Saturday, May 26, 2012

028. Stone 14 Emperial IPA

From the people who bring us Arrogant Bastard comes this brew with an attitude: Stone 14 Emperial IPA. There was some satisfaction to be found in this bottle, but few surprises. This is an IPA: Imperial Pale Ale -- the kind made with stronger hops and a higher alcohol content so it would better survive the long arduous trip beteen England her colonies in India (you did read that article I mentioned last week from Seattle Weekly about the differences between pale ales and IPAs, right?).

An IPA with all British ingredients,
including a different malt and
brewers salts.
I need to be up front and tell you that I've had this beer in storage for a while now, so perhaps this review is unfair (and possibly irrelevant, as this was an anniversary brew that is no longer available -- but I popped the top, so I might as well muster the energy to continue. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. This beer is marked with a production date of June 2010, but beneath it there is the admonishment to "CONSUME FRESH or age in the hull of a seafaring vessel for a year or more." Since this was safely tucked in a box behind my bar (out of the light and never too hot nor too cold), I don't feel like a churlish lout for drinking it in May 2012.

And, my worries aside, I don't think this beer fared ill from its long storage. When I opened it the brew smelled fresh and -- even at armslength -- pungent and alive with aroma that announced its presence. I could definitely smell the hops and, of course, I worried that I was headed toward some Hops Whore's orgasmic experience... but that was not the case.

Yes, the hops are there -- and in abundance, but they seem to be working together to release strong citrus notes with what I think might be a hint of wildflowers in the end -- that would be in both aroma and taste. Some might call this an earthy tone, but not me. Earthy -- to me -- implies a stronger body than I'm getting here. This is definitely lighter and makes me think of that field where Julie Andrews was singing to those hills.

Colorwise, this is a nice beer with a sort of yellow/amber/honey color. The head was very impressive: birght white and thick with a foamy white appearance that could really give many a British beer a run for its money.

The Sweet Spot
This beer has a high alcohol content: 8.9% (that's what it says on the bottle, but some online sources cite it at 8.3%). As such, the warmer it gets, the more bitter it gets. I was halfway through the bottle (a healthy 1 pt 6 oz) and had to put it back in the refrigerator to re-chill it. I found the sweet spot for this beer is between 45 - 55 degrees.

NOTE: If you ever encounter an IPA that's too bitter to drink (and you're too selfish to share or too cheap to toss it), chill it in the freezer until it's around 35 - 38 degrees and you'll find that most of the bittnerness will subside enough to make it drinkable. The flavor you get will be based more on the other elements in the beer, particularly the citrus and flowers you might find suggested by the hops. (Yes, I over-chilled this glass in the freezer, but it wamed up with no discernable damage to the flavor or aroma).

Even with the ale properly re-chilled, the hops bitterness grew on my tongue as I continued to drink it. This is an unfortunate byproduct of all IPA's and hop-heavy beers that I've encountered thus far.

From the Label:
"We went to England this past spring as self-styled “IPA Hunters” on a mission to learn more about the confusing and often contradictory history of India Pale Ale – to look for some certainty where those before us have found mostly mystery and mercantilism. While our success in this pursuit is open to debate, there can be no question that we returned home inspired by the ghosts of Burton and by the experience of poring over 150-year old brewer’s logs handwritten in (India?) ink. Stone Brewing Co., after all, traces its lineage back to the British Empire’s brewing history: we make ales, and all of our original offerings used traditional British styles as a jumping-off point. If this seems a roundabout way of letting you know that, yes, we are in fact brewing another IPA to mark our Anniversary, well, so be it.

This one however, promises to be different! From the imported white malt to the “Burtonised” water to the rare yeast strain to the most pungent hops Kent has to offer, we used all British ingredients to brew our “Emperial” IPA.* While we may have brewed Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA with our own distinctively modern, San Diego-style touch, what good is history if you can’t rewrite it to suit your tastes?

