Great Taste of the Midwest 2015: Caffeine Dreams

Yesterday was the 2nd Saturday in August, which meant it was time for thousands of people to gather in Olin Park in picturesque Madison, WI for the Great Taste of the Midwest. New brewers, new beers, new layout. The weather was overcast but some sprinkles weren’t going to impede anyone’s desire for more beer. But you’re not here for a weather report, you’re here to waste 10 minutes of your life and read about what beers I liked.  At least that’s why I think you’re here.

5) Off Color Brewing – Whiskers
The Chicago-based brewers collaborated with Central State Brewing out of Indianapolis for this Rose-inspired American Wild Ale.  Central State focuses on Brettanomyces brews exclusively, so that’s neat.  This beer was tart, sour, barely pink-hued and an impossible 8.5% abv but was easy-going on the palette.  The ale was aged in puncheon barrels, which I had no idea were until I googled it just now. Wonderful stuff.

4) Revolution Brewing – Cafe Deth
One of the very few lines I waited in yesterday, and boy was it worth it.  Revolution brought the heat, in beer and tubed meat form. You have to give a brewery credit for slinging free Chicago-style dawgs during a beer fest. Anyways, here we have a 12.5% barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout with added coffee & cherries. The beer poured black as my non-functioning fitbit band, with a dark mahogany ring around the perimeter. Truckloads of chocolatey oak, coffee, and a barely-there dark fruit sweetness in the finish. Dark brown head & an aroma of fresh coffee grounds.  This was from 2014, so I’m just going to take a guess & say age has done good things to this. Have always been a fan of the Eugene series, and this one further catapaulted my affinity for Rev.

3) New Glarus Brewing – R&D Wild Barrel
Ah yes, the rare bottles of Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel were flowing at breakneck pace yesterday. Lines moved quickly for a small taste of the delicious nectar from New Glarus’ new fruit caves. More sour funk than bourbon barrel presence, this spontaneously fermented sour brown showcased fruit backed by wood. A wonderful example on how funk should be handled. Bottles sold out at the brewery by 10:30am on Friday and by 11am on Saturday. Glad they kept some cases behind for the Taste. Obviously.

2) Perennial Artisan Ales – Kyoto Coffee Abraxas
Let’s keep the caffeinated train rolling. Holy shit, all aboard. Like Sump & Abraxas banged in an alley & 9 months later we have this coffee infant. But it’s not an infant, it’s a 10% imperial stout brewed with Kyoto coffee.  Not sure if the usual addition of cinnamon & chiles were added to this batch, as I didn’t get much heat, or spice. Regardless, this was downright amazing – chocolate on chocolate, with espresso backing the sweetness. Mouthfeel was actually in the medium range – this wasn’t as viscous as I thought it would be.  Something tells me Corey King had something to do with this one. YOU WONDERFUL BARISTA, YOU.

1) 4 Hands Brewing Co – Madagascar
From the back seat of their creepy black-matte ‘falcon’ van came the absolute best beer of the fest.  It wasn’t even close – one sip and you knew you tasted perfection. On an island all its own (get it?), this bourbon aged imperial milk stout was created with the addition of vanilla beans.  I typically enjoy vanilla, but find beers with the bean usually tasting of an artificial, cloying sweetness. Not here though. A perfect blend of roasty malt with sweet milk sugar and vanilla  in the back end, Madagascar was everything perfect with yesterday. The magicians of 4 Hands had the difficult task of competing with the nautically-inspired Bell’s brewery booth and boat, and admittedly had a strange/poor booth placement, sort of in no-man’s land. I went back and consumed Super Flare IPA, a collab with Wicked Weed brewing.  Delicious. Walked back awhile later and had a pull of the coveted Volume 1 – an imperial whiskey-bbl aged stout with coffee and cacao nibs. Also pretty tasty.  4 Hands slayed everything else I had yesterday, by a longshot. Between Perennial and 4 Hands, you could basically spend an entire day in beer heaven should you go to St. Louis.

