Hop Kitchen is here to cook up four beers per year for the most daring of palates. Only the boldest and hoppiest beers make it to the bomber.

Hoppy Bock may well be one of the four, but bold, unfortunately, is not the most appropriate adjective. Though, "unique," is quite apt.  

Like the others of the Hop Kitchen series, Hoppy Bock comes sealed in a bomber.  Upon settling in the glass, this beer is a very pale yellow, not unlike a pilsner or wheat beer, though, in this case, cleanly filtered.  

Hoppy Bock from New Belgium Brewing
6.9% ABV
70 IBUs

A creamy ivory head builds and slowly dissipates, leaving soap-sud lacing that dresses the entirety of the inner glass, and adheres to it steadfastly. 

The lacing is surprising and pleasing but, otherwise, the appearance of Hoppy Bock is underwhelming. It's bland and light in tint, and lacks richness of color. 

This beer is more aromatically compelling than it is aesthetically. That smell delivers an interesting experience as it is, at first, bursting in fruit, orange specifically, with hints of spring grass. Then the head fades, the fun begins, and the attributes reverse; grass becomes dominant. The orange trait accepts a background role. 

There is plenty to be said about this beer's flavor profile.  Let us begin with the obvious. Hoppy Bock is mighty fine, and delightfully gentle.  

The hops presence is initially introduced with a mild spice bite.  Peppers tingle the tip of the tongue, fade, and then collect near the top of the throat. 

That lovely lacing

This is a surprisingly bitter beer. Every bit of the 70 IBUs New Belgium claims. Not, however, bitter like coffee. But also unlike anything offered from west coast IPAs. Hoppy Bock is more earth and straw (the straw characteristic also in the aroma) than floral and fruits.  

While the hops are certainly driving this concoction, yeast proudly tags along shotgun, adding a sort of farmhouse complexion to the flavor profile, likely responsible for the straw-like characteristic described above.  A touch of dryness is due to a subtle hint of rye malt.

Texture is thin with little to no stickiness remaining in the mouth.

Hoppy Bock is neither balanced nor complex.  Instead, it exists as a beer cornucopia.  But tasty enough to make it worth drinking.  

Budweiser makes a lager.  This is not like that.  In the sense that Hoppy Bock is magnitudes more satisfying. But also totally different.  Hoppy Bock shares more in taste with pale ales than it does lagers.  

While the words above describe this beer in full, in summation, Hoppy Bock is like a slightly below average farmhouse ale dry-hopped to such a degree that its uniqueness makes it sufficiently interesting.  

TheCraftBeerGuru.com digs beers that endeavor to break the mold.  Hoppy Bock challenges the lager style, and drags it to a place that it has likely never been.  For that, it is recommended.  Yet, in general, Hoppy Bock is only an averagely enjoyable beer.  

So, New Belgium's Hoppy Bock etches an interesting place on the TheCraftBeerGuru scale. Let's call it a 2.5 star beer that is, nevertheless, worth checking out. 


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale

A sweet bit of fall.  During the dog days of summer. 

Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
5.5% ABV, 37 IBUs

Tumbler is Sierra Nevada's delectable autumn seasonal offering.  It's not unlike the Marzens available now to celebrate Oktoberfest, though a bit sweeter. 

The beer builds in the glass with a rich brown hue. A significant amber ascent makes Tumbler the color of a Middle Eastern date.  

In the glass stein, there is a frothy head; moderately creamy with stable retention.  Color and suds make for an opaque cream soda-like appearance. 

The aroma dances gingerly from glass to nose and is thoroughly pleasing. Roasted malt dominates and, despite the sun and warmth outside, one is quickly reminded of chestnuts roasting over an open fire. 

The scent is excellent and may be the best aspect of an all-around good beer. 

Lacing remains throughout, but is spotty. 

Does Tumbler's taste match the remarkable smell that precedes it?

Well, initially, your reviewer's palate is met with a smack of caramel matched by an immediate carbonation pop.
Tumbler is quickly and obviously enjoyable, though a bit sweet. 