In this case, our tastes called for highly intemperate quantities of Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops, bestowing upon this dry-bodied ale a powerfully spicy, earthy aroma. On the palate, peppery hops assert themselves early and often, with malt sweetness making a brief appearance before being beaten back by a long, complex, and decisively bitter finish. What better way to contemplate the fate of empires past, present, and future?

*Um, except for our filtered Colorado River water, of course."

Closing Time
By the way, I don't recall where I got it or what I paid. I suspect it was at Spec's Liquor or Central Market here in Houston, and I think I paid between $6 - $9 for it. Since this was a limited release from the Stone Brewing Co., I guess that really doesn't matter, does it? And is there a hint of orange in there? As the bitterness grew, I thought I detected a taste (almost an under-taste) of orange zest. Not the orange itself, but the zest.

Or maybe I've been watching too mutch Food Network.

I also got more of the yeast (or as some people call it, the biscuit taste) the more I drank. I also got a bit of a buzz. After all, this is a 22-ounce bottle with 8.9% ABV. That ain't too shabby to polish off on my own as I'm typing this up (Rule #2: Write while you drink but edit while you're sober). As IPAs go, I kind of liked this one. It wasn't so strong that I couldn't appreciate what they were trying to do (those guys at Stone seem to know what they're doing). Even if this were available year-round, it wouldn't make my favorite's list -- but I suspect I would be in the minority. I think fans of strong IPAs would enjoy this a lot more than I do.

In short, this is a good IPA. I just don't happen to care a lot for IPAs.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Golden yellow
Aroma: Strong scent of hops -- and I mean strong
Hops: Strong but not abusive -- hints of citrus and other wild florals
Head: Strong, white and foamy
Lace: Ssaturnal (i.e. strong rings around the glass)
Carbonation: Medium/Strong
Temprature Sweet Spot: Keep under 55 degrees!
ABV: 8.3% or 8.9%
My Ratings:
  As an IPA 8 out of 10
  As a beer I like 6.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The fine fellows over at the Beer Advocate had nice things to say about this hops-heavy brew:

Info from the Brewer's blog is really interesting, by the way. This beer has all British ingredients (which is very different for this brewer). I suggest watching the short video at their site for more info about this:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

027. Roscoe's Hop House Pale Ale

After the success of last week's beer, I decided to return to Roscoe's Hop House for another sip. And once again, I was not disappointed. Roscoe's Pale Ale was a wonderful addition to the list of beers that could easily become part of my "beer fridge."

Even though I really enjoyed last week's beer (Roscoe's Amber Ale), I still approached this six-pack with a sense of wariness. You see, I'm not a huge fan of Pale Ales. I tend to like my brews a bit heartier (and no, Paul, they do not have to be so dark that they actually bend light). It turns out, I think the main reason for this preference is that Pale Ales (and particularly Imperial Pale Ales) tend to be dominated by hops.

As should be clear by now, I'm not a "Hops Whore," which is becoming my term for people who seem obsessed by brews held in bondage by their hops. Don't get me wrong, I like hops. I even enjoy some beers that are heavy on the hops. But i demand balance and other flavor notes be present and accounted for, not being forced to sit on the back row of the class photo behind the tall kids. These other notes can be either yeast or malt, I'm not too picky as long as they are present, but I definitely have a preference for the malt.

 Roscoe's Pale Ale has hops, but they seem to be balanced with the malt. Hardly surprising, since that's what it says right on the label:

 "Sublte Malt Character balanced by complex hops for a smooth crisp finish."

Once more, Roscoe's delivers truth in advertising. This is a pale ale with a nice presence of malt that works with the hops (I'm guessing they're American hops because of the citrus tones). By the way, if you're interested in learning more about the differences between Pale Ales and Imperial Pale Ales, there's a great article o that subject at the Seattle Weekly).

Let's Dive into a Glass
The aroma isn't really worth a lot of words. It's just not very strong, nor is its head. The aroma has a faint hint of citrus hops and a grassy/earthie undercurrent. The key word here is "faint." It's just not a great aroma. I did a standard pour and was rewarded with a thin head or probably a quarter-inch. Even puring in the last 1/8 of the bottle in at an aggressive rate did little to improve on this. Unsurprisingly, the head faded quickly leaving little lace.

