Saturday, January 26, 2013

From the Cellar: Old Rasputin imperial stout

North Coast's Old Rasputin is considered by some to be the definitive American version of the classic Russian Imperial Stout style. I beg to differ, but I understand why people think that way. It's widely available, well brewed, and quite good.

It's also, like most imperial stouts, a possible candidate for cellaring ... so I sought to do just that when I bought Old Rasputin twice for my "cellar," once in the winter of 2010 and again in mid 2011. The problem? I never marked the beers, and North Coast doesn't date stamp them, so I have no idea how old this beer was. It's at the youngest about 18 months and at the oldest maybe three years. Keep that in mind when reading this. (Also keep in mind that this was enjoyed and written in autumn 2012 and is only being posted now.)

An Old Rasputin with mild age on it pours with a fizzy head of about one finger even after some time sitting around. It smells of licorice, coffee, and alcohol heat, none of it luxurious or inviting, but none of it unpleasant, either. Still, the aroma feels somehow subdued.

The drinking experience offers much the same experience. The body is thin and light for an imperial stout, lacking the rich, heavy sweetness I enjoy in the style. There is lots of coffee, mocha and cocoa, so that's nice, but oddly, the booze is not as mellow as it is when fresh. The other odd thing? There is a vaguely milky quality to it without the body of sweetness of a milk stout. Don't know what to make of that.

So did it improve over time? I think so. Overall this beer is smoother and more enjoyable than it is when fresh. Pair this with a rich cheese or dessert dish and you'll enjoy it greatly.

BEER: North Coast Old Rasputin imperial stout
VINTAGE: 2010-2011 (?)
TIME AGED: 12-24 months (?)
NOTES: Still boozy, but pleasant, dessert-like tones come out to play

VERDICT: Definitely give this beer a year in your cellar, maybe more.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Brewers, give me mix packs!

Craft brewers, all I ask from you is that you release mix packs of your beers. Is that so much to ask?

When I see a mix pack by a brewery I haven't had before, it grabs my attention. A chance to have two or three or four beers I haven't had before by a brewery that may be new to me? Yes, please. I am a sucker for a great mix pack. I crave variety and welcome the chance to get to know a new brewery three or four beers at a time -- which, let's be honest, is the only way to judge a new-to-you brewery. Just one beer won't do it. You need a full sampling. Short of going to their brew pub or buying a mixed case (which few people will do first time out), a mix pack is the best way to provide exactly that.

So why don't more breweries release mix packs?

Samuel Adams releases four mix packs a year, every year, and has done so for ages

Economics, I'm sure. It can't be cheap to sort all those beers, create new packaging, new SKUs, and so on.

Still, over the years, brewers who have done mix packs have built loyalty in me. I feel like they are a great idea. A brewery like Saranac no longer gets big accolades by craft beer geeks these days, but there is a reason to love them. Like Samuel Adams, their variety is huge and their quality is consistent. They may not be top shelf, but you'll always get a drinkable beer with taste from them. I'm not a regular Saranac buyer, but I'm good for a mix-pack every year because you can get such a wide variety in a single affordable 12-pack.

When my friend, coauthor (A Year of Hitchcock), podcast co-host (the podcast by the same name), and fellow beer enthusiast Jim McDevitt went on a cross-country trip, one of the highlights (for me!) was the mix pack of New Glarus he brought back for me. I had had a few New Glarus brews before, but the mix pack sealed the deal. Getting that assortment made me fall in love with them.

I'd wager this is not uncommon among craft beer fans. Sure, sure, these days many chase the biggest and rarest -- hell, I do it myself -- but many of us still like variety for the sheer sake of it and enjoy tasting three or four or five beers from a brewery at a time.

So give us some mix packs, please!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Craft beer in LAKEHURST, NJ!? Yes @TipperaryPub

Let me admit up front that I am biased. I didn't write a book about Lakehurst because I'm impartial, after all. I love Lakehurst for all it is and all it is not.

