Boulevard Chocolate Ale Announcement

Boulevard announced today that after running some quality checks, they’re offering refunds on a few batches of Chocolate Ale for not meeting standards. Here’s the link to their website with the full (written) explanation of how to check to see if you’ve got an affected bottle and, if so, how to go about getting a refund.

Gotta say, I love Boulevard for paying attention and making sure that the beer they’re selling is exactly the beer they want to be selling.

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A Chocolate Ale Heads Up

Dear everyone in the Kansas City/Lawrence area,

Boulevard’s Chocolate Ale should be hitting store shelves along about January 31st. If things proceed as they did last year, expect every liquor store in town to be sold out by roughly noon that same day.

What I’m saying is that you may want to plan on an early lunch, a long lunch, a random doctor’s appointment that morning, etc., if you want to be certain to get your hands on some. I’ll tweet if I see/hear of any on any shelves earlier than January 31st.

That said, drink it when you get it. This stuff doesn’t cellar.

Happy hunting!
-Moi

PS – Here’s my review of last year’s batch.
And here is my explanation of what happened last year.

New Belgium Snow Day

The impression I get is that this is the 2 Below replacement, and that 2 Below is now a thing of the past (or possibly also the future, but at least not of the moment). What I’m saying is that I’ll be curious to know what 2 Below fans think of this beer.

Basic Info:
Name:
Snow Day Winter Ale
Origin: New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO
Style: Winter Ale/American Black Ale
ABV: 6.2%
IBU: 55
I drank this: poured from bottle into glass while glaring at the television because I was stupid enough to have turned on the news. (Newsflash: the US Congress is kinda stupid.)

The first impression I had of this beer was a combination of “oooh, dark!” followed by “oooh, hops!” followed by “that combination can go dreadfully wrong.” That said, this isn’t my favorite hoppy dark ale – that honor typically belongs to whatever iteration of Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale I’m able to get my grubby mitts on at the time –  but it isn’t an off-balance mess, either.

Smell-wise, there’s a bitter hop top note – like a really yellow grapefruit rind that’s been mushed together with some grass (really pungent, but nicer than I’m probably making it sound) – floating over a mix of caramel, chocolate, toasted malt, and something slightly nutty. It reminds me slightly of a citrusy, salty caramel.

This beer is medium-bodied, fairly low in carbonation and an odd-but-nice combination of soft and sharp in mouthfeel. The hoppiness partially comes across as really biting, hence the sharp; there’s also an almost blanket-like feeling to the malt backbone of the beer, hence the soft. The flavors fall into the same sort of pattern. The hops are exactly what I was expecting based on the smell, all sharp and brightly, pungently grassy, whereas the malts are softer, all nutty caramel, bitter chocolate and toffee notes. The hops dominate the malts for the most part, and linger on for a few moments in the aftertaste.

Overall, this is a totally drinkable, probably sessionable beer (pending you’re watching the alcohol content – this is admittedly a bit high for most session beers). Compared to something like the Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous, this is a fairly quiet beer – it’s not going to overwhelm you with anything, but it’s balanced and tasty.

As a replacement for 2 Below, I’ve mixed feelings. 2 Below was one of my holiday favorites for years, but I wasn’t as into it last year. I don’t know if it was the batch I had being a bit off, the draft lines being in need of a good cleaning (which was kind of what I was guessing), or if my palate had changed enough that I just flat wasn’t as into it. I have enough fond memories, however, to be sad to see it gone.

I can’t say I’m overwhelmed, but I’m not underwhelmed, either. Meaning, I suppose, that I’m whelmed. I have high expectations when it comes to New Belgium. They’ve met expectations. We’re good here. I’d love to know what you think if you’ve had one.

Founders Dirty Bastard

In celebration of the perfect fall beer and the fact that KU’s basketball season starts tonight (nominally, anyway – ’tis the first exhibition game, during which my team will warm up by trouncing Pitt State*)(ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK, BABY), I’m forcing myself to find the energy to tell you all of a wonderful beer which many of you have had and many more of you should.

Basic Info:
Name:
Dirty Bastard**
Origin: Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI
Style: Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy
ABV: 8.5%
IBU: 50
I drank this: flopped at home. I like flopping.

The obligatory crap photo, which does not at all do justice to the color of the beer, which is a warm, coppery caramel color:

The beer has a caramelly-malty smell, heavy and rich and almost nutty. There’s almost a hint of dark fruits in the background. The alcohol is well-hidden in the nose – smelling it, I wouldn’t guess this was a high-octane beer.

