Vendome Beer Panel – April 27, 2017

The latest Vendome Beer Panel was a little different. Each member of the panel chose a beer for tasting. Here are reviews of six beers from five different breweries. All of them are good, but none earned a top score of “5” on my scorecard.

If these reviews intrigue you or pique your interest, take a trip to Vendome Wine and Spirits in Fullerton and use my code, “VEN10C” or mention my name “CARL” to get a 10% discount off the price. Enough of the fine print though, here’s what you want to know.

The Vendome rating system:
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.

Propeller-Head: Unsung Brewing, Anaheim, CA. 6.0% ABV. Rating – 4
This is a coffee infused amber ale. It pours a medium amber color with a light beige head. The aroma is sweet coffee. Propeller-Head has a light coffee flavor, slightly sweet and caramel, with no bitterness noted. There is a well balanced sweet but hoppy aftertaste. Ultimately this is all about the coffee: it predominates the aroma and flavor, and lingers in the aftertaste, but it’s not too strong.

Coffee beers are very popular right now and it seems that every brewery is making them. Some are good, but some aren’t to my liking. I think coffee works well in the darker beers, but not so well in the lighter colored beers (especially IPAs). Propeller-Head is very good. The caramel flavors in this amber ale stand up well to the coffee, and make for a very pleasant beer.

Bursted Cascade: El Segundo Brewing, El Segundo, CA. 6.0% ABV. Rating – 3
Bursted Cascade is a single hop IPA. It pours a golden, slight orange color, with a white foamy head that rapidly fades to a 1/8” ring around the perimeter. The aroma is citrus (as expected from Cascade), but not real strong. The flavor is grapefruit, but again, not too strong. The body is fairly light, with medium carbonation.

Bursted Cascade is a very drinkable, refreshing, thirst quenching beer. I would describe it as on the light side as far as hoppiness for an IPA. The alcohol content is fairly low at 6%, so it’s easy drinking. Overall, it’s a nice beer, but I think it could use some additional bitterness and hoppiness.

Knuckle Sandwich: Bootleggers Brewing, Fullerton, CA. 10% ABV. Rating – 4
This is the beer I chose for the Panel. Knuckle Sandwich is a Double IPA with a very high alcohol content. It pours a deep amber color with a thick beige colored head. The aroma is bittersweet – caramel malt with citrus notes. The flavor is citrus and pine, followed by malty sweet caramel. The malty sweetness lingers in the aftertaste, but is balanced by the bitterness.

Knuckle Sandwich is a typical DIPA, in that it can accurately be described as bittersweet. The malty/caramel sweetness stands out, but it’s not cloying or overly sweet. The body is full to heavy, and the carbonation level is medium. The alcohol level is high, but not noticeable in the flavor. Be careful, because a 22 oz. bomber can do some substantial damage. Overall, this is an excellent beer.

Hop Juice: Left Coast Brewing, San Clemente, CA. 10% ABV. Rating – 4
This is a triple IPA. Hop Juice pours light orange with a white head that persists for about a minute before fading to a substantial ring. The aroma is slightly bitter, but not overpowering. The flavor starts malty sweet, followed by a very nice grapefruit that fades to a clean citrus bitterness. The body and carbonation level are medium.

Hop Juice is 10% ABV, but that high alcohol content is even more well hidden than Knuckle Sandwich. This is quite easy to drink and overall, is a very good beer.

Asylum: Left Coast Brewing, San Clemente, CA. 11.8% ABV. Rating – 4
I think Left Coast Brewing likes to make big beers. Asylum is a Belgian style Tripel. I don’t typically drink Belgian style ales, but tend to tolerate, or even like, dubbels and tripels. This one is no exception, and I found that I really liked Asylum.

Asylum pours light orange with a white head. The aroma has the typical Belgian spicy sweet notes. The flavor is very sweet and fruity, with the Belgian yeast spiciness very subdued, and only in the aftertaste. The body is heavy with a thick mouth feel, but is mitigated by the high carbonation level. I found this fruity Belgian style ale very pleasant to drink.

Imperial Russian Stout: Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA. 10.6% ABV. Rating – 4
Oh how I love dark beers, and just about anything from Stone Brewing. Imperial Russian Stout pours black as midnight with a cocoa colored head that fades to a 1/8” ring around the perimeter. The aroma is sweet, chocolate and brown sugar. The flavor is sweet as well – chocolate, dark fruit and raisin – but also brings some bitter, roasty coffee. The aftertaste is chocolate, vanilla and sweet, but with some balancing bitterness and lingering coffee roastiness.

The body is heavy and the mouth feel is smooth, thick and viscous. Alcohol content is high, but is only slightly noticeable on the palate. This is one of the great non-barrel aged stouts available. I love Stone IRS and highly recommend it.

