Brooklyn Brewery–Black Ops

This beer doesn’t exist (hence the name Black Ops), but if it did, it would be an imperial stout.  I’d love to tell you the types of malts and hops used in brewing this beee, but that information has been redacted on the brewery’s website.  You get the point.  All we know for sure is that this vintage (the ABV is different every year) weighs in at 11.5%.

Not quite pitch black, but very close to it. Extreme darkness in the glass, with some ‘lighter’ dark brown hues for contrast. The head is a beautiful shade of dark mocha, it isn’t great in size, but with the champagne yeast, it never really fully dissipates. Each swirl is glorious.

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Just from the smell you know you’re going to sleep well. A slight bit of chocolate and roasty grains, and lots of bourbon to wash it all down with. A little smokey oak and vanilla fill out the scent.

Wow. Not totally what I expected. I figured I’d lose all feeling in my tongue, lips and throat after a couple sips. Instead, dark fruits kick start the burst of flavor with chocolate making an entrance mid sip. A bit of cocoa and bourbon in the finish for a really complex taste. The champagne yeast makes the flavor explode.

Everything is kick started by the light, refreshing carbonated yeast. It’s obviously full bodied, but the champagne yeast gives it an airy, fresh lightness. Despite the bourbon and ABV, it’s a fairly simple sipper. There’s never anything aggressive about it. Little hop taste or feel, only the earthy bitterness from the bourbon barrels. But it starts and finishes with a lightness.

This is one of those where the sum is greater than its parts. It’s really good and strong and bold, but gentle and fresh at the same time. I like high ABV beers, but I’m not a spirit drinker. As such, some barrel aged beers don’t work for me. But this was different. The alcohol was just a bit player. Well done.

 

Founders–Sumatra Mountain Brown

I picked up a four-pack of this about 6 weeks ago on my golf trip to Florida.  I’m not a coffee drinker, but for some reason I enjoy the taste of coffee in beer.  Plus, Founders is one of the great breweries in the world so I knew I would enjoy this.  It’s an imperial brown ale kicked up many notches with a boatload of different malts (including Caramel and Chocolate malts), a couple hop types, and Sumatra coffee.  The end result is 9% ABV and 40 IBUs.

It’s a stunning looking beer.  The pour is dark brown with some lighter brown notes on the edges.  Not thick.  A delicious creamy looking head forms and sticks around for a while.  As the edges of the head fall, it leaves behind a fairly substantial lace.  The head is what all heads strive to look like.

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As one would guess, the scent is dominated by malty goodness.  Specifically the Caramel and Chocolate malts.  Adding in the coffee, oh wow…my nose is in Heaven.  You can practically smell sweetness and bitterness.  The hops ride in the back seat.

The flavor?  I can only imagine Starbucks has something that tastes similar because the tastes follows the scent to a T.  Chocolate and caramel show up first and as the beers works it’s way back, that coffee joins the fun.  All along, there is a nutty flavor present throughout…a trait of a brown ale.

With chocolate and caramel up front and coffee in the finish, your palate is bombarded with sweetness early on, followed by bitterness from mid sip on.  Even at 9% ABV, I never felt or tasted alcohol.  However, the finish is a bitter explosion and it seems a bit more bitter than 40 IBUs would suggest.  The nutty factor provides some depth and Sumatra Mountain Brown is full-bodied, however, there is some carbonation in the finish which lightens the beer a bit, and provides an exclamation point to the flavors and the mouthfeel sensations.

I really enjoyed this beer and am happy to report that we get this beer in our local stores.  This is going to go in my regular rotation of go-to beers.  Full of flavor, easy to drink, and very complex, Founders did themselves proud.

Bell’s–30th Anniversary Ale

This was Bell’s ode to their 30th year of brewing.  Based on their amazingly yummy Expedition Stout, Bell’s went with a new German hop, Polaris, that imparts a tiny, tiny hit of fruitiness and mint.  At 11% ABV, the shelf life of this beer is ‘unlimited.’  Good thing because I’ve been holding onto a couple bottles for almost two years.

It looks incredible, a thick black pour produces a thick black body.  Just when you think there will be no head, suddenly a cascading effect takes place as bubbles work their way up, eventually providing a creamy light brown head.  Retention is strong and leaves you with a thin film of lacing.

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For the most part, the nose is what you’d expect.  Faint toasty notes mixed in with chocolate, but those hops do support a cameo of ripe fruits and only the smallest of scents of mint.  Being a dark beer like this, the hops only play a minor role in the scent and flavor.

30th Anniversary Ale tastes like fudge, licorice, and alcohol.  Keep in mind, this bottle is a couple years old so the flavors, while still strong, have melded together into a more cohesive taste.