Flavor-wise, it starts with a hit of dark, raisiny fruit, followed quickly by nutty malts, caramel, a bite of hops (without a particularly strong or bitter hop flavor), a touch of alcohol, and the slightest hint of yeast. The hops provide a balance to the strong maltiness without giving the beer a bitter taste – they prevent the beer from becoming overly sweet (despite the fact that the only words I can find to describe it should make it sound pretty sugary). It’s like the hops provide a structure for the malts to play around in, so that things stay balanced without straying from the character of a Wee Heavy (the way I appreciate malts in superhoppy beers for the backbone they provide the hops to stand on). The mouthfeel is rich and thick, more in a creamy way than a syrupy or velvety way.

For a Scotch Ale, this is just about perfect. The only beer in this style *possibly* more perfect is a Founders Backwoods Bastard, which clocks in closer to 10.5% and which is, for me at least, emphatically a one-beer type of thing (“one beer” as in “two would have me under the table and counting ceiling tiles). If you can find some near you, grab it. I had to trek to Missouri to get some. It was worth it.

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*
for those of you not from Kansas, I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about the University of Pittsburgh (i.e., Pitt, i.e., my husband’s alma mater, i.e. a real basketball opponent. Pitt State is a tiny school in tinier Pittsburg, KS, and while it’s a lovely school and a lovely town filled with lovely people (I know a veritable shit ton of people who went there in pursuit of music degrees of varying types), their basketball team is going to lose. Badly.
**please note: whenever “bastard” appears in the name of a beer, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be flipping amazing. Just saying.

Guinness Black Lager

I’ve had the Guinness Black Lager. FINALLY. So I can finally have an opinion when people ask about it, rather than having to sit back as everyone else tells me “it’s good” or “it’s kinda disappointing” or “ick” or whatever else. As for the disappointment (and there has been some), I have some theories on that, but those can wait until I’ve covered the actual beer.

Basic Info:
Name:
Black Lager
Origin: Guinness
Style: Dark/Black Lager
ABV: 4.5%
IBU: haven’t seen posted anywhere, but it’s a lager, so it won’t be high
I drank this: while absently half-watching the Pitt/Notre Dame game yesterday. ND won, for those who care.

Here’s the pic. I like the label:

As you can see in the pic, this stuff is massively carbonated – nearly soda/pop/Coke-level carbonated. Like, I couldn’t taste around the carbonation at first. I had to let it settle for a few minutes before trying again. That said, I don’t drink soda/pop/Coke and haven’t for more than a decade, so I’m not used to that much carbonation anymore.

The scent is, like most lagers, pretty understated – it falls into the “this smells like beer” category that most lagers (especially Oktoberfests) smell like, mostly malts with a hint of something slightly bitter on top.

The beer itself is sharp and fairly thin, largely (I think) an effect of the carbonation level and the hops, which do that tongue-bitey thing more than they give any sort of bitterness. Plus, you know, it’s a lager, and lagers are typically light-bodied.* The flavor is mostly roasted malts shot through with cola, chocolate, a hint of smoke and something slightly earthy, like the way dried leaves smell in the fall. It has a slightly sour aftertaste, in the fashion of most lagers. It isn’t *bad* sour, mind you, just kind of drying and slightly milk chocolately and slightly, well, sour. I’m glad I tried the beer at the beginning of Autumn, because with the hints of smoke and dried leaves it strikes me as an Autumnal sort of beer. It’s also totally sessionable once the carbonation settles down. I think it would be kickass with a plate of smoked cheddar and some wheat crackers.

As to whether I *like* it, I’m undecided, which means I probably need to have another one. It’s not *bad* – for a Black Lager (a style I don’t particularly like), it’s actually pretty good. It’d be fun to compare it to a Sam Adams Black Lager – I may do that soon and post results.

Most people I’ve talked to tell me they’re disappointed, and I can kind of see that as well. It’s expectations. The thing isn’t that it’s a bad beer, it’s that it’s an okay-to-fairly good beer that happens to come from Guinness. The Guinness name, however, brings with it a level of expectation which knocks “okay” to “mediocre” or even “bad.” And then there’s the style problem: this is a lager, not an ale, but everyone who’s been disappointed seems to be expecting an ale. Like, lagers are generally light-bodied. The Black Lager is no exception to this rule. However, when most people see Guinness on the label and see a dark beer, they’re looking for something rounder, something more full-bodied (like an ale). So despite the fact that this is absolutely what it’s supposed to be style-wise, it’s not the standard Guinness mouthfeel and body and everything else. BECAUSE IT ISN’T AN ALE.

