2012 Surley Darkness

Surley.jpgIn an effort to save money and clear out my fermentation chamber and kegerator so I can actually start brewing again I have been drinking down some pretty fantastic brews. I am trying to save a few verticals for my annual stout tasting in February. But since it's my ale I will drink it if I want to. I figure I will save some brews to share that I have had before. One I have been saving for a while, and was on my must try list, was Surley Darkness. I have heard the party is the best part, and that the ale is so - so.

It pours dark with minimal carbonation as one would expect. It is very sweet with lots of unfermented malt sugars, has a great sweet aroma, and notable hop bouquet. It is very rich and sweet with a bitter finish on the tongue. Lots of complexity coffee, fruity, but not your typical dark fruits, the hops are still strongly contributing for a brew from 2012. In 2014 they started barrel aging Darkness. Clearly a crack at a very big brew. Darkness is very good. It is somewhat reminiscent of Dark Lord, but not as thick and sweet. I would certainly recommend trying it. I just can't get over how much hop character it still has. Typically after a couple of years even a very hop forward brew has faded. But not this one. Stayed tuned, a few more stouts and I will have room to brew up my Black Tuesday clone.

Founders - Curmudgeon's Better Half

Better_Half.jpgSo here is an ale I have had around for a while. I knew I would enjoy it, Founders backstage series are not the disappointing type. It rational to argue that I may have hung on to this one for too long.

It poured with a minimal head, reddish mahogany in color, and with a minimal nose initially - it was a bit cold. The palate was English Barleywine with rich sweet molasses. That is pretty much it, the clean transparent caramel character of English Barleywine with the complexities of brown sugar and molasses. It's possible that at one point some of the barrel aging aspects may have been more dominate. Overall simple and good. It had all the standard aspects of any Founder's brew, balanced, full-bodied, no off character of any kind. Recommended.

Now to the untrained observer that may not sound like much a review, and maybe it's not. But here is the thing about Founders. Stating that something is simply standard Foundesr fare, is nothing to shake a stick at. Recently I sampled the two Perrin Killing Craft Series, Kill 'Em All, and Kill 'Em with Kindness. They were standard Perrin fare, decent, thin bodied for an Imperial (in the case of the Kill 'Em All), quickly dissipating head, and a reminder that putting sub - par ale in a barrel does not magically made it God's gift to the world. Perrin tries hard, but never makes outstanding ales. Not bad quality, but never over the top. Honestly when sampling them I though that Perrin had wasted their money on barrels.

and.. while I am catching up on reviews. Oak Aged Cuvee 2. Southern Tier has really went to hell. I don't buy their stuff anymore. But back in the day they made some decent stuff. Oak Aged Cuvee 2 had a rich malty nose, rich caramel notes, raisins, and dark fruits. It was good stuff. Too bad they just make overly sweet crap these days.

Barrel - Aged Narwhal

Black with a deep sustaining head of fine bubbles, Barrel Aged Narwhal has rich cocoa notes, roasted malts, and strong bourbon characteristics. Overall I have to rate this brew relatively high. While it may not posses the complexities of some barrel aged stouts it is not uni-dimensional. The bourbon is big, it is on the opposite end of the scale as say Brooklyn's Black Ops. I thoroughly enjoyed it's rich vanilla, charcoal, bourbon richness. Full bodied just like regular Narwhal it leaves nothing to the imagination. I would guess that the primary criticism brought against this brew if any, would be the dominance of the bourbon.

Ultimately, cellared Imperial stouts, and barrel aged stouts fall into different categories. I think a well aged Imperial wins over a barrel aged beer, simply because you get flavors and complexities missing from a barrel aged brew. I recent sampled the past few years of Brooklyn Black Chocolate stout. With the exception of one year which was sort of over oxidized and off a bit, the rest were amazing. It's hard to beat just plain old cellared stouts, Narwhal included. I just drank two that I in the keezer/cellar for the past couple years and they were pretty darn good. Of all the aged stouts I have had recently - my vertical of Dark Horse Plead the 5th has to be the winner. Plead the 5th is a pretty average stout in my opinion, but is ages better than anything I have saved.

In other news, now that I have drank all those verticals down, I have been able to clear out my fermentation chamber so that I could just possibly brew a batch of homebrew. I had wanted to brew a Black Tuesday clone two years ago before I left Michigan, so hopefully I will get my chance here soon.

One thing I would like to add - it is easy to forget that Narwhal is a product of Sierra Nevada one of the largest breweries in the U.S. They still make what I consider to be Craft Beer, they have not sold out, and their products have not went to hell. Not only that, they still can turn out a quality special product like BA Narwhal. This is no small feat. No other brewery I know of has maintained the size/quality ratio that SA has without selling out. Kudos to Sierra Nevada.

