There’s a lof information about beer out there, and for a lot of that data, what’s more interesting than the absolute info is the relationship between things. We all have our points of reference, so being able to calibrate diagrams with a known source makes it more useful.
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We’ve made a few crazy beers in our brief time as brewers. They’re big, loud, different and fun. There’s that period of apprehension when you’re not sure if maybe you added too many habeñeros, or the oil from the peanut butter will make your beer feel slick, or the cocoa powder will make the beer chalky. So far we’ve been fortunate enough to always make at the very least quaffable beer. Most of the time, it’s beer we’ve really enjoyed drinking.
This was how I started out. I was making beers that I’d never seen before (although certainly many have made similar beers before I did). Then, last summer I made a Rye Saison that was largely a classic saison with just a small twist. The malt spiciness from the added rye worked to enhance the pepperiness from the yeast (Wyeast 3711). It wasn’t some crazy, out there beer. It was a classic, almost to style beer with a small twist that served to enhance what would expect from the beer.
What I’ve realized is that this is often times much more difficult than doing something crazy. It requires a deep knowledge of the ingredients, their flavor profiles and how these flavors work in concert and affect one another. I think this is the challenge taken on by the brewers in the TBA Brown Ale.
TBA is a brown ale brewed with brown sugar and molasses, two flavors that really serve to enhance the malty backbone of a good brown ale. In the description, written by Bear Republic’s Richard Norgrove Jr., it states:
The unifying goal was to create a new variation on an old style. Brown ales are often misunderstood, hard to brew, and even harder name
It’s a worthy goal. Brown ales are often overlooked by beer enthusiasts. They often lie far from any extremes. I think even their status as a great entry to the world of craft beer may be held against them. It’s good to see brewers often known for their hop heavy beers take a crack at elevating a subtle, middle of the road ale.
Appearance: The head formed so quickly as I poured this beer that I almost made a mess. Once it settled down, the beer was a cloudy rust color with a two finger tan head that is still receding down the glass.
Aroma: The beer has a strong hop note in the nose. It isn’t overwhelming, and it’s completely balanced by the sweetness in the malt and molasses. A nicely balanced aroma.
Taste: A beer brewed with brown sugar and molasses has a good chance of being too sweet, but this beer is nice and dry. There’s the flavor from the dark sugars, but not much residual sweetness. The hops keep it dry without trending toward black IPA.
Mouthfeel: There’s a lively carbonation that keeps this beer bright and lively. It feels a bit sharp, but not necessarily in a bad way.
Overall: Unlike some of the other Stone Collaborations, this one seemed to be less adventuresome. Maybe it’s difficult to make a crazy brown ale, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good beer. They made something tasty, if not incredibly interesting.
Previously, I had mentioned that I thought Black IPAs were getting too widespread. It seemed like every brewery at the festival Nate and I went to had 2 of either an IPA, IIPA, DIPA, BIPA or DIPA. I admit, after that festival and after that beer, I was pretty down on Black IPAs. I was just overloaded.
After about a month of having an eclectic mix of beers, I am ready to dive back in a give it a go. It doesn’t hurt that Stone makes, what I consider, the ideal Black IPA. I should mention that I picked this beer up while picking some items up at Whole Foods. I never really consider going there to pick up beers as their a grocery store (a rather pricey one at that), and I have a booze superstore 2 blocks away.
However, I’m a firm believer that one should always take a quick detour through a store’s craft beer section. If you go to the same store all the time, you only get the beers picked out by one purchaser and delivered by those distributors. Even if the new store is not an amazing bottle shop, there’s a decent chance you might find something interesting that you’ve never tried before, like this Stone Collaboration beer from 2011.
More Brown Than Black IPA is a collaboration between Stone, The Alchemist and Ninkasi. The brewers came together after Hurricane Irene hit Vermont and essentially destroyed The Alchemist brewpub. In this video on Stone’s youtube channel, John Kimmich talks about walking into his bar and brewery and seeing the discussion. They also talk about the beer:
The proceeds of this beer go to a worthy cause; now I just hope the beer is worthy!