Well, that’s it for now, beer lovers. I can recommend all six of these beers (caveat: Bursted Cascade is nice, but doesn’t stand out from the hundreds of other IPAs on the market). I would say my favorite of the bunch is the Stone IRS. If you have an interest in drinking any of these, they are available for purchase at Vendome Wine and Spirits in Fullerton. Be sure to mention my discount code, “VEN10C” or my name, “CARL” to get a 10% discount off the purchase price.

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!

Tart Cherry Stout & Fyodor’s Classic

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Happy New Year to one and all from Mac’s Brew Pub.  I’m looking forward to a 2016 filled with good beer and brewing.  I’ve been drinking a lot of big dark beers for the last couple of months.  Here are my thoughts on a couple of Imperial Stouts I recently tasted.  Please read responsibly.

Tart Cherry Stout (Smokestack Series): Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, MO.  11% ABV.
Tart Cherry Stout is a Special Release Ale in the Smokestack Series of beers from Boulevard Brewing.  Their Smokestack series is a, “. . . special collection of bigger, bolder, more complex brews,” typically with a higher alcohol content than Boulevard’s core brands.  Tart Cherry Stout is an Imperial Stout fermented with tart cherries, and bottle conditioned.

They beer pours black as midnight with a huge dark tan head.  It is well carbonated (due to the bottle conditioning) and though the head subsided, it remained throughout the session, as did the effervescence.  It has much more carbonation than a typical Imperial Stout.

The aroma has a slight note of cherry, but it’s not tart.  The flavor features cherry and tartness along with chocolate notes.  The high carbonation thins out the texture/mouth feel.  Tartness lingers on the tongue, but it’s not overwhelming.  The aftertaste is also cherry, which rapidly fades to a tart and bitter sensation before the cherry returns and lingers.

Tart Cherry Stout is a nice cherry chocolate stout.  It’s 11% ABV, but there is absolutely no booziness.  However, the high carbonation level detracts from the Imperial Stout experience.  With a beer this big, I expect something thick and chewy with a little bit of alcohol bite.  The high carbonation thins out the body and cuts down on the residual sweetness expected from a big Imperial Stout.  You definitely need to let this one warm up to 60° F for drinking – it will cut down the carbonation and increase the body.  It also increases the cherry flavor, which is not necessary.

I purchased this beer at Costco for $10.99.  It comes in a corked 750 ML bottle that popped like a bottle of champagne when opened.

Fyodor’s Classic (2015 Series): Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, CA.  13% ABV.
This is another bourbon barrel aged offering from Stone Brewing in San Diego, but it’s not just another Stone beer.  It is the 2014 version of Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout aged for seven months in Kentucky Bourbon barrels.  I love Stone’s IRS, but this beer towers over the non-aged version.

Fyodor’s Classic is pitch black and creates a 1/2″ cocoa colored head when poured into a tulip glass.  The head fades rapidly to a thin ring along the perimeter, which left no lacing during the session.

The aroma is sweet vanilla, coconut, bourbon, chocolate and raisin.  the initial flavor sensation is sweet, with a CO2 bite on the tongue.  This swiftly transitions to a slightly sweet cocoa, then to coconut/vanilla (from the bourbon barrel), and finally to a very pleasant semi-sweet dark chocolate and coffee that lingers for quite awhile.

Fyodor’s Classic is well carbonated, but retains a thick, chewy mouthfeel and body, yet it’s not too sweet.  In spite of the high alcohol content (13%), there is no booziness noted, even as it warms.  However, the alcohol immediately starts warming the throat and belly, with warming to the rest of the body right behind..

Fyodor’s Classic is a world class beer.  The aftertaste is where this one really excels.  The taste magically transitions from one flavor to the next, but that transition is so slow and seamless there is no definitive point where one can say, “that’s exactly where it changed.”  This beer is unbelievably complex and wonderful.

I purchased this 500 ML corked bottle of Fyodor’s Classic several months ago at Total Wine for $18.99.  It is a limited edition, but because it’s expensive, it is still available.

I can recommend both of these beers.  Although Tart Cherry Stout is very good, I will not purchase another bottle.  It is definitely worth the price ($10.99 if you can still get it at Costco), but I prefer Imperial Stouts with a little more sweetness, viscosity and body.  Fyodor’s Classic, as previously mentioned, is a top notch beer.  It is worth the hefty price tag ($18.99 per bottle at Total Wine) and is sure to be a treat to any Imperial Stout connoisseur.  The usual caveat applies to both of these beers: fizzy yellow beer drinkers – don’t bother.

Slainte!