Review: Stone/Bear Republic/Fat Head’s TBA

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.

Tasting Notes

Bear Republic / Fat Head's / Stone TBA Brown Ale

Bear Republic / Fat Head’s / Stone TBA Brown 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.

Review: Stone More Brown Than Black IPA

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!

Stone More Brown than Black IPA

Stone More Brown than Black IPA with The Alchemist and Ninkasi

Tasting Notes

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.

Review: Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean

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.

Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean

Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean 5.9%

Review

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.

Review: Stone Old Guardian

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.

Tasting Notes

Stone Old Guardian 2012

Stone Old Guardian 2012 (11%)

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.

 

Review: Saison du BUFF

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.

Tasting Notes

Saison du BUFF

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.

Stone Week

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 Week

The beers for Stone Week

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.

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.

Rogue 21st Anniversary

Rogue Ales is celebrating their 21st anniversary this summer with the release of Rogue 21. The beer was available in a limited number of 750ml bottles and 21 kegs were released to 21 of Rogue’s oldest bar patrons. As it happens, Ashley’s is one of those lucky 21, and we took in this event back in the late days of summer. Without further ado, the beers:

Rogue 21st Anniversary Ale

Quite a sweet, malty flavor – It tastes like it’s a scotch or old ale. There’s a very low hop presence, and almost none at all in the aroma.

There’s alcohol taste on the tongue, but it’s not overwhelming. As sweet as the finished beer is, they certainly could have fermented it down a little more to remove sweetness and make it a little stronger.

The description says it’s brewed with molasses (which helps bring the scotch-ish flavor) and brewer’s licorice, though I don’t think there’s any anise flavor or aroma.

Rogue J.J. Hazelnut

The John John beers are aged in Whiskey barrels, and the Hazelnut is a brown ale brewed (of course) with hazelnut flavor.

There’s no strong aroma of anything before you sip. No real hops or sweetness on the nose. The flavor is overwhelmingly oak whiskey barrel-aged, to the point of covering up any other flavor. There’s a bit of dry acridity to it that you expect from a whiskey-aged beer.

My hypothesis is that this beer was aged too long, and took on too much flavor from the barrel, covering up the original flavors of the hazelnut brown. Practically the only flavors come from the barrel.

If you let the beer percolate in your mouth a bit prior to swallowing, there’s a bit of malty sweetness, though it’s impossible to determine the underlying flavors. If this beer was served at a bit warmer temperature, maybe these flavors would be more apparent.

Rogue J.J. Dead Guy

The Dead Guy Ale is one of Rogue’s flagship beers, and the John John version of it is, as you’d expect, a whiskey barrel-aged version of the classic maibock. This isn’t as over-aged as the hazelnut was, and the oak is an understated flavor. There’s a little “bite” from it at the beginning, but it wears off the more you drink (it’s up to the reader to decide if that’s due to temperature, drunkenness, or something else).

This beer is quite sweet both on the nose and in flavor. There’s a very subtle sour or fruity taste you’d associate with a Belgian – but it’s barely there. For a typically well-hopped style in Maibocks, there’s almost no hop presence.

Stone 14th Anniversary Ale

mmmmm... Ashley's

mmmmm... Ashley's

This was obviously the odd beer out, as the other offerings all came from Rogue, and this is a Stone brew. The boys in Escondido created an “Emperial IPA,” or a double imperial IPA to celebrate 14 years.

The aroma isn’t too hoppy, especially for what you’d expect out of the style, but what hops are discernible are of a sweeter variety.

In the flavor, however, it’s all hops (in multiple senses). The overwhelming taste is hop bitterness and flavor, though with a variety of hops, instead of the exclusively sweet ones that were in the aroma. The malt flavors are sweet, but also a bit spicy, leaving us to speculate there’s rye in the mash.