Vendome Beer Panel – March 30, 2017

The Vendome Beer Panel sampled a variety of beers from five different breweries on Thursday March 30, 2017. If these reviews intrigue you or pique your interest, head over to Vendome Wine and Spirits in Fullerton and use my code, “VEN10C” to get a 10% discount off the price.

The rating system:
0 – I wouldn’t offer this beer to my worst enemy.
1 – I wouldn’t pay for this beer, but it’s alrigjht.
2 – Tasty, but easily forgettable.
3 – I’ve had better, I’ve had worse.
4 – I can see myself buying this beer and ordering seconds.
5 – Just hook up the beer straight to my veins.

GT Gose: Anderson Valley Brewing, Boonville, CA. 4.2% ABV. Rating – 2
This beer pours a clear straw yellow with a ½” white head that persists throughout the session. The aroma is tart, citrus, with just a touch of sulfur. The flavor follows the nose – citrus (mainly lime) and tart. Think of Sprite, but a little tart.   These flavors fade to a very slight malty aftertaste. GT Gose is well carbonated and light bodied.

I gave GT Gose a “2” rating because I just don’t care much for the style. This beer would be good on a hot summer day – it’s light and refreshing, low in alcohol and easy to drink. I gravitate to dark beers, big beers and IPAs. This was too much like drinking Sprite. (Note: GT Gose is Anderson Valley’s take on the classic cocktail, Gin & Tonic. With that in mind, I would say they’ve done a pretty good job, as it’s refreshing like a gin and tonic and easy to drink.)

Vanilla Porter: Latitude 33 Brewing, Vista, CA. 6.5% ABV   35 IBU. Rating – 3
This porter pours black with a ½” tan head of thick foam. The aroma is vanilla with hints of caramel. The flavor is vanilla and bitter chocolate with some grainy bitterness. The aftertaste is a lingering vanilla and bitterness that lingers. Vanilla Porter has medium carbonation, body and mouth feel. Although vanilla leads the flavor charge, it is not overwhelming nor does it taste imitation.

I like Vanilla Porter; it’s good beer. However, it does not stand out from the crowd. It’s just another good porter.

Broken Skull IPA: El Segundo Brewing, El Segundo, CA. 6.7% ABV   67 IBU. Rating – 3
Broken Skull pours light golden with a light cream-colored head that lasts throughout the session. The aroma is citrus and grapefruit with some mango. The flavor is bittersweet, almost like a DIPA. It’s not real bitter – it has a nice malty foundation that hides the 67 IBU. The hoppy character is subdued citrus and grapefruit. The aftertaste is melon/mango, and bittersweet. This IPA is well carbonated with medium body.

Broken Skull IPA is good beer, but it’s pretty mellow; I would categorize it as an East Coast style IPA (more balanced, malty, not so hoppy). It’s an easy drinking IPA, but I think it would benefit from additional dry hopping (disclaimer: I am a hophead; keep that in mind when considering my comments).

Rocco Red: Bootlegger’s Brewing, Fullerton, CA. 7.1% ABV   37 IBU. Rating – 4
This American Red ale pours dark amber with a creamy beige head. The aroma is malty, slightly sweet with just a note of Cascade hops. The flavor is malty, earthy, slightly sweet, but well balanced with some hop bitterness. The malty sweetness lingers in the aftertaste. This red ale has low-medium carbonation and medium body.

Rocco Red is a well-balanced American Red/Amber Ale brewed right here in Fullerton. Well done, Bootlegger’s!

Imperial Stout: Mother Earth Brew Co., Vista, CA 8.1% ABV. Rating – 3
This stout pours black with a ¼” light tan head. The aroma is chocolate, malty and sweet. The flavor follows the aroma – chocolate, with raisin and dark fruit, sweet, with slight notes of tobacco. This fades to sweet prunes. Imperial Stout features low-medium carbonation with medium body and a smooth mouth feel.

Mother Earth’s Imperial Stout is good, but not great. I would drink it again, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for the style. I expect a little heavier body with a lingering bitter chocolate and coffee flavor/aftertaste in an imperial stout.

Well, that’s it for this edition of Vendome Beer Panel. In my opinion, the best of these five is Rocco Red from Bootlegger’s Brewing. I gave GT Gose a low rating because it’s not a beer style that interests me; however, it’s good within the style category and is definitely refreshing. The other three are good, but not outstanding. If you’re interested in any of these beers, you can buy them at Vendome Wine and Spirits in Fullerton. Be sure to use my discount code “VEN10C” to get a 10% discount off the purchase price. Cheers!

Black Butte XXVIII, Poterie, and Collaboration No. 6

Well, beer lovers, it’s time once again for my much anticipated beer reviews. Today I bring you the low down on three big beers that I recently consumed. All are special release or limited release; I am trying to get these reviews to you in a timely manner so you can still find them if you’re interested. Please read responsibly.

Black Butte XXVIII: (2016) Deschutes Brewing Co., Bend, OR. 11.6% ABV
A few weeks ago I posted a review of Black Butte XXVII and teased you with a mention of Black Butte XXVIII. Well, I found my notes, so here is the review of the 2016 iteration of Deschutes’ anniversary ale.

XXVIII is brewed with cocoa, vanilla, peated malt and sweet orange peel. 50% is aged in Bourbon and Scotch Whiskey barrels. It pours black with a light tan ½” head that fades immediately to a thin ring. The aroma is sweet – raisin, vanilla and cherry. The first flavor impression is semi-sweet chocolate, with some alcohol, dark fruit, tobacco and vanilla. Chocolate and toffee linger in the aftertaste.

As it warms, it becomes sweeter. The chocolate persists, but is not as bitter. The chocolate/toffee aftertaste remains, but is somewhat sweeter. XXVIII has a very thick body and velvety smooth mouth feel. The carbonation level, although not high, is enough to impart some bitterness and palate cleansing. The alcohol content is relatively high, but is only slightly noticeable in the taste.

Although XXVIII is a Bourbon/Scotch Whiskey barrel aged beer, the barrel notes are not really noticeable in the flavor. They are only slightly detected in the aroma.

