Fort George Brewing Co – Cavatica Stout

A few years ago my brother decided he would be joining the Coast Guard.  I’m not entirely sure I would blossom and flourish in that Cavaticaparticular setting, but he seems to be enjoying it.  One of the nice things about his job is that he gets to travel and live in a bunch of different areas.  He went to boot camp in Cape May NJ, was stationed in Boston for a time, and now lives in Astoria Oregon.  Since being officially stationed there he’s managed to take the boat to various islands, travel through the Panama Canal, and hang out in Guantanamo Bay for a little while.  I love to travel, so some of those actually do get me jealous.  Well he is about to move again from Astoria to Seattle, and we’ve never made it out there to visit him.  My wife and I change that next week.  Next Wednesday we fly into Portland to spend a couple of days in and around hipster paradise.

Being an avid beer lover, it sounds like Oregon could be a bit of Mecca for me.  My brother and Megan Vs Beer have managed to give me a few different examples of that.  I’ve received different beers from Deschutes, Ninkasi, Rogue, Hair of the Dog, and a variety of others.  Since we of course have to check out where my brother has been living the past few years, and it’s a free place to stay, we’ll definitely be heading back to Astoria.  One brewery I know I’ll be visiting while in Astoria is Fort George Brewing Co.

My brother informs me it’s right around the corner from his place.  It’s a brewery he had been telling me about for a while, and he made it even more interesting when he brought a variety of their beers back to the east coast for me.  I previously reviewed their Oatmeal Pale Ale, which I really enjoyed.  But I’ve worked my way through a few other beers from them as well.  I didn’t review it, but their Vortex IPA was really good too.  Since it is stout month, and I’m looking for a few ideas of what to do while in the Portland area, I figured it was about time to dive into their stout.

My brother has told me this beer is definitely his favorite, so I was holding on to it for a while waiting for the right time to enjoy it.  Fort George apparently has an affinity for spiders, so there are quite a few spider facts and pictures surrounding the can.  Although intrigued their love became the artwork for this particular beer, I’m not especially a fan of particularly large arachnids.  I’m trusting that they didn’t use them in the brew, so I was really looking forward to it.

This beer has a super dark oil appearance to it as it hits the glass.  Fort George goes as far as saying this beer will stain your cavatica glassclothes.  I didn’t really feel like giving that a test, so I’ll take their word for it.  There is a light brown/tannish head that develops on the pour.  There is certainly great lacing and residual sticky residue left on the sides of the glass after a nice little swirl.  Agitating the beer builds the thick and creamy head right back up.  Of course it was far too dark to get a sense of clarity, but you can see a little carbonation around the edges.

As a good stout should, both chocolate and coffee seem to dominate the aroma of the beer.  One nice thing is that they list the malts and hops they use in the brew on the side of the can and on the site.  There are no chocolate malts in the brew, but they use Munich which I suppose help give some of that nice dark chocolate smell.  There are some light roasted aromas that come off the beer as well.  These combine nicely with rather fragrant coffee scents.  The sweet malts are quite evident, but the hops seems to get swallowed up on the nose.  There is a slight woody earthy quality to the smell as well.

While there are certainly stouts out there that take it easy on some of the big stout aspects I love, I’m glad to see this beer features some nice bold stout qualities.  The beer has a typical sweet malt intro that is accompanied by some of the rich dark chocolate I pulled out of the nose.  The bold coffee flavors come in and are quickly met by huge roasted notes.  The big roasted flavors reach a peak towards the end of the brew.  Right near the end I get my first taste of some hop that could be hiding behind all that chocolate and coffee.  The beer ends with a nice sweet and chocolate flavored finish.

The beer borders on having an almost milk or oatmeal stout quality.  The big thick and creamy mouth is always nice for a bold stout like this one.  Thankfully they provided just enough carbonation to keep it slightly lighter; however, the bold roasted notes towards the end still keep it heavier throughout.

I’m definitely looking forward to finding my way over to Fort George brewery sometime next week.  I actually just saw that they will be offering this very beer aged in rye barrels.  I will certainly be on the lookout for that one.  If you’re familiar with the Portland and Astoria area, let me know some things I should be looking out for out there.  Maybe I’ll bring some good beer back for you.

