Review: Southern Tier Iniquity Black Ale

As I was coming home from work early to prepare for the blizzard that hit Chicago, I decided I needed to pick up some beers that were appropriate for the occasion. The two bombers I ended up getting were this Southern Tier Iniquity Black Ale and the Avery Flying Hog Barley Wine. I didn’t end up drinking this that night, but after my pedestrian commute in this chilly weather (current temp 4ºF, I don’t want to check the windchill), it seemed like this beer could warm me up.

I think I might be a little biased against Southern Tier. Like most, it seems, I don’t know exactly why I tend to look past their beers, but I even with beers like this and their Back Burner Barley Wine (which I drank at my last brew day) are right in my wheelhouse. Well, after trying several of their beers that bias is gone. I can’t even blame it on their bottles, since Southern Tier puts out some really, really rad screen printed bottles.

Anyway, on to the beer itself. Southern Tier describes the beer as:

The hexagram talisman has been used around the world for centuries to invoke magic and good luck. The six–point star is also the customary symbol of the brewer, representing the essential aspects of purity: water, hops, grain, malt, yeast, and of course, the brewer. Wishes of good fortune often collaborate with the brewer’s creativity to yield dramatic results. We carefully chose the name for this Imperial India Black Ale, Iniquity – a word opposing goodness. Why? This beer is contrary to what one may expect from an IPA; this is an ale as black as night. It is the antithesis of Unearthly. Some may consider it an immoral act to blacken an ale. We suggest they don’t rely on conventional standards. Allow the darkness to consume you. Cheers!

And with that moderately descriptive chicanery, on to my tasting notes.

Southern Tier - Iniquity Black Ale - 9.0% ABV

Southern Tier - Iniquity Black Ale - 9.0% ABV

Appearance: The beer pour a thick, dark, opaque black/brown. You get brief hits of copper when held up to the light. The big, fluffy, tan head faded away a medium pace, leaving a gentle lacing down the glass.

Aroma: The nose is a mix of those citrusy, Pacific Northwest hops. The bottle said they dry hopped with Cascade and Centennial, and you definitely get those notes. Along with the hops there’s a very assertive chocolate, toffee roasted malt smell. I go back forth trying to decide which is more pronounced, so I guess we’ll say they’re balanced.

Taste: The first note is sharp, roasty and acrid. It’s balanced out by the malt sweetness. There’s a solid hop bitterness that works with the dark malts. The acridity doesn’t linger or coat, but it does come back and assert itself between sips every so often. Not much alcohol taste for a beer that’s 9%, but there is a gentle warming as you make your way down the glass.

Mouthfeel: Not very heavy, but it doesn’t feel watery. The bright, moderate carbonation helps keep the black malt from being too overwhelming.

Overall: I like black ales, and this is a super black ale. The flavors are all there in good balance, and it’s sneakily sippable 9.0%. I like that they didn’t go really hoppy and make this a black IPA or whatever the kids are calling those these days.

Review: Bashah

Stone and Brew Dog getting together to make a beer is as predictable as it is intriguing. The upstarts from Scotland appear to have patterned most of their marketing and style after the brash Californian brewer. Just take a look at their beer descriptions. Both have a reputation for going big on hops and taking risks with their beers.

Bashah is classified (using the broad definition of classified) as THE Black Belgian Style Double India Pale Ale. You know, your standard BBSDIPA. The description on the bottle is painfully small and lacking almost any contrast (although the grey on black label is neat), so I cribbed it from the RateBeer page:

What does it mean? Yes, what indeed does it all mean. Meaning of course is elusive and illusive. It can’t or shouldn’t be found on this bottle. Should it? Yet what if it was? Would you begin to look for pearls of wisdom or life direction on a beer label? Perhaps it’s been there all along. Since meaning is a mere illusion, perhaps we shouldn’t let it have any influence on our destiny. This particular beer refused to succumb to the illusion of meaning or allow capricious parameters to have any influence on its own fermented fate. Are we even asking the right question? Are you feeling frustrated in the emptiness? If so, that could be because someone got to this beer before you, and thus there’s a reason for that emptiness. It’s empty. And if so, perhaps there indeed is not any meaning for you here after all.

Style over Substance, or Substance over the scriptures of Style? The latter, thank you very much. Twice.

Yeah… maybe not so much of a description as recursive, rhetorical chicanery, but what more would you expect from these two companies getting together?

Brew Dog/Stone Bashah

Brew Dog/Stone Bashah - 8.6% ABV Black Belgian Style Double IPA

Appearance: The beer is dark, almost black and completely opaque. You can see a bit of copper/ruby when you old it up to the light. It had a two finger thick, tan head that dropped down to about one finger with gentle lacing. That bit of foam ain’t going anywhere.

Aroma: There are some roasted and caramel malts on the nose with some chocolate and raisin notes. There’s a bit of an herbal, floral hop aroma in there too. Maybe a bit of yeasty funk hidden down there.

