But wait…

Those Dark Horse beers were great, but then I went and had a Southern Tier 2XIPA. So good. I’ve had it before, and still it surprised me with how good it is. Crazy lacing, well-balanced, well-hidden booze, and fruity, floral hops that blast you but don’t distract.

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Dark Horse Taste Up

A couple of days before Christmas, a large box emblazoned with labels denoting fragility found its way into my hands. Yes, my (wonderful, thoughtful, and benevolent) girlfriend had ordered for me no less than 12 beers to whet my whistle over the Christmas break. Having picked up a polypin of Cullercoats Winter Warmer that would not last the week, I put the bottles aside to focus on the cooking and celebrating at hand.

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What I have to drink today are a few bottles from Dark Horse Brewing, a brewery whose beers I sampled at Michigan’s Summer Beer Fest in Ypsi, but whose premises I never had the chance to visit. Their tent/s had the greatest number of beers available (if I recall correctly, which I probably don’t, as beer festivals tend to get a bit hazy by the end), but their beers were also the most consistently interesting and enjoyable. I made a striking mental note to sample more of their brews, and today is my day.

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The amber ale. Cloudy!

First up is the Amber Ale. It pours with a high degree of visible carbonation, yielding a foamy, off-white head, and gives a copper/amber hue, deep with haze and sediment. The bottle was left with appears to be a half-inch of sediment as well. The head quickly began to vanish, leaving no lacing. While sweet floral notes and a little Belgian funk are detectable on the nose, nothing particularly malty jumps out. Mouthfeel is light, with minimal but sharp carbonation. The sweet Belgian nose follows with a similar flavour, and if it had been a blind tasting I would’ve assumed it was a light Belgian ale and not an amber ale. The flavours are a little muddled with caramel, citrus, banana, and a late bitterness all coming through. At first I thought the light feel and mild fruity sweetness might make it a good session beer, but honestly it just doesn’t have enough flavour to hide what quickly becomes a chore of a flavour palette. It’s like sweet Coopers Sparkling without the hops up front. Given a little more malt and a thicker mouthfeel it could be more like a Belgian, but again, it comes up as lacklustre. A quick look at its RateBeer entry shows a collective vote of 48/100. I agree. IT also states an abv of 5.5%. Could’ve fooled me.

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Brown (black?) ale.

Next up: the ‘Boffo’ brown ale. Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of brown ales (though there have definitely been exceptions), but I’m keen to crack on and discover a Dark Horse gem. This one pours thick and dark, with a foamy brown head, and yes, some sediment in the bottle. I wonder how long these had been sitting on the shelf? Don’t Londoners drink American craft beer? But anyway, this beer’s head does fall away to exhibit some lacing, and the body is so dark that light will not penetrate it. The nose give faint caramel and chocolate malt.  In the mouth, it is a mildly carbonated but solid ale. Thick and bitter. I’d like to imagine that with time the carbonation could develop from foamy to creamy, because that probably the only element of this beer holding it back. The strong bitterness remains from start to finish, finally dissipating to leave you wanting more, and beneath it, roasted malt, chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut jumps forth. This is a damn tasty beer. Again, in a blind tasting I probably wouldn’t have judged it by the style it says on the label, but I’m not complaining. The Googles informs me that it’s 6.5% alc, which probably contributes to the elevation in standards after its lacklustre sibling. 15 minutes on, enjoyed it to the last drop.

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The Scotty Karate is a superb beer.

