Avery Brewing Co – The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest

Sometime last week it finally started to get cold around Washington DC.  I’m not sure if it’s exactly fall weather, but it is certainly a little more bearable than it was a few days before that.  With the cold weather, I finally feel like it is becoming acceptable to dive into the fall brews.  Don’t get me wrong, I have consumed a handful of pumpkin beers and other fall style brews; however, I’ve also been attempting to finish off any and all summery beers before they find their way to the back of my selves. With the weather beginning to change, I feel like I can finally openly admit to drinking these fall concoctions.

Fall beers have been a love hate relationship for a little while here.  For the longest time there were plenty of beers I loved that came out in the fall, but there were also other styles that I would keep away from.  I’ve loved oktoberfests and harvest beers since college.  I can still remember buying my first bottle of Sam Adams Oktoberfest.  Having not really experimented with the craft market at that time, I thought it was one of the most interesting beers I’d ever consumed.  I remember buying it by the case my first two years out of college.  Pumpkin beers, on the other hand, I’ve only just started to enjoy as of last year.  I went in for my weekly tasting at the beer store where they had Dogfish Head Punkin on tasting.  I was skeptical, having never enjoyed a pumpkin beer before, but I am sure to taste everything I can.  The flavors were so good, I decided I had to give all pumpkin beers another chance.  Sure there are still some that fall short, but I am much more open to their enjoyment now a days.  A pumpkin beer review will be just around the corner, but I give you a great oktoberfest to kick off the season.

The Kaiser is one of the big imperial bottles in Avery’s Dictator series.  While there are plenty of pretty good oktoberfests out there, I don’t know of many that are considered imperial.  I guess many brewers don’t feel it’s a necessary style to take to the imperial level.  Either way, that may be the component that has me loving this oktoberfest.  I’m not sure if it’s my new favorite for the style.  I really liked the Left Hand brewery version lately as well, but I wouldn’t mind having this one again at all.

This one pours a dark red copper color which may be the perfect color for a fall day.  I may need to find another bottle to enjoy at that actual time.  There is some ample fluffy off white head that develops on top.  The head has a rather sudsy look to it with good lacing and some very light sticky residue.  Overall there is some good clarity, and you can make out some quite visible carbonation.

The aroma is certainly dominated by the sweet malt scent.  Oktoberfests are typically fairly dominated by malts; however, this one has a slight boozy background that comes with an imperial version.  It’s certainly nice, and I am thinking I need to find another bottle for a nice cool fall night.  You do get some citrus that comes out as well as having a slightly figgy raisin aroma.  There is a slight apple scent that rounds out the smell; however, I never really find the hops in the smell.

The flavor profile kicks off with the big sweet malts you expect from a beer meant to get you ready for a cool fall day.  I’m honestly not sure how prevalent it is, but I pulled some nice apple and cinnamon flavors out of the mix as well.  These combined with the sweet malts to make a real pleasant fall taste.  The yeast is more the component of the transition in the middle between the onset and the finish of the beer.  The second half has a fig and booze combination that leads into the light hops that I couldn’t find on the nose.  The big malts kick back up for a real harvest feel.  Finally the beer ends with some sweet malts and booze.

The mouthfeel has a very syrupy back half that compliments the big malt flavor well.  The ample carbonation starts the beer but it quickly tappers off over time.  The big malts, light hops, and light booze all combine for a great fall combination, and the addition of the apples and cinnamon have it tasting great for the season.

The fall season is really just kicking off, but I may have found one of my favorite beers of the fall.  I need to get back out there and find another bottle of this before it’s all gone.  You should do the same if you have any love for oktoberfests at all.  Put this one aside for a nice cool night and it will be sure to keep you warm.

Teacher Grade: A

Maui Brewing & Jolly Pumpkin Brewing Co – Sobrehumano Palena’ole

I typically head to the store to pick up single bottles of different beers that have been released every week.  I feel better just having one bottle to try to store till I get around to drinking it.  I don’t have a lot of room to store my stuff, although I’ll be getting more very shortly.  Thus, it’s just nicer to not have a ton of six and four packs lying about.  Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t help it.  I call up the store to reserve my selections, and sometimes they tell me you can only reserve them in a multi-pack.  Unwilling to let the beer go, I resign myself to storing it and move on.  One really nice thing about have multiple bottles is it gives me lots of time to develop my thoughts and opinions on a beer.  I can drink a few before coming up with my ultimate decision on it.  I’ve found that while I develop a love for some beers overtime, I also realize a beer wasn’t exactly as good as I originally thought.  Such is the case with this one.