Overall, Black Butte XXVIII is excellent. I sampled this beer from a 22 oz. bomber (bottled 06-13-2016). I’m not sure about the availability any longer – I purchased it several months ago and drank it in January (2017).

Poterie: The Bruery, Placentia, CA. 16.8% ABV.
This is the eighth anniversary beer from The Bruery in Placentia. All of their anniversary beers have been big – very complex flavors and high in alcohol. This one is no exception. It’s an English style strong ale aged in Bourbon barrels.

Poterie pours a cloudy brown with a light beige ¾” head that fades after about 2 minutes to a substantial ring around the perimeter of a “Bruery” tulip glass. The aroma is sweet, vanilla, bourbon and alcohol. The flavor is sweet chocolate with some grainy bitterness, tart, and tobacco, with no alcohol noted. The aftertaste is chocolaty bitterness, vanilla, toffee and cherries. The bourbon barrel notes are very subdued.

As Poterie warms, the alcohol becomes noticeable, and the flavor grows a little sweeter. The aromas of vanilla, bourbon and alcohol also intensify. At room temperature, the flavor is alcohol, vanilla, and bourbon, and then fades to chocolate, mocha and grainy bitterness.

This beer is highly carbonated, which is a good thing. Otherwise, it could be too syrupy (thick and sweet) on the tongue. Poterie is available still, in 750 ml bottles. With almost 17% alcohol, that’s too much for one person at one sitting. I recommend this beer, but if you are going to get one, plan on sharing it.

Collaboration No. 6: Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City, MO) and Firestone Walker Brewing (Paso Robles, CA). 12.5% ABV.
This is a somewhat unique collaboration between two breweries. Normally with a collaboration brew, the two brewmasters get together at one of the breweries and they brew a collaboration recipe. In this case, however, the two brewmasters got together, each providing samples of two of their finished products, and then blended them in graduated cylinders until they arrived at “the perfect balance of two barrel aged beers from each brewery.” So, this is a mixture of Boulevard’s Bourbon Barrel Quad (45%), Imperial Stout X – Tart Cherry (10%) and Firestone’s Stickee Monkey (35%) and Velvet Merkin (10%).

Enough background though; lets get to the point. No. 6 pours opaque dark brown with a 1” tan head that persists. The aroma is tart cherry and chocolate with some Belgian spiciness. The flavor is chocolate and tart cherry, which fades to vanilla (from the barrel aging) with a lingering bitterness.

As it warms, the aroma becomes a bit sweeter and the flavor becomes more chocolate. The cherry seems to become sweeter, less tart. At room temperature, it’s all about the chocolate. The alcohol is noticeable in the aroma, but not in the flavor. The aftertaste is a lingering sweetness and cherry (not tart). No. 6 has a high carbonation level with medium body and mouth feel.  This beer is very good! I drank this from a 750 ml bottle over the course of an afternoon, for a very pleasant experience. I think this is still available in limited quantities, and I highly recommend it.

Well, folks, that’s it for now. I recommend all three of these beers, so open your wallets and buy them (if you can still find them). Caveat: fizzy yellow beer drinkers (and/or cheapskates) – don’t bother, you won’t like them.  I will likely be posting a new Vendome Beer Panel review at the end of the week, so check back around March 31, 2017 for additional tips and discount opportunities.

Sláinte!

Vendome Beer Panel – March 9, 2017

The Vendome Wine and Spirits Beer Panel met for the second time, on March 9, 2017.  Again we sampled five different beers again, but this time all of the beers were from one brewery – Ballast Point, in San Diego, California.  In addition to the Vendome panelists, there were two representatives from Ballast Point, Nicholas and Joey.  These two gentlemen put on a fine presentation, supplying the beer and providing loads of information about each sample.  If these reviews intrigue you or pique your interest, get yourself over to Vendome Wine and Spirits in Fullerton and use my code, “VEN10C” to get a 10% discount off the purchase price.  Oh, and please read responsibly!

The rating system:
0 – I wouldn’t offer this beer to my worst enemy.
1 – I wouldn’t pay for this beer, but it’s alrigjht.
2 – Tasty, but easily forgettable.
3 – I’ve had better, I’ve had worse.
4 – I can see myself buying this beer and ordering seconds.
5 – Just hook up the beer straight to my veins.

Bonito: 4.5% ABV   20 IBU   Rating – 3
This Blonde Ale pours clear yellow with a ¾” white head that lasts forever (and left substantial lacing, even in a 2 oz. plastic sample cup). The aroma is a little bit of lemon, but very slight, with just a hint of malt. The flavor is a slight hoppy bitterness, with a little malt at the back end. It fades to a very slight, but pleasant bitterness in the dry finish. The body is light, with high-medium carbonation.

This is a typical Blonde Ale in that the aromas and flavors are quite mild. The 20 IBU is just slightly high for the style (more typically around 15 IBU), which gives the impression of being a little more dry than most Blondes. Overall, it’s a tasty and thirst quenching beer, but not one I would order again (I’m not much of a Blonde Ale drinker – I prefer bigger, more robust flavors).  If you like Blonde Ales, you might like this a lot (or you might not, it’s a little more hoppy than a typical Blonde).

Sculpin: 7% ABV   70 IBU   Rating – 4
Is there anybody in Southern California who has never had a Sculpin IPA? I doubt it. Sculpin is Ballast Point’s flagship beer – and for good reason. It’s very good, and it’s one of my go-to IPAs.

Sculpin pours a clear golden color, shading toward orange, with an ivory ½” head that fades to a substantial ring. The aroma is citrus, grapefruit and tropical. The flavor is well balanced for an IPA. It’s bitter (but not an overwhelming bitter bomb), with notes of grapefruit, citrus and pine. The body is medium as is the carbonation level.

This is a great example of a West Coast style IPA. If you like IPAs, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Grapefruit Sculpin: 7% ABV   70 IBU   Rating – 4
Grapefruit Sculpin is just what you would expect from the name – Sculpin with grapefruit added. The appearance, body, mouth feel, and carbonation level is exactly the same as Sculpin. Here is how the other attributes compare to Sculpin.

