Saturday, April 28, 2012

024. Suffering through Sisyphus 2011

I'm not even 100% sure I should be reviewing this beverage, because it is a "Barleywine Stye Ale." But, I drank it and, like the figure of Greek mythology, suffered for my sins, so I'll write it up for you.

Sisyphus 2011 Bareywine Style Ale by the Real Brewing Co. in Blanco, Texas was one of the worst things I've had in ages. For a few minutes, I actually thought my taste buds were going to pull out a knife and declare war on my mouth. It was ghastly.

I'm not even completely sure what I hated about it, as the flavors were so harsh that it was hard to isolate them while I drank it. The aroma was stringent, but there were some intriguing elements in it. I detected hops, alcohol, and a few distant citrus notes. Very distant, hidden under a certain earthiness that I must attribute to the barley.

The pour was very disappointing: even an agressive pour failed to get any head at all out of it. The color was pretty, though -- a nice deep brown with hints of gold and copper. It had a crisp, clean look to it and the carbonation was at a steady, medium flow. Appearance-wise, it looked like a winner. But, aas, appearances are deceiving.

Here''s what it says on their Website:

Intense and warming, Sisyphus was Real Ale's first seasonal product. A healthy portion of hops balances the rich toffee undertones of the malt. Weighing in around 11% ABV, Sisyphus Barleywine is not for the faint of heart - makes a great nightcap!

Photo courtesy of the Untapped Web Site

What is a bareywine? For that bit of info I scoured the Internet and the dusty shelves of my public library, even going on a road trip to find a scholar rumored to live near the Stoneheng model near Ingram, Texas... okay, I looked it up on Wikipedia:

Barley wine or Barleywine is a beer style of strong ale originating in England. The first beer to be marketed as Barley Wine was Bass No. 1 Ale, around 1870... A barley wine typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. It is called a barley wine because it can be as strong as wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit, it is, in fact, a beer.
That bit of info got me wondering if, perhaps, it was the strong flavors of barley and a harsh alcohol content that made my mouth pucker. Since this is listed as having 10% alcohol, that could very wel be the case. If I could have read that on their poorly designed label (metalic green on metalic silver makes it almost impossibe to read), I might have gone into this with fair warning to expect something this harsh and disappointing.

Now, to be fair, I've never had barley wine before. For all I know this could be the best barley wine on earth. That being said, I still don't like it. I have no opinion on whether this is a well crafted representative of this type of ale, but I do have an opinion about whether I would drink this again, and the answer is a heartfelt NO.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Crisp brown, clean & glear with hints of copper and gold
Aroma: Bitter with strong barley and hops, overpowered by alcohol
Hops: Okay, but not remarkable for their flavor
Head: None
Lace: None
Carbonation: Medium-sized bubbles that lasted a long time
Temperature Sweet Spot: 55 -59 degrees
ABV: 11%
My Rating: 1 out of 10

Other reviews worth a sip
I am in complete disagreement with the fine folks over at the Beer Advocate. Most of those guys really liked this.
This guy also liked it:
The guys over at Untapped seemed to like it, too:

I'm definitely in the minority on this one, folks, but I'm very firm in my review. I didn't like this and I don't think it warrants a second sip. In fact, the second sip itself was painful. I actually forced myself to drink it all at a variety of temperatures and it just never resonated with me. In a word, Yuck.

The only reason I did not add it to my "Nightmare Brews!" list (upper right of this page) is because this is a limited edition and it's a barleywine, so the chances of being assaulted by this again are slim to none.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

023. Anchor Liberty Ale is full steam ahead!

This ale really surprised me. I tend to walk on the dark side (I hear they have cookies) and there are only a few lighter beers and ales that really float my boat. For the past few weeks I've been hitting the hard stuff with alcohol contents around 9%, so I decided to give my palate (and liver) a rest this week and go cruising in fairer waters (and yes, I will probably keep making maritime puns for the duration, so batten down your hatches and ride out the storm). So this week I set sail with Liberty Ale by the Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco.

This oversize beer (1 pint, 6 ounces) was shipped in a very dark brown bottle, so I had no idea how light or dark it was. I picked it up at either Randall's or Kroger's in NW Houston -- sorry, don't recall the price but I think it was about $6 - $9. Don't hold me to that, though.

