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: Avery The Czar Imperial Stout

I’m bunkered down in my apartment during Snowprah Winfrey 2011. Like any good northern kid, I have my supplies ready for a blizzard. I had a choice between a barley wine, imperial stout and imperial black ale. It’s a big storm, so I decided to go with the biggest beer in my fridge, Avery Brewing Co.’s The Czar Imperial Stout.

I’ve tried two other bombers from Avery Brewing Co. The Kaiser was very good and made me think, “I should really try more beers from Avery.” Then I tried The Reverend, which made me think, “Maybe I should slow my Avery roll…” The Czar will serve as the great tie breaker.

The company itself describes the beer:

Behold the stunning crimson hues through the inky blackness. Inhale the noble Hallertau hops, spicy and floral. Savor the flavors redolent of English toffee, rich mocha, sweet molasses, candied currants and a hint of anise. We highly recommend cellaring additional bottles, as the Czar will continue to mature and become denser and more complex with age.

This is the perfect night for an imperial stout, and I might get to work from home tomorrow, so I’m in a good mood to try this. Here’s hoping that Avery can win this round!

The Czar Imperial Stout

The Czar Imperial Stout - 11.69% ABV and 70IBUs

Appearance: The beer pours dark, opaque brown with a couple ruby flashes if the light hits it the right way. There was a huge, fluffy caramel head that laced down quickly. A thin layer of foam is fighting the good fight still now.

Aroma: I’m getting a roasty, malty sweetness, almost syrupy. There’s also a stone fruit and slightly spicy note underneath the sweetness.

Taste: A surprising amount of hop bitterness on the initial taste.  Lots of acrid, roasty notes early in taste. In the middle, there is a nice caramel/toffee sweetness. It finished with some spicy hop notes and warming alcohol taste.

Mouthfeel: Thick, chewy and syrupy. There’s not a lot of carbonation, but there’s enough to keep it from being completely overwhelming. It coats the mouth and leaves a pleasant lingering alcohol tingling.

Overall: This is a very easy drinking giant beer. It has a lovely, complicated flavor that warms the body and perfectly compliments this ridiculously horrible night. Avery wins this round and is sitting at 2-1.

Book Review: The Homebrewer’s Companion

The Homebrewer's Companion

The Homebrewer's Companion, by Charlie Papazian

Most of my issues with this book are really not Papazian’s fault at all. It was included as part of a beginner’s brewing kit by a local store – and it definitely is not a beginner’s brewing book.

That’s not to say it’s difficult to read, or even to understand, but it isn’t organized as a step-by-step process to completing your first brew, and then advancing from there. Though Papzian hits basics at various points in the book, a general understanding of how to brew a batch of beer is probably required unless you want to read the whole book multiple times before you can even get started. Each section covers a different aspect of the brewing process, and does so from the basics to some of the more advanced homebrewing techniques within that category.

Still, some of the organization issues persist even when the reader has a better understanding of the brewing process. Tangents abound, and sometimes there’s an abrupt change of subject that even this now-experienced (this was the first brewing book I read, but that was over a year and 20-some batches ago) finds tedious, or even scatterbrained. And scatterbrained might be an important part of the Cult of Personality that Papazian has built his homebrewing reputation upon. Still, too often “I could continue explaining this to you, but wouldn’t you rather be drinking?” is dropped, when the reader is obviously interested in finding out the details – hence picking up a brewing book, dude.

The final hundred pages or so contain recipes for various brews that Papazian has crafted over the years, often with creative nicknames (“dfhdgh” is one of my favorites). Those recipes are reference points more than anything for advanced brewers, though, continuing with the theme of Papazian not picking out an audience (experienced or beginner) and sticking to it. There are very few all-grain recipes, a source of frustration for those who are branching out a bit.

At the end of the day, this book is a fun read, a relatively easy read, but certainly not an essential one. Don’t pick it up if you’re trying to learn how to brew for the first time – go with one of Papazian’s other offerings. Don’t pick it up if you’re trying to take your brewing to serious new levels (though his breakdown of various all-grain mashing techniques is very good), either. However, as part of a more complete brewing library, or just as a fun read about homebrewing, it’s worthwhile.