In addition to the beers listed above, I probably had almost 10 other beers with coffee added. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I find my fascination with the caffeinated bean unknown. Whatever it is, I drank them by the glass half-full yesterday. Other styles that I gravitated to included berliner weiss’, goses, and wild ales. I also missed out on a ton: DinoSmores from Off Color, the delicious Mango Mama from Minneapolis Town Hall, TG’s Mornin Delight – the list could go on. I missed SO MUCH. Let these pics percolate:

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#Burbdrankin – Mequon Pizza Company in Mequon

I love thin crust pizza. Like, saltine cracker thin that it almost breaks when you pick it up. Deep dish is just too doughy for me.  Unless I’m in Chicago, then yeah, gimme that shit. Otherwise, I have always been a thin crust dude. Wells Brothers in Racine is my absolute favorite, but Mequon Pizza Company is a seriously close second. And that kinda-sorta-proprietary cheese on the bottom, then sauce, then toppings thing they do is great. Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve never had a bad pie there, I don’t even think it’s possible for them to make one. The MPC is fast, efficient, and the staff is always great.

But what about the beer? There’s a mix of domestic and import, from easy-going like Miller Lite and Spotted Cow to bigger stuff like Great Lakes Chillwave Double IPA.  Would you expect a large pink elephant Delirium tower pouring Tremens & Nocturnum? Well they do, and that’s awesome. Dogfish 120 was on too, as well as other fun oddities from O’so. The tap list was all over the place, but in a way that everything pouring made sense.

Sitting at the bar, I noticed that there was a great variety of Dogfish bottles in the cooler, with a few larger-format bottles above them.  Never in a million years did I think I’d see 22oz Alesmith IPA bottles at a pizza place in Mequon, WI.  Lo and behold, mere minutes after spying the California beauties, 2 younger guys sat next to me and each ordered one to take down themselves. Craft beer really can reach the burbs. Again, I have to give credit for these smaller establishments recognizing that good beer wins, and ultimately can be very profitable to stock.

#burbdrankin yall.
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IMG_20150410_165908966  IMG_20150410_165855602

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#Burbdrankin – Crafty Cow in Oconomowoc

So last Wednesday on April 9th, our area saw a little severe weather. To our south, this Darwinistic dipshit had a ” completely crazy” “holy smokes” moment, in which he captured some “oh my gosh” footage:

Totally ridiculous video, fella. The elements certainly weren’t optimal in southeast Wisconsin either, but I’ll take my chances driving in inclement weather if it means doing some necessary #burbdrankin research for my 6 readers. And research I did. When I left the Milwaukee area around 6:45, it was lightly sprinkling with a few sad, gray clouds looming ahead. Half an hour later, I’m white-knuckle driving under a death-metal black storm cloud unleashing torrential downpours in between specks of lightning. Exiting hwy 67, I believe I muttered something like “Well this was stupid”. Actually that is exactly what I said. But burgers and beers were within reach, so I pressed on amongst swirling ominous clouds.

It’ll normally take around 50 minutes to get to the Crafty Cow from Milwaukee; this instance was an hour. Smack dab in the middle of this quiet town lies a bar-restaurant that can hold it’s own against any city spot. Open since December 2014, the Crafty Cow specializes in microbrews alongside ‘stuffed’ burgers. 20 tap lines in all, with 2 dedicated nitro lines and 2 cider taps as well. The room itself was spacious and welcoming – a long narrow space filled with a few high tops, ample bar seating, and some larger bench tables for bigger groups.  A big, bright logo is painted on the west wall under some spotlight lighting. An out-of-order skeeball machine was the only dark cloud in terms of the venue. The back bar shelves were littered with purposely-placed empty bottles of a who’s who in hard-to-find beers from around the country.  Looks like many a bottle share has been had here.

While the beer list was good, the spirits list was surprisingly great. Stranahan whiskey, Breckenridge bourbon, and a variety of other gems rounded out a well-curated whiskey list. Nice to find that upon a visit where I expected that beer would rule. If cocktails are your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

The stuffed burgers reigned a beef thunderstorm on my tastebuds (see a pattern here? I’m relating everything to weather! Gee willikers!) I went with the Aloha burger, which shoved mozzarella cheese and ham slices inside a burger patty.  Topped with raw onions, bbq sauce and pineapple rings.  I’d eat it again, no doubt.