Teacher Grade: A


Cisco Brewers – Indie Pale Ale

I know it’s been a little while since I was consistent at posting, so I figure this double posting in one week is kinda crazy for brewers Guess I’m slowly working my way back into it.  Anyway, since it’s been so long since I posted, I can use the happenings of the past couple months as my intro material for my next few blogs.

I’m not sure what most beer geeks get for gifts over Christmas, but over the past couple I’ve ended up getting a few different things for my most prominent hobby.  I got a wort chiller and a few other components for homebrewing.  I also got a few little knickknacks for my beer collection.  However, I actually found myself coming back from my Christmas festivities with quite a bit of beer.  My sister got me a six pack of some Southern Tier IPA, and my friend Meg got one of her friends to pick up a variety of different big bottles from the Vermont area.  While beer gifts always get me excited, it also helped prove to me that I make it hard on other people to find beer for me that I haven’t had before.

The variety was of course really nice to get; however, I was really looking to find a few bottles I hadn’t had before.  There was the Merry Mischief from Sam Adams as well as a few bottles I’ve had or could get in my area.  However, I was very happy to pull out a few I hadn’t had before.  This bottle from Cisco Brewers and another from Switchback Brewing Co really stuck out to me.  Switchback isn’t a brewery I’ve very familiar with.  Looking into them online, it seems like they are a really small company that is really just producing a few noticeable beers.  I was more than happy to grab something that I knew I couldn’t get around here.

This bottle of Cisco, however, was one I’d heard of before.  I’ve looked into a lot of different and interesting breweries over the many different reviews I’ve done for this site.  Cisco may be one of the most interesting to date.  They got their start homebrewing like a lot of other people who go full time in the industry.  They however seemed to have quite the hippy demeanor.  They called themselves a Nano brewery and did almost all their brewing outside at the start.  According to their site, their head brewer hand capped 60,000 bottles in their first year.  That’s dedication!  Reading about dedication like that had me really excited to crack open this bottle.

This one pours out a nice bright orange color with some hints of darker red and brown in there as well.  A very nice fluffy white head develops on top.  As you can see in the picture, the head isn’t overwhelming, but it is definitely a nice moderate amount.  Interestingly, there isn’t much of any lacing or sticky residue left on the side of the glass after the swirl.   The beer is extremely hazy so it was a little difficult to get a feel for the clarity, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot of visual carbonation.

cisco glassThe aroma on the beer is mainly dominated by some nice orange citrusy scent.  Other than the citrus, the big floral hop smell also steals the show.  The aroma seems to be overrun by the floral hops, but there does seem to be some light piney scents as well.  In addition to some of the citrus is some nice big tropical fruit and pineapple notes.  The sweet malts appear to be rather light; however, I did get a little tang out of the aroma too.

The most noticeable aspect of the taste is that it is a rather big fresh tasting beer.  The malt introduction is rather short and really only slightly sweet.  While the malts sit back, the hops grab the reigns and take full control of this brew.  Following some of the light sweet malts, you get some big citrus and orange flavor.  Those flavors lead quite nicely into the huge floral notes.  The floral aspects dominate the majority of the flavor; however, the hops move from the herbal floral to the sharp pine flavor in the second half.  The back half also moves from orange to pineapple and tropical fruit.  The beer ends with just a little bit of nice tang.

Overall I wouldn’t say the mouthfeel is too heavy.  The flavors are overall quite light, and there really isn’t even any syrup on this one either.  The biggest problem I have with the beer would be that it seems a little over carbonated to me.  As an IPA, the hops give off a great flavor for a hop addict like myself.

I haven’t seen this beer in my area just yet, but if you do see it on the shelf, I would definitely pick it up.  I would really like to see what a few other beers in their line-up are like.  I’m not sure I’ve heard about too many other breweries that can match the passion of these guys, so I’m thinking that much heart can’t create bad beer.

