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!

Mac’s Brew News – January 7, 2017

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Happy New Year to all you beer lovers (and those of you who aren’t beer lovers, but have the good sense to read this blog)!  I hope you had a good holiday season and are ready to face the new year.  I have a little news to pass along, so relax and enjoy these insights, along with a glass of beer.  Please read responsibly!

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I had surgery in mid October, so I was unable to brew in September and October.  I resumed in mid-November, but because of the brewing gap, I ran out of Mac’s Brew right after Thanksgiving.  That’s right, there was no beer on tap for a short time, but the problem has since resolved, with two ales currently on draught.

Fat Ass in a Glass: Brewed 08-13-2016.  10.5% ABV
Fat Ass is HUGE.  It’s a very malty English style Barley Wine, with a high alcohol content.  I kegged this beer on 12-21-16, after a 3 month conditioning period that really helped to smooth it out and mitigate the alcohol taste.  This is very good – quite malty and a little sweet, with just enough hops to give it some balance and keep it from being syrupy.  The alcohol is noticeable in the flavor, but is not harsh or unpleasant – it provides a nice warming sensation (and of course, it will easily get you where you want to go).

Now, this is not an everyday beer.  In fact, it’s a sipping beer, perfect for consuming on cold evenings, or lazy Sunday afternoons.  It’s on tap now, so stop by Mac’s Brew Pub for a glass.  After all, who can resist a beer called “Fat Ass in a Glass”?

Wide Awake Drunk: Brewed 11-15-2016.  5.0% ABV
This is the second time I have made Wide Awake Drunk, a coffee stout.  I brewed it in collaboration with Sam Simpson, a talented brewer I met through our mutual friend Dennis Bauer (Dennis is not a brewer, but he is a beer connoisseur, and likes Mac’s Brew, which makes him an all around fine fellow).

I experimented with this one a bit.  Sheila had some very aromatic herbal tea, “Caramel Almond Amaretti”, that had a wonderful coconut, almond aroma.  The flavor followed the aroma, but was more subdued.  I decided to include 6 oz. of this tea in the cold brewed coffee concentrate before adding the mixture to the finished beer.  I added a portion of the resulting coffee/tea brew to the beer, but it didn’t turn out as expected, or to my liking.  I ended up cold brewing a little more “Black House” coffee and adding that to the mix to bring up the coffee aroma and flavor.  The caramel and almond aroma is pleasant, with mild notes in the flavor, but the almond flavor is a little “imitation” tasting, which is disappointing.  After a couple of weeks, the tea flavors have mellowed and the coffee is now more prevalent along with the cocoa flavor.  I think it’s very good, if not a little unusual, but I prefer this one without the tea.

Mac’s PAPA: Brewed 12-17-2016.  Estimated ABV – 6%
Ah yes, the old stand by, Paper Ass Pale Ale.  I collaborated with Martin and Marty Gilberstadt on this brew (we previously collaborated on Red Headed Step-Child; see Mac’s Brew News – January 10, 2015).  This recipe is dialed in, so no changes from the last time I brewed it (about a year ago).  It’s dry hopping right now, and should be on tap in about 10 days.

Smack Down (Generation III): To be brewed 01-21-2017.
I will be collaborating with Dave Hollandbeck on this Imperial IPA.  I am going to drastically revise the recipe from the last time I brewed this (August 2016).  The grain bill will remain the same, but I will change the hops to give this a very different flavor profile.  It seems like I change this every time I brew it.  Eventually I’m going to get it just right.

In my last news letter, I mentioned the QuickCarb keg carbonator I had recently purchased.  I used it for “Fat Ass in a Glass” and “Wide Awake Drunk” a couple of weeks ago.  What a great device!  In one afternoon, I kegged and carbonated both beers, and was serving them that evening.  What will they think of next?

My friend and neighbor, Barry Pulis, has a kind hearted brother, Randy, who is a beer connoisseur, and therefor a friend of mine.  Randy gave me a bottle of “Black Tuesday”, from The Bruery, for Christmas.  This gift is way beyond generous – it’s very expensive; it’s very hard to come by; and it’s the best beer in the world (my opinion).  I will be drinking this with Bob Waddell and Mike Matulich in a few days to celebrate USC’s Rose Bowl victory over a very good Penn State team on January 2, 2017 (the three of us attended the game and are just now catching our breath).  Thank you, Randy and Barry.  I REALLY appreciate your thoughtfulness.  You’re always welcome at Mac’s Brew Pub, where the beer is (usually) plentiful and the conversation always engaging!