I’m really not all that knowledgeable about either of these companies.  I’ve had 3-4 different Maui brews, and I think I’ve had one other one from Jolly Pumpkin, so I’m not exactly an expert on either.  I’ve heard good things about both though, which is exactly what drew me to call and reserve this particular beer.

The funny thing about this purchase was that I basically bought it solely for the breweries involved in its production.  There is Belgian restaurant down the street from me that has a great selection of Belgian beers.  While I’m willing to pick just about anything out of their menu, I always skip the section on lambics and fruit beers.  I historically don’t like them.  I make a slight exception for pumpkin, but I have only managed to start doing that this year.  Anyway, this beer is described as having both passion fruit and cherries.  Beer advocate lists it as a fruit and vegetable beer. It screams of a beer I would typically avoid.  Then, on top of that problem, I also had to get a six pack of them for over $15.  I was seriously hoping this beer would take me by surprise.

This beer pours a dark reddish brown color.  It’s almost like you can see the little hints of cherry in it.  There is some very light white head that develops on top that manages to dissipate quite quickly.  There is essentially no lacing and no sticky residue on the side of the glass at all.  It certainly has a very hazy appearance, and you can’t see any visible carbonation at all.

The aroma should have been an immediate sign this beer might not be for me; however, I have a six-pack to consume, so I had better get to work.  The sweetness from the passion fruit and cherries is quite big on the nose.  While there certainly is quite a bit of sweetness here, you also manage to get some ample sour notes here as well.  This beer is basically all malts and no hops at all.  There is definitely a little bit of a crisp aroma to it; however, you actually have the fruit aroma weighing it down.  It smells like a sour fruit beer.

The beer has a slightly light sweet malt introduction.  The lightness of the malts is actually good because it helps balance out some of the big sweet fruit notes later on.  The tangy passion fruit comes in with some nice sweetness.  This then leads into some much sweeter cherry flavors.  While the cherries start sweet, they quickly turn very tart and sour.  I haven’t consumed a whole lot of sour ales; however, this one helps me see I’m not really a big fan of the sour fruit flavors.  While I’m sure there are hops somewhere in here, I can’t really find the flavors at all.  The beer finishes with some big tart and sour fruit flavors.

The mouthfeel starts off with some light carbonation.  This carries the beer through the start; however, it begins to go syrupy as the sour fruit notes kick up.  The tangy sour finish is actually quite dry and slightly off-putting.  As a fruit beer it has some fairly good flavors; however, the sour notes take it in a direction I just don’t like.

As I review more and more beers, I begin to see that jumping at big name companies isn’t always the best thing to do.  Sure they produce a lot of good beers, but I should really pay more attention to the style of the beer before jumping at it.  I’ve managed to pawn two of these off on others; however, I’ve consumed a few on my own as well.  It may be a little while before I drink down the last one, or I’ll find some way to trade it away.  Either way, I think I’ve had my fill of this one.

Teacher Grade: D

Vigilante Brewing Co – Yippie-Ki Yay Hazelnut Brown Ale

I have once again burdened my good friend John with the task of reviewing one of my latest beers.  Interestingly, by the time he got the review to me all the of bottles have almost been consumed.  Regardless of that, John is a good writer and produced a rather well-written review of my efforts here.  Plus, I’m a proud Daddy here and want to brag about my children.  Here it is!

Fall is my favorite season.  I like it so much that I sometimes call it autumn.  I know not everyone loves fall but I have yet to meet someone that hates it.  It’s the open windows and the changing trees that make fall generally agreeable.  Even if you live in the city and you are afraid to open your windows and there are no trees, at least that hipster’s scarf is no longer ironic.