Grumpess - Solemn Oath Brewery

Grumpness.jpgI recently got was given a Grumpess from Solemn Oath and given that it has been a while since I have posted anything I thought I would go ahead and review it. Highly over-carbonated it started flowing from the bottle before I could pour it. Aside from the over-carbonation the aroma was pleasing it had a nice piney hop nose with notes of chocolate and dark malts. It's dark, slightly sweet, and leaves a distinct hop bitterness on the tongue.

This is definitely an American Stout given it's clearly intentional hop profile. Typically I am not a fan of hops overpowering an Imperial Stout, but this is good. Medium bodied. Not too astringent. Not anywhere close to a Hoppin Frog BORIS, or Firestone Walker Parabola, but a very good stout none the less. The dark malts give it a distinct rich chocolateyness. 

Bois - The Bruery

BOIS.jpgThe Bruery is rather prolific when it comes to creating new and unique ales. I recently enjoyed a Rueuze, it is an excellent sour, and by far the best Bruery beer I have purchased off the shelf. Yesterday I decided to crack open my Bois. The inceptive whiff as my nose reached the glass was amazing. The color was rich dark oak, oak and bourbon meet the palate and so much more. This is one of the finest ales I have ever enjoyed. It posses that aged character, like Monster 29, Manny's Mead, or the homebrew Victor gave me. A big high gravity well aged heaven. Its near kinship with Utopias was evident. I did a quick side by side, next to Utopias it's a bit fruitier. This is by no means a fruity ale, until it's put in that context. It is the perfect combination of dark fruits, oak, vanilla - it just has that richness - sweetness, that only comes with aged sugars. While it is true that there is a lot of hype surrounding Bruery beers, the societies, this one lives up to the hype. Aptly named, it has a definitive woodiness, oakiness. So damn good. This is one of those ales you miss when it's gone.


Founders KBS - 2015

NCM_1498.JPGIt has been a while since I last reviewed a KBS, 2011 to be exact. For the past two years it has been pretty good, prior to that I think it may have taken a bit of a dip for a year or two. I was excited to try this years. I have heard that on tap last year, and this year, that it was a little off. However last years bottle was good, and that would be what I would be sampling from this year as well.

Moving to Georgia meant loosing years of beer buying status with my local beer guy. I had hoped that I had established a good enough relationship with Vince at Habersham to at least snag one four-pack. But two bottles it was. Hopefully my buddies back in Michigan will be able to hook me up with another bottle or two for the cellar.

On to the ale. Little has changed with the appearance, it still possesses a luminance robbing deep rich brown occupancy in the glass and a beautiful fading head. The nose is distinctly complex, with vanilla, chocolate, and coffee most prominent. Overall the aroma is the best aspect of this years KBS, it's world class. The flavor is excellent - but has a slight tannin bite I initially. Overall I think it has a bit less barrel influence than years past but it's hard to say without a side by side of last years, which technically is impossible as has it has already changed as a result of being cellared for a year. KBS never did have the bourbon barrel influence that BCBS has. Still an excellent product, but perhaps not as ecstasy inducing as the past two years.


All Things Brooklyn - Make Some Beer

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www.randomhouse.com.jpgBrooklyn - it seems a lot of great things come out of Brooklyn, brownstones, baseball teams, rock bands, restaurants, pubs, and breweries - who in some cases have turned out great books. The most interesting baking books I have read all come from Brooklyn or California. The ones from California always have some connection back to the city. Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller, is by far one of my favorite books. Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson is another one that has caught my wandering eyes of fermentation. Both seem to give authoritative and educated advise on breads. I recently read Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood. He seems like a good guy. I wouldn't bother reading his book. It's ok, but it seems to lack science. Something that is pretty important with bread and beer.

With cooking you can do whatever the hell you please, and it always works, well almost always. Grain based fermentables offer no limits on experimentation, however their god is a bit stricter. Not unlike the action of the rider on the bicycle, or the delicate movement of a pilot in an aircraft, each action, no matter how subtle yields a change from the god of flow and aerodynamics, or in this case the god of fermentation. A bit more protein, sugar, moisture, time, or heat make sometimes significant changes. Perhaps the god of fermentation is the twin brother of the god of flow.

I learned this through experience. I started out with some rather ignorant meanderings and recipes like this one. My bread was wet, flat, had no oven spring, in fact it fell in the oven. I got some help from those that had seemed to perfect bread. But in the end it was the good books that really helped, helped me to understand what nuances yielded what details in the final product. I recently read Baked - New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis. It's a great book. He partners up with Six Point Brewery using their malt to make blondies. I used some malt extract laying around for mine. They were amazing. Baked is of course - in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn BrewShop is another Brooklyn based business with a book. This book has meaning to me because I started brewing in Brooklyn, and when I did, there was no Brooklyn Brew Shop. The closest homebrew supply was a hobby store in New Paltz, NY, and it was crap. You'd drive up there to find they had pretty much nothing. Homebrewing wasn't what it is today. My first batch was a kit. Not the award winning partial mash kits of today with refined dry yeasts. No - this kit when followed closely - made alcohol water which seemed a distant cousin to beer, but close enough we got pretty damn excited about it. Well me and my roommate at least. I can't say the rest of the world tripped over their feet to try it.