If you’re interested in purchasing, do so through this Amazon affiliate link: The Homebrewer’s Companion

Review: Monks’s Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale

The night before I picked this beer up from my neighborhood Binny’s, I was at Sheffield’s for the tapping of Vrienden, a new collaborative ale between Allagash and New Belgium. That reignited my interest in sour ales, so when I saw this Oud Bruin, I had to pick it up.

Sour ales seem to be one of the final bridges craft beer folk cross. There’s something very different about the tart, lactic taste that sort of goes against the flavors I typically associate with beer. It may be that exact reason why I like them so much. They’re so very different from the rank and file beers and, to an extent, even the crazier craft brews.

This particular beer is brewed in Belgium for Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia, PA. It is a mix of old, aged beer and young. My tasting notes are below the picture.

Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale

Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale - 5.5% ABV

Appearance: It pours a cloudy, brownish red with a thick, tan head that receded quickly with a bit of lacing. The last half inch of the head is holding strong. I can see the CO2 bubbling up from the bottom.

Aroma: The aroma is almost all that lactic sourness. There may be a light fruitiness, but nothing comes through clearly over the sourness.

Taste: The taste is nowhere near as overwhelming sour as the nose. In fact, I might almost want a bit more sourness. My first sip had a lot of fruity, caramel-malt sweetness, tempered with a note of sourness and finishing witha  smooth sweetness. The more I drink it, the less cloying it seems, and the balance comes through. No hop character to speak of, but that really wouldn’t be necessary. There’s the smallest hint of funkiness, but it comes and goes. Very complicated and tasty.

Mouthfeel: Very smooth and just shy of creamy. It’s lightly carbonated, but still with a nice, light effervescence.

Overall: I really like this beer. I’ve been into sours of late, and this hits the notes without being overwhelming. The sweet and tart notes play well together and produce a really tasty, well crafted beer.

Review: Avery’s The Reverend

I’ve only had one other Avery beer. I noted that I skip over the Avery bombers at my local Binny’s. This is odd, since I liked the Kaiser, they’re very competitively priced, and I even enjoy the names of most of their beers (I’m a well known sucker for puns/clever names). I figured it was time to give it another go last time I was at the beer store.

Avery describes it thusly:

The Reverend, was created in tribute to the life of Sales Mgr. Tom Boogaard’s grandfather, an ordained Episcopal Reverend. Tom was inspired by the life of his grandfather and wanted to create a tribute beer that contained his sterling traits. True to both our “small brewery, BIG BEERS” philosophy and to the spirit and character of the departed Reverend, this beer is strong willed, assertive, and pure of heart, a heart of candy sugar. It contains as many authentic imported Belgian specialty malts as the brewers could cram into our mash tun, and lots of Belgian dark candy sugar stirred into the brew kettle. A divinely complex and beautifully layered beer with hints of dark cherries, currants, and molasses, complimented by an underlying spiciness. Sinfully smooth considering the high alcohol content. Cellarable for up to 4 years.

Not to spoil my tasting notes, but I can only hope that it would get better after a few years in the cellar. I kind of doubt it though, as cellaring seems to bring out the sweetness and alcohol more, which this beer really doesn’t need.

Avery Brewing's The Reverend Belgian Style Quadrupel

Belgian Style Quadrupel 10% ABV

Appearance: Reddish, coppery brown and very clear. Some bubbles continue to percolate up throughout the drinking. A 1 finger, creamy head quickly died down, but a thin layer remained.

Aroma: The aroma is dominated with a fruity, berry sweetness with a bit of apple tartness. There’s also a hint of hot alcohol in the nose.

Taste: There’s a cloying sweetness and an apple-y, berry flavor. There’s a malty sweetness that comes along with the fruit flavor. There’s not really any bitterness and very little presence of yeast characteristics like spice or esters. There’s a actually a lingering spice and alcohol heat in the aftertaste that helps to balance out the incredible sweetness. Helps.

Mouthfeel: Nice a creamy, but not too chewy. The carbonation level is pretty good. I’m barely down the glass, and I’m already feeling this. I’m not sure what this has to do with the mouthfeel, but there it is.