The color is very clear and crisp with only a hint of cloudiness caused by the mild carbonation. Colorwise, I'd call it a golden amber or perhaps just pale yellow. Maybe I'll compromise and call it golden yellow.

The taste was a pleasant surprise. As I said, before opening the bottle I was expecting more hops than were delivered. And that's a good thing. This was a nicely balanced pale ale that invited the malt to the party and actually danced a few slow dances with it. I'm not saying the malt was slutty and let the hops drive it home, but a good time was had by all.

In more practical terms, the beer has a light flavor with mild hops balanced with malt and there was a pleasant tingle of tang after each sip that faded quickly. All in all, this beer was pleasant to drink and I would definitely drink it again, particularly in the summer, as I suspect it will pair well with steak or barbeque.

This is a good beer and I liked it a lot.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Crisp, clean golden yellow
Aroma: Faint citrus and hops
Hops: Very mild
Head: Light
Lace: Almost none
Carbonation: Light
Temperature Sweet Spot: Around 50 degrees
ABV: 5.3%
My Rating: 8 out of 10

Other reviews worth a sip
The guys at didn't love this as much as I did, but I think they tend to prefer hops more than I do:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

026. Roscoe's Hop House Amber Ale

There's a hint of mystery about this week's beer-scovery, but I'll get to that in a minute. This week I'm trying out a six-pack of beer that I found at my local Randall's grocery store for $6.99: Roscoe's Hop House Amber Ale. This beer is a pleasant discovery for me, as it could turn out to be one of my everyday drinking beers. It's got a good balance flavor that isn't too heavy for an evening libation and it doesn't leave a strong bitter taste that grows in your mouth as you drink more than one.

So, of course, this means the "Hops Whores" out there don't really care much for this one, but that's okay. To each their own, I say.

I'll update on the pour and lace qualities shortly.

The Mystery Unfolds!
I'm not sure what the mystery is, exactly, but there is one hinted to at their Website:
Harkening back to old world brewing styles, Roscoe’s Hop House uses the highest quality malts and hops to bring forth this smooth, bright-flavored Amber Ale. With a nod to the past, this nicely balanced, true ale is brewed using traditional brewing methods for a unique flavor profile.  The password to our best kept secret is found inside the bottle.
Inasmuch as I can't find the clue, I'll just settle for an enjoyable, pleasing beer that I can enjoy every day.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Golden yellow
Aroma: Malty goodness
Hops: Mild and well balanced with the sweetness and the malt
Head: Medium
Lace: Medium
Carbonation: Medium
Temperature Sweet Spot: Need to double check thiss
ABV: 5.5%
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Other reviews worth a sip
This guy over at the Beer Almanac did the work so I didn't have to break open the bottle to see if there was a secret code in it:

UPDATE (05-26-2012):  Since I wrote this review, I have purchased two six-packs of it. This means I'm on my third six pack since I discovered it. Obviously, this is one of my new favorites for everyday drinking after a hard day's work (and lately, I've been catching up on chores around the house, so I actually have been working hard). Therefore, I'm adding this one to my Favorite's list.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

025. Jester King's Wytchmaker will cast a spell on you

The label of this Wytchmaker Rye India Pale Ale is what first caught my attention -- it's printed on foil and has a very odd look to the artwork. I've seen this style before (thin, scratchy lines), but can't quite place it. Perhaps someone else can look at the label and help me figure out the name artist I'm trying to think of.

Next, the text on the bottle gave me pause...
The culprit behind the Salem Witch Trials was not demonic possession (which would have been kind of cool), but ergot infected rye. The rye malt and truckloads of hops in this ale won’t likely transform you into a witch, but will hopefully get you to thinking of your own possible transformation. Perhaps into an individual; a free thinker; someone who speaks their mind and follows their dreams. Personally, we’d go with transforming into an army of flying viking-bears, but what do we know?

Jester King Craft Brewery is an authentic farmhouse brewery in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, on the outskirts of Austin. We brew what we like, drink what we want and offer the rest to those who share our tastes.