Well, that’s it for now.  I have several Beer Reviews I need to publish, so check back soon.  Oh, and come by Mac’s Brew Pub for a pint or two.

Sláinte!

9 Ladies Dancing, and Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale

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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!

Mac’s Brew News – October 14, 2016

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It’s been three months since my last news letter.  Sorry for the delay.  Here is the latest news from Mac’s Brew.  Please read responsibly.

I have brewed two batches since my last report – both in August.  I was too busy in September (plus the fermenter was in use for the first three weeks with the IPA I brewed at the end of August), and now I am recovering from surgery a few days ago, so I won’t be brewing again until November.  The good thing is I have enough beer to last for awhile, so I shouldn’t run out here.

Maktoberfest: Brewed 06-23-2016; 5.1% ABV
Same recipe as last year with no revisions.  And like last year, it’s REALLY good.  Strong malty caramel notes with German noble hops give this the classic Märzen (Oktoberfest) flavor.  I allowed for an extensive lagering period (5 weeks) and then kegged 10 gallons on August 19, 2016.  I have already drained 1 keg while sharing this wonderful beer with family and friends (I served it at our annual beer appreciation party, and took growlers to our neighborhood block party, my Beer & Brats event in early October, and my Brother-In-Law (Don) in Utah, and sent bombers to Kevin McCaffrey in Seattle.  I’m glad that I still have enough to last until Thanksgiving.

Fat Ass in a Glass: Brewed 08-13-2016; 10.3% ABV
This is an English style barley wine.  I used the Baby Luke’s Barley Wine recipe with several revisions, to brew this.  I decided to forgo the bourbon barrel aging in order to properly assess the base recipe this time.  Big beers are notoriously hard to brew.  I learned a lot when I brewed Baby Luke’s Barley Wine two and a half years earlier, and incorporated that knowledge into this brew.  This is where keeping lots of data and good notes pays dividends.

This beer is so big that its name is well deserved, “Fat Ass in a Glass.”  It is currently in the tertiary fermenter, conditioning until mid-December.  I tasted a sample when I racked to the secondary fermenter – very much the flavor of a barley wine, but quite harsh from the high alcohol content.  I also tasted a very small sample when I moved it to the tertiary vessel (09-27-2016).  The harshness had subsided somewhat, but it was still in need of further conditioning.  I hope to be drinking this by Christmas.

SmackDown (Generation II); Brewed 08-26-2016; 7.8% ABV
I have brewed this IPA many times, revising the recipe a little each time.  It’s getting closer to where I want it, but it’s not quite perfected yet.  This version was brewed in collaboration with Mike Matulich, so we each have 5 gallons in our kegerators.

SmackDown is an Imperial IPA.  The high alcohol content is well hidden behind the huge “punch-in-the-face” hoppy aroma and flavor.  It’s 96 IBU, which places it in the middle of the IBU range for the style category.  It’s bitter, but not overly so, and is easy to drink (if you like IPA’s).  The huge hoppy aroma and flavor derive from the extensive hopping during the post boil hop stand (Citra and Cascade) and the dry hopping regimen (11+ oz. of Columbus, Amarillo and Citra hops in 11 gallons of beer).  It really does smack you down with hoppiness (have I ever mentioned that I like hoppy beers?).  The one disappointment is how hazy this beer is; I believe that is a direct result of the extensive dry hopping.

Orange County Fair update: As previously mentioned in the July 18, 2016 newsletter, Goldihops (my blonde ale) won 2nd place in the American Pale category (blondes and pale ales) at the Orange County Fair homebrew competition.  I have now received my judging sheets from the OC Fair.  All four of my entries scored very well (Goldihops, SmackDown, Mac’s PAPA, and Nutcase) and I received lots of very positive comments.