The aroma is similar, but slightly sweeter with a little extra grapefruit on the nose. The flavor is grapefruit, of course, but not as strong as one might expect, and not quite as bitter (have you ever eaten a grapefruit half with a little bit of sugar on top?). The nice bittersweet fades to a strong grapefruit flavor for a few seconds. The aftertaste is also bittersweet, and very pleasant.

So what about Grapefruit Sculpin? It’s very good, just like Sculpin, but there is definitely an added layer of depth in the taste. Try drinking Sculpiin and Grapefruit Sculpin side-by-side and you will see what I mean. The differences are noticeable, but nuanced and easy to miss if one is not paying attention. I highly recommend Sculpin and Grapefruit Sculpin.

Manta Ray: 8.5% ABV   70 IBU   Rating – 5
This beer is the heavy hitter among these five brews. Manta Ray, a Double IPA, is a new release from Ballast Point.

Manta Ray pours clear yellow with a ¼” white head. The aroma is tropical, bitter, melon, and pine. The flavor is citrus and pine, but well balanced and smooth. The malty sweetness comes through, but is well covered by citrus, piney bitterness and melon. The body is medium to medium-high with low-medium carbonation and a smooth, creamy mouth feel. The alcohol is fairly high, although low to medium for the style, and is not noticeable in the flavor.

This beer is AWESOME – the best of the evening. I bought a 6-pack before I left Vendome (yes, I used my discount code). I highly recommend this beer to any serious IPA or DIPA drinker.

Barmy: 12% ABV   32 IBU   Rating – 4
Barmy is a strong Golden Ale brewed with orange blossom honey and apricots. It pours a clear golden yellow with an ivory head that rapidly fades to a fairly thin ring. The aroma is sweet, cider-like, but with no alcohol (surprising, given the high alcohol content).

The flavor is all about the fruit, similar to a mead. It’s sweet, but there is a noticeable apricot tartness, and notes of orange. The alcohol comes through late on the palate, but it’s not hot or unpleasant. Carbonation is low, with medium-heavy body.

Barmy is excellent. It is bursting with flavor, and easy to drink. Be careful, however, at 12% ABV, a little goes a long way. This is another Ballast Point brew that I can highly recommend.

Well, there you have it. Ballast Point Brewing is truly one of the West Coast’s finest breweries (BTW, I toured their Miramar brewing facility on February 6, 2017). If you want to give any of these beers (or all of them) a try, go to Vendome in Fullerton and purchase them. Be sure to use code “VEN10C” to get a 10% discount off the price of these beers.  If you can’t get down to Vendome in Fullerton, then by all means, buy them wherever you can.

Cheers!

Ashcroft and Black Butte XXVII

Greetings to all you beer lovers.  Today I bring reviews of two beers that were released in 2016, Ashcroft (Black Market Brewing), and Black Butte XXVII (Deschutes Brewing).  I drank and reviewed these beers several months ago, but just recently found my notes.  I should have posted these reviews when I sampled them last summer.  Sorry for the delay – I offer no excuses.  Both of these beers may no longer be available.

Ashcroft: Black Market Brewing Co., Temecula, CA.  9.8% ABV
Ashcroft is a bourbon barrel aged Imperial Brown Ale.  It’s dark hazy brown with a 1/2″ beige head that fades after about two minutes, leaving a thick ring and a very slight surface layer.  The aroma is sweet, chocolaty, with a little coffee and vanilla.

The flavor is dark fruit, sweet chocolate, and caramel, with just a hint of acidic tartness.  Then the bourbon kicks in with notes of vanilla and coconut.  There is a nice lingering bitterness in the finish and the aftertaste.  Ashcroft has a medium body and mouthfeel with a nice carbonation level that keeps it from tasting too heavy.  Then alcohol level is high, but is not noted in the flavor (you will, however, notice it’s effects!).  As it warms, the alcohol becomes a little noticeable in the aroma and flavor.

Brown Ales can easily be too sweet or too thin, but this one is well balanced.  The bourbon barrel really adds a lot to it.  “Brown Recluse” from Phantom Ales in Anaheim has been my favorite and “Go To” brown ale, but I think I like Ashcroft a little better, just because of the barrel aging, which adds another level of complexity.  This beer is a real treat.

Black Butte XXVII (2015): Deschutes Brewing Co., Bend, OR.  11.6% ABV.
Each year Deschutes releases a special version of their flagship porter, Black Butte.  They add special ingredients and then age part of the batch in whiskey barrels.  This anniversary ale is different each year. so once it’s gone, there’s no getting it again.  The 2015 version was blended with apricot puree, cacao nibs and pomegranate molasses.  I purchased this bottle in early 2016 and aged it for several months in my refrigerator.

Black Butte XXVII pours black with a 1/2″ light cocoa colored head that lasts for a couple of minutes before fading to a substantial ring around the perimeter of a tulip glass.  The aroma is sweet, bourbon, oak, tart and apricot.

The flavor is sweet chocolate, a little tartness, vanilla, oak, dark fruit (plum), coffee (very slight) and molasses.  The overall impression is sweet, but that fades to a slight bitterness, which in turn dissolves into a semi-sweet chocolate flavor.  The apricot and pomegranate is subdued, but is noticeable in the tartness.  As it warms, the aroma and flavor becomes sweeter, with hints of caramel and nuts/nougat, like a Snickers Bar.  The alcohol flavor also becomes a little more pronounced as it warms, but never becomes prevalent or boozy.  The body is medium to full – well developed for a porter.

My perception of this beer is chocolate above all else.  Bourbon is not detectable in the flavor, but is slightly noticeable in the aroma.  That’s a little disappointing, but I would still say this is an EXCELLENT beer.  The notice on the bottle read, “Best After 7-20-16”.  I drank this beer on 08-06-2016.

I recently sampled/drank Black Butte XXVIII, and wanted to include the review here.  Unfortunately I lost my notes.  If I ever find them, I’ll post the review.  Until then, all I can say is that it is very good, but was different than XXVII.  Sorry for this teaser, but I guess  you’ll just have to go get some for yourself (it should still be available) and enjoy the experience.

Black Butte XXVII is no longer available, although one might be able to find it somewhere.  I believe Ashcroft is a special/rotating release, and may be available again (not sure about future availability – that’s a little ambiguous).

