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Monday, June 10, 2013


Beer Talk

This August BOTB will be four years old. How the time flies. It seems like only yesterday that we took our first tentative steps into the world of craft beer reviews. We jumped right into the deep end (if you'll pardon the mix of metaphors here) as we took a look at IPAs (Stones Ruination IPA won the day) and threw down the first gauntlet in our battle against tasteless beers with the title: "IPAs, the True King of Beers." The idea initially was to pit a number of like-styled beers against each other, rating them in blind taste tests. The results would then be blogged (in a somewhat text-heavy, image-light format in the beginning). We started out with a numerical rating system but have since morphed into more of a subjective, descriptive system in which we first lay out some of the basics of each beer (The Beer Facts and What the Brewer Says) and follow up with objectively describing the beer's characteristics (color, pour, aroma, taste). Next we designate it as a beer we: 1. Would Leave on the Shelf 2. Could indeed drink ("I Could Drink This!") or 3. Can't Get Enough of. Finally we present the "Comments" section, perhaps the most revealing part of our review. The comments provide a sort of free-form, real time, stream-of-consciousness assessment of each
brew. While sampling each beer, we are encouraged to ruminate, extrapolate, pontificate and evaluate in an attempt to educate those who choose to investigate our online postulates. We try to keep it light yet informative. As each session progresses the comments often become increasingly irreverent (and at times irrelevant), but it gives a rather nicely unvarnished look at not only the beers being judged but the judges being beered (so to speak).

So what's the point of all this? What, pray tell, is our raison d'etre?  The long answer is: "To promote the production, sale and consumption of American craft beer while exposing the diabolical methods used to push upon an unsuspecting beer drinking public the nefarious, flavorless pseudo-beer forced down our throats by those evil masterminds: the Mega-breweries."

The short answer: "Beer. Mmmmm."

Have we been successful? Well, since 2009 sales of the Mega-brews has steadily dropped, while craft brew sales have grown by 10% annually (State of Craft Beer Industry 2013 - Demeter Group Investment Bank).


I think not.


Many craft brewers choose to bottle their pricey, high alcohol or more exotic beers in 22-ounce bottles (known colloquially as "Bombers" or "Big Boys" or "Rockets" or "Deucers" or "Fat Boys"). Bombers have been around for years, long before the Glorious Craft Beer Revolution. Bombers are equal parts tradition and economics. Bombers are a part of beer culture and not, as argued by a New York Times writer, an attempt at "wine-ification" of beer. From a purely financial perspective, 22 ounce bottles are good money-makers. For the brewer, it cuts down on packaging. Also, the per ounce price works in favor of the brewer. A $3 Bomber of a mega-brew when extrapolated into a six-pack of 12 ouncers comes to $9.81 (there are roughly 3.27 22 ouncers in a 72 ounce six-pack). While no consumer in his right mind would pay that for Bud or Miller, they might drop $3.00 for a Bomber. In the world of good beer, $8.00 for a Bomber becomes $26.18 for a six pack of 12 ouncers - a prohibitively high price for even an awesome IPA! But you might feel extravagant and spend $8 just to try something a little different.  

On a particularly ambitious May afternoon, the BOTB Guys took on nine of these Bombers and were still standing to give our opinions on a sixer from Canada (well, technically we were still sitting - but we were able to remain upright - sort of). Once again, we opted to sample these in order from lowest ABV to highest.


THE BEER FACTS; BREWER: Three Heads Brewing, Rochester, NY;  STYLE: Black IPA; ABV: 6.5%; IBUs: 75; 

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Yes. Skunk Black IPA. Big hop aromas hover over this perfectly balanced, dark beauty. Who knew a skunk could smell so good? Discover why a hint of roasted malt is the perfect complement to big hop flavor. Get Skunked!" 

COLOR: Dark reddish brown

POUR: Better than a decent head, but well below Guinness level

AROMA: Malty sweetness and coffee

BODY: Full/thick

TASTE: Initial dark roasty sweetness with a nice bitter finish. It has notes of malt, bread, nut, and toffee.


COMMENTS: "If you're going to call it 'Skunk' it better be a good beer, and this one sure is; The flavor lingers; There is a clean finish; It stays right with you; I'd buy that; Great balance of nutty malt and citrus hops; When you're having more than one..." 


THE BEER FACTS: Brewer: Sierra Nevada, Chico, California; Note: Since Harvest is fresh-hopped and fresh hops are seasonal, Sierra Nevada has both a Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere version of its beer. It being May, we are reviewing the Southern Hemisphere version;  STYLE: Harvest Ale; ABV: 6.7%; IBUs: Not listed; HOPS: New Zealand-grown Southern Cross, Pacifica, Motueka

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Sierra Nevada has a love affair with hops. We've spent decades studying, testing, and tasting hops and thinking of new ways to showcase the incredible complexity and range of flavors within. In 2008 we launched the southern counterpart to our popular Harvest Ale, featuring fresh hops picked, dried and shipped from New Zealand within seven days of the fields."