The featured aspect here is certainly the thin, pleasing caramel layer.  Just enough of a touch of chocolate is present to make Tumbler seem almost like a brown sugar porter, though lighter in body and with higher carbonation.  

As with the scent, the flavor profile also offers a nut characteristic; perhaps almond or cashew.  And, finally, the cacophony is rounded out by the additional sweetness of raisin. 

Though generally sweet, there is more to this beer.  West coast hops say, "Hello" in the aftertaste, where some bitterness lingers. 

The sweetness, though, is a bit excessive.  It is the type that is more cane-derived than honey-like.   And that sweetness knocks the balance moderately out of whack.  Though, these are marginal complaints. 

Besides, all of this was intended, as Sierra Nevada explains on their website, with the sugar detail due intentionally to Tumbler's specialty malts. 

So, the highlights: Tumbler's excellent aroma and elegant appearance. 

Also good: the flavor profile in general. 

Though sweeter than anticipated, truly nothing about this beer is "bad," and any negative that does exist is overshadowed by the positive, described above. 

Sierra Nevada brews better beers (namely, its best, Narwhal, in this writer's opinion).  But Tumbler is still very good. 
Overall, it's a 3.5 star beer (of five) and is recommended by TheCraftBeerGuru.com


Sunday, September 1, 2013

21st Amendment's Brew Free! Or Die IPA

As Constitutional Amendments go, the 21st was certainly a good one (Wiki here, if more info is required).  And the 21st Amendment Brewery produces one of TheCraftBeerGuru's most preferred IPAs, their "Brew Free! Or Die."  

Brew Free! Or Die IPA
7% ABV, 70 IBUs
The 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA

Though Brew Free! Or Die is the subject of tonight's review, let's first discuss the 21st Amendment (the brewery, not the update to the Constitution). 

The 21st Amendment Brewery was founded in San Francisco in 2000 by Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan.  And who (or what?) do we have to thank for influencing this wonderful creation?  Well, a brewing class at the University of California - Davis where Freccia and O'Sullivan met.  And, no doubt, Triple Rock, Steelhead, and (the now sadly defunct) 20 Tank, all breweries where O'Sullivan worked prior to opening 21st Amendment. 

Despite being brewed in California, 21st Amendment beers are canned in Minnesota.  And, in the case of Brew Free! Or Die, what an interesting, unique can indeed! Its lovely art depicts President Lincoln's apparent escape from Rushmore (Washington appears confused, Jefferson smug, and Teddy jovial). 

Now, to that review of the flagship 21st Amendment beer, the Brew Free! or Die IPA...

Lacing remains along the inside of the glass, though a bit unevenly distributed, like bubbles from dish detergent

The beer pours very yellow, like a traffic light, with just a bit of orange influence.  For comparison, the can's background is just a slightly darker representation of the beer's actual hue.

Brew Free! Or Die is hazy such that it's totally opaque.  A luscious head, perhaps half an inch thick, remains long atop the beer.

The scent is predominantly orange zest.  Ripe, in the positive sense of the word. 

Upon reaching the mouth, one is first met with Brew Free! Or Die's wonderful grapefruit tone that remains throughout.  There's also a hint of lemon.  Both characteristics are matched by a very pleasing floral bouquet. 

Let's call this a liquid citrus, rose petal salad.  

So far, so good, though, there is a bothersome flaw: the subdued hop spice.  It seems a bit off. While Brew Free! Or Die effectively tingles the tongue with its peppery touch, that aspect never explodes upon the palate with the big spice pop that one so eagerly expects.  

The mouthfeel is also only adequate.  The texture is very mildly chewy, though not bad.  It simply does not invite savoring.  It's a beer that encourages gulping, despite a delicious flavor that is worth patiently enjoying. 

Again, Brew Free! Or Die is mostly good.  Particularly because of its remarkable balance. A sweet malt backbone is amply revealed. Yeast also provides a satisfying influence on the flavor profile. So, while hop-forward, this excellent IPA does well to showcase its other delightful features. 