Teacher Grade: A

Dogfish Head Brewing Co – Birra Etrusca Bronze

This post is my triumphant return to the blogging community.  I got a little jaded with my blogging by the end of last year, so I felt like Ietrusca needed to take a little time off.  While I really only meant it to be over the holiday break, I managed to get fairly busy over the past few weeks of the new year.  So I really felt like I didn’t have a lot of time to get on here.  It’s not like I haven’t been drinking craft beer or listening to good music.  Trust me, I’ve still been formulating different blogs in my head, but I just haven’t found the time to get back on here.  Hopefully you missed me and can’t wait to read my ramblings.

Even though I wasn’t posting anything on here, my views really kept up with the almost two years of posts in my history.  Guess I can keep contributing despite not actually writing anything new.  Also, while I was gone, it’s not like I have been buying and drinking craft beer.  My collection has continued to grow, I brewed perhaps my best beer yet (A black ipa), and I even took some notes for future reviews.  I’m not sure if I’ll abandon those notes just yet or not, but if you’re interested in reading my opinion on any of these let me know.  My notes are for Old KILTer Scottish ale from Olde Main Brewing Co, Blitzen from Blue Mountain Brewery, and the latest collaboration from Stone known as Perfect Crime.  I can put one of these up if there is interest.  Otherwise I’ll continue pressing on.

Anyway, I picked up this bottle a few weeks ago.  Dogfish is of course one the most hot and cold breweries out there.  There is no other brewery that produces some of my most loved and hated brews of all time.  Anyway, this is part of their Ancient Ales series.  Historically I haven’t loved a lot of the beers in this series, but I can’t help but feel the need to give it a try.  For this brew, Sam traveled to Rome to analyze drinking vessels found in 2,800-year-old Etruscan tombs.  Based on their findings, they brewed this ale using two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat.  Some of the specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. While this beer had all the signs of things I typically dislike in my beer, I still had to give it a shot.  Plus it seemed like the perfect beer to get me back into blogging.

This one pours a nice bright orange reddish color.  It really has an almost candied quality to it.  There is a very substantial tan head that develops on top of the beer.  Some very light lacing develops on the side of the glass, and you do have some much more substantial sticky residue as well.  As you can tell from the picture, the clarity in this one is great with some very visible carbonation as well.  The carbonation bubbles back off overtime, but they are quite plentiful right after the initial pour.

EtruscaThe fruits in this one certainly dominate the aroma coming out of the glass.  The sweet malts are fairly large and back up the fruits quite well.  According to the bottle, they utilized both actual pomegranates and pomegranate juice.  Therefore, pomegranate is the biggest aroma that you get out of this one.  I pick up a little bit of the honey sweetness to this one as well.  There seems to be a little bit of light raisins, as well as, a bit of spice from some clove too.  While it doesn’t say it anywhere on the label, I seem to find some slight cherry aroma too.

Overall I would say the flavoring on this one is rather light.  Everything works well together, and you don’t have any huge flavors that dominate, but overall it’s quite light.  The sweet malts come out however they are somewhat subdued.  This beer hinges more on the specialty flavors that are added rather than the base flavors.  The honey sweetness combines with the malt intro to make it a somewhat sweet start.  Midway through a sour cherry and bold pomegranate flavor come in.  The pomegranate flavor carries through all the way to the end.  There is a kick of carbonation and yeast slightly past the midway point that adds a lot of character to the beer.  The yeast brings a little bit of clove and spice to give the beer a little needed kick.  The beer ends with some lingering pomegranate flavors and overall sweetness.

I would say this beer is rather sweet overall, but they did a good job of using a yeast that added a lot of character.  The beer is certainly dominated by a syrupy nature, but yeast and carbonation help to even it out.  The beer has a rather moderate body because of this nice mixture.

Rating this beer is a little difficult.  This ancient ale is also known as a gruit.  Historically I’ve never really had a love for this style.  So, as far as gruits go, I’d like rate it rather highly.  However, my actual rating system is based on whether I’d like to drink this beer again.  As far as returning to this beer, I don’t really see that happening.  So this may actually be the first beer I have to give a double rating to.  If you’ve been spurned by the gruit style like I have, then you should definitely check this one out.  I’m glad I had this beer, but I won’t be grabbing another bottle for me.

