Left Hand released their ‘Big Mo’ series in February and although I’m a little late for the seasonal party with these, I still feel like having a nice, big, malty brew sometimes, so here we go. I feel like most folks associate Barleywine-Style Ales with seasonal brews, but I actually enjoy them year-round, especially an American style Barleywine because of the emphasis on the hop profile. I’d characterize the Widdershins as a pretty straight-up American Style Barleywine, which drinks like a classic barleywine up front but finishes with the bitterness of an IPA. The pour was uneventful, with a minimal head which settled quickly. On the nose there was an abundance of fruit, but not your typical raisin-fig kind of Barleywine fruit. This Ale has a distinct presence of apricot and peach, followed closely with more typical aromas of caramel and sweet malt. There’s a slight hint of citrus, leaning toward orange, mostly from the hops that manage to make their way through the nose. In the mouth there is much of the same, with the apricot and juicy semi-citrus taking the lead, followed by the classic barleywine malt sweetness of rich caramel, closing with a bitter bite. This Barleywine is also oak-aged, which doesn’t seem to play much of a role until the end, where the dryness of the wood and hop bittering play off of one another for a more complex-than-normal finish. The aftertaste again reveals the woody texture, as it lingers a touch longer than the sweeter, fruity flavors up front. Overall, it’s a ‘nice’ beer and a pretty solid effort from Left Hand. Even though I’d like to have a little more presence from the oak and maybe a notch down on the hops, the atypical fruit aromas of apricot and peach make this totally worth trying.
– score 3.5
In case you don’t know the story about this beer, here it is in a nutshell. Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing and Adam Avery of Avery Brewing realized that they both had a ‘Salvation’ in their respective stable of beers. Instead of squabbling over the rights to the name, they decided to blend the brews in an attempt to capture the best qualities of each. I like this story already. And it speaks to why I love the craft brew industry at large. There is a genuine interest in the creative process for which we are the beneficiaries. It’s absolutely rare for a great majority of an entire industry to be comprised of entrepreneurs who are willing to forsake commerce for craft, economics for art, all to expand and redefine our understanding of what brewing means and what can be accomplished when we, ahem, collaborate. So without further philosophical adieu, let’s get to the beer. It pours a beautiful hazy amber, very hazy in fact, and leaves a nice 1/4 inch head which laces throughout. The nose is distinctively Belgian, with a spicy coriander and clove texture over a subtle fruity sweetness. The taste is complex and changes throughout the swallow, beginning with a malty caramel sweetness and quickly giving way to the spice of the yeast. It closes with a surprising bitterness, tinged with a small bite of alcohol. As it warms, the sweetness of the malt becomes more present and the beer generally feels a little thicker and oily on the tongue. If I had to compare it to something else out there it would probably be the Maudite from Unibroue in its texture, general feel and flavor. Overall, I think this beer is truly outstanding and a really nice effort from both Avery and Russian River. Cheers to things being greater than the sum of their parts.
If you’re new to the Belgian style then this might just be the place to start. I originally tried the Grimbergen Dubbel with a pretty heavy meal, so I wanted to try it again – this time without food – to see if it was enjoyable as I remembered. It poured a chocolate brown with hints of garnet and a nice, albeit modest, head which dispersed fairly quickly. On the nose there are hints of raisin, sweet malt, and fruit, with a touch of a clove spice presence. There is also a pleasant toasted quality which ties the nose to the flavor and serves as a nice backbone to the ale overall. Aside from a pretty aggressive amount of carbonation, there is very little that dominates this beer, which is why I feel like it could serve as a great introduction to the style. The body is relatively light and refreshing, while still offering up some complexity, finishing with a fruity malt richness which respects its Belgian roots. I don’t always feel like a Dubbel is the easiest style to pair with food, but the Grimbergen seems as comfortable in front of a steak as it does all alone, and it’s the ease of this beer that is most appealing to me. I wouldn’t put this in a class with, say, a Maredsous 8, but I would definitely recommend it to all Belgian lovers and to those who are simply interested in becoming one.