Appearance: The beer is a dark, opaque brown. There are ruby sparks at the thin parts on the glass, but very little lights gets through. There was a of finger, bubbly white head that laced down the glass to a thin film over the top of the beer.
Aroma: There’s definitely hop notes in the nose. I’d say mostly resiny with spicy and floral notes. Underneath the hop aroma, really holding it up, is a rich, caramel-y malt smell. This is what these new style, dark IPAs should smell like.
Taste: There’s a lot of bitterness in this beer, and it really lingers after the sip. I wouldn’t call it muddy or messy, but it’s trending that way. After the initial taste of hops, the malts come into the taste. They are sweet, roasty with hints of caramel, and really balance with the hops and round out the beer. The sip finishes with some aggressive, lingering bitterness that is tempered and cleaned up by the sweetness of the malt and the bubbles from the carbonation.
Mouthfeel: This is a very rich, smooth beer. It doesn’t have the dryness one normally associates with an IPA or, even, a Black IPA. It feels like a rich brown ale. The head on top contributes to this feel as well.
Overall: I really like this beer. For my money, Stone has the best Black IPA out there, and this is a worthy sibling. The fact that a slice goes to charity is purely a bonus. Hopefully something like this beer makes it into production at Stone. This is what needs to happen in Dark IPAs.
This beer isn’t a collaboration, but it follows the idea of combining disparate ideas to make something new, different and exciting. Vanilla porters are somewhat common. Smoke beers are less rare than they have been. The combination still intrigued me enough to pick up a 12oz bottle.
This beer evokes to me the phrase that has lead to many innovations in brewing and elsewhere, “Why the hell not?” Stone had a perfectly successful beer in their Smoked Porter. Then… according to Stone:
Stone brewer Laura Ulrich had a stroke of brilliance… what if she introduced whole Madagascar vanilla beans into a small batch?
If I see Laura (unlikely), I’m going to buy here a drink, because this is exactly what I love about personally about homebrewing and as a consumer about craft brewing. Take a risk, go out on a limb, don’t be afraid to fail. Stone has been doing that for a long time.
Appearance: The beer pours a translucent copper with a creamy tan head that recedes quickly to a thin film on top of the beer. There are hints of dark ruby where the light hits the glass.
Aroma: The aroma is incredibly rich with notes rough, smoky chocolate with a heavy, smooth vanilla note taking over at the end. A classic, rauchbier style smoke aroma isn’t there. It’s more a acrid, kilned malt smokiness.
Taste: The taste starts off with a somewhat thin, very dark porter. Lots of dark, kilned malts giving an acrid, burnt flavor. There’s a hint of bitterness as well, but nothing close to overpowering the malt. The flavor ends with a very well rounded, lush vanilla flavor the helps to clear the acridity from the palate. There is a lingering maltiness, but that dissipates after a few seconds.
Mouthfeel: It starts off feeling a little thin, but I’m not sure if it’s a unfermentable sugar in the beer or just an effect of the vanilla flavor, but the end of the sip feel rich and smooth.There’s a light carbonation, the keeps the beer lively without overwhelming any of the flavors.
Overall: I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect here. I know I’ve had the Stone Smoked Porter before. It seemed more like a standard, dark, acrid porter than a rauchbier. This seems more along the lines of Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, but much, much drier. It’s an enjoyable beer, and the flavors work quite well together. I’m interested in trying the smoked porter with chipotle, but I doubt it will be as aggressive as our Pepper Porter or the 440 Pepper Smoker from Original Gravity.
Stone has quite a few canonical beers. Arrogant Bastard is one of the best West Coast beers. Sublimely Self Righteous Ale acted as the model for black IPAs as they rose to ubiquity. Old Guardian is right up there for American Barely Wines.
While I spend a lot of time in this space talking about the joy of creating or trying something surprising and genuinely new, I do appreciate the standards. It doesn’t seem like summer without Saison DuPont. Two Hearted isn’t exceptional in any way besides being the best widely available IPA in the country. These beers act as guideposts for innovation and change. They are the established base that brewers use for inspiration.