When I popped the top I was pleasantly greeted by a nice aroma of yeast and citrus (and dare I say it, a tease of barley?). I think there were hops under there somewhere, but I'm a little stuffed up tonight (danged allergies!) so I'm not completely sure of that. Also, I had a few sips of whiskey earlier in the evening (man does not live by beer alone). The whiskey could explain why my pour was more aggressive than usual, but it did yield results: A huge, white head atop a wonderfully clear golden body. It really is a nice beer to look at, making me think of warm tropical sunsets along the beach as Frankie and Annette frolic on the sand while playing a game of Beach Blanket Bingo:

My first sip at 48 degrees failed to impress -- it was like the wind had not yet hit its sails and was waiting to loosen up so it could breath. I let it warm (taking a few exploratory sips along the way) to about 55 degrees and discovered that the beer had found its win and was rapidly cruising into a sweet spot where the flavors and aromas were dancing happily together like those beach party kids.

From the label
San Francisco’s famous Liberty Ale was first brewed on the 18th of April, 1975 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere’s historic ride. It is virtually handmade by the brewers of Anchor Steam Beer in one of the smallest and most traditional breweries in the world. Liberty Ale is made with the finest barley malt, fresh, whole hops, top fermenting yeast, pure water and the simple natural methods which reflect our exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing. It is "dry hopped", a classic ale tradition, and slowly completes its fermentation in sealed vats in out cellars. This unique process creates Liberty Ale’s distinctive bouquet and uncommonly delicate, entirely natural carbonation.
For me, this is definitely a spring/summer beer because it is lighter and crave something salty like chips or brisket. I can imagine sipping this down in Galveston, looking out over the waves and getting ready to enjoy a nice barbecue with friends and family. I can't picture wanting this in the winter months, though, as that's when my tastes turn to darker fare.

But while it's light and sunny, this is definitely something I can enjoy. There's a little something about it, by the way, that reminds me of Mexican beers. I'm not quite sure why, but the association is definitely there. I'm definitely enjoying this and will definitely buy it again.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color:  Light, clear golden brown
Aroma: Citrus with an undercurrent of hops
Hops: Light, but very pleasantly balanced
Head: Big, light and a decent staying power
Lace: Strong but clumpy at cooler temps, but spreads out as it warms
Carbonation:  Excellent! The bubbles keep on coming.
Temperature Sweet Spot: 55 -59 degrees (bitterness sets in around 60 degrees)
ABV: 6%
My Rating: 8 out of 10 as a lighter, summer ale
(in the winter, I'd probably give it a 5)

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The Beer Trials makes an interesting observation or two: "Liberty Ale is a bright, refreshing pale ale that straddles the line between an American-styled pale ale and an English IPA. A delightful crispness and bright carbonation are paired with flavor hops and yeast that avoid typical West Coast resin-pine character. Hop bitterness is light at first and builds over several steps to an assertive finish. This is a well-crafted ale that seems a touch nostalgic, rather like the label." has some interesting info on the brewing process. It's definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

022.Storm King Imperial Stout Delivers the Thunder

Dark as a Guinness on a moonless night. That's the second thought that went through my head when I poured this heady concoction from Pennsylvania. The first thought was, "Wow, what an aroma."

Storm King Imperial Stout is a remarkably dark, hoppy ale that actually finds a way to balance the malt in a way that doesn't leave me hopping mad. As I've said before, I don't like being slapped in the face with bitter hops that hold my tongue hostage and leave nothing but bitterness behind. I like good hops and appreciate the bite they can bring to a beer, but I want them to work with the malt to bring a little breadiness to my palate.

Here's the word from the Victory Brewing Company Website:

With a huge, Pacific Northwest hop aroma & character upfront, Storm King Stout® subsides into massive, roast malt complexity. Rich and substantial, it will warm your heart.
Malts: Imported 2 row
Hops: American whole flowers
ABV: 9.1%

Yeah, this is another strong alcohol beer coming in at over 9%. Most of the beers I like are in the 5.5% - 7% range, so this is not outrageously higher than my typical fare. But, it is high enough so that I felt the thunder roll in as I got near the bottom of the glass.

Since this was a dark beer (and man, is it dark -- like liquid Godiva Chocolates with a creamy nougat on top) I let it warm up over 45 degrees before I tasted it. It was a little smoother, but tamer at the lower temps. The hops were hiding like a frightened turtle. I found 55-58 degrees to be about right because that's where the florals really came alive and the hops went from dominating to just boisterous. I let the bottom of the glass get to 63 degrees while I was typing this. I gave the glass a light shake about halfway through the beer to see if the head and carbonation would reawaken -- they didn't -- and to keep it mixed up so there wouldn't be any sediment at the bottom of the glass (not that there was any to be found, it turns out, but it was worth a try).