Now normally if I’d hit a 6.5% beer on my second of a five beer tasting I’d be worried that I’d not ordered them very well. Next up is a scotch ale, and though it doesn’t say how alcoholic it is (none of these damned American beers seem to anymore*), I’ve learned to be wary around scotch ales. This is the Scotty Karate scotch ale, and the label sports a psychedelic Viking one-man band. Again, be wary around scotch ales. The Three Floyds one was an eye-opener too. This one pours with a creamier head and more lacing than the last two, and despite the apparently typical, thick layer of sediment in the bottle, the beer remains clear, with a deep red hue. Carbonation is there, but not overwhelmingly. On the nose I get mild malty nose and a bit of bit of fuit – maybe citrus or raisin, but it’s faint. Upon tasting, mouthfeel is light, but alcohol is definitely noticeable. If feels nice and creamy, with an ideally mild carbonation that makes it easy to drink. It’s boozy, but pleasantly so. An initially sweet finish fades to reveal the alcohol and stonefuits, raisin, toffee, malt, and a slight late hop bitterness. A stellar beer. If I had to pick a fault, it would be the foaminess of the carbonation/mouthfeel. It does, however, have a hint of that stereotypical Mikkeller burnt sweetness/booziness thing going on. I’m not sure if anyone else gets that, but I can always tell a Mikkeller by that same distinctive flavour, and I love it. While I’m sitting here enjoying it, a quick perusal of RateBeer informs me of an abv of 9.75% and an overall rating of 97. I can believe the alcohol, but I’m surprised by the rating. I love the beer, but I’d have pegged it at about 92-95. Maybe once I’ve had a six-pack of it I’d be ready to give it a 100 and tell it that ‘no, you! I love you!’, but for this excellent tasting beer with unrefined carbonation, 93 is my vote.

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Angry potato wants to hop you in the mouth.

The penultimate beer in this tasting is the Double Crooked Tree IPA. The pour greets me with the familiar sickly sweet but piney, hoppy aroma I have come to love from such beers as Lagunitas IPA, and Dogfish Head’s 60/90/120 Minute (Imperial)/IPA/s. The beer is murky with visible layers of sediment and sports a reddish, almost blood-orange-cum-watermelon hue. A quickly dissipating foamy head forms splotchy lacing on the sides of the glass. Mouthfeel is a shock; it’s surprisingly alcoholic, and with very little carbonation. Alcohol and bitterness seem to be the name of the game. Here the foamy mouthfeel that has pervaded the previous of tonight’s Dark Horse beers is actually of benefit – it breaks up the liquid in your mouth so you can really feel the potency throughout. Every sip has me wide-eyed and twitching a little, and I begin to wonder how I’m going to go finishing a whole bottle (FWP, I know). Where the Dogfish Head Imperial IPA is perfectly balanced but also supercharged, this is strong but a little wonky. There’s a slight empty metallic tang with the late bitterness that lingers and distracts, and while notes of straw and toffee do come through, the strong bitterness and element of booze overpowers all. I jump on RateBeer to look up the alcohol content, and jesus, it’s 13.6%. Wow. I would love to try this on keg as I’m sure tropical and citrus fruits would abound. The RateBeer community has rated it 99/100, an incredibly high rating, and while the more I drink the more I enjoy it, it still falls short of the other imperial/double IPAs I’ve had in the past. It’s (unfortunately) a little headache-inducing, and that’s to a hop-head like myself**. All in all I say it’s worth buy a bottle to share among friends. It’s a tasty beer that will go down great if you’ve had a few or several but there is a burn and it’s not *entirely* even enough to get 99/100. Perhaps 95. And really, this feels like an India Barley Wine! Given the Dogfish Head Imperial IPA was 9% and came off as perfectly balanced, I don’t quite see the need for the 13.5%abv of this brew. Maybe I’m still in shock and feeling bitter. Either way, I’d be keen to see what other people think.

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Possibly my favourite, the Sapient Trip Ale (a Belgian trippel) is a well-balanced, hoppy Belgian with just a little funk.