I recently purchased a QuickCarb keg carbonator by Blichman Engineering.  I used it for the first time last week when I carbonated SmackDown.  I can now do in 45 – 60 minutes what used to take me 6 days to accomplish (carbonate a keg of beer).  This device is easy to use and is very effective.  Is it necessary?  No.  Is it worth the money? Yes, without a doubt; no longer do I have to wait a week for carbonated beer.  It’s not cheap, but it’s not overly expensive either, so In my opinion, it’s worth the cost ($180).  My compliments to Blichman Engineering – they consistently design and manufacture high quality equipment for homebrewers.

I have several collaboration brews lined up for the near future.  I just need to finish my recovery so I can get back to brewing.

Well, beer lovers, that’s it for now.  Stop by Mac’s Brew Pub for a pint or two if you get the chance.  There’s plenty of beer on tap.

Sláinte!

Mac’s Brew News – July 18, 2016

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Greetings to all you Mac’s Brew followers.  It’s time to share the latest news from Mac’s Brew Pub.  Please read responsibly.

I’ve been on vacation, and busy with exterior home remodeling.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the brewery is being neglected.  Au contraire, there is much to report and update.  Mac’s Brew is continuing to put out great beer and will soon be brewing even more great and unique beer.

Recalcitrant Redhead: Brewed 05-07-2016; 7.7% ABV / 113 IBU
This beer is an Imperial Red IPA, brewed in collaboration with Dave Hollandbeck.  The aroma is hoppy with strong flowery, citrus notes (grapefruit and orange). The flavor is surprisingly well balanced for an IPA with this much hopping. The initial sensation on the palate is bitterness, but that rapidly changes to sweet from the heavy doses of Crystal, Melanoiden and Special B malts. The sweetness fades to a bitter aftertaste that lingers for some time. The body is well developed and pleasant in the mouth.

This is a pretty complex beer. The color is right for a Red IPA, but the thickness and residual sweetness might be a little high for the style. However, there is no doubt this is an IPA – both the bitterness and hoppy aromas/flavors demand one’s full attention and acceptance of the categorization. At the end of the day, one is left with a bitter taste in the mouth that lingers forever.  There, now, doesn’t that description make you want to stop by for a pint?

Mac’s Apricot Wheat: Brewed 06-06-2016; 5.8% ABV
I’ve brewed this beer before (last time in 2014), but altered the recipe ever so slightly this time.  I added 1% Crystal 15 malt to the grist to give the beer just a little additional color, body and sweetness.  The base beer started as a 10 gallon batch on brew day, but was split into two fermenters to make two different beers – apricot wheat and Bavarian hefeweizen (see Mac’s Brew News – June 8, 2016 for further details).  I ended up with 5 gallons of apricot wheat and 5 gallons of hefeweizen.

I think I got the apricot infusions right this time.  Mac’s Apricot Wheat has just the right amount of apricot flavor. It’s a little tart from the fermented apricot puree (49 oz. per 5.75 gal). The apricot aroma is noticeable, and the apricot flavor is just right.  It’s light, refreshing, and easy to drink.  The alcohol content is low enough that you can drink a few before you feel the effects.

Mak’s Bavarian Hefeweizen: Brewed 06-06-2016; 5.8% ABV
The other half of the wheat beer brew day.  Mak’s Bavarian Hefeweizen is wonderful. The banana/clove ratio in the flavor is just right. The beer is sweet, but not overly so, and is spot on for the German style hefeweizen (try some Paulaner, Franziskaner, or Erdinger, all good weissbiers, if you’re not sure what Bavarian style wheat beer tastes like). The color is a little deeper than previous batches, due (I believe) to the small (1%) Crystal 15 addition. I don’t know if that percentage allows for any taste difference, but I will definitely keep the Crystal addition from now on.  The German yeast is not highly flocculent, so the beer is hazy as per the style guidelines.  Like its apricot brother, this beer is light and drinkable, but is even more refreshing.  This is the one I drink after mowing the lawn on a hot day – it’s a real thirst quencher!

Maktoberfest: Brewed 06-23-2016; 4.9% ABV (so far)
This is the same recipe and protocol used for the last batch of Maktoberfest I brewed last year.  It’s currently 4.9% ABV, and I don’t expect it to go any higher.  I just started the lagering process (cold conditioning) yesterday.  I will continue to lager it for another three or four weeks and then keg it.  I brewed 11 gallons, so I will end up with two 5 gallon kegs.  It should last until Thanksgiving.