Fall also marks the return of students to school and Gary and I going back to work.  This is particularly important because beer tastes better after getting cussed out by a 13 year old.  Last Friday, Gary and I drank the Kasteel and despite tasting like Manischewitz and Capri Sun, it was probably the best beer I’ve ever drank.  What I’m getting at is that beer is as much situational as it is sensory and fall creates a great backdrop for a nut-brown beer.

Hazelnut, to be exact, which is a bold choice, but a bold choice is to be expected by Vigilante Brewing Company’s CEO, Head Brewer, and medical test subject, Gary.  I wasn’t as excited about this brew because I haven’t ever liked a hazelnut beer.  For example, Founder’s Frangelic Mountain tastes like a hazelnut coffee creamer and Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown tastes like…hazelnut coffee creamer – there’s really no other simile.  The problem is that to get a hazelnut flavor, you have to use hazelnut extract.  Extract flavoring in beer takes on the most extreme form of the flavor extracted.  If used incorrectly the beer is going to smell unrealistic, disingenuous, and frankly a lot like hazelnut coffee creamer.

So clearly I was nervous when Gary asked for a review of his beer.  I was nervous when we popped the top on the first one and the hazelnut smell was over powering.  I was nervous when the first sip I took burned with obvious extract flavoring.  But that was 4 weeks ago.  Let’s just say I’m not nervous anymore.

Appearance – I really like reviewing beer, but I think this part is stupid.  The beer is brown.  It’s not sandy, it’s not light coffee macchiato, it’s brown.  A brownish brown with slight hints of ecru?  No, that’s brown.  Oh and the head?  It’s foamy.  Not a pillow top comforter, or cotton pillow kind of foam, but quite seriously just foam.  If that didn’t satisfy what the beer looked like – look at the picture.

Smell – Hazelnut, obviously.  But this beer succeeds where other beers fail.  The hazelnut has that creamy, toasted smell but it’s not so overwhelming that there are not other qualities present.  If you give it a little time the caramel and even some peppery notes start to pop up.  This is an improvement because most of these powerfully flavored beers are so one-note that they become disappointing halfway through the bottle.

Taste – Smell is like 75% of taste.  So if you make a hazelnut-flavored beer with hazelnut extract at bottling you get a beer that is 175% hazelnut.  Trying to pack 175% of hazelnut into 100% of beer makes for a mess of flavor.  What Gary did was focus on creating a great brown ale instead of a great hazelnut-brown ale.  I appreciate this because he included bold caramel malts that create a solid backbone that caries the beer.  Though the beer is pretty sweet, there are enough IBUs to give it the right amount of earthy spices.  The hazelnut is on the front, then malts, and finishes with hops.  I enjoy this, while others may not, because it cleanses the palate and doesn’t leave you feeling like you just drank a dessert.

Mouthfeel – This is where this beer separates itself from other hazelnut brown beers.  This is a very light drinking, nicely carbonated beer.  It’s crisp and bright which is unlike the creamy, heavy feels of other hazelnut beers.  It makes a huge difference because, just like the hops, the carbonation and light body take the hazelnut flavor down a few notches.

I’ve got a few bottles of this beer left and I’m going to hang onto them until the leaves start to change and I can start up a fire pit.  Like I said, the situation is important when you drink a beer, but sometimes, the beer creates the situation.  Gary succeeded in making a beer that has as much situation as it does flavor.  Get your hands on one of these bottles because they are going fast.  But if you can’t, don’t worry, there’s another beer on the way from Vigilante and it is certainly not lacking in personality.