While not particularly unique, Brew Free! Or Die is nearly as good an IPA as any (well, okay, arguments for IPAs across the US are acceptable; (from the west) Pliny, (east) Heady Topper, (midwest) Surly Abrasive).  It loses a half star for failing to bring anything new to the class, but yet remains above average. 

Ultimately, TheCraftBeerGuru.com deems Brew Free! Or Die a 3.5 star (of 5) beer.  And, of course, it receives a full recommendation.  

So, this one is to you, UC-Davis! You've had a happily fortuitous impact on this man's drinking experience. Cheers!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Orval Trappist Ale

Sure to make the most expert pourer of beer seem amateurish.

Orval Trappist Ale from the Brasserie D’Orval
6.9% ABV (although that number is debatable

The ale being reviewed tonight is one of two produced from within the walls of the Belgian monastery, Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval, the Orval Trappist beer. 

The hue is gold bullion liquefied and placed in glass. Orval appears light and effervescent. The head is huge; bubbly but not creamy.  A puffy rather than thunderous cloud. 

Those little bubbles, like tiny sea eggs, settle to the bottom of the glass.  Occasionally, a few sprint toward the white layer that rests atop the liquid.

As more beer is delivered to the vase, the race of bubbles becomes an all out power struggle with endless baby spheres racing each other to their foamy escape.  

The aroma is like a tractor-pulled trailer full of straw on an autumn night.  The straw is accented by a touch of citrus that makes for a pleasant but not overly pungent scent. 

It becomes immediately obvious that Orval's uniqueness defies categorization.  It initially delivers a surprisingly abrupt alcoholic bite that, thankfully, mellows as the beer sits. 

Nevertheless, a tremendous battle is occurring here.  The frontline pits sour versus bitter, but the cavalry exists in an extraordinary array of characteristics.  

At first, the product of that battle-royale is a bit disappointing.  Imagine something akin to rubbing alcohol.  Not good.  But, to great delight, Orval grows significantly more appealing with time.  In fact, the dynamic change of this beer during a single setting is testament to its depth and gives the beer a kind of luxurious appeal (almost to suggest that this is the connoisseur's beer; one whose best attributes would be missed if downed with haste).  

This beer is complex, and requires slow deconstruction.  It has an acidic nature not unlike orange juice.  Yet, the flavor profile is so very little like orange juice, and very much more like a zesty lime juice matched with the intriguing warmth of a scotch.  

The base of this beer is briny.  It shares the mineral quality of a Gose.  But that's it.  In every other aspect, Orval is much more in your face than the gentle Gose. 

At first, Orval seems more unique than good.  But then it creeps on you.  Ultimately, it develops such as to be quite tasty, and unlike anything else in the fridge (or cellar).  One wouldn't sit around the campfire crashing several of these.  But one could, with great pleasure, sip a single Orval while enjoying a delicious cut of steak.  

As it subdues, Orval eventually becomes a bit more reminiscent of a Saison, in a very general sense.  It grows more "wild."  So, as to say that a farmhouse yeast (or something like it) slowly peaks through. Though it never fully becomes Saison-like.  Truly, Orval is not of any single style.  

So, about that complexity.  Let's say this is a Saison (as wrong as that is).  If so, it is one with an alcoholic kick not shared by others of the style.  And despite seeming airy with a fluffy head, it hardly drinks lightly, though its refreshing nature is slowly released during the duration it spends in the glass.  Orval's undeniable citrusy Trappist sourness is abutted by an unexpected bitter note. 

This beer is so artfully balanced that, as a whole, it is an enigma. 

Due mostly to uniqueness, Orval receives 3 stars of a possible 5 from TheCraftBeerGuru.com.  

It could be supposed that only Orval's most hardy advocates could enjoy more than one or two of these during any one sitting.  But trying one is a must. And, so, Orval receives TheCraftBeerGuru's highest recommendation


Saturday, August 10, 2013

3 Stars Brewing Anniversary Bash at Churchkey, DC

If the initial hours of the event were indicative, 3 Stars Brewing celebrated its first birthday at Churchkey on Friday night with incredible success.  