Taste: Very present bitter flavor that is there throughout the entire flavor and lingers throughout. After a few sips you can cut through the bitterness and taste the roasty, acrid malts along with a nice caramel hit as well. I’m trying to pick out some of the belgian notes from the yeast, but I can’t pick anything out. There isn’t really much alcohol heat or taste for a beer that’s 8.6%. I would say it’s dangerously drinkable, but I’m not a millionaire, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Mouthfeel: This beer is incredibly smooth and maybe even creamy. It’s definitely not the crisp, thinnish IPA. It’s not dark enough to be a porter or something, but the body is certainly not what I’m used from even a DIPA. Very good, though.

Overall: This beer is good. Very good. I’m even liking it more as I drink it. I may have had irrationally high expectations given the brewers involved, but I was hoping for something world changing. This isn’t that, but it is very complex and very interesting. I think the bitterness may actually cover up some of the more amazing aspects of this beer. Still, I don’t regret picking up this bottle and giving it a try. Well worth it.

Review: William’s Brothers Ebulum

William's Brothers Ebulum

William's Brothers Ebulum - Elderberry Black Ale

I normally shy away from fruit/berry beers. I generally find them too cloying and light on actual beer flavor. While there are a TON of examples of great fruit beers, there are certainly many that just don’t cut it.

This one avoided the filter by having its base beer be a Black Ale. Black Ales are one of my favorite styles, and I couldn’t imagine a way that the addition of a bit of berry flavor could completely dominate the roasted malt and burnt acridity that comes with a Black Ale. Here’s how William’s Brothers describe Ebulum:

Introduced to Scotland by Welsh druids in the 9th Century, elderberry black ale was part of the Celtic Autumn festivals when the “elders” would make this strong ale and pass the drink round the people of the village. The recipe was taken from a 16th Century record of domestic drinking in the Scottish Highlands. Elderberries were used for many natural remedies to cure sciatica, other forms of neuralgia, influenza and rhumatism as they contain tannins and fruit oils. Ebulum is made from roasted oats, barley and wheat boiled with herbs then fermented with ripe elderberries.

I can enjoy a bit of anthropological brewing, especially when it falls right in a style that I really enjoy.

Ebulum pours a dark brown with mocha-brown head that lasted only seconds. Fruit dominates the nose with roasted malts coming through underneath with some caramels and burnt sugar.

There is a fruit sweetness up front which is quickly covered by a deep roast malt flavor, flowing into a nice acrid bite. There’s a lingering berry flavor without any sort of cloying sweetness. Very nice. The beer is smooth without being very heavy with a nice, crisp carbonation.

Overall, a very nice beer. I’m usually not one for fruit beers, but the roasted, acrid notes work really well to cut the cloying sweetness you sometimes end up with in a fruit beer.

Tasting Sesh Goes Canning: Keweenaw Brewing Co.

I visited Paul in Chicago for my last free weekend in the Midwest. With me on my trip, I brought two canned brews from Keweenaw Brewing Company. Over recent years, microbreweries have been switching to canned beer for several reasons. Cans are cheaper to produce, more environmentally friendly/recyclable, and, for the consumer, often more convenient.

These beers came in standard 6-pack plastic duck traps. I liked the design of the cans, which, when giving up the aesthetics of a bottle, is at least something to consider. The two we had were the Widow Maker Black Ale, and the Lift Bridge Brown Ale.

Kewanaw Brewing

Canned Black and Brown ales

We’ll start with the black ale. Let me first say this: Ow. I felt like I was drinking tinfoil. 100% of the aroma was metal. No hops, no malt, just metal. It gave me a pain at the base of my skull just sniffing it. The flavor was little better. Metal again was the dominant force in the mouth, with a few nutty malt notes, but little else. It was over-carbonated, and had the texture of Sprite. Paul and I fought over who had to finish it.

The brown ale was a little better, but, well, not normal. Here, the metal was significantly reduced, and the nose had a noticeable malt aroma, with a few notes of chocolate. The head was extremely frothy, almost milky, and mixed with the chocolate malt notes, gave it a strange milk chocolate taste. This, strangely, didn’t translate to the heavy body you’d expect, and left me feeling confused. As with the black, there was almost no hop aroma or flavor, and while the metallic taste was less than the black, it was still there, scraping across my tastebuds.

Now, I don’t want to come out and say all canned beers are bad and metallic and damn close to undrinkable, but, wow: D+ would not buy again. I don’t know if we just got a few bad cans, but even through the metal, there wasn’t much there in the beer to really interest me. The brown wasn’t awful, but I didn’t feel like I was drinking beer. I felt like I was drinking carbonated chocolate metalmilk. I want to try these same beers, non-canned, for comparison, but as it stands, if you some brown cans with a nifty design chilling at your local beer store, take a sidestep and try something else.