Well, that’s it for now beer lovers.  I will be posting a new Vendome Beer Panel review at the end of the week, so check back around March 11, 2017 for additional tips and discount opportunities.

Sláinte!

Vendome Beer Panel – February 16, 2017

This month I was selected to be on the Vendome Wine and Spirits beer panel. The panel consists of 5 individuals; none of us represent any brewery or distributer.   We sample craft beer, write reviews, and rate the beer so that customers can access our expertise when making beer selections.  This is a volunteer position – my only compensation is free beer samples once every three weeks.  I am hopefully helping Vendome sell high quality craft beer with my recommendation, but I get no commission or wage from them.  I am doing this strictly for the love of the beer.

Our first panel tasting was on Thursday February 16, 2017.  We sampled five beers from five different breweries.  My reviews are posted here for your reading pleasure.  If any of my reviews pique your interest, I encourage you to go to Vendome and buy the beer.  When you buy the beer based upon my recommendation, you will get a 10% discount off of their already low/competitive price if you use MY discount code, VEN10C.  This code is specifically related to MY reviews; each person on the panel has a different code, and will be given credit for sales of the corresponding beer.  Although I will get no monetary compensation, sales related to my discount code will help keep me on the panel (if I’m not bringing any customers in to purchase the recommended beer, I will be replaced on the panel by someone else).

Each beer is assigned a numerical rating, from 0 to 5, as follows:
0 – I wouldn’t offer this beer to my worst enemy.
1 – I wouldn’t pay for this beer, but it’s alright.
2 – Tasty, but easily forgettable.
3 – I’ve had better, I’ve had worse.
4 – I can see myself buying this beer and ordering seconds.
5 – Just hook up the beer straight to my veins.

So, here’s what you have all been waiting for . . . reviews and recommendations for five beers.  These ratings are solely mine – I did not consult with or collaborate with the other panel members in my ratings, so I don’t know how they rated each beer.  These are MY observations and recommendations only (note: the prices listed are for 22 oz. bombers at Vendome).  Please read responsibly.

We Should See Other People: Arsenal Urban Ales, Westlake, CA. 5.4% ABV.
Rating – 4  ($6.99)
This blonde ale pours a clear golden color, typical for the style, with a white head that fades fairly rapidly. The aroma is fruity sweet, with coffee and cocoa (especially coffee!).

The flavor is sweet, coffee/mocha, then fades to a sweet coffee aftertaste. There is a very slight bitterness, but no real hoppy notes. This is a very clean tasting beer with a light body and medium carbonation.

Overall, We Should See Other People is a pleasant drinking experience. It’s a well balanced beer, though not a typical blonde ale, thanks to the added cocoa and coffee. The alcohol content at 5.4% is on the high side for a blonde, but it’s not so high that one couldn’t easily drink two or three in a sitting. Arsenal Urban Ales has done a nice job with this one, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an easy drinking ale with a little extra flavor complexity.

Land of Hopportunity Blood Orange IPA: 4 Sons Brewing, Huntington Beach, CA. 6.3% ABV 62 IBU
Rating – 3  ($6.99)
This IPA is a slightly different take on 4 Sons standard IPA, Land of Hopportunity, with the addition of blood orange. It pours a clear golden-orange with a thick, light cream colored head that persists for a couple of minutes. The aroma is hoppy, tropical fruit and a little citrus.

The flavor is hoppy but not overwhelming; it’s bitter with tropical fruit notes. The bitterness level is nice, not over the top, but there’s no doubt it’s an IPA. Nuances of orange are apparent on the back end and are dominant in the aftertaste. The body is light to medium, with a medium carbonation level.

This is a nice IPA, with subdued citrus/orange flavors. It’s good and it’s refreshing, but doesn’t’ stand out from the crowded field of American style IPAs. The alcohol content is mid level for the style. I can say I would drink this again if I had a bottle in my refrigerator, but would not go out of the way to buy it.

Expatriot: Three Weavers Brewing, Inglewood, CA. 6.9% ABV.
Rating – 4  ($7.49)
Expatriot is an American style IPA from relative newcomer, Three Weavers Brewing. It pours a golden/orange color with a thin white head that rapidly fades. The aroma is malty sweet (pale malts) with some hoppy citrus.

The flavor is bittersweet, malty with tropical fruit and a hoppy chaser that fades to a citrus bitterness. The pleasant bitterness lingers forever in the aftertaste. This beer is a little more complex than the typical American style IPA – more like a Double IPA with the bittersweet malt/hops balance. The body is medium to medium-full, with medium-high carbonation, also reminiscent of a DIPA.

Expatriot is very good – well balanced, malty yet bitter and clean. The alcohol content is high for an IPA, so be careful with it. If you like big IPA’s, you should give it a try. I will definitely be on the lookout for this one in the future.

Coconut Imperial Brown Ale: Valiant Brewing, Orange CA. 8.5% ABV. 30 IBU
Rating – 5  ($7.49)
When Valiant Brewing opened a few years ago, they concentrated on Belgian style ales. They have since expanded their repertoire significantly and are doing it well! Brown ales are (in my opinion) difficult to get right, but Valiant did a great job with this one.

Coconut Imperial Brown Ale pours a clear dark brown with a light beige head that rapidly fades to thin ring around the perimeter. The aroma is sweet, coconut, with a hint of chocolate and a little alcohol.

The flavor is slightly roasty but sweet, with light cocoa, followed by a punch in the mouth with dark chocolate and coconut. Next up is pure coconut followed by a lingering semi-sweet chocolate and coconut aftertaste. Wait a minute, did I just take a bite of a Mounds candy bar? No, but that is the flavor profile here.

This beer features a very solid brown ale base, with some grainy bitterness and 30 IBU to balance the flavor, which otherwise could be too sweet. Again, even though it tastes like a candy bar, it’s not overly sweet. This is all about the coconut, and it’s well done. Some coconut beers on the market tend to have an “imitation” flavor, but this one tastes like toasted fresh coconut. Coconut Imperial Brown presents a medium body and mouthfeel, with light-medium carbonation. The alcohol content is relatively high, but is not detected in the flavor, so it would be easy to drink too much.