The head, as I said, was impressive, but it faded fairly quickly leaving behind a strong and distinct lace. My first sip was a real pleasure, delivering a wonderful blast of malt with strong hops undertones and a nice taste of alcohol to compliment the hops. If my whole beer drinking experience had been like the first sip, I would have found a new favorite. But the more I sipped, the stronger the hops grew, until, near the end, they were almost overpowering. However, the last sips (at around 63 degrees) were smoother. I'm not sure if this is temperature related, or due to the fact that I let the beer (and my mouth) rest while I typed this review.

From the label (and I agree with Andy Murphy of Beer A Day that it's quite poetic):
"Emerging from the deepest shades of darkness, a rolling crescendo of flavors burst forth from this robust stout. The thundering, hoppy appeal of Storm King subsides into the mellow subtleties of roasted malt, exhibiting an espresso-like depth of character in its finish. An exquisite blend of imported malts and whole flower American hops merge harmoniously in this complex ale. Discover the dark intrigue of Storm King, as it reveals the rich, substantial flavors that it holds within. Cheers!"
Photo "borrowed" from Beer Geek Nation
I think this is a much better Winter beer for me. It's very hearty and filling with a nice "don't-take-the-car-you'll-kill-yourself" kind of kick to it. I'm definitely going to revisit this beer when it gets colder and see what two or three bottles do to help me chill out some evening when Old Man Winter is back in town.

By the way, I'd like to mention that I think the label design is very cool. Maybe I'm just a Harry Potter geek, but their logo looks like an owl wearing a crown. I definitely like it.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color:  The darkest dang beer I've seen all year. Chocolate or mahogany brown
Aroma: Powerful fragrance of hops, with a hint of florals and malt
Hops: Stronger than I usually like, and the bitterness builds with each sip.
Head: Wow! Quite thick and creamy, but fizzled away faster than I expected. Almost looked nitrogen-infused
Lace: Very strong and lingering
Carbonation:  Low
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (but I'm willing to revisit this rating in the future)

Other reviews worth a sip:
Beer Geek Nation:
The Aleuminati:
Andy Murphy Beer a Day:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

021. Double Trouble with Sam Adams Double Bock

I may have found my first bi-polar beer. Not that I mean to demean anyone with that condition, it's just that Samuel Adams Double Bock hit a manic high/low when I tasted it today. I had one bottle after dinner and gave it a conservative pour: a 45-degree angle and gentle velocity down the glass until I reached about 60% of the bottle, then  poured the rest right in from the top.

What I wound up with was a meely-mouthed weak brew hardly worth the keystrokes to trash online (BTW: I hate trashing beers -- every time I open one I hope it will be the "next thing" I fall in love with,). Based on my first taste, though, this was not going to be it.

I paid $10 for a four-pack of this beer at a Randall's near Jersey Village in Houston. At the time, I had no idea that it actually had an alcohol content of 9.5%. Knowing that, I might have passed on it because -- in my experience -- high-alcohol content beers are usually bitter. This one is definitely bitter.

The label says there is almost a half pound of malt in each bottle. Yup, a half pound! Frankly, I didn't taste it. Oh, I could taste the malt, but just not that much. Or maybe it was the type of malt they used. It just didn't impress me. I do think they wisely played down the hops, as the alcohol (very strong) added the bitterness you usually associate with strong hops. I think it was a wise decision, but not 100% successful.

In general, I think people who like strong hop beers will like this malty alternative that has the kick they crave. As you know, I don't like strong hops, so I didn't care for it, give it one of the lower ratings I've ever given a beer (4 out of 10). If it had just been based on taste, I might have originally gone to 4.5. But this was a very erratic beer (maybe it was too old?). The first pour was conservative and produced no head or lace, but the second aggressive pour had a nice head and lace. I might try one more bottle to see what happens (if I do and get different results, I'll post an update).

Another Opinion
By the way, I found a really cool review of this beer over at YouTube (as you may recall, I review the beer and then go out and read other reviews -- this helps me find people with similar tastes and that, in turn, leads me to new beers). I love this guy's theme song!

Also, if you'd like a review from someone who really liked it, check out Prof. Sudz' review:

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color:  Very cloudy dark brown with hints of copper
Aroma: Strong with powerful overtones of malt and a hint fruity undertones
Hops: Hidden below the bitter alcohol taste
Head: Confused -- first pour was nonexistent, second aggressive pour was impressive
Lace: First none, then some. Very odd.
Carbonation:  Medium to strong.
My Rating: 4 out of 10