– score 3.75
Flying Dog surprised me with another round of beer-mail last week, this time with their seasonal brew, Garde Dog. It’s a Bie’re de Garde, a style which lies somewhere between a light Belgian and a Saison and is intended to be a light, semi-complex but highly drinkable beer. Let’s see… The pour was golden with a lightish, predictable head with decent lacing. On the nose there really wasn’t all that much to speak of. Some light spice, but not as much as a typical Belgian style and a pleasant, fruity sweetness. I’d give the nod to pear, but it’s not that specific – more like a general ripe fruit kind of sweet. The flavor was more hearty than the nose would indicate and I think that’s probably what I like most about this beer – it’s slightly surprising. It seems like balance was at the top of the list of priorities with this beer and they have achieved just that. The malt density on the mouth balanced the sweetness of the nose and it’s dry and slightly bitter finish rounded out each sip nicely. It’s a great spring and summer beer, highly drinkable and should be a great entry for Flying Dog as temperatures start to rise here shortly. I could see myself enjoying this beer with everything from burgers to pizza to seafood and it being a nice compliment to all. Overall, although I wouldn’t say that this beer is Flying Dog’s most innovative, I will say it shows a bit of refinement and growth for the brewery. I like where this is going and I think FD should consider adding this to their year-round offerings. Two thumbs…
– score 4
It was a good day when I strolled into my bottle shop to find the Terrapin Rye Squared, a beer I haven’t seen in this market before. I love the Terrapin Rye Pale Ale and an Imperial version sounds perfectly awesome right about now. I grabbed a 4-pack and hustled home to get it chilled down and ready to drink. The pour was a deep, brownish-orange with a little haze and an off-white 2 finger head – very nice-looking beer. On the nose there was an abundance of orange and deep citrus, a sweet malty breadiness and spicy rye (go figure). From the first sip I was greeted with that spicy pop from the rye and hops, with a punchy, floral citrus burst. The flavor quickly turned toward the malt, however, and the mouthfeel was rich and smooth, with flavors of spiced bread and caramel and a slightly oily quality which made it easy to drink. It’s a big beer, no doubt, but very easy to drink and well balanced all the way through. I really like the complexity of the hops, from the spicy and earthy qualities of the Fuggles and Goldings to the more American-style cirtus, courtesy of the Amarillo and Cascade. That, on top of the unique character of the rye, makes the front end of this beer really interesting and refreshing, while the weight and density of the malt provides the drinkability that isn’t always present in the huge-hop beers out there. I’m really impressed with this beer and will definitely pick up more next time I see it on the shelf.
– score 4.5
Whoa! I guarantee that’s the first thing you’ll say if you try this beer. It’s an unapologetically gigantic American Style Imperial Stout which boasts tons of flavor and a huge malt profile – dense, with a choco-fruity character and a freakish 16% abv. Yea, it’s all that. I’ve tried some ‘Imperial’ stouts recently that really weren’t all they’re cracked up to be (cough, Fort Collins) and are essentially overblown one-dimensional efforts. The Mephistopheles, while it may be overly ambitious, is actually really interesting. It entertained me, to be honest. I felt like every sip revealed something new – and more subtle – about the flavor. It starts with a dominant sweetness, with a nod toward molasses, brown sugar, toffee and fruit. Oh, and alcohol. Did I mention that this was a 16 percent beer? I think I did, but I just drank a 16 percent beer so I can’t remember. The carbonation is relatively low, but that’s ok because you’ll never miss it with everything else that’s going on. The mouthfeel is where this beer is really a standout. It’s smooth, creamy and as thick as if it had come off a nitro tap. Very impressive for a beer straight out of a bottle. As it warms, the sweetness gives way to a more roasted texture with a nut-flavored coffee aftertaste – pleasant. If there is one downfall to the brew is that you probably shouldn’t have more than one. It’s not exactly a beer you can burn through and crack open another. In fact, mine took a solid 45 minutes to finish, so carve out some time on your schedule for this one. Overall, however, this beer is great. Sure, you can point to the overpowering flavors, abv, boldness, or whatever to pick it apart, but c’mon, beers like this are fun. It’s not for the faint of heart and you’ll probably need to be a true stout lover to really ‘get it’ , but if you fall into that category you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Another great effort from Avery.
Stone. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny that they’ve made their mark as a brewery who’s not afraid to push the envelope. (see Ruination) The Old Guardian Barleywine Style Ale is a staple for Stone and just so happens to be a very well-respected brew among those folks who are into doing things like respecting brews. I, for one, happen to fall into that category. I respect. I’m a respecter. What I don’t quite get is the difference between a Barleywine Style Ale and a plain old Barleywine. What am I missing here? Honestly, I don’t think it matters all that much in the grand scheme, but if the style nerds aficionados want to shed some light I’d appreciate it. At any rate, on to the beer. The pour was like a barleywine should be – clean, amber with minimal head. The nose was a little on the subtle side, but there were nice hints of malty sweetness, caramel, fruit and spice, plus a hint of alcohol. The taste was a reflection of the nose for the most part, with a candy-like fruit sweetness leading the charge, followed by a rich toffee body and finishing with a distinct tinge of alcohol and hop bittering. It’s a nice, refined Barleywine (style) Ale, which a little age has served well. There is a mellowness to this particular bottle which I’m inclined to believe probably wasn’t there 8-10 months ago. Overall, I think this is a really great example of the style, but I’m not feeing quite as much hype as BA would have you believe. I felt like the omnipresent alcohol was a bit of a distraction, and both the mouthfeel and weight of the body were a touch on the light side to give it a full-on A+. It’s really good, though, and I wouldn’t hesitate at all to have some on hand regularly or recommend it to a friend.
score – 4.25