Feeling like my lack of research prior to tasting had led me to jump the shark again, I am now writing from day #2 of the tasting. What was labelled a double IPA and turned out to be an Imperial IPA/Barley Wine had left me with the Dark Horse Sapient Trip Ale, a Belgian style trippel with a label sporting a grim reaper wielding a mailbox, and wanting to be able to enjoy it, I took a wee break and resumed my drinking today. It pours a peachy amber, with a fluffy white head that creeps slowly down the glass to leave minimal lacing. It smells almost wheaty with banana, but the sweet funk lays subtly underneath. The nose is fresh, complex, and inviting. Mouthfeel is light, with bitey carbonation and a foaminess that dissipates to leave with feels like a fruity mineral water. It’s really very refreshing. After the initial carbonation buzz dies down, thick spatterings of lacing are adorning the glass, and this is looking like a great beer. Taste-wise, it’s balanced, with a veritable fruit bowl of esters and floral hop characters – banana, citrus peel, and tropical fruit juice. The Belgian yeast is there with some banana and bubblegum notes as well. The late hop bitterness isn’t resiny, but fresh, and perfectly balanced with the other flavours. I’m not one to fly the Belgian ale flag, but if this is the future of the style, I’m on board. It makes me wonder how far from the style it is (that I like so much), but I’m not complaining. A trip to the internet reveals an alcohol content of 9.5% (which is largely well hidden), and a rating of 86. Given that the RB community gave the Double Crooked Tree 99, I feel as though this beer has been cheated. Dark Horse made a 9.5% Belgian style ale almost sessionable, and it was the wonky, unbalanced Imperial IPA that people gave almost top marks too? Perhaps this is a symptom of the hop fad**. This is a solid, complex, well-balanced beer that ticks every box for me. I’d love to a pint from a fresh keg to see how it tastes brand new.

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It’s delicate, but light and refreshing.

As with all my beers in this review, they’ve been bottles that I can only assume had been sitting for some time, so the dynamics have probably changed. Maybe the Double Crooked Tree is well-balanced and smooth when straight from the brewery. Maybe the Scotty Karate truly is a 97/100 when fresh. All this tasting has shown me is that Dark Horse makes some damned flavoursome beers, and that I can’t wait to get back to Michigan to drink these straight from the… er… horse’s mouth. Scratch that. But you know what I mean. They’re fun to drink, and some are pretty damned sessionable. Dark Horse remains one of my favourite breweries and I’ll try my darnedest to get along next chance I get.

*I’d love to know if it’s a part of the restrictions on labels that American breweries *can’t* advertise how alcohol their beer is, or whether they just choose not to. Common sense would dictate that those who wish to drink responsibly be provided with information about how much alcohol is going into their system, but maybe it does drive alcoholism.

**Yes, yes, I love hops. I love growing my own hops, making my beers super hoppy, and part of the reason you haven’t seen me post about any English beer is that only a handful of English breweries actually have the inclination to use hops to a noticeable degree. What I don’t agree with is wasting hops by overhopping a beer to the point where it stops you from enjoying it, or overshadows any of the other flavours in a beer. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved beers that have technically been ranked at ~150 IBUs, but they were always balanced. Ain’t no need to make a shitty beer just to highlight what everyone knows – that hops can be flavoursome.

P.S. I love you guys, and I love seeing that my old posts are still getting read. It’s quite the boon to my drive to write to log in and see the hit counts still climbing. I’ll be back soon.

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Micro-view: Revolution Brewing Cross Of Gold Golden Ale

I have a bunch of posts queued from America and now the UK ones are building up too. This isn’t for any reason other than that I’ve been getting distracted by the socializing and the exploring that comes with being in new places. So here we go; I’ll post a few of them as I get the chance.

While in Chicago several weeks back, I used the opportunity to grab a bunch of locally brewed craft beers and stop in to a few of the breweries and bars in town. One of the beers I picked up was this golden ale, done by Revolution Brewing, a brewery I hadn’t heard of, but clearly had to try. This ale was the only of their range on sale at the store, or perhaps it was the only one of their range left; Chicagoans seemed to have raided the shelves fairly thoroughly.

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The beer pours with a light, white, foamy head, with delicate lacing. With a mild hoppy aroma, it smells fresh, a little fruity, and a touch piney. The hops hit the palette a lot stronger; this refreshing ale has a light fizzy carbonation that dances on the tip of your tongue, while the sharp, hoppy citrus hits the rest of your olfactories. At first I thought it might be a little young – I sensed a little of that sour green apple flavour – but it works well with the hops to yield a light, refreshing, sessionable ale. Ratebeer rates this at 83/100, and that seems about reasonable. I can see why this might be a favourite to many.

Science in Brewing – A response to A Good Beer Blog’s recent post

The following is a response to a recent blog post by a fellow beer blog. Details can be found below.

