Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hopstorm IPA (BJ's Brewhouse)

If a storm is to conjure thoughts of strength and intensity, than this beer's name is a misnomer.  Today’s review is of Hopstorm, an IPA offered at BJ’s, a west coast chain restaurant and brewhouse. 

Hopstorm IPA
BJ's Restaurants, Inc. 
6.5% ABV

First, about BJ’s.  The establishment, though obviously a franchise joint, was mostly adequate.  While the cliché décor reflected its clear commercialism, the beer selection was sufficient, and the prices adequate.  The service, also good, was punctuated by casual conversation with the easy going barstaff.  East Coasters, specifically those in the mid-Atlantic region, may find BJs similar to, say, Rock Bottom, albeit a bit more customer-friendly.

Now, about the beer, bottom line upfront:  The house IPA, Hopstorm, was lifeless and easily upstaged by their Amber, the Jeremiah Red.  So, try that, not this.

To the specifics:

In the glass, Hopstorm was orange, but a bit darker than apricot.  Both head and tracing were minimal and the watery appearance was the first hint of the beer’s general malaise.

The aroma betrayed the India Pale Ale spirit.  It was a bit malty, with a sort of lager-like trait.  Absent were the familiar qualities of pine, grass, or tropical fruits typically associated with west coast IPAs.

While Hopstorm did have a basic hop bite that produced some popping on the palate, the flavor simply failed to impress.  On the IPA spectrum  this one existed so far to the side of lightness that it may as well have teetered off.   

Herein was Hopstorm's primary flaw. It seemed more an Amber; most notably because of a surprisingly dominant caramel backbone. Given the ambiguity of the Amber style, perhaps the comparison lacks value. The point is: Hopstorm's a poor representation of the style it currently claims.  

The profile was not without flavor.  Those flavors were simply without boldness.  What hints did exist included fig, orange, raisin and that aforementioned caramel maltiness.  But, overall, not a single of these notes were pronounced and certainly none remarkable.

Also unfortunate about Hopstorm was the longing it provoked for “what could have been.”  Given the unanticipated caramel influence, the addition of hoppiness commensurate to even the mildest of IPAs would have produced an excellently balanced beer.  Alas…

Overall, Hopstorm was a very poor example of an India Pale Ale.  It struck this drinker as being very amateurish --  The type of bland product expected from a novice homebrewer.

Hopstorm receives a meager one star (out of five) and the only recommendation is to avoid. 

If at this particular BJ’s (Seattle), pass on the Hopstorm, and try the Jeremiah Red instead.  Better yet, go directly for the more established of the local brews on draft, Mac and Jack’s African Amber (excellent!) or the Georgetown Brewing Company's Manny’s Pale Ale (very good) and, of course…


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cuvee Rene by Lindemans

On this beautiful Independence Day, after basking in the warmth of the Capital sun, your reviewer is now embracing what makes the United States particularly special; its appeal to cosmopolitanism.  

With the Tour de France in the background, today's review is written of the ever-so-tasty Grand Cru "Cuvee Rene" from Belgium's Brewery Lindemans (brewery's enthralling history HERE, click "Brewery", and then "History"; it's worth it).    
America!  Or, at least, Alexandria, VA.  With a gorgeous Belgian in our midst!
Grand Cru Cuvee Rene, Gueuze
Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium
5.5 % ABV

Lindemans is a brewery in Vlezenbeek, a small town in Belgium most notable for Neuhaus Chocolate... and this beer.  Cuvee Rene is a Gueuze.  Thus, a combination of young and old Lambics. This particular bottle is of 2011 vintage, and some claim that increased age from proper cellaring increases this beer's quality. 

An additional quick note to the review's prologue: Many thanks to the worldly friend for not only providing this beer, but for the many pleasant conversations of beer, soccer, aviation, and travel had, and still to be had. 

Now, let us begin!

This beer is enjoyably complex -- even before it is opened! To do so requires a two-step process, perhaps unfamiliar to the American craft beer class.  1. Remove cap. 2. Pop cork. Yes, cork, so remember your corkscrew!

As the cork is removed, champagne-like foam rushes to the top and subsequently trickles down the side of the bottle. A sort of slow, dreamy waterfall of alcoholic goodness.

An effervescent rush of spring apple scent engulfs the room.  A tremendously effective aroma; your reviewer's palate whets in anticipation. 

Poured into the glass, Cuvee Rene is just a bit more yellow than clear with countless bubbles racing upward. A foam head plants itself on the beer's top but quickly settles to little more than a thin layer, like the fall's first dusting of snow. 

The aroma continues to provide refreshment.  Wild hay pairs with the more dominant fragrant sourness.