A lot of times, I overlook beers because I see them all over. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to give the out there beers a break and go back to the beers that either created or defined styles.
Appearance: This beer was not as dark as I expected. The beer is a coppery, tan, with ruby tinges when you hold it up to the light. There was a fluffy, off-white head that faded quickly to a thin film.
Aroma: The smell is all malt. Tons of caramel and biscuit comes through. There’s a hint of alcohol heat at the back end of the nose. It certainly isn’t cloying, but has a bit of sweetness to it.
Taste: The taste a bit sharper and drier than the nose. The hops are certainly not overpowering, but come in to help balance the flavor and keep it from being overwhelmingly sweet. At the front of the taste there’s plenty of caramel and malt. The hops follow to dry it out a little bit more. At the end of there’s a fair bit of alcohol heat. You don’t want to have a beer that’s 11% not to have a little kick to it.
Mouthfeel: It’s not as viscous as I thought it would be. There’s not much carbonation; just enough to keep it a little lively. It could actually use a bit more carbonation to keep it from being a bit syrupy. Still, that’s not necessarily against style for a Barley Wine.
Overall: I’m not exactly sure if this is the perfect beer for a 80 degree night with about 90% humidity, but this is certainly a good beer. I had this “cellaring” for about 6 months before cracking it open. That’s really nothing for this beer. I’d be curious to try it after sitting for a year or two. This is certainly a great example of a Barley Wine. There’s a little bit of that Stone, West coast style with the somewhat aggressive hopping, but I think that helps balance it out, rather than move it out of style.
Stone has a long history of collaborations. Not all of them are hits, but I can usually find them at my local bottle shop for about $3 for a 12oz bottle. As unit price, it’s a little high, but it’s a low enough price point that I don’t mind dropping it on something that could be a crap shoot. And, with some of these somewhat out there beers, you may not want much more than a 12 ounces.
I’ve been on a saison kick for a little over a year, since I tasted my first batch of Rye Saison. We recently brewed a second batch, and since we certainly can’t keep well enough alone, we decided to split off a bit and do something different. Naturally, I’m always looking for inspiration, and this really seems to fit the bill.
Here’s Sam Caglione of Dogfish Head tasting the beer in a Reno 911 costume (… I don’t know):
Yeah… so there’s that. Anyway, these are three great brewers getting together to do something right in my wheelhouse. Even if it was more expensive, I would have probably still would have picked it up.
Appearance: The beer is the color of golden straw. It’s very transparent with a steady stream of bubbles rising from the stem of the goblet. There’s a very minimal white head that quickly reduces to a small patchwork on covering about two thirds of the beer.
Aroma: The nose is led by very earthy, grassy notes from the hops. There is also an herbaceous quality that comes across a little savory and a little spicy. Very interesting aroma.
Taste: Very, very dry. The beer is crisp, clean and dry like a good saison should be. The first taste is the grassy notes from the hops. What follows is a progression from the different herb flavors.There’s a lingering spiciness from the herbs (maybe the thyme?) that leaves the palate fresh.
Mouthfeel: The beer is light and dry with very bright carbonation. Right to style for a saison. A little more head might be nice, but that’s picking nits.
Overall: A lot of beers that are conceived from a joke or reference sacrifice the quality of the overall beer in order to make the more clever joke. This beer manages to pull off the parsly, sage, rosemary and thyme theme by choosing a beer that would be enhanced by the herbs. This is a good beer. The collaboration, theme and whatnot add to the story and help to elevate the beer. A story can elevate a good beer, but it can’t save a bad beer.
This wasn’t really planned, but I ended up picking up a bunch of Stone beers the past few weeks. Turns out I got up 5, so we might as well do a full week of reviews. Most of them are somewhat out there, which is exciting.
Stone could very easily rest on its laurels and just print money by brewing Arrogant Bastard. They must brew a ton of that, but I’m still always seeing new and exciting beers from them. It’s great to see one of the leaders in the Craft Beer industry still crafting and tinkering.