COLOR: Unfiltered buckwheat honey, amber.

POUR: Substantial ecru head with decent staying power

AROMA: Grainy and malty

BODY: Full/thick

TASTE: Not overly anything. It hits all the notes. It does have notes of pine.


COMMENTS: "This fills your mouth; Sierra Nevada seems to never disappoint; They have a wonderful variety and have never rested on their laurels; It's too bad this can't be a year-round beer; This is just plain good."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Three Heads Brewing; STYLE: IPA; ABV: 6.8%; IBUs: 76

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Voraciously hoppy and not overly bitter, The Kind brings enormous aroma and maximum flavor. It's like taking a walk through a pine forest and ending up at a citrus farm. This beer brings joy to the world, one sip at a time."

COLOR: Semi-hazy yellow

POUR: Decent head, carbonated

AROMA: Hoppy, piney

BODY: Full/thick

TASTE: Hops and pine resins, with notes of citrus


COMMENTS: "I could definitely drink this!; This beer is a reason to keep Honeoye Falls on the map; Judging from these two (Skunk Black IPA and The Kind) Three Heads is a great brewery; Nice clean finish; They need to put this in a sixer; And it has a wonderful label."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Dogfish Head Brewing, Milton, Delaware; STYLE: IPA - a blend of their 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs; ABV: 7.5; IBUs: NA; HOPS: Cascade; ADDED INGREDIENTS: Maple Syrup

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Blend two Dogfish Head favorites, add maple syrup and carbonate the mixture naturally. What do you get? 75 Minute IPA. The carbon dioxide trapped during bottle conditioning gives 75 Minute a soft and velvety mouthfeel. Dry-hopped with whole-leaf Cascades, this complex IPA had been known to inspire pilgrimages to our brewpub."

COLOR: Unfiltered wheat

POUR: fairly heady - better than decent. Lasting lace

AROMA: Hoppy, piney, earthy with maybe a note of the maple

BODY: Full/thick

TASTE: Toward the hoppy/bitter end. Notes of malt, citrus (grapefruit), and a bit of pine


COMMENTS: "Full flavor; Bold; Oh, that's good beer; It's very similar in nature to the Harvest; It's very lively in the mouth; They make a helluvan IPA; I cant get enough of that; It's my favorite Dogfish Head; I first had it at their brewery - it made a strong impression."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; STYLE: American Strong Ale; ABV: 8.0%; AWARDS: Gold medal in 2012 World Championship - with a rating of "Exceptional." (Hops, Malt and IBUs not available).

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Dark and robust brewed in the style of an American strong Ale, full bodied and screaming with hops."

COLOR: Slightly cloudy copper/amber

POUR: Head is a little weak and off white

AROMA: Bready, earthy, grassy

BODY: Full

TASTE: Malty start with a nice bitter finish, sharp, pungent alcohol taste


COMMENTS: "This is for serious tasting; One of my absolutely favorite Middle Ages; It never disappoints; Absolutely delicious; It's like mac and cheese to a child; Definitely one of my favorites - they definitely got this right; If I could only have one of the Middle Ages beers, this would be the one."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: MillerCoors; ABV: 8.1; (NOTE: At the time of tasting, we were unaware of the affiliation with MillerCoors so our opinion was not colored by the mega-brew association.) Tough to find a lot of info on this beer so here is Wikipedia's take: "Steel Reserve is an American lager brand owned and produced by Steel Brewing Company. MillerCoors is the company listed on Steel Reserves' privacy policy and Terms and Conditions pages. The drink comes in 'Black' and 'Silver' varieties, also known as 'Triple Export Malt Liquor' and 'High Gravity Lager,' respectively. Its claim to fame is its unusually high alcohol content (typically 8.1%) and low price...Anheuser-Busch also adopted the 'High Gravity' nomenclature, referring to the term 'specific gravity,' a measurement used to quantify the sugars available to produce alcohol in a fermented beverage, which may give an indication of alcohol content, and released Hurricane High Gravity Lager with the same alcohol content, container sizes and similar price point."

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Introduced in 1998, Steel Reserve is a leading high-gravity lager brand. The packaging features a vertical red 211 logo, representing the medieval symbol for steel. Steel Reserve is slow-brewed with extra barley and select hops, giving it an exceptionally smooth taste."

COLOR: Pale yellow

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Skunky (Clear glass container - somebody's got to tell these brewers to stop using them!)

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Malty sweet

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Leave it on the shelf.