The proprietor Devin was one of the nicest dudes I’ve met in the business.  Very young, but extremely smart and incredibly ambitious – this place is in great hands. It takes stones to open a craft beer stable in a previously-untouched area. He told me that he spent a lot of time in Minneapolis (a city that I believe kicks Milwaukee’s ass in terms of beer) and therefore his draught list tiptoes high-end with solid entry-level suds.  The drinks appeal to the novice and nerd very well. Case in point I started with a Boulder Mojo Nitro IPA, and finished with an imperial citra IPA from Tyranena.  Similar style from different sides of the craft spectrum.

Overall the Crafty Cow is a fun place with an impressive array of both brews and booze. The theme seems to be working – there’s rumblings of some bars opening close by that are trying to appeal to the savvy drinker as well.  Easily my new favorite go-to spot on excursions between Milwaukee and Madison.

And since it’s closer to Milwaukee, they’ve decided to partake in Milwaukee Craft Beer week with the following upcoming events:
Saturday April 18 – tapping a Double Crooked Tree. Let’s hope Oconomowocans (yeah?) are ready.
Thursday April 23 – Putting all 4 of the New Glarus Fruit beers on tap. I haven’t seen Strawberry Rhubarb & Serendipity for awhile.  Having all 4 next to each other is a thing of beauty.
Friday April 24 – Two words: Perennial Abraxas. Get on it.

I took a pic while driving because I'm dumb.

I took a pic while driving because I’m dumb.

Mojo

Mojo

Inside the Cow that is Crafty

Inside the Cow that is Crafty

Taps on top of taps

Taps on top of taps

Reflection of empties on the back bar shelf.

Reflection of empties on the back bar shelf.

Check that spirits list

Check that spirits list

Tyranena Citra IPA

Tyranena Citra IPA

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#Burbdrankin – Champps Americana in Brookfield

What can be said about this not-so-hidden gem that hasn’t already been said?  It what seems like overnight (it wasn’t, but it feels like it), this national corporate chain has transformed itself from run-of-the-mill to a venue with one of the greatest beer lists in the outskirts of the city. I’ll admit that I know nothing about the sports bar group, but I find it amazing that the people in charge are given such freedoms to put what they desire on tap. The variety on draught is astonishing.  Would you expect to see 5 Ballast Point handles, or the new Lagunitas High West BA Coffee Stout being poured? Session IPAs, Unsessioned IPAs like Double Crooked, Foreign Export Stouts, and the rest of the best.  Well, they were all on the night I waltzed in. The volume that pumps out of here is absurd, so you can bet that this place will continue to see more rare treats you won’t believe they can acquire. On the evening I was there during March Madness, the bar and the dining section were full for hours.  It really was amazing to see. The food was good, the beers were better.

Champp’s is impressive and a worthwhile stop if you’re in the west ‘burbs. The place is already a staple with folks from New Berlin and Brookfield. Kudos to the owners and managers of this place to have the stones to put delicious beers on tap and trust that the clientele will come around to them.  And they definitely have. So even though people who don’t know any better might initially look at you funny after suggesting Champp’s for a visit – just smile inside when they realize they were wrong.

This is the spot where pictures would go if I had taken any that were good.

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#Burbdrankin – Magellan’s in Waukesha

Sometimes, you just don’t want to drink at the place you always go. That other neighborhood bar has gotten a bit stale & you just don’t want to see the regulars that you’re accustomed to seeing. You’ve been to that highly touted beer bar on plenty of occasions – weren’t you just there last week? It’s time for something different, something new. Venturing out of your comfort zone for beer pleasures can be a fun, rewarding experience if you know where to go. Often times, those beer pleasures can be found

[pause for effect]

IN THE SUBURBS.  Away from the hustle, the bustle, and the muscle of the city. Into the wooded areas where clear skies, fresh air, and jacked-up trucks with those ridiculous tires that are loud and probably make that vehicle get 5mpg are common. (We’re not going that far out, though).  I call this #burbdrankin. Drinking in the suburbs can be entertaining, and most importantly – cost-effective! And sometimes, you might be pleasantly surprised at the beer selection too.  Throughout April I’ll be highlighting a few of the suburban venues that are doing beer-loving folks a favor.