One thing is has not been is destination for craft beer lovers.

But when I heard about a new tavern in town that had a good beer selection (not to mention a sweeping assortment of whiskey), I couldn't wait to take a look. After all, I never imagined I'd see a news story called Beer in the Barrens about a great pub in Lakehurst, of all places. The town I grew up in was a mecca of cheap, watery lager consumed in cheap, sweaty bars that catered to a locals-only crowd.

The Tipperary Pub in Lakehurst has changed all that.

 This is a bona fide damn good pub with great food, a good atmosphere, over 50 whiskeys (it's kind of their thing), and, surprise, a really nice beer selection! Being an Irish pub it should come as no surprise that they carry Killkenny, Smithwick's, and Guiness, but you'll also find an assortment of good American craft beers from folks like Oskar Blues, Dogfish Head, Samuel Adams, and others on their beer menu.

I think what I liked best about the Tipperary Pub's beer selection, however, is their support of New Jersey beers. Multiple taps are devoted to local brews, notably from Kane Brewing, a fantastic new brewery that is winning accolades despite only being open for a little over a year. (Their Three Hundred Sixty-Five is one of the best beers to come out of New Jersey.)

In fact, the Tipperary will be one of the few places that will be tapping Kane's new Morning Bell, an imperial milk porter they describe like this:
This is a 9.2% ABV beer is brewed with rook's sumatra dark roast coffee. We added a healthy amount of milk sugar to an already complex, dark malt bill to sweeten and balance the bold flavors and roasty bitterness of the coffee. The result of this collaboration is a full bodied porter with big bold flavors and remarkable smoothness.
Sounds intriguing! You can bet I'll be showing up for this one.

Overall, I was surprised and impressed at my experience at the Tipperary. It's not a craft beer mecca with dozens of taps, but it doesn't strive to be. It just strives to be a really good pub that serves something more than the usual garbage -- and it is. Good beer on tap, a nice staff, good food. Really makes me happy to see that my old hometown has someplace cool that actually feels welcoming to everyone and anyone, and with great beer on tap as an added bonus!

So yeah, Central NJ folks, this is a good beer destination. Cheers!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

From the Cellar: Dogfish Head Raison D'EXTRA

I like my Dogfish Head beers. Sure, Dogfish is hyped to death, but the fact is, I respect their reckless experimentation. It's one of the things that appeal to me as a beer geek.

Among those experiments are Dogfish Head Raison D'EXTRA, a super-boozed-up version of their Raison D'Etre. Brewed just once (as best as I can tell), the EXTRA version was a whopping 18% ABV! At the time of release, that made it one of the strongest beers in the world. In fact, even today it would rank among the strongest naturally fermented beers in the world. (The strongest beers in the world are not always naturally fermented.)

So five years after being brewed -- this was tasted and written in 2012 -- how did this mega brew hold up?

Pretty well. There was barely any carbonation on the pour. Not surprising given the ABV and age; beers this high in alcohol and/or this old rarely retain a lot of carbonation. Poured like a fine port.

The aroma was nutty, laden with almonds and fat malt sweetness. If there were ever any hops here, they're long gone. No yeast spice, either. The same holds true in the taste. This drank like a red wine, only with deep dark nut flavors. Notes of sherry abounded. The surprising thing was, despite being 18% ABV this beer was warming but not "hot." The booze was quite mellow.

Verdict? Not transcendent, but quite interesting. If I get another bottle I'll be trying it three years from, now to see how it is.

Despite being brewed just once five years ago, this beer is sometimes still available on shelves where it did not sell well. A message to any beer trading message board should net you some offers.

BEER: Dogfish Head Raison D'EXTRA
TIME AGED: 5 years
NOTES: No carbonation, nuts + sherry. Pair with a meal.

VERDICT: Nice experience, but don't knock yourself out trying to find out