Lagunitas - High West-ified

HighWest.jpgOver the course of the past year I have enjoyed a number of pretty amazing ales, from 110K + OT from Cigar City to Lumberjack Morning Break from three sons. Most of these I have not taken the time to write about. One ale however, I just felt impelled to write about - High West-ified from Lagunitas. Now when I bring up Lagunitas I am sure some craft beer drinkers will jump from their seats yelling that Lagunitas is no longer a craft brewery and that it has sold out etc. I have two things to say about this. One, I ran into a local Lagunitas person at the bottle shop the other day. They insisted that Lagunitas has not sold out and are completely maintaining creative control, and that any partnering was simply to expand distribution. Provided this is fact, I see no issue with it. Founders did the same thing. But, two, if they did sell out like Goose Island did, as long as they continue to make great beer, while I cannot agree with selling out - I can only complain so much. But I do hate sellouts. Wicked Weed made me a bit upset with their sellout.

So along to High West-ified. The first sampling of High West-ified I received from a trading partner from Chicago. It apparently did hit Savannah for a flash in the pan, but I never saw it. Then when I was down in Florida I picked some up, now knowing just how good it was. Given Lagunitas pension for mostly hoppy beers, and an occasional brown, High West-ified really seemed to be a step outside their box.

I should mention that High West-ified is an Imperial Coffee Stout. The bourbon character is at the level of Bourbon County or Plead the 5th. This is a full on Barrel Aged Stout not weak in any respect. Coffee, dark fruits, big bourbon punch, it's all there. It poured with a decent head that quickly dissipated, and.. that's all I remember. It was so good I finished my last one well over a month ago. This has not stopped me from carrying around my tattered tasting notes in my wallet and pocket until I finally found five minutes to publish my thoughts.  Sometimes I write a review, only to lose track of it and it never makes it to the light of day. But not this one. High Westified was my favorite ale of 2016. Yeah ok.. on to 2017..

Cigar City Brewing - Hunahpu's Imperial Stout

Huna.jpgI recently had the privilege of visiting Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL. As a rule, I am not a big fan of Florida, due to the unusually abnormal level of bad drivers and generally abnormal folks - but I found Tampa pretty cool. Folks were nice, the beer was good, and they even have pretty damn fun single track. 

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This past Saturday was Hunahpu's day. Cigar City's annual brewfest. Brewers came from around the world to share their brews. Due to 'admission issues' in the past - things are pretty well organized now. Your wristband comes weeks ahead in a box, you activate it online, and entry is only allowed with the rfid wristband. You can pick your bottles of Hunahpu's Stout ahead of the event - which beats picking it up after. Although picking it up after was not an issue for those folks either as most everyone had picked theirs up already, mitigating any lines.

Four free food tickets and a tasting glass weSample.jpgre provided, along with admission. The fresh food from Da Kine Poke Bowls and other food trucks was amazing.

Estonia.jpgThe first brew I sampled was from a brewer in Tallinn Estonia - a Scotch Whiskey Barrel Aged Scottish Ale. He says it's changed a bit since I was there last.

My favorites were a couple of brews from 3 Sons, Lumberjack Morning Break - an amazing stout with a great aroma, and Scoop a La Mode a neapolitan stout, which was the best attempt I have had at a neapolitan stout by far. I met a couple of great guys from Chicago while in line and after dinner we headed over to the brewery.

The Cigar City brewery is decently small, had great service and tons of great brews on tap. They sell hand rolled cigars to smoke at the brewery. I sampled a Darkstar November (good stuff) shared by a patron, and enjoyed the tap list. The regular Huna pours with a dark viscous head, has a spicy sweet arouma and flavor. It's balanced with cocoa notes and nice warmth, it's a great stout. A bit expensive, but not disappointing.

cigar.jpgI might even try to go back someday. There are a number of other great breweries in the area, and Hunahpu's day falls at the end of craft beer week, and about two weeks before it gets way too hot. So it's not a bad time to be in Florida.

Terrapin - Tart Cherry Wake n' Bake

WnB.jpgI wrote this one a while back. I am not sure why I never got around to posting it.

Each year Terrapin releases their spin on a fancy Wake n' Bake. Their breakfast beer taken to the next level. This year it poured with a minimal head, minmal nose, till it warmed. Tart Cherry, coffee, pretty much what is was promoted to be.