In this case, can Waukesha be described as a “suburb”? Probably not, but let’s roll with it anyways. I ventured into Magellans on a Sunday afternoon.  It was 12:15, and I was the only person there. Matter of fact, I’m not even sure they were ready to open yet. The Old Style sign on the exterior doesn’t scream “CRAFT BEER HERE”, but don’t let it turn you away (Or the road construction, which is a pain in the ass). 30+ taps await you inside, from domestic shit like Coors, Miller and Blue Moon to fun shit like new-to-WI Ballast Point Sculpin, trusty Great Lakes Eddy Fitz, a Karben 4 line, and a duo of Wisconsin’s Central Waters & New Glarus. I first went to Magellans almost 5 years ago, and to see them add a boatload of taps and redo the side room with new tables/walls/art was great to see. Braving the one-way labyrinth that is Waukesha streets, one can certainly get thirsty. I quenched mine with a Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter followed by a Central Waters Illumination IPA. So the beers are good. What about the food? Magellan’s has you covered. A double-sided bar menu has more than enough choices to sustain even the pickiest of eaters. The pizzas are what get me going though. I ordered the “So Ho Special” – a ham, mushroom, ricotta, onion, green pepper and pesto pizza. I’d love to tell you how great it was, but I instead received a Mexican breakfast pizza. It was topped with Chorizo, eggs, chilli powder, and green pepper. And it was delicious, no complaints here. The 10″ was more than enough, and was probably closer to 12″, but who’s measuring? The beers are beer-y and the food is great, no matter what you get. Go here.

Magellan’s is an unassuming bar with a great variety of beer on draught and highly underrated pizzas. I don’t go to Waukesha much, but you can bet that when I’m there I’ll make it into Magellan’s.  It’s #Burbdrankin done right.

Scan these with your eyeballs

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My Top 20 Beers (and 1 Cider) of 2014

Ah, 2014.  The year brewers resurrected gose. The continued punch of the mislabeled “session” ale.  The jowl-curling funk of endless sours. The hoppy lager. The menial task of barrel-aging everything. You were a strange year for beer, 2014, and the future looks just as weird. (* denotes beer is/was available in Wisconsin) Let’s get crazy:

21) Virtue Mitten* (Bourbon barrel-aged cider. Bottle, ?%) This is not a beer. This is a cider. I originally included it in the top 20, but that’s not fair. Because this is a list for beer…not ciders. However this semi-sweet cider from Michigan had an incredible balance of caramel and oak that blended supremely with the contents in the bottle. I rarely drink ciders, but if I’m in the mood, I prefer an English dry. American sweet ciders are the devil, but this one happened to be angelic.

20) Surly Cacao Bender (Brown Ale. Tap, 5%) My favorite brown ale on the planet due to a robust addition of cacao nibs, coffee, and vanilla. Surly makes a lot of great brews, but I keep finding myself fawning over this one every year.  Now that the destination brewery is complete, a trip to the source is necessary. Until then, cross your fingers that they continue to bring it to Great Taste.  Just missing the top 20 was 3 Sheeps ‘Hello My Name Is Joe’, also a coffee-induced brown ale. That one is good as well, but not quite Surly good.

19) Summit 3X Mild Ale* (English Mild Ale. Bottle/Tap, 7.2%) The Union series of beers from the St. Paul brewery continues to impress. Finding new, intriguing, different ingredients and pumping out stellar beers. Do not sleep on this one. I won’t even try pretending to know how these ingredients work so cohesively, I’ll let the brewer tell you in this informative piece here. Recently on draught and in bottles in WI.

18) Logsdon Farmhouse Ales  Peche ‘N Brett (Saison. Bottle, 10%) A brettanomyces & sour peach explosion to the senses. Aged on oak and 10%abv. Quite the designated hitter, I enjoyed this in the parking lot of Miller Park before a ballgame. That makes no sense.  Is it weird that I can’t remember what vintage release I had? Oregon, I love you, but you’re bringing me down (because I can’t get stuff from you easily).