Bottle Shopping in Philly

This past weekend my wife took part in her third ever half marathon.  If you’ve been following me for a little while, you know I ran one with her last spring; however, I have taken a lot of time off since then.  I really need to get back to it because my girlish figure has really been suffering since then.  Anyway, she decided to run in her second Rock and Roll half marathon.  It means you get a medal for running in it, and you can get a second medal for doing two of them.  Anyway, we ran the one in DC back in March and this one was in Philly.  Philly is always near and dear to my heart.  I went to school out in Harrisburg PA, so we would travel into Philly nearly every week to go to hardcore and metal concerts.  We even went in to see Dashboard Confessional one time.  My wife used to live about 30-45 minutes outside in the suburbs, so we used to travel in when I visited her.  We’ve been there for the 4th of July, Live Aid, and a ton of Cinco De Mayo celebrations with our good friend Teresa.  We love Philly.   Thus, I was happy to have some time to walk around Philly while she went to the convention for her half marathon.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I like to search out different brews in the different states I visit.  Pennsylvania is the most frustrating place to do this.  They have laws that prevent you from purchasing a normal six pack very easily.  Almost everything you buy has to be in a case of 24.  It sucks if you’re looking for 750 mls or create your own six pack.  Thus, knowing I would have some time on my hands, I googled bottle stores in Philly where I could piece together a mixture of bottles I couldn’t find back home.  Although it was an hour walk from our hotel, I found a location known as The Bottle Shop.

We arrived in Philly around 2 pm, dropped our bags off at our hotel, and split up for our respective locations.  Google informed me I’d be in for a couple mile walk, so I put on the new Avett Brothers album and commenced with the walking.  It was a nice little walk, although I continued to wonder if I was really heading the right way; however, I eventually managed to find my way to the Bottle Shop.  It took a little under and hour, but I was very pleased to walk in and find that I could purchase beer to drink on the spot.  A very friendly place to sit and relax before my hike back up to Chinatown.

As with most beer geeks, I took a very long time perusing the selection before selecting my first beer for consumption.  There were quite a few I’d had before; however, I could certainly see a few selections I’d never managed to find before.  It came down to a debate of what was worthy of drinking on the spot and what needed to be purchased for the prospect of review at home.  I could see a few I knew I’d want to review, so I ultimately went with a bottle I thought would be refreshing and hoppy after a long walk on a slightly warm day: Fegley’s Brew Works – Hop Explosion.  I wasn’t sure if I was buying a regular IPA or a double because of the lack of IBU information.  I suppose I could have googled it, but I decided to wing it.  Looking it up later, I found out it was 7% ABV and 70 IBUs. It was a really well balanced IPA with some very good hop flavors.  Ultimately, I was glad I had selected something that wasn’t overwhelming but also had some really good hop flavor.

Unsure of where I wanted to go next, I perused the fridges once again trying to decipher what to select .  I didn’t want to select something I would be adding to a six pack later on, so I decided to allow myself to open up to the idea of drinking something from a brewery I’d had before.  Ultimately I landed on Sixpoint Brewing Co – Brownstone.   I had heard some good things about it, and I’ve been trying to give a few more beers from Sixpoint a try.  The Bottle Shop had a great line up from Sixpoint and it’s a big can so I felt like it was good value.  Having just about consumed all of my homebrewed Brown Ale, I was interested to compare flavors.  Brownstone may actually be one of the more enjoy about brown ales I’ve had recently.  I tend to get frustrated with browns that go too dark and heavy, and I think this one stayed nice and crisp.  It was good to prep me for my long walk back up to the hotel.

After spending a little time in the store, putting together my own six pack wasn’t hard at all.  I pretty much hung around the west coast section of their selection, but I did branch out with a few bottles.  I’ll share the picture of what I got so you can get a little preview, but I’m sure one or two of these bottles will show up in a review very shortly.  I walked my way back to my hotel where I popped open one I knew I wouldn’t review.  The Walt Wit from Philadelphia Brewing Co was a nice citrusy Wit beer from a local brewery I’ve actually never had before.  Plus, as an English teacher, how could I pass up a bottle with Walt Whitman on it?  Probably not my favorite Wit of all time, but I’m not actually a big fan of the wit style.  Regardless, it was the right beer at the right time.

I was quite pleased with my experience at The Bottle Shop.  The staff was friendly, the selection was great, and you can pop a beer and drink it right there.  It was quite a walk from my hotel, but I would gladly do it all over again the next time I’m in Philly.  It’s hard to find a good place to bottle shop in PA, but this is a gem for sure in a state that seems to think you need to buy beer in bulk.