COMMENTS: "It doesn't taste like an 8.1; There's hardly any hop to it; If it's all my brother-in-law had in his fridge, I'd drink it over, say, Bud Light; Not a lawn mower beer; I'm not so sure about this beer; Where's the 8.1?; There's more flavor in it than I would have expected by the color; I'd re-gift it; Why is it in a clear bottle? I swear every beer we've tried that was in a clear bottle had a skunky smell."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Ballast Point Brewery, San Diego, California; STYLE: Double IPA; ABV: 10%; IBUs: 70+; Limited Release Beer.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: Not anything about Dorado. But Ron says: "We haven't done much reviewing of Ballast Point, except for a shout-out while Rick was on the road. This makes me wonder why."

COLOR: Hazy golden

POUR: Decent off-white head with good staying power

AROMA: Nice hoppy nose

BODY: Full

TASTE: Hoppy, bitter finish, with notes of bread and citrus


COMMENTS: "Best aroma so far - it smells like an IPA; It's bold; What an amazing line-up of beers; It has a nice malt backbone; You could just sit back and sip it; It is delightful; That is one fine beer; I could just drink this all day."


Some of Middle Ages vast line up of beers

THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; STYLE: British Tripel, a hybrid Belgian with elevated levels of fruit and sweetness. ABV: 10.0%; IBU: NA; 

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Cellar aged, subtly complex and deceptively strong. Using two of the Old World's brewing traditions, we have combined British ingredients and methods with Belgian ale qualities." 

COLOR: Caramel

POUR: A good off-white head that dissipates pretty quickly

AROMA: Sweet, fruity, bready, banana, cherries

BODY: Full

TASTE: Fruity sweet

OVERALL IMPRESSION: I could drink this

COMMENTS: "When you first taste this, it just washes everything else away; A really sweet taste - and fruity; I would drink that - I really would - what can I say, I'm a sweetie (H.M.); I think it's like Juicy Fruit; It's not my favorite Middle Ages, but it's okay; If I had to have a fruity beer, this would be it; A nice dessert beer; If I wasn't a hop head and an IPA freak, I'd drink this more often."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Mendocino Brewing Company, Saratoga Springs, NY; STYLE: Double IPA; ABV: 10%; IBUs: 100; MALT: Specialty 2-row, Wheat, Crystal, Munich and Vienna; HOPS: Warrior, Cascade, Amarillo, Summit, Pilgrim, Centennial, and dry hopped with Amarillo, Summit, and Simcoe (whew!)

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Talon Double IPA, like birds of prey whose formidable talons empower them to hunt and survive, will more than satisfy you in your hunt for hops."

COLOR: Cloudy buckwheat honey/caramel

POUR: Very carbonated, big, off-white head

AROMA: Bread and pine

BODY: Full

TASTE: Bitter, hoppy, pine resin


COMMENTS: "A nice strong hoppy taste; OMG - Wow!; THAT'S GOOD!; Great, fabulous beer; It's an East/West beer; It's the kind of  beer that lets you know you're alive; I could DEFINITELY drink this; There is an alcohol presence, but the alcohol doesn't mask the taste; Pour me another..."


- Quick Note - The Boreale was not in a Bomber bottle, but Dan had recently returned from Canada where this was a very popular beer, difficult to get. He was able to obtain a six pack (the last one in the store as it sells out quickly). Therefore we thought we'd try this IPA from our neighbors to the north.

THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Brasseurs Du Nord, Inc., Blainville, Quebec, Canada; ABV: 6.2%; IBUs: 50

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Notre IPA est un biere ambree debordante de houblon qui..." Oh, sorry! let me translate it for you. "Our IPA is a vivid amber hoppy beer that will introduce your palate to an assertive bitterness characteristic of addition to being a natural antiseptic, hops are also diuretic, that is to say, it helps to remove excess fluid from the body. Hops also have soporific properties. They help the body to relax!"

COLOR: Slightly cloudy clover honey colored

POUR: A decent white head

AROMA: Dry grass/hay, but not a big nose

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Wheat, hint of caramel, finishes a bit sweet with mild grapefruit notes.


COMMENTS: "It would make a nice pale ale - doesn't really make it as an IPA in the US; It's a tasty beer, I like it; It's a clean beer; We should have had this first; It is one of the best Canadian beers I've ever had; A nice, easy-drinking beer; I could drink this all night; I can see where they would kill for this in Canada."


So who won this month's battle? This was a real close one to call. We had seven different guys and got seven different favorites. The Talon Extra Select drew rave reviews across the board. At 10% ABV, though, Talon is not exactly a session beer. Only Steel Reserve failed to make the grade. Better than a typical lager, but it was out of its depth in this company of beers.

Under the 7% cap we had three that we loved: Skunk Black IPA, The Kind IPA, and Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale, while we found Boreale to be a fine ale, though its taste profile was closer to that of a pale ale than an IPA. 

The battle between the two Middle Ages brews went easily to Wailing Wench, although even that was not unanimous, as Hal, that sweetie, picked Tripel Crown. 

The two Three Heads Brewery choices both fared very well. Most picked The Kind as their favorite of the two, I opted for Skunk Black - though both were terrific.


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The BOTB Guys