Gruit Grade: A

Teacher Grade: D


Visiting Flying Dog

I personally love to visit breweries.  I live roughly two to three miles from DC Brau, so it’s not to hard to visit a brewery about any timeRV I want.  I don’t actually get over there that often, but it’s nice to know I can.  I’ve tried to visit other breweries when I can.  I’ve been to Victory twice; although, I’m not certain they allow you to tour it.  I’ve been to Brooklyn; however, it was probably one of the worst tours I’ve been to.  Therefore, I was really hopeful my first time up to Flying Dog would be exceptional.

Flying Dog is a pretty popular brewery in the area, and they apparently love to give back to the restaurants that carry their products.  The GM at the restaurant I work at knows I’m a really big fan of beer, so he let me know about a special manager trip up to tour and taste at the brewery.  Thankfully, because my GM is awesome, he got me on the trip.  I was told to meet at the restaurant at 10 AM to catch my ride up to the brewery.  I wasn’t really sure what the ride would be like, but I was hopeful it wouldn’t be too bad because car sickness is a big problem of mine.   Arriving at the restaurant, I was extremely excited to see the Flying Dog RV parked on the corner.

Flying Dog boardThe RV is evidently the transportation Flying Dog sends out for these type of events.  The RV had some comfy seating around the perimeter, chalkboard paint for the walls, and (most importantly) two kegs of Flying Dog brew.  Ironically, the day before, another group from the restaurant had gone out and basically kicked both kegs.  Before we had even managed to pour a beer for every member of our group, we were totally out of beer.  Seems ironic on a trip all about beer.  Thankfully we managed to get some bottles on the way up to compensate for the empty kegs.

Getting to the brewery, we were immediately ushered into the tasting room to get to our free and unlimited tasting of some of the different brews they had available at the moment.  There were plenty of beers on tap that were a part of their standard line-up; however, there were a few interesting brews as well.  Flying Dog has been working on their single hop series of beer and, while I’ve had a few of them, the two they had on tap I hadn’t had before.  Their beers with brewkettleGalaxy hops and Nelson Sauvin hops were really good.  The barrel aged Gonzo porter was amazing and, having never had their coffee stout (Kujo) before, I was quite pleased with it as well.  The other beers were pretty good as well; however, I promise you I didn’t have the International Arms race beer.

After quite a bit of tasting, we headed off to tour the brewery.  If you read my review of my visit to Brooklyn, you know I got angry about how bad their tour was.  Thankfully, Flying Dog does a much better job.  They start you off on a wall full of different paintings related to the different things that got their brews brewing.  Everything from how their founder got the idea from climbing K2 to pictures relating to the great brews they’ve made and are making.  My visit to Brooklyn brewery involved standing in one room while a guy on a ladder pointed at different stuff and then we left.  At Flying Dog, we walked around the entire place.  We were shown all the different brew kettles, the hops, the fermentation tanks, the bottling, and the packaging.  They left no stone unturned.

Tour guideWe headed back to the tasting room for a few more good beers, and I couldn’t leave without picking up some rare bottles.  I grabbed a vintage bottle of their Horndog Barleywine from 2009 and a bottle of a brewery only St. Eadmon Belgian Dark Ale.  Don’t worry I’m sure there will be some reviews forthcoming.  Finally, right before heading out, we got to meet the CEO Jim Caruso.  I’m not going to say it was some crazy experience, but it’s cool to say I shook his hand.

In the end, I should have eaten a lot more that day because things got a little hazy on the way home; however, it was a great trip and I’m really glad I got to go on it.  If you haven’t been to Flying Dog before, you definitely need to get up there.  I’m sure they are slightly more limited on their tastings, but it was a nice place full of nice people.  Oh and the beer is really good!