The first time I tried the one off incanation of Wake n' Bake it was the Cinnamon Roll'd Wake n' Bake. I loved the subltly of it. It was not over the top, just a perfect cinnmanon roll. The next year they did the French Toasted, good but not as good as the Cinnmon Roll'd. I don't even remember what they did last year. Tart Cherry is good, but nothing to get overly worked up about. That said, I love wake n' bake, the Jitty Joe's Coffee addition is pretty amazing and really does make for a great breakfast stout. 

In the end the Jittery Joe's Coffee is the ticket. I had a homebrew from a friend who cloned WnB using the same coffee and it was just as good. So on one hand yeah it's amazing I love it, but on the other hand the ale is not super special, the coffee is.

Prairie / Evil Twin - Barrel Aged Bible Belt

Mmm... BA Bible Belt pours very dark with minimal head. It's aroma is very complex right off the bat. Spicy, earthy, honestly pretty unique. Flavor profile-wise this is clearly a Prairie ale. It does not fall far from the Bomb, Christmas Bomb tree. It has a nice lingering bourbon character, a nice malty sweetness almost like a lactose sugar. It has a bit of a dusty rotten wood thickness in the aroma that carries through into the palate. Aside from fruit additions, this might be one of the coolest most unique flavored stouts I have ever had. While not quite as big as a Bourbon County, the bourbon is still very prominent. This is like the opposite side the of the spectrum from something like BA Old Rasputin, that while very good has a flatter flavor profile. This is not a simple ale.

If I understand it, the base beer is Evil Twin, with the basic spice profile from Bomb. I keep going back to cork. Remeber that dark cork everyone bought and put on their walls back in the 80's. That is sort of the arouma of this stuff. I could see how someone might not like, I love it. It's unqiue.

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Funky Buddha - Maple Bacon Coffee Porter

maplebacon.jpgI recently visited Total Wine in Daytona. It's the only store in Florida I have found to carry a pretty decent selection of brews. Savannah has a number of great breweries making some great products. But for your barrel aged stuff you pretty much have to venture out of town. I was able to pick up some Cigar City Marshal Zhukov Vanilla Hazelnut and a few other pretty decent ales. One of which was Funky Buddha - Maple Bacon Coffee Porter which seems to garner some popularity.

It poured with a very yummy coffee aroma, not unlike chocolate covered coffee beans. It poured very dark, with a minimal head. Medium bodied, I thought it might have a tannin bite like some lighter porters, but it didn't. Overall I thought it was very good. Not excessively thick like most barrel aged stouts and porters, but very good. At 6.4% the bomber does not put you over the edge, and overall the flavor profile changes little as it warms.

While I was at it - I fixed my website. The backend was getting a bit old, the search engine had ceased functioning, and it was time for an update.

G.B. Russo's 110th Anniversary - Gianduia Porter

G B RussoIt would seem that reviewing beers on a blog, has gone the way of the BBS, unless you have some amazing talent for entertaining folks, you can pretty much find what your looking for at beer advocate or ratebeer amongst others. But here's one that google may not yet have any answers for, Gianduia Porter, brewed by Mitten Brewing Co, for G.B. Russo.

Gianduia Porter aptly named after the sweet chocolate, hazelnut spread, is dark, sweet and rich. It has an inviting chocolate nose, maybe a little hazelnut, it's hard to say without a blind taste test I suppose. I was a little surprised, I honestly can't say I have had anything from Mitten that I can recall. The brewery had not exactly had raving reviews a couple of years ago. But I find that in Grand Rapids at least, many of the breweries have matured and improved over time.

This is certainly a brew that represents G.B Russo well. Russo's and Sicilano's Market are the two best places to buy beer in Grand Rapids. Victor is the beer guy, and he does his job well. I am not sure what, if any influence he had with this brew, but I am pretty pleased with it.

Medium to full bodied, with rich notes of cocoa, chocolate, hazelnut, just a tiny bit roasty malt, not much, it finishes with a balanced sweetness. The sweetness coats the tongue a bit and allows the flavors to hang on. It's not extremely complex with dark fruits like an Imperial Stout, but everything one could want in a Porter. I'd buy another.

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

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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. 

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