To sum up: to everyone who’s trying this beer and saying “this isn’t Guinness”: you’re right. It’s not Guinness. It’s a beer *by* Guinness, but it isn’t *Guinness*. Try it for what it is and see what you think. Don’t go into it expecting lager yeast to make something that tastes like an ale: it’s not going to happen.

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*I know I spend too much time in this review harping on the fact that this is a lager rather than an ale (for those who don’t know, a stout is a type of ale), and I’m sorry for that. It’s just that every complaint I’ve heard about the beer can be summed up with “I was expecting a stout and found myself drinking a lager.” If you want a Guinness, drink a Guinness. If you want to see what Guinness does with a Black Lager, then try this beer. Fin.

Sierra Nevada Porter

Dedicated to those of you who thought Sierra Nevada only made Pale Ale,* and for those of you who think that Sierra Nevada’s best beers are their big, showy anniversary and collaboration ales.

Basic Info:
Name:
Porter
Origin: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Chico, CA
Style: American Porter
ABV: 5.6%
IBU: 32
I drank this: flopped on my butt at home out of a Jayhawk-bearing pint glass** while watching the British version of Top Gear, because that’s how we roll around here

Right. So we all know the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of those beers which helped put American craft beer on the proverbial map. And they’ve got a phenomenally kickass Barleywine. But they do other things – normal, easy-to-drink beers – that are also excellent. Their Porter is in the excellent category, at least in my mind.

The thing with Porters is that, like Brown Ales, they’re one of those beers that breweries screw up. Brown Ales have a tendency to end up being watery, flavorless also-rans, the beers that the brewers threw together in a few moments so that they could go back to playing with something showier – an Imperial IPA or Double Dry-Hopped Imperial White Ale*** or whatever. Porters tend to end up sadly out-of-whack – one possessed of an overbearing hop profile, another completely hopless, another lacking in any body or interest whatsoever.

Sierra Nevada manages to avoid all these Porter pitfalls.+ As you would be able to see in the pic above were the pic of decent quality, the beer is a rich, deep brown. It’s not quite all the way to black (though I’ve had some Porters that were), and it’s translucent enough to let an auburn light come through when held up to a lamp. Scent-wise, it’s primarily toasty malts and milk chocolate with a run of herbal hoppiness on top.

Drinking it: mouthfeel comes first. It’s smooth and creamy and lovely at first, and then balances it out with a sharp bite of hops (remember: American Porter is hoppier than London Porter – American in the style name *always* denotes a higher hop level) before going slightly foamy. The malt profile is milk chocolate and malt – like malted milk ball-flavor – with hints of toasty-roasty bits (that is a real flavor, I swear) and a *slight* hint of toffee. The hops are that sort of sharp style that comes across as more feeling than flavor, but add a sort of herbal top note to the malts.

The balance of this beer is superb – it’s nicely chocolatey and rich, but still sharp enough to read as a Porter rather than a Stout. It’s a great Fall beer, likely to be one of my fallbacks when it’s 55 and raining and I’m not in the mood for wine.

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*I should point out here that I’ll never review a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, because you should already have had one, just like you should already have had a Sam Adams Boston Lager and a Guinness. I’m starting to think I should put together a (highly subjective) list of beers that are standard bearers for their style, so that you can drink one and have a fairly good idea of what a particular style is supposed to taste like. Anyway. That will be a post for a moment when I’m feeling particularly argumentative, because I’m pretty sure no one’s going to agree with me on all points.
**Jayhawks are the bestest mascot of all best mascots EVER. This point is non-negotiable.
***To my knowledge, I just made this up – the closest thing that I can think of would be the Boulevard/Deschutes White IPA Collaboration Ale that came out back in late July or early August. That said, were someone to double dry-hop an Imperial White Ale, I would totally drink one.

+ *headdesk* My apologies for the alliterative phrasing (I tried three different versions – they all sound stupid). After two days of holiday product meetings last week, there’s some niggling part of my brain that’s still functioning in some sort of weird marketing speak. It’s making me NUTS, y’all. SAVE ME.

Free State Brewers Choice – Saison with hibiscus

Beers like this are why living near a brewery is the bestest thing ever.