Sam Adams Brewing Co – Merry Mischief

To a certain extent, I find some of the beers of the Christmas season a little frustrating.  It’s a somewhat love and hate thing. merry mischief Big bold beers are great, but there are others that rely on a bunch of Christmas spices to give them that holiday flavor.  Coming out of pumpkin beer season makes it a little frustrating.  You leave these fall beers that focus on the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.  They, of course, tend to be combined with pumpkin, but you never really taste a ton of the pumpkin on a lot of these beers.  Winter beers then come out and, some of them, just take out the pumpkin and seem to brew a pretty similar beer.  They once again have cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.  I’m still a sucker for seasonals though, so I can’t help myself when I see an interesting new bottle.

I picked this bottle up on a little bit of a whim.  When Sam Adams first started to come out with their more crafty options, I jumped on the first few that became available.  I liked that a more macro brewery was sticking with their craft roots.  I’ve missed more than a few options since then, but I couldn’t pass this one up.  The label may be the real reason why, but I was also just interested in the style.  I’d been hearing about an excellent gingerbread stout out of Hardywood Brewing Co in Richmond Va and, I also knew I would be trying their version the same weekend at my UFC and beer event.  I guess that tells you how long ago I had this beer.  Needless to say, there were some obvious differences in their attempts at the same style.

Sam Adams bills this beer a Gingerbread Stout, or ale brewed with spices, which I think was the first indication that I probably should have just left it on the shelf.  However, a big bottle under $10, and the ability to compare to another bottle kept it in my hand on the way to the counter.  Looking up the recipe, they state that the beer is brewed with the intensity and spices of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, & ginger.  It’s these spices, the same as similar pumpkin beers, that in the end had me less than pleased with this beer.

This one pours a super dark midnight black color with a fairly ample creamy and foamy dark brownish head.  There is tons of ample lacing on the side of the glass with quite a bit of residual sticky residue after the head finally dies down.  It may not be a huge amount of head, but it hangs around for a while.  The beer is obviously too dark for any sense of clarity, but you can see some very slight activity when you agitate it.  Swirling the glass also reveals that the beer has a slightly oily quality to it.

merry mischief glassThe gingerbread is certainly quite obvious on the nose.  The clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg comes across very strongly.  The beer has a very large gingerbread smell, but it comes across as somewhat pumpkinesque when combined with these other aromas.  I certainly didn’t want to smell a lot of these aromas so close to pumpkin time.  Especially when I’m already quite tired of pumpkin at this point.  Interestingly, the stout aromas don’t come out at all.  This beer is called a gingerbread stout, but the stout quality seems to be swallowed up by the rest of the spices.  The smell is quite crisp and clean overall.

The first sip reminded me of something that I really didn’t want to taste at that moment: pumpkin.  The malts kick it off; however, they aren’t too heavy or overly sweet.  Really almost all of the stout qualities seem to be rather lacking from the beer.  Part of the reason may be due to the wheat used in the malt bill.  They lightened it up just a little.  There is some slight chocolate flavor which is the most prominent stout quality you find in the flavor.  There are some slight hops in the middle that combines with some citrus flavors; however, the back half is dominated by the spices.  The gingerbread is quite noticeable; however, the clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg are far too powerful as well.  It’s got too much pumpkin remnants and not enough Christmas.  It ends slightly boozy with some rather intensified spices.

The mouthfeel isn’t overly thick, but it does lean slightly more toward a heavy feel.  There is some fairly good carbonation; however, it disappears rather quickly.  The beer is severely lacking in the stout qualities.  No roasted flavors or coffee, and you only get some slight chocolate notes.

I have a feeling my view of this beer was slightly tainted by having Hardywood Gingerbread Stout the day after; however, looking at my notes from the day before, they still aren’t positive.  When I told some people I was trying both to compare, they told me I was comparing a Ford to a Corvette.  Maybe the Sam Adams didn’t have a fighting chance with this one, but they could have done a lot more with the stout base.  If you want a good stout with some gingerbread, try to find a bottle of Hardywood.  It’s rare, but it certainly beats out this bottle.  Otherwise, I’d try a few of the other much better Christmas offerings out there.

