Mac & The Three Imperial Beers

Don’t confuse this with Goldilocks and the Three Beers Bears.  These are three BEER reviews  you might find interesting.  All are imperial dark beers, and each one is worth buying again (but see qualifying remarks below).

Escondidian Imperial Black IPA: Stone Brewing Co., Escondido  CA.  10.8% ABV.

Escondidian is Stone’s 15th Anniversary brew.  It was brewed in 2011, and was only available for purchase around summer and fall of 2011.  The bottle I tasted for this review had been in my refrigerator since August, 2011.  I drank/tasted it for this review on November 12, 2012.  At that time (obviously) the beer was well over a year old, and the flavor had changed significantly from the Escondidian I drank contemporary to it’s release (summer 2011).  This review is based mainly on my impressions from my recent sampling (November 2011), but I will also add some comments about the taste of fresh Escondidian, which is markedly different.

It pours black, like a stout, with a dark tan head that fades rather quickly.  The aroma is chocolate/sweet, without much hoppiness in the nose.  The dark grains come through in the flavor, with chocolate front and center.  The hops are noticeable only in the aftertaste, but it creates a nice hoppy twist to a stout.

When Escondidian was fresh, it was quite hoppy (remember, this is a black IPA), but there was also a smooth imperial stout sweetness to it.  Because of the overwhelming hop aromas and flavors, one would not mistake it for a stout (that’s not the case with this old/aged bottle).  This was a really good imperial black IPA when fresh, but the bottle version of this beer did not hold up very well to father time.  That is to be expected, as no bottled IPA stands the test of time too well.

This beer has not been available on store shelves since late 2011 (or possibly early 2012), so don’t bother looking for it.  I found it in the back of the beer refrigerator in Mac’s Brew Pub, where it had been hiding for over a year.  Had I not forgotten about it, I would never have let it age so long in there.  Here’s the bottom line, though – it was an excellent black IPA when it was brewed, but was just another stout after extensive storage (my bad; I didn’t realize it was in there).  I would be willing to drink it from a keg though, if I could find it on tap somewhere (not likely unless Stone has some at their brewery/bistro in Escondido).

Imperial Russian Stout: (2009 Release) Stone Brewing Company, Escondido  CA.  10.5% ABV

This is another huge Stone brew that’s been aging in Mac’s refrigerator for quite a while (3.5 years – drank on November 18, 2012), but this one was aged on purpose.  Big stouts, especially those with a high alcohol content, age quite gracefully, leading to subtle flavor and character changes.  This one is no exception.

This beer pours jet black (into my Stone tulip glass) with a dark tan head.  The aroma is all chocolate.  It has a medium body and provides just a little CO2 bite on the tongue.  The flavor, like the aroma, is big on chocolate.  The chocolate flavor then yields to a subtle fruitiness – prunes, cherries.  The chocolate then returns in the aftertaste.

Compare this three and a half year old sample to a freshly brewed Stone IRS, and you will immediately notice the difference.  This beer is over 10% ABV, and the alcohol, though not hot or biting, is noticeable in the fresh beer.  It’s quite well hidden in the aged version.  The flavor of the aged beer is also much more subdued and mellow – I guess I would say it’s not quite so aggressive.  Overall, I probably prefer the fresh version, but the aged beer is excellent, and I would prefer it when I’m not looking for a “punch in the mouth” flavor wise.

Wreck Alley Imperial Stout: Karl Strauss Brewing Company, San Diego, CA.  9.5% ABV.

Karl Strauss makes quality craft beer and they have a loyal following.  I bought this beer because I love imperial stouts and the name (Wreck Alley) intrigued me.  I sure you really don’t care about that, so let’s get on with this review . . . .

This is another black beer.  It has a slight head, cocoa brown in color.  Coffee and chocolate dominate the aroma.  The body is medium (not quite as thick as expected) with low carbonation.  The flavor was of coffee with chocolate notes.  Although similar to the aroma, there was not as much flavor as I expected – it seemed a bit washed out.  As the beer warmed in my glass, the coffee taste faded and the chocolate became more pronounced.  The aftertaste is mild coffee, and fruity (prunes and plumbs).

I would rate this as a good beer for sure, but I would pick something else if I wanted to drink an imperial stout (like Stone IRS, reviewed above).  This stout does not improve with warming, in fact it’s better when cold (right out of the fridge).  In other words, it’s a good imperial stout, but doesn’t have as much flavor as so many others.

So, what’s the verdict on these three beers?  Escondidian – No to the bottle version (but that’s a moot point as it’s no longer available), but buy it if you can find it on tap.  Stone IRS – Yes to both fresh and aged bottles (this is a seasonal brew; available each spring time).  Wreck Alley – Yes and No (if you want an imperial stout and nothing else is available, then buy it; otherwise, stick with Stone or  another brand – see several other stouts previously reviewed on this site).