Based on my 3 oz. sample, I think this beer is excellent. I will definitely buy it in the future. One caveat, however: with this much flavor, a 22 oz. bomber might wear me out. I highly recommend Coconut Imperial Brown Ale to anyone who enjoys dark beers. Well done, Valiant!

Café Racer 15: Bear Republic Brewing, Cloverdale, CA. 9.75% ABV. 100+ IBU.
Rating – 5  ($8.99)
Café Racer 15 is a Double IPA from well known Bear Republic Brewing in Northern California. It pours a clear orange with a white head that fades rapidly, leaving no ring. The aroma is citrus hoppy and sweet with just a hint of tropical fruit.

The flavor is quintessential DIPA – bittersweet. It has a nice, thick malty framework, including notes of caramel, covered with pine and citrus. The overall impression is citrus, but that is mitigated by a big malty sweetness. The 100+ IBU is well balanced, so it doesn’t taste like a bitter hop bomb on the palate. The body is on the heavy side of medium with a light-medium carbonation level (this is not a dry IPA).

Café Racer 15 is an excellent DIPA. The malt and hops are nicely balanced within the style guidelines. At 9.75% ABV, the alcohol content is high. A 22 oz. bomber will get you where you want to go – especially if you consume it on an empty stomach. (but no driving afterward!). I highly recommend this beer.

Well, there you have it – my observations and recommendations for five craft beers.  I hope you find this review helpful.  If you feel the need to purchase any of these beers, get yourself down to Vendome Wine and Spirits and use my discount code VEN10C to save yourself a little cash (and to keep me on the panel so I can continue to bring you these enlightening reviews).  Vendome is located at 3115 Yorba Linda Blvd., Fullerton.  A special THANK YOU to Junior and Vikki for allowing me to review beer for your business.

There are two more beer panels scheduled for March 9, and March 30, so check back here a day or two after those dates for more ratings and recommendations.

Sláinte!

Santa’s Little Helper & Ginger Bigfoot

I’m way behind on Beer Reviews (I’ve sampled them, and have pages of notes, but haven’t yet written them up).  I will try to catch up in the next few of weeks, but for now I offer my observations on a couple of special release beers.  Please read responsibly!

Santa’s Little Helper: Port Brewing, San Marcos, CA.  10.5% ABV.
Port Brewing makes a lot of delicious beers.  Santa’s Little Helper is a winter seasonal release.  This Imperial Stout pours pitch black with a creamy 2″ cocoa colored head that lasts for several minutes before fading to a thin layer, and finally to a small ring around the perimeter of the glass (I used a tulip glass).  The aroma is roasty with notes of licorice and caramel.

The flavor is coffee, bitter chocolate, licorice, sweet, and nutty.  There is a lingering bitterness in the aftertaste from the roasted grains.  The body and mouthfeel is medium/heavy.  The alcohol is well hidden, not really noticeable in the mouth, but it quickly goes to work, so be careful with it.  As this beer warms, dark, semi-sweet chocolate predominates, with notes of toffee and coffee.

Overall, this is very pleasant beer.  It’s typical for an Imperial Russian Stout – roasty and complex with a fairly high alcohol content.  It’s good, but not the best IRS I’ve ever had.

Ginger Bigfoot: Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA.  11.4% ABV
Ginger Bigfoot is one of the “Trip In The Woods” Barrel-Aged Series releases from Sierra Nevada.  It is their Bigfoot Barleywine aged in whiskey barrels, with ginger added.

Ginger Bigfoot pours a dark murky brown, with no head, but a very thin ring that faded away.  The aroma is slightly sweet, vanilla, and oak, with a bit of ginger.  The flavor is vanilla, ginger, tobacco, and raisin.  The aftertaste is all ginger.  It’s well carbonated with a medium to heavy body.  As it warms, the whiskey aroma steps forward, but the ginger becomes even more pronounced in both the aroma and flavor.

The whiskey barrel flavor is quite subdued in this beer.  It is VERY ginger forward, which is not to my liking.  I really like Bigfoot Barleywine, and I generally love bourbon barrel aged big beers, but this offering from Sierra Nevada is all about the ginger.  Since I don’t like ginger, I didn’t like this beer.  That’s not to say this is not good beer.  It’s very complex, and if you like ginger, you very well may like this one.

I purchased both of these beers at Costco.  I don’t remember the price, but both were reasonable.  I think Santa’s Little Helper was about $6.00 (22 oz.) and Ginger Bigfoot was about $12.00 (750 ml).  Neither one is available at Costco now, but I have seen both at several other locations.  So, I recommend Santa’s Little Helper, but I did not like Ginger Bigfoot, and would only recommend it to someone who likes ginger.  Caveat: if you’re a fizzy yellow beer drinker, don’t bother with either one.

Well, that’s all for now, beer lovers.  I will try to publish more beer reviews right away, so check back soon.

Slánte!

9 Ladies Dancing, and Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale

francis2_nobkgrd

It’s time again for me to offer all of you the benefits of my beer knowledge, fearless sense of adventure, and willingness to put my reputation on the line.  Yes, I bring you another beer review.  These two fine beers are both seasonal releases, currently available.  Please read responsibly!

9 Ladies Dancing: The Bruery, Placentia, CA.  11.3% ABV
This is the 9th verse of the 12 Days of Christmas series from The Bruery.  They started this series in their first year of operation with “Partridge in a Pear Tree”, and have brewed a different ale every year, each one named after a verse in the famous Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Unfortunately I missed the Partridge in a Pear Tree, but have had each offering since then; they are all very different.  Refer to my Beer Reviews of November 18, 2014 (7 Swans a Swimming) and December 6, 2012 (5 Golden Rings)  for descriptions of two previous verses.

9 Ladies Dancing is inspired by the well known Italian dessert, tiramisu.  This ale is infused with cacao nibs, vanilla, coffee and lactose, for a sweet, but not heavy, flavor sensation.  It pours a hazy dark brown with a 3/4″ light beige head that persists for several minutes, then fades to a very substantial ring around the perimeter of The Bruery tulip glass.  The aroma is sweet, coffee, with a little vanilla.