I tasted a small sample a week and a half ago when I dumped the trub and took a gravity sample.  It’s very malty, as a märzen should be, with a low hop rate.  It should end up tasting the same as last year’s version.  I will update you once it’s on tap in late August or early September.

I think the next brew will be a barley wine.  I will make a 5 gallon batch and let it condition for 3 – 4 months before kegging and bottling it.  I learned a lot from my first barley wine brew (see newsletter of March 2, 2014, and review of Baby Luke’s Barleywine, November 26, 2014 on this blog).  I’m going to try again, and hope to have it on tap for the holidays this year.  After that, possibly an imperial stout, then another IPA (gotta keep IPA’s on tap at all times if I want to keep Mike as a friend).

Orange County Fair update:
The results are in – Goldihops (and the Free Beers) won a red ribbon (second place) in the Pale American Ale category (Blonde Ales and Pale Ales) at the OC Fair this year.  I’m proud that this beer won an award (I thought this one had a very good chance to score well and win an award).  The other three beers, Mac’s PAPA, SmackDown, and Nutcase, did not win any awards, but I am still awaiting the judging sheets.  I am especially curious to see how well Nutcase scored – I think it should receive fairly high marks.  I submitted Mac’s PAPA and SmackDown with no expectations (just looking for judges comments and suggestions).

Well, beer lovers, that’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed the newsletter.  I will be posting several more beer reviews as soon as I can find the time.  If I used some terms that you are not familiar with, refer to a very early post on this blog, “Terms and Definitions” (May 4, 2012), for explanation of those terms.

Sláinte!

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!

Mac’s Brew News – June 8, 2016

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There’s a lot to update about what’s going on at Mac’s Brew Pub, but I will keep it brief.  Here’s all the Brew News that’s fit to print.  Please read responsibly.

Recalcitrant Redhead: Brewed 05-07-2016; 7.7% ABV.
I brewed this beer with my young brewing friend, Dave Hollandbeck.  Brew day spent with Dave was a pleasure as well as a resounding success.  This is an imperial red IPA.  It is currently cold crashing, and will soon be kegged and carbonated (as soon as I have room in my kegerator; all four taps are currently occupied).  Anybody interested in coming over to Mac’s Brew Pub to help me finish off Mac’s PAPA?  I think that keg is almost empty; as soon as it is, Recalcitrant Redhead goes on tap.

Mak’s Bavarian Hefeweizen / Mac’s Apricot Wheat: Brewed 06-06-2016.
I brewed one 10 gallon batch of wort, but am creating two different beers from the same wort (see “Terms and Definitions” if you’re not sure what “wort” is).  These will be wheat beers (60% malted wheat, 40% malted barley in the grist), each fermented with different yeast to create two different beers.  I will add pureed apricot to the one fermenter (fermenting with a Chico yeast strain), while the other is being fermented with a Bavarian yeast.  Both should end up around 5.5% ABV, but will taste completely different – oh the marvels of yeast!!  I will end up with 5 gallons of Bavarian style Hefeweizen, and 5 gallons of Apricot Wheat Beer (American style) out of the one brew day batch.  You gotta love it (well, at least I do)!

I plan to brew Maktoberfest on Thursday 06-23-16.  There will be no deviation from last year’s recipe, so I should have some great tasting Märzen on tap in late August or early September.  Did I just say September?  Yes, this is a lager, so it requires an extended fermentation and lagering (conditioning) period . . . but, it will be worth the wait!

I’m not sure what is coming up after Maktoberfest.  Maybe a barleywine or a porter.  I guess I have a little time to decide.  I also need to decide if I’m going to collaborate with another brewer, or do it all myself.  Hmm . . .

I entered four beers in the Orange County Fair competition:  Goldihops, Mac’s PAPA, SmackDown, and Nutcase.  Goldihops and Nutcase are good enough to score well.  I entered Mac’s PAPA and SmackDown just to get judges comments and suggestions.  We’ll see how this all plays out.

Well, that’s it for now.  Slainte!