I must add one caveat, however, to the above recommendations.  I am spoiled by Mac’s oatmeal stouts and imperial stouts.  They are better (in my opinion) than most commercial examples.  That’s because I make my own recipes and choose to emphasize those qualities I most like in the commercial brews (like Stone IRS, for example).  If a commercial brewery put the time (e.g., bourbon barrel aging), and quantities (grain and hops) in their stouts that I put into mine, however, they would have to charge $15 – $20 per 22 oz bottle.  So I have a great advantage in that I am not concerned about the bottom line – I’m only concerned about making great beer.  Cheers!

Coming Home 2012 & Hillbilly

Here is a review of two barley wine style ales for a Sunday afternoon.  These are seasonal beers, so they may be difficult to find.

Coming Home 2012: Holiday Ale from Grand Teton Brewing Company, Victor, Idaho.  10% ABV.

This is a big barley wine style ale.  It pours a clear mahogany brown with a thin, light beige head, which rapidly fades.  The aroma is slightly sweet and malty.  The flavor, however, is not what the aroma would suggest.  The hops immediately step forward in the taste, making it bitter and citrusy.  The hops then give way to a substantial maltiness that gives some sweetness and nice body.  The aftertaste is bitter/hoppy.

This is a complex ale.  The malty sweetness increases as the beer warms.  The lingering aftertaste is hoppy bitterness, which remains even as it warms.  I would describe the flavor profile as typical of a barley wine.  It’s a huge beer.  One glass goes a long way.  It is not my favorite barley wine , but it’s a good one.  I received this beer as a gift for Christmas (thanks, Dad!) and am not sure if it’s still available to purchase.  It comes in a 750 ML bottle.

Hillbilly: Taps Brewery, Brea, California.  12.6% ABV.

The review of this beer will be short and to the point.  It’s a barley wine style ale available for a very limited time.  I have had this several times in the last few weeks at Taps in Brea, but never kept notes for a review.  I decided to include it with the above listed barley wine from Grand Teton Brewing.

Hillbilly is the regular Taps Barley Wine, which is brewed seasonally and available in January and February,  but then aged in bourbon barrels.  Most of what I have to say about Hillbilly can also be said about Taps Barley Wine.  It is deep amber and cloudy, with a small light beige head.  The head fades, but not rapidly.  Taps Barley Wine is, quite honestly, the best barley wine I have ever tasted.  It has lots of body, with loads of malty taste.  It’s also hoppy, but well balanced.  It’s not overly sweet, nor is it overly hopped, as most barley wines (which tend to be one or the other).

Now for the difference.  Hillbilly is bourbon barrel aged.  The alcohol content is higher (from the bourbon barrel – 12.6% vs 10% for the regular Barley Wine), but the biggest difference is the taste.  Hillbilly has the full vanilla/bourbon flavor, front and center.  This is, quite simply, a wonderful beer.  By far, the best barley wine I have ever tasted (yes, I said that twice, but hillbilly is even better than the regular Barley Wine).  I can’t recommend it enough, but if you want some, you better get down to Taps pretty soon, because it will not be available much longer (another couple of weeks at the most).  It’s $5.00 for a glass during happy hour (2 – 7 PM), which is very reasonable for a beer of this quality.  I will continue to go every week until Taps runs out.  Cheers!

Mac’s Brew News – February 9, 2013

Well, Mac’s Brewing is back in full operation again (and I gotta tell you, it feels pretty good), with two brews currently fermenting.  I brewed Mac’s Chocolate Hazelnut Stout on Wednesday February 6, 2013.  It’s in the primary fermenter right now, sitting next to Mac’s Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Mac’s Chocolate Hazelnut is another huge stout.  It’s the same recipe as Mac’s Black Forest Stout (BFS), but instead of adding cherries to the fermenter, I will add Hazelnut flavoring to the keg (or bottles).  As with the bourbon barrel stout, I altered my mash temperature in order to produce a more fermentable wort.  The final gravity on BFS was fairly high, so I decided to brew it to ferment down  a little further.  BFS had more than enough body and flavor, so a lower final gravity should still leave plenty of body/flavor, and not dry out the beer.

I mashed at 150° F, compared to BFS, which mashed at 155° F.  My original gravity, after a 60 minute boil, was 1.086.  That was the same gravity reading as the BFS, but after adding the cherries to the Black Forest, the gravity was 1.088.  Black Forest fermented down to a terminal gravity of 1.020, so I anticipate the Chocolate Hazelnut should end up around 1.015 (really just a guess at this point – actually, I’m hoping it will end up at that gravity).  I’ll know a little more when I rack it to the secondary fermenter net week.  At any rate, no matter what the final gravity, or the ultimate alcohol content, this should be a very tasty and flavorful beer.