Teacher Grade: D

UFC and Beer

As I said in my post yesterday, one of the best things about acquiring rare or hard to find beer is actually turning around and sharing it with your friends.  I’ve certainly been placed in the situation where you’re a little disappointed that the people you’re sharing with don’t quite appreciate it as much as you do.  But, if you put the right people together in the same place, it can be a lot of fun.  Saturday night frequent beer reviewer guest John and I traveled over to our friend Gavin’s house for a night full of shared beer and watching two grown men try to punch each other in the face until one of them stops.  Okay, that makes it sound like I don’t really like watching the UFC.  I actually really enjoy watching the fights, so I knew it was going to be a good night.

We’ve gotten together to do this one time before.  The previous event didn’t get a post because it seemed to be a bunch of bottles that all ran into each other without really a goal or thought in mind.  We drank about everything we could that Gavin had from 3 Floyds, and we supplemented those with a few others like Heady Topper and Ghandi Bot.  This time we decided to try and outline a little more of what we would be drinking.  Much communication took place prior to the event to try and figure out what bottles would be prioritized for the night.  Many of them were selected because of our own personal tastes right now; however, a few were placed in there because of the very high alcohol content and the need to be split three ways and enjoyed by all.  Here was the end result of our planning and prepping, as well as, a few we decided to include last minute.  This is also the order they were consumed in.

1. Gingerbread Stout – Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

2. Wee Heavy – Iron Hill Brewery

3. Bolt Cutter – Founders Brewing Co

4. Pere Jacques – Goose Island Beer Co

5. Saint Botolph’s Town – Pretty Things Brewery

6. Bourbon County – Goose Island Beer Co

7. La Bk Stout – Birrifcio L’Olmaia

8. Big Hoppy Monster (oak aged) – Terrapin Beer Co

9. Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale – Three Floyds Brewing Co

10. 10 Commandments – The Lost Abbey

11. Racer X – Bear Republic Brewing co

12. White Hatter – New Holland Brewing Co

As I’m sure you can see from the list, this was no small undertaking.  These are some big beers and many of them were a first a try for us.  The night was full of discussion on both the ups and downs of each bottle.  In the end we really geeked out by trying to arrange the bottles from best to worst.  Ultimately we all had different opinions on the ordering of the bottles; however, there were certainly a few that were the best and the worst.

The Best – Ultimately Bourbon County won the evening on everyone’s arrangement.  Really the top beers were fairly similar for all of us.  It was hard to put anything up over the bold booze and complex flavors packed into the little 12 oz bottle.  I’m excited I have a four pack to age for a few years.  Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout was second on everyone’s list as well.  Having just consumed Sam Adam’s version the day before, I was most excited for this beer.  It was an incredibly complex milk stout that really tasted like gingerbread.  My biggest problem with Sam Adams was that it lacked stout quality and instead tasted like a weak pumpkin beer.  This one was all stout and all gingerbread.  Allowing it to warm only increased its impressiveness.  The beer to round out the top three wasn’t all that surprising either.  Founders Brewing Co – Bolt Cutter rounded out the top three favorites on all lists.  At 15 % Abv, it figured to be a huge hit to the head barleywine.  Instead, it didn’t pack the punch we thought it would, and it had some nice hops to help keep the beer cleaner than expected.  There were some change-ups in the lists from here on out; however, most of the beers in the middle portion all stayed in the middle.  They simply moved up or down a place or two.

The Worst – Keep in mind this is a relative term.  These beers weren’t horrible at all, but they were the least favorite relative to the rest of the beers.  Looking back at the pictures, we all had some slight differences of opinion when it came to the least favorite ones.  These were my beers that had the low marks.  Third to last came Saint Botolph’s Town – Pretty Things Brewery.  This one was the worst for Gavin and didn’t make it into the bottom for John.  I personally did like it, but I just thought everything else above it was better.  I have a feeling it may have just come in a little too standard in comparison to the rest of the beers on the list.  The second least favorite for me was a little bit of a surprise: La Bk Stout – Birrifcio L’Olmaia.  This was a stout from Italy that had been aged in wine barrels.  We weren’t really sure what it would be like, but it was a really big surprise.  There was no stout flavor to it at all, and it ended up tasting like a big sour beer instead.  I’m not a big fan of sours, so I actually found this one a little tough to get through.  It made it into the bottom three for all of us. The big loser of the group for me was the Wee Heavy from Iron Hill Brewery.  I really like wee heavy beers, but this had some strange sweet fruit quality to it that I wasn’t feeling.  It was a strange addition to a style I really like, and I just couldn’t hang with it.  It was bottom two for John and I, but Gavin decided the Botolph was the worst beer of the night.  I disagree!

