Friday, July 29, 2011

Quick Sips: Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

I've had a few vanilla porters here and there, and they've rarely been anything less than good. Despite merely average reviews on Beer Advocate, I think Breckenridge Brewery's vanilla porter is a pretty solid one. It pours black and thick, smells of vanilla with just enough roast to remind you of a vanilla latte if you stretch your imagination, and tastes like a (somewhat) pleasant porter with a WHOA! of a vanilla-laden finish. Lots and lots of vanilla.

But it ain't perfect.

If the underlying porter were better this would be an outstanding beer, but unfortunately the porter part is average at best. It's a bit thin, has a light mouthfeel, and is a little slick tasting. The vanilla is the star of the show here. That's not entirely a bad thing because the vanilla is tasty, I only wish the base beer was better because without the vanilla this is a dud. I wouldn't drink a few of these in a row, but it would make for a nice night-ender.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Quick Sips: RJ Rockers Son of a Peach

RJ Rockers Brewing Company is based out of South Carolina and have, to my great surprise, been brewing since 1997. Considering their neck of the woods it shouldn't be surprising that one of their seasonal beers is a peach wheat beer, Son of a Peach.

The beer smells very peachy, strong but pleasant. It drinks light, far crisper than expected considering it's an unfiltered wheat, with a nice dose of peach flavor that is never less than noticable but also never off-putting or overpowering. It finishes with a little zest. Unlike a lot of fruit beers, though, this one is all beer. The fruit doesn't take center stage; this beer remains a beer.

Pleasantly surprised by what I expected to be a pretty gimmicky brew. Too bad I can't get it in New Jersey. I'd buy this one again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quick Sips: Widmer Bros. Pitch Black IPA

The Black IPA aka Cascadian Dark Ale style is one of the fastest growing in America. It combines the bitterness and aroma of a hoppy India Pale Ale with the roasty, malty character of a dark ale or stout.

With the style's popularity growing at a huge rate, no wonder Widmer Brothers Brewing has decided to take what was supposed to be a one-time only batch of beer and start brewing it year round.

Thing is, this stuff needs to be consumed fresh. VERY fresh. It was July when I had one bottled in March. A mere four months should be nothing at all, but in the case of this beer it had already had an impact. The hops were musty like a wet closet. The aroma was only mildly hoppy and largely forgettable. The malts were nice and dark, no chocolate or coffee to them yet nicely roasted and somewhat smokey, but without that nice blast of hops it only managed to be a light-bodied dark beer.

Maybe this would have been better if I had it fresh. Hoppy beers should be consumed fresh, after all. I'm very glad Widmer Brothers puts bottling dates on their labels -- too few breweries do that -- so I'm willing to say the blame for my being underwhelmed is on the age of the beer, not the beer itself. I'll try it again in the future if I can find fresh bottles.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Quick Sips: Bell's Oberon Ale

Bell's Oberon Ale is something of a standard for beer lovers in the middle United States. In some ways, it's the flagship brew of this fantastic Michigan brewery.

Oberon is a wheat beer -- very traditional style during the summer -- with a clean taste and smooth-drinking character. It's often served with a slice of orange, and it's easy to see why. The citrus goes well with it. But even on its own (which is how I had it this most recent time) this is a crisp, refreshing summer beer that goes down easy but still offers good taste.

It's far from the best wheat out there, but it drinks so nice you'll want to go back for seconds (and thirds) on a hit summer day. Worth picking up if you see it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weyerbacher brews a heretical stout

Weyerbacher is a fantastic brewery out of Pennsylvania that really deserves more attention, especially since they've been crafting exceptional beers for 16 years now. They do some fine year-round beers, the Merry Monks being my favorite, and also do a large number of small-batch, limited release and seasonal beers.

Among them is Heresy, which is their Old Heathen imperial stout aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels.

And it's a pretty nice one. Just look at that tasty pour! The rich, foamy head so thick you can flat a cap on it!

Thing is, for being a pricier version of their standard issue imperial stout, the oak aging didn't do much for this brew. It has a slightly woody nose with a touch of bourbon, but you really have to be looking for it. Most of this is just nice imperial stout with strong chocolate taste from the roasted malt. Not that there is anything wrong with that! It's a good beer with a great roasty flavor, just didn't seem to benefit much from the barrel aging (which is all the rage these days among American craft brewers).

Comes in at 8% alcohol, but it's a very smooth 8%. You'd never known it was a more potent than usual brew. I've seen reviews that said the alcohol taste was kind of hot, but not in my experience. Maybe it's because I've had it for a while and let the alcohol mellow. (The bottle was about seven months old, stored at room temperature.)

All in all I'd say the Heresy is worth a look, but if you balk at the price consider a single bottle rather than the four-pack.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fill up your beer jug while you fill your gas tank?

So imagine you roll into the gas station to fill up the tank. While you're there you also get a half-gallon jug filled with some local craft beer. You then drive away, content that your car will keep going and you'll have a fat jug of beer ready once you get where you're going. This sounds like some sort of bizarre fantasy land dreamed up by someone who has had three too many, doesn't it?

Well, it looks like some Sunoco stations in west New York are now filling growlers with craft beer. That's right. Stop in to get gas, and get a growler fill while you're there.

Maybe I find this concept mind-boggling because I'm from New Jersey, where in their infinite wisdom lawmakers have decided that allowing convenience stores to sell bottles of beer to adults is far, far too dangerous to consider. Hell, they don't even let us pump our own gas.

Anyway, from the story:
"I don't think people expect to see beer taps at a gas station," said Kim Wilson, sales shift leader at the Tonawanda Sunoco on Niagara Falls Boulevard. "People come in and say, 'Woah! When did that happen?' They are really excited."

I bet they are! Growlers are a great way to bring fresh draft beer home with you. Any place offering growler fills probably has great beer on tap, too, making them an especially attractive choice for the person who wants to enjoy great draft beer in the comfort of their own home.

So this is a pretty cool idea. I wonder if it will catch on? I'm sure some will have safety concerns -- since they're meant to be reused, most growlers are only sealed with some tape or a sticker -- but overall anything that spreads top notch craft beer is okay in my book.