Well, so what about Mac’s Bourbon Barrel Stout?  As alluded to in the previous newsletter, the bourbon stout was already 79% attenuated when racked to the secondary fermenter on January 23rd.  It has continued to slowly ferment since then, which is a very good sign that the fermentation is healthy and proceeding as expected.  It has really slowed down in the last 5 days, and I think it will be ready for conditioning on the bourbon soaked oak cubes within a week.  We shall see!

I plan to brew again in about two weeks.  This next endeavor will be a hybrid beer, similar to an Oktoberfest recipe, but brewed as an ale, rather than a lager.  That won’t require months of aging, so it should be ready to consume about 2 months after brew day.  I’m not sure what I’ll brew after that, but I will probably turn my attention toward some warm weather beers, like IPA’s and hefeweizens.  I’ve never brewed an American style pale ale, so maybe I’ll put on my creative thinking cap and devise a recipe for that.  Who knows, maybe some other style will come to mind; the possibilities are almost endless . . . . . suggestions, anyone?

That’s all the news I have (time for) now.  Remember the ancient Egyptian proverb, “The mouth of a perfectly happy man is filled with beer.”  CHEERS!

Trappistes Rochefort 10 and Brainless on Cherries

Here are two Belgian style ales you may find tantalizing.

Trappistes Rochefort 10: Rochefort Brewing, Abbaye St. Remey, Belgium.  11.3% ABV.  I first tasted this at a Beer Appreciation night at BJ’s almost a year ago.  I liked it a lot so I bought one at Total Wine and enjoyed a full bottle on November 2, 2012.  I was not disappointed.

Rochefort 10 is a Belgian style quadruple ale (that means high gravity, thus a high alcohol content).  It pours an opaque dark brown with lots of carbonation, resulting in a huge, creamy tan head that remained for a few minutes before retreating.  The aroma is sweet, but not typical Belgian, and no hoppiness is noted.

This is a medium bodied beer with a strong, sweet flavor.  It’s very fruity with a slight bitterness, especially in the aftertaste.  Along with the slight hop bitterness, there is a great plumb aftertaste as it warms.  Although this is marked by the Belgian fruity sweetness, it is not overwhelming.  I would describe it as a well balanced beer.

I’m usually not wild about Belgian style beers, but this one is really good, and I highly recommend it.  It is 11.3% ABV, so drink it on an empty stomach and prepare for a nice mellow buzz.  It is sold in 11.9 oz bottles and is available at fine liquor stores (like Total Wine, BevMo, etc).  It’s $7.99 at Total Wine.

Brainless on Cherries: Epic Brewing Company, Salt Lake City, Utah; 10.7% ABV.

Brainless on Cherries is another Belgian style ale.  It’s brewed with cherries and aged in oak barrels.  I’m not normally attracted to Belgian ales, but the name of this brew intrigued me, and I like several other beers that feature cherries (Mac’s Black Forest Stout, Mac’s Cherry Wheat, Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat).  I looked at this several times at Total Wine, but didn’t want to pay the price ($12.99) for a bottle so didn’t buy it for quite some time.  I finally broke down in November, bought a bottle and tasted it on November 28, 2012.

This is a very unusual brew in many ways, as I will attempt to describe.  It pours the color of ruby red grapefruit (no doubt from fermenting with real cherries), and is HIGHLY carbonated (high carbonation is typical for the Belgian style, but this one is way beyond that).  It created a deep fizzy head, but had no retention.  The foam immediately faded, but the beer continued to bubble like champagne.  The aroma is definitely Belgian, a little sweet with no hop or cherry notes.

The flavor is slightly sweet, but a little bitter as well.  The bitterness was from the high carbonation, not from hops.  The bitter/sweet was very well balanced, which I didn’t expect from a beer brewed with cherries.  I noted the cherry flavor only in the aftertaste.  The expected tartness (from the cherries) was not present.  With this much carbonation, I was expecting a very light bodied beer.  In fact, I would describe it as medium bodied, which was a pleasant surprise.

This beer reminds me of a sparkling wine, similar to Asti, but not as sweet.  The alcohol (10.7%) is present in the taste, but it’s not overwhelming, nor is it unpleasant.  Brainless on Cherries is aged in French oak barrels, and you can taste it.  The wood is slightly noticeable in the aftertaste, similar to a wine.

This is a very unusual beer.  Epic brews a Belgian style ale called Brainless.  Add cherries to the fermenter and you get Brainless on Cherries.  Although I’m glad I tried it, I don’t plan to have it again.  It’s a good beer, just not my style, and at $12.99 a bottle, I really need to love it to justify the expense.

Both beers in this review are Belgian style ales.  The Rochefort 10 is more expensive (per ounce) than the Brainless on Cherries, but well worth the expense.  Now, go out and buy some.  Cheers!