17) Green Flash Road Warrior* (Double IPA. Bottle/Tap, 9%)  Probably my surprise beer of the year.  Would you guess that Green Flash would make something hoppy? Well they did, and they added a dump truck full-o-rye to the brew. Things escalated quickly with this one; whether fresh or with some age on it, this beer continued to impress me. Piney, resinous hops in the front with a biscuit-y, malty cradle in the end. Obvious GF hop bite paired with a tinge of spice, but the (crystal?) malt softened it overall.  Green Flash is all hops, but this one offered just that little bit more.  Still tasting good right now if you can find it, I think this was a late Summer release this year.

16) Westbrook Gozu (Gose. Bottle, 4%) Ah yes, the year of the Gose. A true session beer,  this little delicacy was brewed with a special addition of Yuzu fruit. Lemon warhead candy flavor, eye-squinting sourness reminiscent of 5Alive soda, prickly bubbles in the back.  Odds are you might have seen the canned Gose from the South Carolina brewers floating around;  God knows I saw enough it around at friends houses & bottle shares. While I loved that beer, the Gozu took it a step further.  It was just so damn good, the sourness was off the charts, but you could taste a hint of the sweet-salt seesaw too. Pleasant notes of malted wheat, coriander; finish was semi-dry and champagne-like. The style made famous by brewers in Leipzig, Germany saw a huge push due (in my opinion)  to Anderson Valley’s Kimmie, Yink & Holy Gose cans earlier this year. Looks like the rise in popularity is here to stay, as Brewers seem to be toying with Gose recipes all the time now.

15) Sixpoint Hi-Res* (Double IPA. Bottle/Tap, 10.5%)  This little golden canister of sex assaulted my tongue precinct during the early part of this year. An endorphin-morphing hop bunker-buster that ravaged my mouth.  Not complete deforestation like Dogfish 120, which I still don’t know how people drink (authors note: Do not drink 120 if you’re already intoxicated).  Hi-Res made Bell’s Hopslam its bitch in a blind taste test. Even better than Sixpoint’s popular Resin, Hi-Res is the older brother that only visits the family during holidays. Hopefully we can expect this one back in early 2015.

14) Founders Dissenter*(Imperial India Pale Lager. Bottle/Tap, 8.7%) I don’t even like TYPING the words ‘imperial india pale lager’.  Alas, this beer worked wonderfully. The hoppy notes of an ipa with the clean, crisp finish of a pilsner lager. The two essences didn’t fight with each other, rather serenaded and danced, like Carlton Banks to Tom Jones. My only problem with this beer was the terrible label art which depicted Harry Potter pausing on a mid 18th century English cobblestone street.  Someone in the Founders art department needs a swift strike to the septum.

13) New Glarus Moon Man* (American pale ale. Bottle/Tap, 5%) Yeah that’s right.  Good ol’ no coast pale ale New Glarus Moon Man.  When was the last time you were truly able to appreciate this Carey masterpiece? Have you ever had a bad Moon Man? Why do I keep finding myself seeking this beer? How can it always be so perfect? When was the last time YOU had this beer?  Find yourself. Find this beer. Recreate the love.

12) New Glarus Berliner Weiss* (Berliner Weiss. Bottle, ?%) So there might have been an issue with bottle refermentation, but it doesn’t matter. They say good things come to those who wait. Well, if you still have any bottles laying around, you’ll be waiting awhile to sip it upon prying off the cap. Takes about 5-10 minutes for the oceans of billowy foam to recede. The taste is near perfection though.  A poppy, carbonated shot of sour and tart. Here’s to hoping this can be an annual Summer release.

11) Black Husky Howler (Simcoe)* (Imperial pale ale. Bottle, 10.2%) – From the best nanobrewery in Pembine, WI comes Howler. A big, daunting double IPA that featured the simcoe hop.  Later on the Equinox version was also released, and while I enjoyed both, I preferred this dog. Big mouthfeel, with the alcohol extremely well-hidden. Not sure where that 10% is hiding. Not overly bitter, but the piney hops are definitely there. Bark at the moon.