Woah there, brewers. Woah.
Put down those ledgers and sensors. Stop using those algorithms. That fancy book learnin’ aint helping nobody.

“Timings, temperatures and volumes… I can’t be doing that… couldn’t be arsed. At all.”

We like our beer how it is, and aint nobody gonna try and improve brewhouse efficiency on our watch. Aint nobody gonna show those big brewers using adjuncts and chemicals that they could actually produce a decent beer if a bit more research was to be done on the ingredients.

“Yet, we have to cope with knowledge and science and stuff like that. But does beer need any more of it? Really?”

Screw yeast development – why bother breeding a species to give more desirable traits? My grandpappy bred horses and dogs back in his day, but that was a legitimate form of artificial evolution, not like this fancy-pants genetically modified stuff. Why bother improving the metabolic processes of yeast when it already does a good enough job? I like my improvements to be made incredibly slowly and clumsily, instead of with precision and expertise.

No. I’d love to see more science in brewing. I’d love to see the macros embrace a higher quality product, not just in terms of a consistent, premium (shudder) product, but one that doesn’t need to be served ice cold to stomach. I’d love to see the craft breweries be able to use yeasts that maximise efficiency so that maybe the reduced overheads can offset the ludicrous taxes they’re already paying.

I’ll admit, I’m completely biased here. I am studying biotechnology, and planning to do my masters in brewing science, particularly in yeast development. But I’m doing this because of the world of possibilities available to geneticists and food scientists. Beer is great, and you won’t hear me saying otherwise, but there’s still plenty of distance yet to cover. There’s still so much to improve. What about speeding up the uptake and metabolism of those pesky compounds that currently requires breweries to spend so much time and money in the lagering stage? What about developing yeasts that will reliably produce a certain ester profile to match a recipe?

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Yeast is a far more complex critter than many people give it credit for, and there’s still plenty to learn about improving its use.

Jason Silva says it best when he says “now we have software that writes its own hardware!”, and this is the perfect way to look at it. Yeast is the powerhouse of brewing, and we’re now developing the tools to be able to manipulate it into doing exactly what we want. Why limit ourselves to ancient hardware, when a little more research and an increased adoption of scientific thinking could give us the tools to make the whole brewing process more efficient, more reliable, and more interesting. We’re already able to make animals glow, and have microbes synthesise medicines – why not extend that creativity and ingenuity to something we can really enjoy.

J.

A Good Beer Blog is really quite a good beer blog, and I’ve been a subscriber for quite some time now. The post I’m responding to is here. Check it out and subscribe.

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As you can see, I changed the layout a little while ago. I think it makes it a little easier to read, even if the options and goodies require a scroll.

I have a bunch of tasting notes still to post, so I’ll get around to that ASAP. As it stands, I’m busy packing for my trip to Chicago. Naturally, I’ll be hitting up Goose Island Brewing. If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

In other news, HomeBrewStuff.com has a comp going for free tickets to the GABF. Get along and enter – no purchase necessary.

Update

Lagunitas India Pale Ale

 

When I was putting together my list of breweries to visit or at least sample the wares of during my stay in America, Lagunitas was one of the first on my list. I’d had the pleasure of tasting a few of their beers back in Melbourne – the Red Ale was great, and the Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ was simply superb – so I was super excited to see their IPA stocked in quite a few party stores around Michigan.

I first tried it from a 330mL bottle, sitting in front of a lake with the sun overhead. I’d already had a couple of pale ales, warming up for the big hit of malt and hops IPAs always deliver. Trouble was, when I did taste it, I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t the big IPA I was expecting. This time, I grabbed a larger bottle and made sure to keep my palate fresh.

The beer pours a deep copper colour, with a cream-coloured foamy head and delicate lacing. Deep and mildly turbid, it does look impressive. The label boasts 43 different hop varieties and 65 different malts. Yep, that’s right.

I’ll admit, I’m excited to try it again.

The nose is almost sickly sweet and rich – the overwhelming, almost painful sweetness many homebrewers might recognise – but it is so goddamn smooth that it still remains inviting. It’s a little too difficult to pick anything out other than hints of pine, apricot, and citrus. And of course the malt. Heavy, smooth malt notes take the forefront and singe the sinuses.