To be specific, I had retired to my pajamas at something like 5:15 or so in the evening because, you know, comfortable. Also tired. I was surfing the internet and had twitter (among other things) up, when I saw a tweet from Free State that the Brewers Choice* was their Saison aged with hibiscus. Being an avowed fan of the only other hibiscus beer I’ve ever tripped over, I was fully clothed and walking to the brewery something like three minutes after I saw the tweet.

Here’s the beer that got me out of pajamas:

For the record, it’s roughly a shade pinker in real life.

Basic Info:
Name:
Brewers Choice (Saison aged with hibiscus flower)
Origin: Free State Brewery, Lawrence, KS
Style: Saison
ABV: no idea
IBU: not very high. Or rather, really low. The pre-aged Saison had an IBU level of 12. This isn’t any higher, but I don’t know that it would have lowered during the aging process either.
I drank this: on tap at the brewery

As I said in the review I linked to above, the original beer was a lovely mess of rosehip and herbs, definitely honeyed, with something of the bananaclove yeasty feel to it. I was pretty big on it given my general dislike of Belgian-style yeasty funk (a typical feature of Saisons).

Aged for a while, the Saison has gained a soft, almost velvety mouthfeel (mouthfeel is one of the best things about aged beers, seriously). The honeyed sort of sweetness has disappeared, as has the yeast flavor, toned down by the aging and by the hibiscus. The hibiscus flavor is lovely and strong enough to be noticeable – it’s somehow reminiscent of a mishmash of tropical fruits and green tea. That said, something about the combination of the yeast with the sort of pineapple/tea flavors of hibiscus combined in a way that made me think of green apple Jolly Ranchers. It’s not that it was a candysweet beer – it was basically off-dry – or that apple was in any way involved. It’s just the thing that popped into my head for a moment, and it made me laugh at myself. So I’m sharing.

So the beer was good and I’m happy I got to have some, even if it did require me putting on real pants. Seriously, this is the best thing about being near a brewery – discovering that they’re tapping something that sounds bloody fascinating, something that will never be bottled or shipped or even still available by the end of the night, and then being able to procure the said beer in under ten minutes. If you’re near enough to a brewery, check to see if/when they tap casks or aged beers or reserves or anything of the sort – it’s a great way to try all sorts of weirdness while seeing just how creative the brewers have gotten.

Plus, you know. Beer. Good beer.

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*The lack of apostrophe is how they did it (at least on twitter), so I’m following their grammar. It is making me twitch, I have to admit.

Welcome back, as it were

My apologies for the extended and accidental blogging break. Between sampling at work, an East Coast vacation (read: I MISS PENNSYLVANIA BEER!!!!!) and my normal drinking activities, I’ve got more material to write than I know what to do with. I also have had significantly less time and mental energy than I’m used to having, due to a combination of working my ass off and trying not to die in a ridiculously hot summer. Add in moving to Lawrence, KS* (THE BEST TOWN EVER – I WILL THROW DOWN ON THIS IF YOU DISAGREE) and, well, month-long blog break.

That said, I need to turn more of my energies into blogging me some wine reviews, so look for those to come up with rather more frequency than they had been over the past few months (along with rather more frequent reviews of any kind than we’ve seen in the past few months). If there’s anything you’d like to see reviewed, comment away and let me know. I’ll try pretty much anything I can find in my backwards, weird little state.

I hope you people have all been doing well and enjoying your booze. I hope to see quite a bit more of you.

*bonus here: I’m now blocks – BLOCKS – away from Free State Brewery. 😀

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA

In the category of “why the hell had it been three years since the last time I’d had one of these” beers:

Basic Info:
Name:
Hop Ottin’ IPA
Origin: Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville, CA
Style: IPA
ABV: 7.0%
IBU: 80
I drank this: from a CAN, y’all, at a friend’s backyard BBQ

Yes, a can. I have no pictures because I was too busy enjoying the beer to bother digging out my phone, but it’s a pretty purple-and-blue affair of a can, and the beer inside of it is SCRUMPTIOUS.

Seriously, people, this beer has one of the creamiest mouthfeels of any IPA I’ve ever tried. It’s glorious, like drinking silk, or melted ice cream.

The head foams up out of the mouth of the can just enough to let you know it’s there but without spilling over the side and getting all messy. I’m thankful for this, because it’s about the only way to smell the beer. This is the only problem I have with canned beer: actually getting a sniff of what I’m drinking is not. easy. Sniffing the head, however, when I could get to it, was a hit of bergamot and sweet orange along with a touch of pine needles running over a base of caramelly-rich malts.