All in all it was a great night with some great beers.  So far we’ve done two of these events; hopefully it isn’t too long before we can get another one going.

ufc and beer

Mikkeller Brewing Co. – Santa’s Little Helper

I feel the need to try and smash as many Christmas beer reviews into December as I possibly can.  Last year I did a review of St. santas little helperBernardus Christmas ale after the holiday season.  I don’t really feel bad about doing holiday reviews after the season has come and gone, but I want to let my readers know about their options out there while they’re still present.  This year I managed to grab a few different holiday beers; however, trying to keep things fresh, I wanted to try to stick with things I hadn’t reviewed before.  Last year I reviewed St. Bernardus and Mad Elf, so I wouldn’t be doing those. Therefore, I had to go for a few different brews this year.  Lump of Coal, my last review, wasn’t something I searched out, but I was happy to have it.  Having no expectations going into a review left me feeling happy that it turned out okay.  This beer was a little bit different.  Mikkeller is certainly one of the most interesting breweries out there, so I was hoping I would get a really good review out of it.

This beer, like a lot in my collection, left me with somewhat of a dilemma.  I really wanted to drink it, but the big old 11% ABV had me wondering if I really wanted to do it on my own.  The goal in drinking craft beer isn’t really to get wasted.  You want to see what flavors the brewer managed to pack into each bottle.  I often even split 12 oz bottles when I’m with friends.  I’m not looking to hog a beer; I’m looking to share in the experience and have someone to discuss with.  Therefore, I do often find myself wondering if I want to tackle the big bottles with the high alcohol content by myself.

The opportunity to share this finally presented itself last Thursday.  My wife, two friends, and I took off work for the day to attend the national tree lighting ceremony in front of the White House.  We could have taken a half day, but our wives wanted to get there early for a lot of extra standing around.  Anyway, before we took off, I managed to get this beer open for a little review.  I figured we’d need something before we stood around during the coldest day of the year so far waiting to see Obama and all of his musical guests.

I knew that this beer was a Belgian strong dark ale, so it would be a darker beer.  I was still, however, a little surprised to see just how dark it poured out.  The beer is a super dark black cola color with a very nice ample espresso brown head and a slightly oily texture to it.  It had some really nice lacing with a ton of sticky residue as well.  The beer was clearly too dark for any sense of clarity; however, you can see some very small activity when you agitate the beer.

The nose may have been where this beer was lacking the most.  I really didn’t think there was much of a strong aroma to it at all.  santa's glassThere was some light chocolate notes; however, the addition of the Christmas spice smell was evident as well.  There is some light Belgian yeast aroma as well as the ample sweet malts.  I really didn’t pick up any hops, but I got some booze on the nose too.

Thankfully, despite the nose being a little lacking, the flavors here were great.  The beer starts with some strong sweet malts and big rich chocolate flavors.  There is some very deep rich fig and raisin flavors that blend well with the malts and chocolate.  Nice big well-balanced roasted notes come in but do not overpower.  There is some light clove that mixes with the roast and, more importantly, introduces the winter spices that dominate the back half.  The winter spices do not overpower the palate, but they simply highlight the wintry qualities.  The beer finishes with a wintry feel and a little bit of bold booze.

Overall I would call the mouthfeel somewhat thick.  The middle manages to even out a little with some of the light carbonation and nice spice; however, the ending kicks back up with some heavy booze qualities.  In the end, this is a big Christmas beer that is sure to warm you up if it ever manages to get cold.

St. Bernardus may still make one of the best Belgian Christmas beers out there, but I think this one could give it a run for its money.  The smell may be a little lacking, but the flavors certainly make up for it.  If you manage to find a bottle, save it for Christmas Eve and enjoy it with a few friends of family.  It’ll definitely be a hit.

Teacher Grade: A