The flavor is coffee (without the bitterness), sweet cocoa, slight alcohol and sweetness, which then fades to dark fruit and raisins, then a lingering coffee/mocha in the aftertaste.  This is a sweet beer.  I noted no bitterness at all, and believe it could stand a little bittering hops for balance (caveat: I’m a hop head, a lover of huge IPA’s, so my palate may not be the most objective).  However, this beer is supposed to be their take on tiramisu; so, if one keeps that in mind while drinking this, the connection cannot be missed.  The body is medium – heavy, with a fairly high level of carbonation.

As it warms, the coffee is more pronounced and it becomes a little sweeter.  Overall, this beer is sweet, even a little syrupy.  The coffee is noticeable, and is the signature taste, but is not overwhelming.  In fact, I would say it is a little more subtle than typical tiramisu.  The alcohol is also noticeable, but not hot or unpleasant; it is a sweet alcohol note, and it definitely brings on an enjoyable buzz.

9 Ladies Dancing is currently available in 750 ML bottles.  I bought a bomber at Total Wine for $10.99.

Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale: Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver, CO; 11.5% ABV.
Hibernation Ale is an English style Old Ale from Great Divide Brewing.  The Barrel Aged version has been aged in whiskey barrels for over 12 months.  I’ve never had the regular Hibernation Ale, so I can’t compare this barrel aged version to it.

Barrel Aged pours a murky brown with a 1/2″ beige head that fades after 2 – 3 minutes to a substantial ring and some lingering surface foam (very light), that lasts throughout the session.  The aroma is coffee, chocolate, vanilla and mocha.

The flavor is slightly sweet, but not overwhelming, with a hint of bitterness.  Chocolate, coffee and some vanilla are first noted, then sweet cherry, bourbon (very subdued) and raisins.  These flavors fade to a sweet coffee which lingers in the aftertaste.

As previously mentioned, this beer is sweet, but not out of balance.  The body is medium to heavy, and the carbonation is low to medium.  A lot of lacing was left behind in the tulip glass.  A bit of booziness is noted late on the palate as it warms, but it is not at all unpleasant.  A nice warming sensation is apparent in the throat and the stomach from the high alcohol content (it gave me a nice buzz after half a glass).  A slight coconut flavor appears when the beer gets to room temperature, but other than that, the bourbon flavor is all but missing.

I purchased Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale at Total Wine – $19.99 for a 750 ML bomber.  This is seasonal/limited release, so it may or may not be available any longer.

So there you have it – two very nice winter warmers.  I can recommend both, although with a couple of caveats.  First, Barrel Aged Hibernation is very good, but the bourbon barrel flavors are lacking the intensity I would expect from a $20 bottle of barrel aged beer. According to the label, it was bottled on February 17, 2016, so it’s possible the bourbon flavor has faded from 9 months in the bottle (I drank the bottle on November 4, 2016).  For the price, 9 Ladies Dancing is a much better bargain (about half the price) and is more widely available right now.  Second, both of these beers are sweet.  If you are a hophead, or don’t like sweet beers, these may not be to your liking.  And lastly, the usual warning applies to these ales: fizzy yellow beer drinkers (and cheapskates), don’t bother – you’re not sophisticated enough.

Sláinte!

Bastard’s Midnight Brunch and Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout

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Good craft beer is widely available these days.  In the last few months I have sampled many different beers with the intention of posting reviews.  Unfortunately for you, my writing has not kept up with my beer consumption.  Here are a couple more reviews of some good beer, both brewed by Stone.  Please read responsibly.

Bastard’s Midnight Brunch: Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA; 12.7% ABV (2016 release).
Stone offers a wide variety of limited release, specialty, and barrel aged ales in their line-up.  Bastard’s Midnight Brunch is Depth Charged Double Bastard Ale aged in bourbon barrels and maple syrup barrels (refer to my review of Depth Charged Double Bastard, posted December 2, 2015, for more information about the base beer for Midnight Brunch).  Depth Charged is Stone’s Double Bastard Ale brewed with espresso coffee beans, so Midnight Brunch is twice removed from it’s foundation, Double Bastard Ale, which itself is an excellent beer [Double Bastard » Depth Charged » Midnight Brunch].

This beer pours a murky reddish-brown with a 1/4″ cream colored head that fades fairly quickly.  The aroma is sweet: toffee, chocolate and maple.  The flavor is . . . WOW!.  It’s slightly sweet, with dark fruit, raisins, coffee (very slight), and tobacco.  These flavors fade to a slight bitter chocolate in the aftertaste.  After some time, the vanilla and coconut notes from the  bourbon barrel step forward and linger for awhile.  This too fades, to a hop bitterness.    At the end of it all, the bitterness lingers.  As it warms, the Double Bastard roots become more obvious, and a nuttiness comes through.  What great flavor progression!

This beer is full bodied, quite thick and smooth.  The carbonation level is low to medium.  A 1/8″ ring of foam persisted throughout the session, but left no lacing in my tulip glass.

Sweet is the overall impression, but not so much that one feels the need for insulin.  It is very malty like Double Bastard, but is much more complex.  The coffee flavor from the Depth Charged is quite subdued, and the alcohol, although high, is only slightly evident to the palate (but will definitely do some damage).  This is an interesting beer – very good.  I prefer the regular Depth Charged, but it’s more to my liking than regular Double Bastard Ale.  Sorry I can’t give you pricing information – this beer was a gift to me from Sheila  (now, is that a thoughtful gift, or what?).  I would guess about $18 – $20 for a 500 ml bottle.

Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout: Stone Brewing; 9.2% ABV (2008 & 2016 releases).
In 2008, Stone Brewing released Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout as their 12th anniversary ale.  This beer was an instant success, but since it was their anniversary brew, it was not repeated, nor was it added to their stable of regular offerings.  During 2016, in honor of their 20th anniversary celebration, Stone re-released several of their special and/or anniversary ales.  Lucky for me (and all of you), Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout was one of those that Stone released again.

Beers like this are widely available today, but in 2008, they were relatively rare.  When I first tasted BCOS (in 2008) I fell in love with it, and purchased numerous bottles to enjoy over time.  Imagine my shock when I saw a shelf full of this wonderful beer at Costco a few months ago.  Did I buy some?  Oh yeah, numerous bottles.  I’ve consumed a few of them already, and have several of them cellering now for future enjoyment.

