Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Favorite Beers of the year

For my final entry of 2010, I thought I'd look back over the year at a few beers that I tried and really enjoyed.  Overall, I reviewed 43 beers this year, not bad considering there are 52 weeks in a year.  However, unless you're like me and keep an excel spreadsheet list of what you've been drinking, it can be pretty hard to keep track of them.  Unfortunately, many of the double porters and imperial stouts I tried were one offs and limited editions at bars and festivals, so I neither smart enough nor sober enough to write down reviews.  But here's a brief stroll my favorites that I was lucky enough to have a bottle of and review this year.

Snake River, Zonker Stout

HUB, Organic IPA

Brasserie d'Orval, Orval

Mikkeller, It's Alive!

Stone/Brew Dog, Bashah

Port Brewing, Hot Rocks Lager

Allagash, 2009 Fluxus

Mikkeller, Nelson-Sauvin Single Hop IPA

Rogue, John John Ale

Sierra Nevada, 30th Anniversary Charlie, Fred, and Ken's Bock

And that's it.  Not a bad list all things considered.  All these beers are four stars and above with the exception of the Fluxus, which I believe I was a little harsh on with three and a half.  The John John should get a special mention just for the creativity of using Gin barrels to age the beer, very unique and a great ale.  Of these, I'd have to say that Mikkeller's Nelson-Sauvin is my pick of the year.  This was just such an awesome beer and worked perfectly with his single hop series.  It's the only beer I gave five stars to all year.

That's it for this year of Brews Clues, hopefully you've enjoyed my thoughts, info, and reviews.  Have a great New Years party, drink lots of good beer, and look for more posts in 2011!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deschutes Hop in the Dark

Sorry, we're still in picture-less land for another week or two.  Bear with me.

Black IPAs are slowly, but surely, becoming all the rage, and I have to say, I'm a huge fan.  I don't know why we didn't think to combine big dark grain flavors with big hop profiles in a light body earlier, seems like a no brainer.  But I guess it took centuries of beer evolution before someone decided it's a good idea. 

Now Deschutes has thrown their hat in the ring with Hop in the Dark, which they're labeling as a Cascadian Dark Ale.  Really, we're talking about a Black IPA, but I do like their name and maybe BJCP will take it into consideration.  I recently saw this beer as #2 in Wine Enthusiast's top 25 beers of 2010.  Since I already had a bottle in my beer fridge, I decided it was time to pop it open. 

The beer pours a rich black color, although with some close examination lets in just enough light to actually be considered a dark ruby.  Big frothy head, although zero retention.  Aromas are strongly hop driven, pine and grassy with a black licorice lacing.  Deschutes doesn't list much about how this is prepared, but knowing them, they probably hopped the shit out of it.  Light carbonation on the front end buildling into a grassy hop profile and finishes with a rich toasted grain flavor a bit of smokiness (or maybe burned grains) and finally light hop bitters.  The body on this guy is pretty big and taking a drink is a huge mouthful of flavors.  The mouthfeel is kind of odd though.  The grassy hop flavor has a lot of oils and when they transition to the grains it creates a sort of chalky mouthfeel, bordering on metallic. 

Not to boast, but the beer tastes remarkably similar to the wet hop Black IPA I made a year ago called, Shah Mat.  My beer had a similar flaw in the mouthfeel, although it also had a slightly skunkier aroma from the wet hops.  Therein lies the real trick of getting a Black IPA right.  Mixing big bold roasted grain flavors with heavy hop profiles means creating balance where they don't fight each other.  What's happening in this beer is the two flavors combine to create a third and not so pleasant taste that carries throughout the sip and overtakes the both hops and grain.  Not to say that this beer is bad by any means, but I don't think it achieves it in the way a beer like Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous does.

Hop in the Dark: ***1/2

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout

For all of you that are purely visually inclined, I'm sad to say that I just found out one of my SD cards is corrupt.  As a result, I've lost pictures of three of my last Beer entries.  So unfortunately, for the next few posts you're going to have to use your imagination a little.  I promise to do my best describing them.

Japanese brewing is taking off.  I've done one entry about this already, but I'm seeing more and more interesting brews coming over from the Far East.  Kiuchi Brewery is certainly one of the largest exporters of craft brews and you can find their Hitachino Nest line in a number of stores, bars, and restaurants around LA.  Most often you'll find their White Ale or the Hefe, however, Beverage Warehouse has recently started carrying a few of their other beers.  Of particular interest to me was this Espresso Stout.  Unfortunately, all the info about it is in Japanese, so I can't tell you too much behind the ethos, but I can share how it tastes. 

It pours a beautiful black/brown with a lovely tan head.  Lacing is decent and sustains for a minute or so, but is slowly dissipating.  Aroma is rich chocolate grains with a bit of black currant and the slightest hints of burned espresso and alcoholic phenols.  The body is solid for a single, but a little lighter than some of the other massive coffee stouts I've been drinking recently. 

While the finish is a marvelous mixture of chocolate and oily espresso beans, the front end has a strange bitter coffee flavor that mixes with the grains and yet somehow doesn't work.  It's the same bitter flavor that I get when I accidentally chew on the coffee grinds from the french press (this happens more often than I'd like to admit).  While this is a marvelous achievement of authenticity, it unfortunately really overpowers some of the beautiful subtle chocolate and espresso flavors that I can taste buried under the grinds.  Other than that, it's a pretty solid stout.  The hopping is just right to leave big acidic remnants at the end of your sip and when combined with the massive bitter coffee flavor, it really creates a deep and complex flavor for you meditate on before your next sip.

Espresso Stout: ***

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mikkeller Chinook Single Hop IPA

A nice shade of golden with sweet apple-y aroma and just a hint of citrus hops.  Chinook are high alpha acid hops with a wonderful herbal, almost spicey/smokey character combined with a pine finish.  They are a distinctly American hop and are usually used during the last stage of the boil for aromatics, also often in dry hops.  The flavor really comes through in this beer.

The front end is all carbonation, really prickly.  As it evens out you get a strong burst of the Chinook in a smokey, almost earthy aftertaste.  Buried, inside that overwhelming smoke is a slight pine edge; it's a nice final touch to add just a little more complexity to the beer.  A very bitter, lopsided beer, this IPA is certainly not for beginners, and probably not for beer lovers who love a more traditional balance of grain and hops.  However, it is an interesting case study of the chinook hop strain, that really allows you to isolate and hone in on its flavors.  

Chinook Single Hop IPA: ***