10) Karben4 Fantasy Factory* (IPA. Bottle/Tap, 6.3%) As I write this, Fantasy Factory is currently, slowly showing up on draught all over Milwaukee. And for good reason – it’s delicious. While the uninspired tap handle reminds me of the pipe weapon in the Clue board game, the bottles are exciting and showcases a kitten riding a unicorn with rainbows and other shit like that.  The ADD child in me is squealing with delight! Anywho, the beer is sparked with orange zest, a darker hue, and a conifery, grapefruit-y finish alongside a medium body. I could drink this all day. A welcome addition to the Wisconsin brewing scene.  Bottles in Madison only, it seems.

9) O’So Convenient Distraction* (Porter. Bottle/Tap, 10%) From the description: Imperial Porter masterfully blended with Aquacate coffee from the Narino region of Columbia and Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. Say what?! A pitch-black brew that held zero head retention. An ungodly amount of coffee grounds in the nose – you could smell it from a few feet away, either after opening the bottle or pouring from the tap. Coffee, cocoa, vanilla, caramel…all wonderfully molded together with ease. A solid step up from Night Train, which I also adore. Will be seeking this one out again. According to the internet, Bourbon Barrel Aged Convenient Distraction will be released January 23, 2015.

8) Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin (Barleywine. Bottle, 12%) I can’t even begin to describe what’s going on here, so I’ll let the brewery tell you. This beer was unbelievably delicious.

7) New Glarus Scream IIPA* (Double IPA. Bottle, 9%) What was once simply known as IIPA shifted into Scream. Apparently named after an eagle that circled the brewery at one time. Yeah, ‘MERICA! Hoppy talons stalked Wisconsinite taste buds early in the summer, and then more rapidly into the Fall and Winter. New Glarus kept on producing it, and we kept on drinking it. Quite possibly the best double ipa to come out of WI to date. Who wants to fight about it?

6) Central Waters Sixteen* (Imperial stout. Bottle/Tap, 11%). The anniversary imperial stout kept in 21 year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for a few months. This beer somehow popped up at nearly every Central Waters beer dinner in the city, and I was elated every single time. A true gem of a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. We’re a month away from their 17th anniversary party, and hopefully I’ll be there.  Can’t get your hands on any Sixteen – the brewers reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout 4 packs are out now, but going quickly.

5) Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue* (Pale Ale. Bottle, 6%) Have you not had the citra-magnified Pseudo Sue yet? Well take your tiny T-Rex arms somewhere to drink it. When you get there, bask in the grapefruit flavors of Iowan heaven.

4) Avery Tweak (Imperial Stout. Tap, 18%) HEY SO I HAD AVERY TWEAK AT THE SUGAR MAPLE EVENT WHEN THEY CAME TO WISCONSIN OFFICIALLY IN JANUARY IT WAS VERY GOOD AND I COULDNT BELIEVE IT WAS 18% BUT IT WAS AND THERE WAS COFFEE IN IT IT TASTED LIKE COFFEE AND CHOCOLATE AND LIKE A STOUT SHOULD AND WAS ODDLY SATISFYING ARE WE SURE IT WAS 18% AND THEN I NOTICED IT WAS SMOOTH AND REAL GOOD TWEAK WAIT THE BREWERY NOW BOTTLED IT AND AGED IT IN BOURBON BARRELS OH THATS NEAT. TWEAK!

3) Perennial Abraxas* (Imperial Stout. Tap, 10%) Perhaps my most welcome addition to Wisconsin. St Louis’ Perennial Artisan Ales finally made me like a beer that had a little spice kick, something I don’t normally gravitate towards.  Ancho chilis, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon provided a complex backdrop to this imperial stout. The bouquet is all cinnamon & red pepper flakes, the taste a luscious dark chocolate bar.  I’d take Abraxas over Prairie Bomb! any day. Killer beer from the heart of the heartland.  Haven’t had coffee or barrel-aged versions yet.

2) Side Project Blueberry Flanders (Flanders Red. Tap?, 7%) Sweet Heavenly Father I need more of this. On a bright sunny day in August during the Great Taste of the Midwest, Perennial brewer Cory King  poured one of the greatest beers I’ve had to date in my little souvenir 4oz mug. A midnight purple hue, standard Flanders red balsamic sourness packed with blueberry fruit. The brew was fermented in Missouri oak Chambourcin (don’t ask me)  barrels then aged atop Michigan-grown blueberries. The end result was perfection. Released in July of 2014, my dream is to one day hold my very own unicorn bottle.