The mouthfeel is complex with sweetness and some tart up front, followed by some trivial bitterness.  In the finish, the bitterness starts to build from the alcohol and roasted malts, with those minty hops providing some lightness and freshness.  While the hops help lighten the beer, it’s still full-bodied and thick.  This is every bit an Imperial Stout.

Bell’s created a really epic Anniversary gift to their drinkers with this beer.  It’s borderline perfect and something I have enjoyed drinking.  Sad that it’s no longer brewed, but it does leave me curious about their 35th anniversary beer.

Avery–The Beast Grand Cru Ale

This beer is very appropriately named:  The Beast.  It’s brewed with six different malts and six different hops, along with a yeast strain from a Trappist Brewery in Belgium.  The result is 16.8% ABV.  Can’t wait to dig into this bottle that’s been aging for half a dozen years.

The pour produces a thick brown body and some small bubbles that struggle to reach the top due to the thickness of the beer.  A few brown bubbles eventually make it, but the subsequent head is very thin and doesn’t last long.  Once all the bubbles are gone, the beer is a fairly pedestrian looking brown liquid.

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It smells like Belgian yeast, candied sugar, dark fruits, and a lot of malt.  With alcohol that high, each sniff is accompanied with a splash of said alcohol.  The nose is aggressive, but the Belgian yeast and dark fruits make it pleasant.

It’s hard to adequately describe the flavor.  It’s an explosion of flavors the second the beer crosses the lips.  With the high level of alcohol and dark fruitiness, it tastes like a combination of red wine and a shot of whiskey.  Like in the nose, the candied sugar makes each taste pleasant.

There are layers of complexity.  The Beast is beyond full bodied, it’s practically a meal with its chewiness.  There’s lots of heat and sweetness.  Fortunately the heat builds and the fire starts off small with each sip.

The Grand Cru part of the name is well used as this may very well be Avery’s top notch beer.  I’ve aged this for years but I may buy another and drink one fresh.  So glad I tried this.  It smells like a BOSS and tastes like it too.

Stone–RuinTen Triple IPA w/ Orange Peel and Vanilla Bean

When Stone’s Ruination had been out for ten years, they released a beer to celebrate and called it RuinTen.  A total hop bomb, Ruination was a Double IPA, but Stone kicked everything up a notch with RuinTen, creating a Triple IPA.  They’ve added a few things to RuinTen’s recipe to create a couple plays on the anniversary beer, including orange peel and vanilla bean for this beer.  It’s a bruiser, 10.8% ABV and going shock and awe on the palate with 110 International Bitterness Units.

It looks like it’s supposed to with a bit of chill haze clouding the golden copper body ever so slightly, while producing a thick, sticky, pillowy foam head that sticks around like a best friend.  Eventually, the long legs give out and as the head falls, an almost chunky lacing is left behind all over the glass.

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With the obvious scents of orange and vanilla, your first thought when you near the glass is dreamsicle.  I wasn’t sure I’d care for the smell, but it took me back to my childhood.  The only negative to the two added flavors is that it takes away from the Citra hops.  That said, maybe it enhances the scent.  I’m still undecided.

The additions Stone added give for a great flavor to this beer.  Adding orange peel isn’t totally necessary since the different hops used typically give a citrusy taste to begin with, but the vanilla provides a smoothing sweetness not normally found in a beer like this.

Despite the 110 IBUs and because of the vanilla, this example of RuinTen is an easy drinker.  The vanilla tames the crazy bitterness and gives a smooth feel to this beast.  Complexity comes from the unusual sweet and bitter feelings, and the alcohol remains well hidden throughout each sip.  Any lingering heat or bitterness in the finish is masked by the vanilla that seems to coat and protect the tongue.

Overall, I am really enjoying this beer.  I expected not to be able to feel my palate after a few sips, but it’s been a pleasant ride so far and I’m halfway through the bottle.  Well done, Stone.

Stone–Ruination Double IPA 2.0

This is Stone’s second attempt at their original Ruination beer, hence the 2.0 moniker.  The original was the first double IPA in the world, according to Stone.  Since then, brewing technology has changed, as has Stone’s methods for extracting every atom of the four hop varieties used in this beer.  As Stone notes, this is their “liquid poem to the glory of the hop.”

A quite attractive pour and beer. The color is matte peach, the slight haze providing the matte texture. Not a dark beer, but opaque. The head is slightly off-white and retains well with a finger of sticky bubbles that provide for a nice, thick lace.

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The hop scent just kills. Some crackery malt comes thru but this thing is a hop explosion in the nose with pine and a mixture of citrus fruits. Pineapple and peach, along with orange and grapefruit.

Due to the nose I expected a bit of sweet fruit but it’s mostly a pine and citrus rind combo. Again, the malt provides a salty cracker taste as well.