Since I still had a couple of bottles of the 2008 release, I sampled a 2008 bottle and a 2016 bottle in a side-by-side comparison for this review.  Imagine my pleasure as I consumed two different vintages of this treat at the same sitting (that’s two 22 oz. bombers of high alcohol imperial stout).  DO NOT try this at home, folks – I am a professional, capable of such exploits.  Well, enough background; you all paid full admission, so here is the review of the two vintages of this monster . . .

Appearance
2008 – Pours black with a thin, medium cocoa-colored head that fades immediately, leaving a micro-thin ring around the perimeter of the glass.
2016 – Pours black with a 1/2″ medium cocoa colored head, which also rapidly fades, but leaves a 1/8″ foam ring that persists.

Aroma
2008 – Sweet, nutty, vanilla (no coffee; much sweeter and nuttier than 2016).
2016 – Sweet, coffee, nutty (the coffee is very noticeable, as is expected with a stout).

Flavor
2008 – Semi-sweet chocolate, dark fruit, cherries, vanilla, nutty.  This vintage is very mellow, easy to drink, thick, and velvety smooth.  There is no bitter chocolate in the aftertaste, just a lingering semi-sweet chocolate.  No alcohol is noted in the flavor at any time (from cold to room temperature).
2016 – Coffee, semi-sweet chocolate, a little raisin, somewhat sweet, but balanced.  There is a lingering bitter chocolate in the aftertaste, along with a hint of nuttiness.  As this vintage warms, the coffee subsides from the flavor and the chocolate dominates.  The alcohol is definitely noticeable in the flavor when compared to the 2008 version, although it is not hot or unpleasant in any way.

Overall Impression
There is a huge difference between these versions.  There is no coffee aroma or flavor in the 2008 release.  The mouthfeel and viscosity of the two is the same, and the alcohol is noticeable in the non-aged version (that’s to be expected).  It is really amazing to drink these two identical beers and taste the huge difference due to aging.

I purchased the 2016 release at Costco – $6.39 for a 22 oz. bomber.  I purchased some more at Total Wine – $7.99 per bomber.  Costco has been out of stock for a long time, but it is still available at Total Wine.

I recommend both of these Stone beers.  The Bastard’s Midnight Brunch is very good, but is undoubtedly more expensive than Depth Charged Bastard.  For that reason, I recommend Depth Charged over Midnight Brunch; I also preferred the deeper coffee notes in Depth Charged (that’s saying something, considering I don’t even drink coffee).  I highly recommend Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, and in fact I currently have a number of bottles aging at Mac’s (including one remaining bottle of the original 2008 release).  This is a complex stout and is the brew that started me drinking “big” beers, especially imperial stouts.  Now, go buy some (caveat: fizzy yellow beer drinkers, don’t bother; you will hate it).

Sláinte!

Abyss, Tweak, and Darkstar November

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It’s fall, and the holidays are approaching.  That means big, dark beers and winter warmers.  Today I bring you reviews of three barrel aged Imperial Stouts.  Please read responsibly.

Abyss: Deschutes Brewing, Bend, OR; 12.2% ABV (2015 release).
Abyss is Deschutes’ annual bourbon barrel Imperial Stout offering.  This review is for the 2015 version (this beer is typically released in November or December each year).  This particular vintage is 50% aged in bourbon, Oregon oak, and pinot noir barrels.

Abyss pours black with a 1/4″ cocoa colored head that rapidly fades to a thin layer and small ring around the edge.  The aroma is roasty, coffee, tart (from the wine barrel) and brown sugar.  The flavor is thick, bitter chocolate, vanilla and a little licorice, then fades to sweet cherry and dark fruit.  The aftertaste is chocolate, migrating from sweet to bittersweet.

As this beer warms, the aroma is all about the brown sugar, with very strong notes of molasses.  In addition, the chocolate flavor increases, as does the vanilla, and a little bit of coconut peeks through (from the bourbon barrel).  It definitely sweetens up as the temperature increases.  In spite of the high alcohol content, it is not hot or boozy; very drinkable.  This is VERY good!!  I sampled Abyss from a 22 oz. bomber purchased at Total Wine ($15.99).

Tweak: Avery Brewing, Boulder, CO; 17.5% ABV (2015 release).
Tweak is Avery’s annual release bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout (with coffee added).  This is a review of the 2015 vintage.  It is typically released in November each year.  I sampled Tweak from a 12 oz. bottle purchased at BevMo.  I don’t remember the price, but it was expensive for a 12 oz. bottle ($12.99 I think).  Oh yeah, it was well worth it!!

Tweak pours midnight black with a 1/2″ beige head that fades after one or two minutes to a small ring around the edge.  The aroma is coffee (but not overly bitter) and coconut, with slight vanilla notes.  The flavor is sweet chocolate, vanilla and dark fruit, then coffee (again, not bitter) and mocha, fading to coconut and vanilla.  The coconut aftertaste lingers forever, then the coffee raises its head again, but the coconut remains.

As Tweak warms, the aroma becomes sweeter on the nose, with more vanilla and less coffee (almost caramel-like).  In the mouth, the coffee is more pronounced and the bourbon becomes very subdued until the aftertaste, when it takes over.  As it gets to room temperature, the alcohol becomes just a little noticeable in the taste.

The bottle label says this beer is 17.5% ABV.  That’s hard to believe.  There was  no booziness noted in the aroma or flavor (except as described above, when it reached room temperature), BUT it went right to my head.  I drank it on an empty stomach, and was cruising the rest of the afternoon.  This beer is AWESOME!

Darkstar November: Bottle Logic Brewing, Anaheim, CA; 13.7% ABV (2015 release).
Darkstar November is Bottle Logic’s annual bourbon barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout.  This is a review of the 2015 release.  For this review I sampled a 22 oz. bottle, purchased at Total Wine ($20.99), but previously  tasted it at the Bottle Logic tasting room last year.  It is typically available in November and December.