1) Cigar City Forgotten Islands (Quadrupel. Bottle, 15%) Listen, I realize that in terms of being an actual beer, it fails. This is, legitimately, a Mai Thai in a beer. Orange curacao parading with Peychauds bitters, prunes & plums, and Goslings Black Seal rum. A beer cocktail, this delicious boozy mess was so off the wall, yet so perfect. A 15% quad aged in Jamaican Appleton Estate Rum barrels showcased an explosion of tropical fruit flavors from orange, guava, mango and papaya. The spices of cinnamon, clove, and even a hint of ginger were also present. This concoction was all over the place – one could probably subjectively pick out 20 different flavors and aromas in it with ease. It was complex, but not overbearing somehow. The alcohol finally came out as the liquid warmed, but it only made it more perfect. This beautiful disaster was chaotic, raw, silly, and sweet. I’ll never understand how Tampa, FL’s Cigar City brewed this, and now that I look back on it, I’m surprised they even released it. Makes me long for a drink with an umbrella in it right now.

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Beers I’m Drinking Lately

Now, not all these are not winter beers, per se, more than they are beers that I am currently drinking. Dec 21st isn’t too far away, but don’t let the calendar run your beverage intake life. Here’s some standouts that currently have my heart:

1.) Anchor Christmas Ale – new year, new bottle, new recipe. Anchor has been serving up this end-of-the-year favorite now for 40 (!!!) years. Always dark, roasty, with some spice additions here and there, Anchor Christmas signifies the beginning of the holiday season. One day, I’ll find someone to race me in taking down one of the 1.5liter magnum bottles. Anchor Liter-hands?
Here’s a creepy 3-year old video describing the processes behind Anchor Christmas Ale from the brewery’s website.

2.) Three Floyds Alpha Klaus – An American porter with roasted English malts, Mexican sugar, and a myriad of hops. Normally I prefer 12oz offerings, but I’m always happy to pick up a bomber of this when I see it at retail.  At 6%, it won’t leave you slack-jawed and snoring on the couch after completion. One of the few Three Floyds selections that doesn’t have that same Three Floyds house yeast taste to it. A solid porter that belongs in your possession.

3.) New Belgium Accumulation – A criminally underrated beer that is described as a ‘white IPA’.  The addition of wheat brings a softer mouthfeel to the brew, while Mosaic and Amarillo dry hop additions create a citrusy spike.  Lemon, grapefruit, passion fruit? Love the aroma on this beer & also dig the fact that it’s the anti-winter winter beer. With all the nutmeg spice bombs floating around, grab this one for a whirl.

4.) Founders Dark Penance – I’ve had this massive black imperial IPA now from the bottle and on tap, and it hasn’t disappointed me yet. Fat, resinous ribbons of pine and sticky hop oils vanquish the tongue with every sip.  However the big malt additions leave a dark, roasty character too, so you won’t be completely overwhelmed. 100 IBUs and a cocky 8.9% will have your chest feeling a little warmer in no time. Please enjoy this one next to a crackling fire, or that shitty electronic space heater that you just plugged in.

5.) Victory Storm King Stout – When was the last time you had this one? I revisited it a week ago, and was surprised at how bitter this stout can get, especially as it warms. Quite a nice balance between the espresso-like flavors and the hoppy undertones. Did you know that Victory uses whole-cone flower hops in their beers? That’s expensive and a bit silly, but you can’t deny that this brew is delicious. Bitter bakers chocolate and an odd floral-ness not usually found in the style.

6.) Summit 3x Mild Ale – This spot was originally intended to go to Great Lakes Christmas Ale, but after having the new Union series beer from Summit, it was clear.  Admittedly, this is an odd beer and a difficult one to describe.  Not quite a hybrid beer, but not a traditional beer either. Using a variety of American and English malts and an experimental hop variety, the 3X Mild ale is really unlike anything I’ve had before. How this liquid is 7.2% is beyond me – it’s astonishingly drinkable and has a lingering sweetness that makes you come back for more. I’ve been a huge fan of the Union series of beers from Summit – bringing ingredients from around the world together for one cohesive experience. This press release can describe what’s going on much better than I can.

Go enjoy these beers now.

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