Anxious patrons queued at Churchkey's entrance twenty minutes prior to its 4:00 p.m. opening.  The bar quickly reached (and probably eclipsed) "standing room only," with yours truly managing the remaining open stool at the crux of the bar; no doubt reserved for the creepy guy in the corner, sniffing, swirling, observing beer while madly applying pen to pad.  

3 Stars offerings were plentiful on tap, as well as from the cask.  And the styles diverse. Light stuff, including a handful of Saison varieties, all the way to darkness, including a Russian Imperial Stout.  Even a low ABV rye ale was available. 

3 Stars brought to its own birthday party gifts to please everybody.

While the beer was the star of the event, the orchestrator was clearly local beer sommelier, Greg Engert. Engert, beer coordinator for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group of bars, swam deftly through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, and around, under, and past frantic (but never frazzled) bar staff.  Often, he was trailed by a flashbulb popping photographer.  

Greg Engert, the rockstar of DC's craft beer scene. 

A tremendous crowd gathered to celebrate 3 Stars' first year -- growing thick even within the first hour of doors opening. The Churchkey staff impressed, handling with remarkable ease numbers that could have overwhelmed. Empty glasses were always and immediately replenished.  

The size wasn't the only thing tremendous about the crowd.  The same adjective was appropriate for the gathering's female contingent (at least in the opinion of this young(ish) male). To put in subtly. More direct? Wow, 3 Stars definitely brought sexy back!

Craft beer rock stars, beautiful women, brew snobs, and countless others congregated at Churchkey Friday evening for a single reason: to celebrate 3 Stars beers.  And most of those beers were hits. While one was a notable miss.  Reviews follow...

The Best...

Two to the Dome IPA

Two to the Dome 
3 Stars Brewing Company, 8.0% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Two to the Dome poured orange in color with a slight head that faded immediately.  It opened with an astonishing citrus scent reminiscent of a freshly cracked can of mandarin oranges. 

While hop spice lacked, its absence left unhindered a delectable flavor profile that was highlighted by massive grapefruit and delicious tangerine.  

Two to the Dome's flaws included a texture that was a bit too thin, and an aftertaste that was mostly absent. 

The highlight may have been Two to the Dome's overall taste had it not been for the superior aroma. The Citra used for dry-hopping made for an unmistakable and utterly pleasing scent. One that compares well with the best in class.  

Two to the Dome is at least a 4 star (of 5) beer, and is highly recommended by TheCraftBeerGuru.com.

The Worst...

The Movement IPA

The Movement
3 Stars Brewing Company, 5.0% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

The most appealing feature of this beer was its appearance which was orange and bright, like the sun. 

The aroma was the first hint that The Movement was going to disappoint.  That scent was off-putting, and (a first for this reviewer) portrayed a tomato-like character.  

Upon tasting, The Movement proved a one-trick pony relying solely and unfortunately on hop spice that dominated the otherwise insipid flavor profile.  

The bitterness, lasting throughout, was accompanied mildly by an unripe grapefruit note that simply failed.  

The Movement was dry-hopped with Centennial and Cascade hops. Unfortunately, the effort did nothing to make this beer anything more than a "typical" IPA, and not really a well done one at that. 

The Movement receives 1 of 5 stars, and certainly no recommendation from TheCraftBeerGuru.com. 

The Others...

Citra and Lemon Peel Saison

Citra and Lemon Peel Saison
3 Stars Brewing Company, 5.0% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

This Saison appeared surprisingly dark and opaque in the glass. Bubbles created a small head, but quickly disappeared.  

The aroma was light, refreshing and nice.  It was similar to the scents shared by most Saisons; sort of wild, and remindful of freshly baled hay.  

Also refreshing was the Citra and Lemon Peel Saison's body.  It was crisp with a perfectly measured spice bite.  While there was surprising sugar sweetness, the body was mostly without stickiness.  