Darkstar November pours opaque black with a 1/4″ cocoa head that fades within a minute to a medium thin ring around the edge.  The aroma is sweet, vanilla, oak and alcohol.  The flavor is also sweet – dark chocolate, vanilla, dark fruit, and raisins.  The sweetness yields to a slight bitterness (hops?) and bitter cocoa, which in turn fades to vanilla, sweet chocolate, then to coconut, which lingers in the aftertaste.

Darkstar November is thick, velvety smooth, and viscous.  No alcohol is noted in the mouth, until it warms up.  As it warms, the sweet chocolate starts to dominate the flavor and the alcohol becomes a little noticeable on the tongue, although it is not hot or unpleasant.  This is a DELICIOUS and easily drinkable dessert beer!

I highly recommend all three of these beers, Abyss, Tweak, and Darkstar November.  They are wonderful examples of the barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout style.  It’s too bad they have such limited availability.  The good news, however: I have posted this review early enough that you can prepare yourself – be sure to start looking for these beers in November when they become available.  All of them are fairly expensive beers, but they are worth the price.  After all, life is too short to drink crappy beer!

Cheers!

Mash, Bourbon Street Rye Pale Ale, and Fogcutter

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It’s been awhile since I posted a beer review, but I have been busy sampling lots of different commercial brews.  Here are my impressions on three of them.  Please read responsibly.

Mash: The Bruery, Placentia, CA12.5% ABV.
Mash is a barley wine style ale aged in bourbon barrels.  Now I like barley wines, and bourbon barrel aged beers, so this should be a “can’t miss” beer, right?  The Bruery didn’t disappoint (I have to say, they never do; although I’m not wild about Belgian style beers, their specialty, you can count on anything from The Bruery to be good, and this is just another really good beer from our friends in Placentia).

Mash pours a cloudy dark amber with a 1/4″ light cream colored head that fades to a  thin ring around the perimeter of the glass (in this case, a “Bruery” tulip glass).  The aroma is sweet, dark fruit, raisin, toffee, caramel, vanilla, coconut and bourbon (faint).

Mash has a thick, heavy body with flavors of toffee, caramel, raisin, figs, vanilla, and coconut.  It then produces a slight bitterness that fades to more coconut, vanilla, and a little bit of booze, with a tobacco like quality lingering in the aftertaste.  This beer is sweet and chewy, but not unpleasant.  The carbonation is not overwhelming, but enough to smooth out the sweetness and cleanse the palate for your next sip.

Mash is very complex.  As it warms, the alcohol becomes quite pronounced in the aroma, but the taste remains very smooth, without the booziness that is noticeable in many other high alcohol beers.  In my opinion, this is one of the best barley wines on the market.  I prefer it to Stone’s Old Guardian (which I also like) – Mash is more in the English style (it’s not a hop bomb like Old Guardian) and is similar to Firestone Walker’s Sucaba.

I sampled Mash from a 750 ml bottle given to me by my daughter, Rosie, for Father’s Day.  It’s currently available at Total Wine for $19.99.  That’s pretty expensive, but well worth it (in fact, I have another bottle in my refrigerator right now).  I HIGHLY recommend Mash!

Bourbon Street Rye Pale Ale: Abita Brewing, Abita Springs, LA.  9.5% ABV.
Bourbon Street is a Pale Ale aged in bourbon barrels.  It is very high in alcohol for a pale ale (I’m sure the bourbon barrel aging has something to do with that).  This beer is a medium to dark orange color with a creamy white 3/4″ head that remains for a couple of minutes before fading to a thin covering over the top.  The aroma is sweet, vanilla, caramel and coconut.

The flavor is sweet malt, caramel and a slight, nice vanilla sweetness.  It is not overly sweet, as the hops balance it, to keep it in the American Pale Ale category.  The balanced sweetness fades to a nice vanilla and coconut in the aftertaste, courtesy of the bourbon barrel.  The vanilla/coconut lingers for quite awhile (very pleasant).

Bourbon Street has a medium carbonation level, commensurate with the Pale Ale style, but it is higher than most bourbon barrel aged beers.  This carbonation helps to keep the sweetness under control, and gets your mouth ready for the next swallow.

I sampled this beer from a  22 oz. bomber purchased from Total Wine for $9.99.  I think this might be limited release, so I’m not sure if it’s readily available.  Overall, this is a very nice beer, and one I can recommend.  I’ve never had a bourbon barrel aged pale ale before.  This one is nicely done.  Good job, Abita!

Fogcutter Double IPA: Lost Coast Brewery, Eureka, CA.  8.7% ABV.
Fogcutter pours a murky golden yellow with a 1/2″ white head, which fades to a fairly thick ring that leaves extensive lacing.  The aroma is mild citrus and floral.  The flavor is typical DIPA – bittersweet.  The malty sweetness is balanced out by the hoppy, citrus flavor that leaves a lingering bitterness in the aftertaste.

Fogcutter is rated at 80 IBU, which is on the lower end of the Double IPA category, but I think it is more balanced than many DIPA’s.  The medium body and carbonation level help lend a balanced feel to the flavor.  The alcohol content (8.7%) is substantial, but not overwhelming and is not noticeable in the taste.  If you drink it on an empty stomach, you will definitely get the effect, but you won’t be wiped out.  Many DIPA’s tend to be out of balance (in my opinion) – too thick and sweet – but Lost Coast has this one dialed in just right!

I had never heard of Fogcutter until I received a 22 oz. bomber from Phil Colias a couple of weeks ago.  As I recall, he randomly selected this beer and had never tried it before.  Well, Phil, good choice, and thank you for the wonderful beer.  I highly recommend Fogcutter and will be buying more in the future.  It’s moderately priced at $8.99 for a 22 oz. bottle at Total Wine.

So, there you have it.  Bourbon Street and Fogcutter are moderately priced; Mash is expensive.  Each of them, however, is worth the price of admission.  I can highly recommend all three of these beers, but especially Mash.  Caveat: fizzy yellow beer drinkers and cheapskates, don’t even bother – you’re not sophisticated enough.

There’s a lot happening at Mac’s Brew Pub and I hope to have a newsletter out in the next couple of weeks.  That’s all I have time for now, but check back soon for the lowdown on Mac’s Brew, and for additional beer reviews.

Sláinte!