Overall: Luckily I drank this as a dessert beer, because it really is overly sweet. I really liked the last Avery bomber I picked up, but this one really misses the mark. It doesn’t have what I really love about belgians, the complex flavors and aromas that the yeast gives off. This just has fruity sweetness followed by malty sweetness followed by alcohol. I won’t be getting this one again.

Review: Rouge Santa’s Private Reserve

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve

Rogues Santa's Private Reserve - 6.4% ABV 65IBU

I’m absolute sucker for holiday/winter specialty beers. I think part of it is that they have a feeling the ephemerality. Part of it is definitely that they often play to my love of puns. The biggest reason is that their flavor profiles are generally right up my alley. When I think of a winter warmer or holiday beer, I imagine malty, leaning toward sweet, maybe some interesting spice notes, and definitely a warmth from the alcohol. What about that doesn’t sound great?

Rogue, living up to its name, rarely plays by the rules. This beer is not exception. It doesn’t really fit my stereotype of winter seasonals. In describing it, Rogue says:

Rogue’s annual holiday offering, Santa’s Private Reserve, is a variation of the classic Saint Rogue Red, but with double the hops–including Chinook, and Centennial, and a mystery hop called Rudolph by head brewer John “more hops” Maier!

When I think of ways to make something more of a holiday beer, I rarely think, “Double the hops!” But, just because it’s not falling into my conceptions of what a holiday beer should be doesn’t mean it can’t be a great beer. I tried to approach this tasting as just a beer, not a holiday beer, but I fear my opinion may be colored by what I was hoping for.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Amber with hints of ruby red when held up to the light. It’s topped with a 2-finger thick, off-white head  that deliberately came down to about half an inch.

Aroma: Caramel and aromatic malts combine for a solid sweetness with some green, earthy hop bitterness.

Taste: A nice, creamy sweetness is quickly backed up by an assertive, balancing hop bitterness. You’re left with a lingering, but not coating bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light and bubbly without feeling watery.

Overall: I could go for a bit more malt character and maybe a more piney hop bitterness in a winter seasonal. It’s a good, but not remarkable beer.

Schmaltz He’Brew Jewbelation Fourteen

Schmaltz He'brew Jewbelation 14

Schmaltz He'brew Jewbelation 14

I’m not a member of The Tribe, but I do enjoy puns, and this beer packed a double whammy in He’brew Jewbelation 14 (the chosen beer). Beyond the name, it’s a pretty cool concept beer. Starting with Jewbelation 8, which had 8 different types of malt and hops, each year they add one more type of malt and one more variety of hops. This is the last year of the series, and they took the seven numbered Jewbelations (8-14), mixed them in a barrel and came out with Jewbelation Vertical. Now, they’re having a special where they’re releasing the 8 beers during the 8 days of Chanukah to 88 different bars. Silly puns, mixed with interesting brewing ideas and a high-minded, yet tongue in check concept? Sign me up for that beer!

Schmaltz lists the 28 different malts and hops that are in this beer on their website. It’s worth checking out and flipping through the evolution of the Jewbelation series. You can also check out if any local bar is Chosen. Anyway, as today is the beginning of Chanukah, I figured it was as good a time as ever to crack it open write a review.

Appearance: Dark, opaque copper with ruby notes when held up to the light. A nice, two finger, tan head that only reluctantly dissipates. This is a very good looking beer.

Aroma: Caramel malt with some floral, spicy hops and a fairly noticeable alcohol burn just in the nose. There’s something I can’t quite place, maybe a holiday spice, but it’s certainly intriguing.

Taste: The taste starts out with a rich, full caramel malt flavor. It’s not cloying, but it’s almost overpowering, not quite. After the rich malt, there’s a wave of balanced bitterness. It ends with a nice acrid note almost as an after taste. The acridity really helps the flavor from being too rich.  There is a very pleasant, delayed alcohol warmth that hits me in the belly and throat.

Mouthfeel: Thick and chewy. It leaves my lips sticky. The head is incredibly creamy, and really adds something to the sip.

Overall: This is a really ambitious beer. I think it hits a lot of the notes you want with a big, winter warmer/strong ale style beer. It has an amazing malt profile with enough hops to balance out and keep it from becoming cloying. The alcohol also works well with this ale, cutting through the richness and serving to warm your whole body. I kind of wish I had some of the previous vintages to compare.

Happy Chanukah everyone!

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.