The beginning of Make Some Beer by Erica Shea & Stephen Valand explains how Brooklyn Brewshop got started - how the idea originated in their heads -  when they realized there was nowhere in NYC to to buy homebrewing supplies. I was not the only one back in the late nineties making trips to New Paltz to buy homebrew supplies that were questionable at best. I suppose at the time it never hit me as that strange because NYC is a place, as odd as this may seem, where it's hard to find things. You would think that in a city of over eight million people you'd have everything you desired within walking distance. That is rarely the case. I can recall on one cold January morning when I was home sick and bored out of my mind buying a television (this was before the days of flat screens) on Atlantic avenue and dragging it home to Brooklyn Heights, knuckles bleeding from carrying the damn thing for blocks. Well I guess it was still technically walking distance. Anyhow I could relate to how they might have felt. There is of course far more to the story of Erica Shea and Stephen Valand starting Brooklyn Brewshop, and I assure you it's far better reading that TV's on Atlantic avenue, but you'll need to buy the book for that part.

Labeled 'how to brew refresher' the book gives the most concise guide to all grain brewing I have ever read. It introduces stove top all grain brewing, something that certainly would have come in handy back in my days of brewing out of a my little room in Brooklyn. It provides a hop guide, and many other great resources. I like the fact that their recipes are extra, more, creative. It recommends honey for bottling which I find a bit risky if not just pure insanity. Honey does not ferment at a consistent rate, and it is is a great way to introduce bad things into your beer you don't want. I like this book - it is a reminder that all grain brewing does not have to be an all day production and it pushes the average brewer out of his comfort zone with Dandelion Gruit, and Tapioca Ale. It inspired me to get off my ass an start brewing again.

While we are on the subject of Brooklyn. Last years Black Chocolate Stout from Brooklyn Brewery was a train wreck. After much pestering I finally got some response from the brewery. First a T-shirt and glass, which I couldn't care less about and finally a helpful rep, Michael Maraghy, that refunded my $50.00 for the case and assured me they do their best to maintain quality control. I was upset, I love BCS, and I have for a long, long time. I am however happy to report that this years does not suck. It seems to be pretty close to where it was in 2013. I will be doing a vertical sampling soon and will report back.

So anyhow Make Some Beer was a good book. Read it. It might inspire you too.

Oh yes and I am obligied to state that I received this book from Blogging for books for this review.

Also I am not obliged to state that the inspiration for this book review came from Hoppin' Frog D.O.R.I.S. which is totally amazing. Deep rich, minimal head, with notes of everything barrel aged even though it's not. Rich chocolate, vanilla, sweet, just too damn good to be true. Some people just know how to brew beer.

Aviator - October Beast

Aviator.jpgOne great adventure of moving is discovering new breweries. The Carolina's have several. Admittedly sometimes I am a bit hesitant to just buy something with little knowledge of the brewery. I have been eying several of Aviator's brews and with a recommendation from one of the local beer purveyors purchased some.

October Beast is a very true to style Oktoberfest. It pours a nice head, deep amber, a bit cloudy from sediment in the can, and has a great sweet aroma appropriate for the style.  The taste of Munich malt is present, hops are subdued as they should be. The roasted barley notes come forward as it warms up. All in all this was excellent, a great example of the style and next to Manny's homebrewed Pumpkin Ale, the best fall beer I've had this year.

So far I am impressed with Aviator I look forward to trying their other brews.

Goose Island Beer Co - The Muddy

100_5140.jpgOnce upon a time Goose Island made a great Imperial Stout - Night Stalker - then of course they got purchased by AB InBev and turned out a disgusting version of something they called Night Stalker. They should have called it infected old pine tree. Because it was hard to decide what was worse, the little tree air freshener flavor or the nasty infection. But again this is the company that both post, and prior to purchase, have been turning out Bourbon County Stout. Which I am happy to report is still amazing this year. They dropped the abv a bit to expand their distribution footprint, or that's what it would appear. No complaints, I would not have picked some up so easy otherwise.

Expanding their lineup a bit they introduced The Muddy, an Imperial Stout with brewer's licorice, and Belgian dark rock candi sugar. It pours with minimal head, dark, yet transparent, and has a medium body. Initially it has a nose similar to Blackout Stout but much milder, still an aroma I am not crazy about. As it warms the aroma does improve greatly, lending itself to the some licorice sweetness but not much. Overall it's good, I liked it. Dark roasted malt notes are present, slight chocolate and sweetness as well - but not what I would expect from an ale claiming 'amplified sweetness'.

I would drink this again and thought it was a decent stout minus the $5.00 price tag at Hambersham, which is a bit too much. But they like to ride the pricey train anyhow. Unfortunately my computer just corrupted all the photos I took of a full glass, so you get the empty one, sorry. I guess you'll have to buy your own.

I Can't Believe I am going to miss 4Elf this year.



The Brewmaster


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