I've studied the Witch Trials of Salem and don't believe for an instant that bad rye beer was the culprit. The culprit was mass hysteria, pure and simple (and I mean that in the purist, medical sense). But on to this beer that I could quickly go mad over. This is made only a few hundred miles away in Austin, Texas by a cool-sounding group of people at Jester King Craft Brewery (no secret if you read all of the label text above).

The aroma was very hoppy (which I expected), but I didn't detect the usual harsh notes that I usually find in a strong-hops ale. In fact, I found it pleasant with a hint of aromatics and trace of yeast that didn't make me think of bread, but somehow blended together in a pleasing way.

This glorious thick head surprised me,
and this was with a very mild pour.
I had let the beer warm to about 50 degrees before pouring it, and started with a very soft pour (slowly on the side of the glass). I was rewarded by a stunning head of almost pure-white foam. It was dense and reminded me of a topping of marshmallow cream atop a cup of warm Irish coffee. The color below the head, though, did not remind me of coffee, as it was a cloudy brown with a haze of strong carbonation that continued to rise from the bottom of the glass.

And the lace! French lacemakers have nothing on the complex tracings this ale leaves on the side of the glass. In fact, in some places it left thick foam pads on the side of the glass, surprising me with how long they took to dissapate. This is probably a result of the carbonation.

This started off very balanced and I enjoyed it. But, the hops built a foundation of bitterness in my mouth that kept growing as I drank it. I also monitored the temperature and found that, as expected, the bitterness increased in tandem with the temperature. For me, the sweet spot was below 50 degrees, which, by the way, is what they list on the back of the bottle (I would love it if more breweries did that).

On the shelf at Spec's Liquor on Veteran's Memorial
After drinking a bit of this beer (it's in a 1 pint, 4 oz bottle), I realized that I was getting a dryness in my mouth that I couldn't place. After doing some post-drinking reading, I found a few folks who attributed this to some rye in the mix. That surprised me as -- which you might recall from last week's bitter encounter with Sisyphus Barleywine Style Ale -- I didn't come away being a fan of rye. This week's meeting, though, has intrigued me to continue seeking out rye to find out more about it.

From their Website:
Farmhouse edition of our classic Rye India Pale Ale brewed with nearly three pounds of hops per barrel and 15% malted rye.. Earthy rye and piny hop flavor and aroma meet peppery, citrusy characteristics from our farmhouse yeast. 

But back to the beer: I chilled the bottle again and found that, when it was cooler, I did enjoy it more, eliminating the "bitter beer mouth" that some other people found as they drank their way to the bottom of the bottle.

This was an expensive beer: I paid about $8 for it at Spec's Liquoor in NW Houston. Still, it was 1 pint 4 ounces (750 ml), so this is perfect for sharing with a buddy. I was eating Mexican food with it and it didn't pair well, so I finished it afterwards and enjoyed the ale by itself while watching the Avengers animated series on Netflix (check out a brief review I wrote about it over at my other blog). I can't tell if it's the thought of the salsa and chips in the other room, or if the dryness is making be crave water and something salty. In either case, though, I wouldn't have minded someone casting a summoning spell to bring me another bottle of the Wytchmaker.

I enjoyed it and plan to pick up a fresh bottle soon. This is going to be added to my list of favorite beers (check out the upper-right corner of this page).

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Hazy brown, slight touch of amber
Aroma: Not as bitter as I expected, with a hint of aromatics and citrus
Hops: Surprisingly balanced with the yeast
Head: WOW! Huge, white and thick
Lace: Amazingly thick and impressive
Carbonation: Strong, helping add to the haze
Temperature Sweet Spot: Below 50 degrees
ABV: 6.8% (according the the label; online sources list it at 6.6%)
My Rating: 8 out of 10

Other reviews worth a sip
I am in agreement with some of the reviews at the Beer Advocate. Most of those guys liked this, but it wasn't a slam dunk, as some did not fall under its spell.

However, this guy over at Beer Geek Nation really liked it, although he detected more fruit notes in it than I did (view from this link, or just watch it below )