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'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. 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


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, 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!