Carbonation is low and mouthfeel is medium. It immediately feels like a different beer to the Lagunitas IPA I had two weeks ago. Rich, fruity, and malty, with a zingy back-palette. The lingering bitterness suggests more than the 45.6 IBUs listed on the bottle, but this is perfectly matched with malt.

By now the head has almost completely disappeared, and it is starting to desensitise my tastebuds. I still have over half my glass to go, and I’m losing pace. At such a low IBU value, and a not un-modest 6.2% alc, I would have assumed it would be slightly more sessionable, but no. Even the Tactical Nuclear Penguin kept me wanting more for longer.

Overall, this is a beer that tastes wonderful, demonstrates excellence in brewing and checks every box, but ultimately a pint is all I could drink. Well worth trying, especially the 330mL varieties.

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Micro-view: Dogfish Head Imperial 90 Minute IPA

Well, it’s pretty much perfect.

Smooth, fruity, aromatic, fresh hops. Sweet, balanced, caramel malt. Impeccably hidden 9% alcohol content. Ideal mouthfeel and carbonation. The box claims that it’s “probably the best IPA in America”, and I’d extend that to the world.

9% and sessionable. Well played, Dogfish Head.

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If I haven’t sold you, check out this 100/100 it’s gotten on Ratebeer.

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Micro-view: Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout

I picked this up from a party store after remembering how good the Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout was last time I had it, and for $4.80 it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The beer pours as an imperial stout should – thick, black, with a creamy-brown, foamy head and a decent spattering of lacing. Rich chocolate notes and roasted malts billow off the nose, with rich esters that suggest a high alcohol content. This clocks in at a moderate 7% ABV however, so I wasn’t too worried about ending a night of lager, hopfen weiss, and catching up on the footy with something titled ‘imperial’.

Mouthfeel is thick, low in carbonation, and feels like sucking down motor oil, albeit sweet, raisin-soaked motor oil. The beer features a well-balanced palette of rich chocolate malt, roasted malt, rich estery stone fruits, and a decent dose of bittering hops to carry the stout home.

I’m not sure I prefer it to their oatmeal stout, though there’s every possibility that I’m looking at the oatmeal through rose-coloured glasses. That said, for something so rich, high in gravity, and thick, it’s going down surprisingly well. Similar stouts have been just a little too sweet, or just a little too thick, but this verges on sessionable (a dangerous proposal, perhaps).

For $5 a pint I rate this as something everyone should try, if only to try a great example of a stout. I doubt how imperial it is, but it is good.

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Micro-view: Rogue Northwestern Ale

An afternoon of beer! What a wonderful thought! Before I indulge in the consumption of a keg of beer some friends are organising, I thought I’d treat my palate to another bottle of Rogue.

I’d been putting this one off for a rainy day – literally, it’s been far to hot to appreciate beers with body – so today is the day.

It pours dark amber/red, with a fluffy brown head and thick lacing. The ale is far more turbid than the Orange Honey Ale I had the other day, and looks mighty more substantial.

A pleasant hint of sweet malt and caramel on the nose, and a touch of piny, fruity hops. Upon tasting, I was reminded of Cooper’s heavier beers, but the distinctive Pacman yeast that Rogue loves is there also. The taste is big resin-y hops (yep, there’s Amarillo in there) balanced with caramel and chocolate malt.

A lively carbonation keeps this big, flavoursome beer fresh and drinkable. A roasted malt bitterness lingers and urges you to take another sip.

At 6.2% alc, it makes for a great special release (not that it’s in limited supply, every Meijer, Walmart, and Kroger I’ve been to seem to stock it) and is definitely worth a try. I wouldn’t class it as sessionable, but it would go down a treat with food.

 

 

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Micro-view: Goose Island Summertime

This one is a light, refreshing, tasty Kölsch-style ale from Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing.

Very sessionable, while retaining plenty of flavour, and a nice depth. Malty with citrus notes. Mild late bitterness is all that lingers. Low carb for easy drinking and a decent 5% abv.

Winner.

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