Dank and bitter. Could use something to balance the bitter, but that’s what this beer has always been about. Medium bodied with a biting crispness, the bitter and warmth from the alcohol scrapes the tongue dry and keeps it hostage til the next sip.

While slightly disappointing after the scent, it’s still a hell of a good beer. I probably like this a bit more than I think I remember liking the original.

Sierra Nevada–Hoptimum 2017 Edition

One of the great annual beers from Sierra Nevada.  Three different hop varietals added at multiple times during the brewing process.  Just two malts and one yeast strain.  Based on the name alone, you know it’s a hop bomb.  Each vintage is slightly different but mostly the same yummy lupulin goodness.

A bit darkish, coppery bronze color, opaque. The head is brilliant white, and foamy, like a cloud. Big bubbles mixed in with little, a sloppy lace left behind.

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Right off the bat, you pick up the oily hop flower resins.  It even smells oily.  But, that blast of citrus is amazing, mostly pineapple.  If you’ve had enough hop bombs, you can tell what’s coming just from the smell.

Taste is similar to the smell with light notes of warm-weather fruits, but mostly pine forest.  At 9.6% ABV, the alcohol is ever present, yet it’s happy to play in the background.

For a split second, there’s a malty feel, then the hop bomb explodes and let’s you know what kind of beer it is. The bitterness curls your toes and makes your teeth hurt. Along the way, there is some sweet bite of the citrus. The finish is dry and sticky.

All ales from SN are exceptional and this is no different.  For a Triple IPA, it’s actually fairly easy to drink.  The alcohol, choice hops, and massive amounts of hops help keep the IBUs at around 65.  It’s high ABV, but it’s hidden very well. It’s a must drink for beer fans and hop bombers alike.

Cigar City–Jai Alai

The flagship beer of the Florida brewer.  Possibly the best IPA in the world.

Clear, light brown. A thin but fluffy offtan head with decent retention and good lacing.

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Nice citric hoppy smell. Grapefruit and pine, smells like a forest of cut down pine trees.

Taste follows the smell, a lot of citrus with some backnotes of pine.

Bitter, but in a good, controlled way. Not a hop bomb, just the right amount. Earthy, piney bitter from beginning to end.

Great stuff, a simple, world class IPA that’s easy to drink.

Cigar City–Raspberry Halo

Cigar City is arguably Florida’s finest brewery and one of the highlights of my trip South each year.  Raspberry Halo is an imperial stout, tipping the scale at 10.7% ABV, with raspberries added to the brew.

It pours the darkest shades of midnight black, surrendering zero light.  The medium brown head is extremely thin and has short legs.  Subsequent swirls yield no lacing.

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Raspberry Halo smells like an extremely amazing dessert.  Notes of raspberry fruit and fudge float my boat.  A touch of coffee in the background really pleases.

The taste strongly favors the raspberries, not necessarily a bad thing.  Again, a fruity chocolate dessert comes to mind.  Coffee and alcohol step forward in the warming swallow.

Cigar City gave us a lot of sweetness up front, balanced by 40 IBUs of bitterness.  It’s definitely on the sweet side of the spectrum, but never crosses the line.  Very smooth and creamy, and full-bodied.  A very wet, juicy finish, there is simply no carbonation, nor any crispness to clean things up.  The tart, creaminess coats your tongue and never lets go.

This was probably the best beer I had during my 8-day stay in the Sunshine State.  Each sip was like a bite of dessert and it was plenty drinkable.  I wish I could get this stuff in Indiana.

Boulevard Brewing–Chocolate Ale With Raspberry

This beer is part of the Kansas City brewery’s Smokestack Series, which is a series of beers that are stronger than normal, a bit more complex, and bolder.

It looks nothing like I expected, as it pours a thick mahogany color, rather than the dark brown/black I figured.  The body has zero clarity, which is nice.  Early on there is a fine khaki head but those bubbles fade fast and nothing resembling lacing stays behind.

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For a chocolate Ale, it lacks the cocoa-like aroma you expect.  However, the faintest scent of raspberries restores my faith that this is indeed a chocolate Ale with raspberry.  While subtle, it presents a very pleasant nose.

It tastes exactly like it smells…a raspberry punch, but no chocolate.  I think I’m picking up some caramel malts, but no chocolate whatsoever, which is a bit of a letdown.  The fruit flavor is noticeable, but never crosses over to the point that it offends.

The raspberry addition makes the beer mostly tart, again with the chocolate lacking, it’s not a smooth or creamy beer.  A bit of sweetness and just enough bitter for balance.  With 9.1% ABV, even that is well hidden among the fruity bits of the beer.

I’ll accept this as a raspberry beer, but I’m still not convinced there is any chocolate added.  It’s not bad as a fruit beer, but it’s clearly not a chocolate Ale.  In that aspect, I’m disappointed.