Stillwater Artisanal Ales – Eschatological Ale

Sometime during the summer I realized that my blog was beginning to consume just about every aspect of my life.  I would constantly try to think of blog ideas, and I would take notes on nearly every beer I consumed for the purpose of reviewing.  It left me realizing I needed to take a step back from consistently blogging all the time.  Since then it would seem the tables have turned.  Now life seems to be getting in the way of my blogging.  This past week has been an especially good example of that.  The weekend was exceptionally busy, I worked two jobs Monday and Tuesday, I had a formal observation at school on Tuesday, and we are trying to get the whole house packed up for our big move to our new place at the end of this month.  Meanwhile, my notes on particular beers are beginning to pile up to where I could do a full week of just reviews.  Anyway, I finally found some time to get a new review out to you.  Enjoy!

Stillwater Brewery is probably not called a brewery in their title because they technically have no brewery to speak of.  They are considered a gypsy brewery.  They have no actual home (or brewery); however, they travel around and use other people’s equipment to produce their creations.  You don’t hear about a lot of gypsy breweries, but somehow, they always seem to be really good.  Mikkeller is a great example of that.  Anyway, I’ve had a few different bottles from Stillwater, but I am sadly less than knowledgeable about their different brews.  I know they tend to stick to Belgian beers, and they have crazy awesome artwork on their bottles.

I have a real issue when picking out beers with only grabbing things that seem rare.  Thus, seeing a brewery or bottle at the store all the time seems mundane.  There is bound to be something Stillwater at the store every time I go, and I take it for granted that I can always grab their stuff.  With this bottle, they really did a good job with both artwork and title.  The image immediately jumped out at me and the title had me confused.  An eschatological ale?  Getting the bottle home, I looked up the term to make sure I had an understanding of its meaning.  Eschatology means the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind; thus, I found out I was holding yet another beer in honor of the end of the world.  I think that makes three this year!

The most obvious aspect of the pour was the huge fluffy white head that developed on top of the beer.  The big sudsy head dominated much of the glass before it finally started to calm down.  The small amount of beer that managed to get in the glass on the first pour was a golden yellow color.  It was certainly hazy with a lot of visible carbonation.  You really had to wait for the bubbles to calm down to get a feel for the lacing; however, in the end, it really didn’t leave all that much lacing.  There was some light sticky residue, but you really didn’t even get much of that.  I certainly realized I was going to have to be a little lighter on the next pour.

The beer has a very Belgian aroma to it.  Like I said, Stillwater definitely likes to make a lot of Belgian beers. The sweet malts are there, but they are mostly dominated by everything else going on in this beer.  There was some light citrus here; however, you get quite a bit of light spice combined with the orangey citrus aroma.  The spice is mainly clove, but you can pull out some pepper as well as an interesting hop addition.  Overall it has a big bread aroma, and yet, I would say it’s quite crisp and clean.

While the sweet malts were somewhat overwhelmed in the smell, they certainly show up on the taste.  This is combined with some citrus, lemon peel, and overall orange flavor.  It helps create a nice sweet, but mellow, backbone for the beer to build upon.  The big Belgian clove flavor comes in with the yeast to really shake things up.  There is quite the large tangy flavor that follows the clove.  I’m not sure what the tang can be attributed to, but it’s quite interesting in the flavor profile.  There is a surprisingly big hit of hops that follows the tang and leaves me almost thinking I’m drinking some kind of Belgian IPA.  However, it takes it back to the Belgian roots with some light raisin and fig flavors.  There is certainly a little booze on the finish as well.

The big sweet malts and citrus had me thinking this beer was a lot thicker than I expected for the mouthfeel of this style.  Despite the head and ample visible carbonation, I found it still had a slightly syrupy quality to it.  The carbonation does a good job fighting back against the syrup, but I think it falls just short.  There are a lot of big bold flavors in here like the clove, tang, and hops.

It may have been the label and name that drew me in, but it will be the flavors of this one that keep me coming back for more.  While it doesn’t follow any real tradition Belgian ale, it was a great take on a Belgian style.  I think I have to stop ignoring Stillwater when I’m at the store and check out a few other beers in their catalog.