The prominent flavor was derived from the lemon peel, but it was subdued.  Which worked well to produce the best quality of this beer: its excellent balance.  No single trait, good or bad, overshadowed any other.  

The follow-through provided an unexpected lager-like finish.  But it worked. 

As did this beer.  This was not the best example of a Saison, but a very good one.  It was magnificently balanced, and well worth trying.  The Citra and Lemon Peel Saison earns 3 of 5 stars and a recommendation from TheCraftBeerGuru.com

Zombie Date Night Imperial Porter 

Zombie Date Night
3 Stars Brewing Company, 9.6% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Cocoa nibs and vanilla beans were utilized during the production of this beer, with only the cocoa effectively influencing the final product. 

Zombie Date Night was a proper name as the beer appeared dark as midnight, but with an eerie purple tint.  

The thin head was foamy and dirty brown. 

The aroma was unabashedly huge and shocked the nostrils.  Along with the Two to the Dome, Zombie Date Night was the most pungent.  The scent here was red wine through and through. With closed eyes, this beer could have been mistaken for a Syrah. 

This was a very rich beer that was initially good, but became a bit medicinal (think cough syrup) with continued sipping.  That richness reflected semisweet chocolate.  No vanilla presence was detected. 

A lingering aftertaste was pleasing and unique, like chocolate milk.  

Zombie Date Night was an enjoyable beer until it became a bit much to bear.  It's probably worth 2.5 stars out of 5.  Maybe more.  Perplexity abounds.  TheCraftBeerGuru.com can not, at the moment, recommend it, especially vis a vis other dark beers, including 3 Stars' own From Russia With Love.  However, the conclusion is incomplete.  

Zombie Date Night will require a future revisit. 

B.W. Rye, Volume 5

B.W. Rye Volume 5
3 Stars Brewing Company, 3.2% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

The B.W. Rye, Volume 5 weighed in at a minuscule 3.2% ABV.  Yet was deep in color, which was ruby red, and truly beautiful with a gemstone-like reflection. 

Not surprising given the low alcohol volume, very little aroma tickled the nose. 

The volume of flavor, unfortunately, equaled that of the alcohol.  This was a sadly bland brew. 

The rye didn't go unnoticed.  It peeked through with a hint of dry bark, but that note vanquished from the palate much too quickly. 

There was also some subtle smokiness, but like the mossy bark suggestion, it also passed too rapidly to adequately satisfy. 

Which leaves this beer as a bit of a quandary.  The flavor, in the instant it could be savored, was enticing. There just wasn't much of it.  

While it seems unfair, this beer, as it is, deserves only 2.5 of 5 stars.  As an alternative to run-of-the-mill IPAs and stouts (and that only) it does, however, achieve the weakest possible recommendation from TheCraftBeerGuru.com. 

From Russia With Love Russian Imperial Stout

From Russia With Love
3 Stars Brewing Company, 8.5% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Viewed from above, From Russia With Love could just as well have been a cappuccino with its thick creamy head.  A head that proved to have lasting power. 

Like any good Russian Imperial Stout, this one was dark, dark, dark.  You could lose a gold coin in this oily sea. 

The nose encountered an aroma not much different from a recently baked loaf of bread. Malt was the major player here. 

While the texture to From Russia With Love was thinner than other Russian Imperial Stouts, the flavor content was no less than any of its peers.  This was a magnificent beer that offered a chocolate profile with a happily abrupt sweet bite. 

That sweetness, to great credit, never became cloying.  

In fact, From Russia With Love was actually quite well balanced.  Imagine a root beer float, only with chocolate ice cream.  Very good, indeed. 

From Russia With Love competed with Two to the Dome for "beer of the night" honors.  As it stands, this is a 4 star beer and deserves TheCraftBeerGuru.com's strong recommendation.  

And that does it.  A good night, no doubt, for 3 Stars Brewing, Churchkey, fellow revelers and, certainly, TheCraftBeerGuru.  So, until the next review...