Flavor-wise, it’s a precision balancing act between the malts and the hops, which is flipping impressive given the IBU level. The malts are rich and slightly sweet, all caramel and brown bread. The hops are serious business West Coast-style hops: they’re a massive citrus bomb, mostly grapefruit and orange, but rounded out with bits of everything from pine and fir to grass to a touch of flowers (mostly rose petals to my palate). The finish is smooth and easy, meaning that even with 80 IBUs, my food still tasted the way it was supposed to (and not, you know, like raisins).

The thing with the can is that I think it’s actually a pretty good way to go about packaging beer*: there’s no ability for sunlight to get in and skunk things up, and as long as you drink it within a few months, you won’t run into any kind of metallic taste. The biggest issue with canned beer is, so far as I can tell, the macroswill associations that beer cans inevitably carry with them – i.e., any beer in a can must be crap. I’m here to tell you to dump that mindset (if you haven’t already): canned beer can be good. Really good. Really amazingly lovely, even.  And you can take it with you to all the places that bottles aren’t welcomed.

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*I know it’s a little late in the season to get on the high and mighty DRINK THE CANNED CRAFT BEER horse, but this summer has been absolute madness. Hopefully I’ll get into other things – like, say, Octoberfests – in a more timely fashion.

In which I post about a highly underrated beverage

Meet my heatwave beverage of choice. It is, in my opinion, highly underrated, and deserving of much more praise than it currently receives:

Basic Info:
Name:
water
Origin: nature
Style: n/a
ABV: n/a
IBU: n/a
I drank this: from a bottle, in my car, while driving*

See, the thing is, the high today was something like 102, with a heat index so absurdly high it makes me sweaty just thinking about it. The other thing is that, being a sales rep, I spend the majority of my day in my (tiny, black, possessed of very slanted windshields) car.

As a result, I’ve been, well, hot.

As a result of the result, I’ve been drinking a lot of water.**

Water is AWESOME. It is, however, unappreciated in the blogosphere.*** I think I know why. It’s subtle, water is. See, unlike the hop bombs I usually consume (which generally suck if they possess any subtlety at all), water has no scent. It also no color. The flavor is nonexistent. In fact, if there is a scent, a flavor or a color, there’s probably something wrong.

On the other hand, water is wet, it’s chemical free,+ and it helps prevent or cure dehydration, heat stroke, hangovers, illness, etc. So, you know, drink some, especially if it’s as stupidhot near you as it is in the sweltering midsection of the country where my butt is currently sitting.

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*Being that open containers are illegal in my state, this is the only time you’ll ever see a reference on this blog to drinking while driving.
**And iced coffee, if I’m being perfectly honest. But the iced coffee happens in the morning – when it’s only 93 or so – and is a daily necessity. Without caffeine, I’m a horrid, horrid person. With a headache.
***If “blogosphere” is still a thing. I haven’t watched enough cable news lately to know if blogosphere is still a buzzword or not.
+ Actually, unless you’re drinking distilled water, this is a relative term. It’s chemical-free in comparison to my usual review topics.

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This post brought to you by this experience:

On Monday, after the fourth bank thermometer I drove by that had a temperature reading of over 100, I decided to give up on any ideas of getting home before rehydrating and bought myself some water at the convenience store. Then I refilled it twice while I was out. When I got home, I had the brilliant idea of shoving the half-full* bottle in the freezer, so that I’d have a giant ice cube in the morning. This would, in turn, keep my water cold throughout a good chunk of the next day.

Or so I thought.

The chunk of ice that started out the morning like this:

…was completely melted by the time I’d left my first stop (say, 30 minutes), and undrinkably hot by the time I was done with my third (say, 90 minutes total). This was while my poor car was running the a/c full blast. However, when the forecast from the Weather Channel is as gross as mine is, well, the a/c stands no chance at all. Neither does ice.

 

I screencapped this at 8:07pm, and it’s 96 out. 96. Even worse, check out the heat index for tomorrow. I could cry. Furthermore, when it’s this hot, the air shouldn’t even be capable of holding this much humidity. So for everyone who says that Arizona is great because it’s a dry heat, that’s great. Our heat isn’t dry.

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*This is how I typed it without thinking – maybe I’m secretly an optimist.

Then again, this entire post is fundamentally an excuse to bitch about the heat, so. There’s that.