Teacher Grade: A-

Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck N.V. – Kasteel Cuvee Du Chateau 2010

There are times when I go to the store on a mission to purchase certain beers; however, there are other times I end up there with no particular direction at all.  While I can rack up quite a bill when I’m on a mission, I’ve found that no direction can be even worse.  I manage to kill both time and money.  I walk back and forth scanning the shelves trying to figure out what I want.  I do the tasting and consider any of the five beers that are usually tested there, and then I walk around the store a bit more before finally beginning to fill my basket.  I used to do the same thing with music.  Eventually I’ll have a full basket or a bunch of bottles all lined up at the checkout counter.  Either way, I’ve done a lot of damage.  Regardless, I get my shelves stocked and ready to go.

This particular bottle was the result of a tasting.  Even though it’s a vintage bottle, I wouldn’t have regularly been attracted to it without doing a tasting.  I guess that is why American breweries tend to put exciting labels on their bottles.  It immediately draws people in.  This one is a plain label that doesn’t really jump out at anyone.  Thankfully the tasting got it noticed.  I sat on this bottle for a little while waiting for the right instance to give it a go.  You don’t get a big sample on the tasting; however, even with the small amount, I knew I needed a comrade to give it a try with me.  The 11% ABV on the side of the bottle only confirmed that.

Having already tasted this one once, I did (or rather didn’t do) something that I ordinarily do.  I didn’t even bother to check the style of the brew.  A strange thing for me indeed.  Instead, John and I dove into the bottle.  This bottle is a quadrupel.  Funny as it may seem, this one didn’t immediately strike me as a quad.  The flavors had me thinking of a cross between a Belgian beer and a sweet wine.

This one poured a very dark reddish brown color with some light off white head.  The head really isn’t very significant which helps to display the plentiful alcohol content here.  The lacing is okay; although, you really don’t see much development on the sides of the glass at all.  Also, you have some really nice sticky residue left over.  Clear indication that this beer has a lot of alcohol and sugary backbone.  The beer has a hazy feel; however, it’s really too dark to get a good feel on the clarity.  The dark quality keeps you from getting a real feel for the carbonation, but it seems like there isn’t much.

The smell that hit me first was the big grape scent.  My cohort compared it to Welch’s grape juice.  I want to say I agree with him there, but I feel like that is going to turn a lot of people off.  The big grape and sugary smells are there.  You can take that to mean the grape juice you used to drink as a child, but I don’t want to sway your opinion too much here.  You get a slight apple aroma and a ton of sweet malts as well.  The malts have a slight Belgian fig aroma to them, and yet, that is mostly swallowed up by the huge grape aroma.  The hops are practically nonexistent here.

The first sip makes you think a Belgian brewer decided to tackle the production of a wine.  There are some nice ample sweet malts to kick off the flavor profile.  You get a little bit of light caramel flavor in there; however, it all leads into the big grape flavor that dominated the nose.  It is at this early part of the tasting you think you could be drinking wine.  The booze comes flying in here to carry you into the finish.  There are some light apple cidery flavors; however, the beer ends with some bigger fig and raisin flavors.  These really become more apparent as the beer is allowed to warm.  The beer ends with a lot of booze and a fig/grape mixture.

The mouthfeel starts off well with a good amount of carbonation.  This quickly fades into a malty abyss as the syrup and booze come into play.  This beer won’t let you forget you’re drinking a beer over 10% ABV, and you really don’t get a lot of the clove from the yeast or help from the hops to change that.  The Kasteel website states, “The aroma and flavour of Cuvée du Château are those of an aged Kasteel Donker that had 10 years to evolve in the cellars of the castle”.  To me it’s pretty clear in the mouthfeel and taste that this beer has seen some aging.

John and I discussed how to rate this particular beer.  He raised a few questions on my rating system as it stands now.  I’m glad that I drank this beer, and I would definitely recommend it to someone to try at least once.  However, I doubt I would pick up a bottle of it again.  My rating system says whether I would drink it again or not.  This just doesn’t quite fit that particular type of rating system.  Therefore, I am calling an audible on the grading system.  This will be the first beer to be graded as a “One Hit Wonder”.  I like the new category.  Now I can communicate if it’s a good beer to try at least once. Personally, I’m glad I had this Kasteel once, but I won’t be going back to it again.

Teacher Grade: One Hit Wonder!

Don’t worry the beer was better than this guy!