Cuvee Rene's flavor profile is mostly delicious fresh-squeezed lemon juice.  There's huge tartness, but it is no match for the even more massive, jaw-clenching sourness. 

This is a beer that explodes upon sipping.  The biting citrus is welcomed and unrestrained. Generous carbonation makes for a snappy body.  

While extraordinary, Cuvee Rene is not a flawless beer.  There is, for example, a hint of wet dog in the otherwise pleasant aroma.  Its lemony taste, magnificently enjoyable, does have some element of over-ripe grapefruit. Flaws, however, number in the few while stellar characteristics are of the many. 

The body is thin, but its understatement is the only thing modest of this beer. While of a moderate viscosity, this beer delivers extraordinary flavor that far exceeds its relative lightness.

And while an undeniably sour beer, Cuvee Rene lingers with a remarkable sweetness, reminiscent of the aftertaste that remains from a bag of Skittles.

Such a tremendous beer.  Your reviewer is too novice to Gueuze to accurately gauge this one vis-a-vis others of the style.  But relative to other beers in general, this is excellent, and absolutely recommended.

Cheers to a friend for recommending and providing this beer. And cheers to all of you on this wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Siren Noire from Heavy Seas Beer

Sometimes you just have to take your medicine...

...And Siren Noire, an Imperial Chocolate Stout from Heavy Seas Beer, is bad medicine indeed. 

Siren Noire, Heavy Seas Beer
As served at Rustico, Alexandria, VA
9.5% ABV
18.5 IBUs

A product of Maryland, Siren Noire may be best described in a word: inconsistent.  The beer changed dramatically during the duration of a single serving.  Its well choreographed first impression dwindled deliberately toward a chaotic mess by the final sip. 

Its a beer with promise that, initially, seemed to deliver. The components bode well: a beer heavy with chocolate nibs, with an added touch of vanilla beans.  Then, aged in bourbon barrels for three weeks. Sadly, one discovers that Siren Noire's ingredients may be greater than their whole. 

So far as its appearance goes, Siren Noire presented itself as a big Imperial Stout should.  It’s tremendously dark and topped by a thick resilient head.  The foam was certainly aesthetically pleasing with its muddy off-white hue. 

The aroma was indicative of the general inconsistency of this beer. It's initially mellow, but grew more boozy as Siren Noire "opened". The scent was generally pleasing, though.  It's best trait, that of ripe pecan.

Upon first sip, Siren Noire was an excellently balanced beer that immediately gifted its beholder with a velvety smooth body.  A near-perfect level of carbonation rightly split a blend of cola and chocolate.  While these flavors were the most dominant (at first, at least), a hint of nutmeg crept its way into the pleasant mix.

And at once, the mouth was met with a magnificent buttery silkiness.  For all of the faults that Siren Noire would later display, its body remained remarkably smooth throughout. 

Also immediately undeniable was the beer's tremendous stickiness.  A syrupy resin clung to everything that Siren Noire came in contact; the fingers, the glass, the lips, tongue and any remaining facet of the mouth.

At first, a mild bourbon hint worked well to accent all those details of Siren Noire's flavor profile that, so far in the drinking experience, remained the focus of the beer, and enjoyably so. 

But, slowly, things began to go downhill...

The first indication of impending disappointment was the appearance of a sordid cherry flavor.  But not the sort of cherry flavor one would love to discover doused in chocolate.  Instead, this was the sort of cherry flavor indicative of tough-to-choke-down cough medicine. An astringent sort of cherry flavor that Siren Noire would have been better without.

Continuing the gradual increasing misfortune of what was at first sip a decent beer, was the growing intensity of its bourbon kick.  In fact, the boldness of the bourbon eventually achieved a crescendo overtaking all other flavor features, effectively masking those things about the beer that had previously pleased. 
The transition was remarkable. The highlight of Siren Noire was its initial balance.  Its lowlight was its eventual utter lack of the same when the beer became overwhelmed by one note, that of its strikingly off-key bourbon.

Sadly, the last alcohol-hot sips of Siren Noire were those that left the most resounding impressions.  And they were not good.  The drinker was left with thoughts only of a medicinal and sticky concoction that suffered from an excessively rich bourbon backbone.

Upon first taste, Siren Noire was a three-star beer.  Ultimately, all that was good about the beer disappeared.  As did some of its stars. Thus, dragging’s rating  for Siren Noire to a cruddy 1.5 stars (out of 5).

With so many bold Imperial Stouts available (when available try instead any of Stone's Russian Imperial Stout, Founders' Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Sienna Nevada's Nawhal, or Great Divide's Yeti), there is no good reason to choose this one.  

As an admirer of the Heavy Seas Beer, it is with regret that this particular beer can not be recommended.

Pass on this one.