Stillwater Artisanal Ales – Sensory Series V.1 – Lower Dens

It’s been a few months since I posted on here.  I’m not making excuses with my lack of content.  I definitely sat here on the lower denscouch many nights and could have put more than a few posts together.  Instead I’ve let the blog suffer for sure.  I make no promises this will be the big hop off back into the world of blogging, but I would like to try to re-embrace my attempts to make this blog flourish.  About this time last year I was pumping out a blog every single day.  I’m honestly not sure I could ever return to that former glory, but I’m going to try to do a blog or two every week.

My two year anniversary of this blog has certainly come and gone, but I’m still sticking with the original concept I had when I first started writing a couple of years ago.  Music has been a huge love of mine for many many years now.  The love of craft beer developed slowly after I turned 21; however, it really took off a few years ago, and it was the biggest part of my life that inspired and has driven this blog.  Finally, I feel like I have to pepper a little bit of myself in here now and then.  I have to make it a little personal.  Anyway, I thought the perfect beer to segue back into blogging with would be this bottle from Stillwater Brewing Co.

I’ve reviewed a very small amount of beers from Stillwater on here, but lately I’ve found myself picking up quite a few of their bottles.  I’ve recently been able to find more 12 oz bottles from them, which makes it easier for me to consume on a more regular basis.  Brian Strumke the founder and sole gypsy brewer from this Baltimore based beer company loves to put out Belgian inspired brews, and he does a fine job at it.  Really, this particular bottle stuck out to me for a few different reasons.  First of all, it is called the sensory series and has been brewed with hibiscus.  I’ve had a few different beers utilizing different flowery components which I’ve never been hugely impressed with, but I was curious to see how the sensory aspect would play into it.  As I continued to look into this beer, I realized the Lower Dens aspect was what made it perfect for my blog.  This beer has been brewed with a particular Baltimore based band (Lower Dens) in mind.  In fact, there is a QRL code on the side of the bottle that you can scan and listen to the proper songs the beer was brewed for.  I knew I had to give it a try.

This beer poured a very light golden yellow color.  That was fairly expected, but I was actually interested that it was so hazy.  I suppose the clearly visible layer of yeast left on the bottom of the bottle could have been a hint that the haze was a potential, but I was expecting something more clear.  Not that I’m complaining!  Anyway, there is some very light carbonation visible; however, there is a ton of huge fluffy white head that develop on top of the beer.  It resembled a big cloud that basically never went fully away.  There wasn’t much lacing or sticky reside on the side of the glass.

sensory seriesThe aroma featured some nice light citrusy notes.  It was clear that there was some light orange and tropical pineapple notes at work; however, the yeast is certainly the show stealer.  The big Belgian yeast dominates the nose and basically covers up the majority of the rest of aroma.  It actually had me wondering if there was a little brett in here on top of just your typical Belgian yeast.  The malts don’t seem too overly sweet, and you only get a little bit of that hop aroma.  Ultimately I don’t think I smell any hibiscus.

Flavorwise I would say this beer has a slow start and a big finish.  There is a very light malt intro that features some nice orangey citrus flavors.  These are all a little muted and, if that were the whole beer, you would probably dump it out and forget about it.  However, the very big spicy yeast comes in to kick things up a notch.  The yeast is certainly Belgian in its quality, but it combines with some additional spice on the back half to keep the beer quite good.  The spice isn’t a heat quality, instead it has an almost peppery quality to it.  The pepperiness combined with some faint pineapple notes following the yeast helps to drive this beer forward to its finish.  The spice lingers slightly but in a good way.  I’m certainly not familiar with the flavor of hibiscus, but I read that it can have a slightly tangy flavor.  If that was what I was getting toward the end of the beer, then I like it quite a bit.

The mouthfeel of this one is definitely affected by the yeast and ending spice.  I’d basically describe it as a very active mouthfeel.  Between the yeast, spice, and a high (but not too high) use of carbonation the beer just doesn’t really quit till its gone.  The syrup on it comes in a little at the start, but it is definitely beat into submission rather quickly.

I think this beer took me a little by surprise.  I bought it a little while ago on a whim, and I sat on it never really feeling it.  With the hotter months upon us, it seemed like the right beer after a long day of teaching middle schoolers.  I did try the beer with the music, and I have a feeling the sensory aspect there is a little beyond me, but I still really appreciate the idea.  I don’t promise drinking this beer and listening to Lower Dens will be like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz, but I do promise you’ll get a great beer with a ton of character.  This one really hit the spot for me.

Teacher Grade: A



Lost Abbey Brewing Co – Inferno Ale

As with a lot of other beer bloggers and craft beer consumers, we used our time stuck indoors with hurricane Sandy to enjoy a good craft beer or two.  As with everyone else, I was stuck inside all day with the storm raging on outside; however, I was considering all day what I’ve wanted to drink for my beer review.  Unlike a lot of other school teachers affected by the storm, I didn’t just have the day off for the hurricane.  I actually had a lot of grading to do, and since we had a death in the family leading up to this past weekend, I didn’t have the chance to be ready with my grades in advance.  So I spent a lot of my hurricane day grading papers and projects.  Thankfully I got all of my grades in before the deadline, so I quickly got to doing some reviewing.

I wanted to do a review involving a beer that seemed appropriate for the mayhem that was taking place outside.  So, after a full day of grading, I went straight to the fridge to figure out what I was drinking.  It was much easier to pass up a few pumpkin ales, and I didn’t think a few other beers fit the craziness, so I ultimately landed on my bottle of Inferno ale.  Being from Lost Abbey, I knew the beer would have some type of Belgian quality to it, but I was hopping it would be a little darker and richer to fit the scary dark quality going on outside.  Ultimately I thought Inferno had to fit the straight up mayhem of the situation.

Lost Abbey seems to have an interesting idea for their production of their beer.  The last beer I reviewed was from a brewery that loved beer and ska.  Lost Abbey, however, seems to focus more on a battle between good and evil.  They play off the battle between good and evil that stems all the way back to Adam and Eve.  They state that starting way back then, man has attempted to battle evil, and they are attempting to combat the evils of bad beer.  Quite theological! Reading the description of Inferno Ale makes me feel slightly nervous to drink it.  According to their site, Inferno is the type of beer Satan is brewing and serving in hell.  While I’m unsure of how they would be aware of this, I’m kind of thinking there has to be a problem if it’s the beer they’re serving in hell.

This one pours out a bright golden yellow color.  It has that straw appearance to it.  If there is anything you should notice from the picture it is the massive amount of head that develops on the pour.  The head has a very ample sudsy bubbly appearance to it.  It takes a little while to let the head die down, but once it finally does diminish, you’ll find that it has some light lacing and fairly decent sticky residue.  You don’t see a whole lot of liquid right away, but once the bubbles calm down, you can see the slight hazy quality to the beer.  There don’t seem to be any carbonation bubbles in the glass, but the haze may be hiding it.

There are a few very noticeable aspects to the aroma of the beer.  The first really big aspect is the ample citrus smell that comes off the beer.  The citrus combines with a ton of brett aroma as well.  Brett, once again, throws up a major red flag for me.  I opened this beer because it seemed to suggest a certain doomsday persona in its name, but the aroma and color seem to suggest light citrusy fields of grain.  Not exactly the hurricane beer I was thinking of.  There is some light clove scents that come through as well, and you get some of that straw and grass scent that is suggested by the color of the beer.  Light hops and light sweet malts help make the beer seem rather well balanced on the nose.  It’s that brett that is dominating everything else.

There are some nice sweet malts that kick off the flavor profile.  Tons of ample citrus flavors combine with the sweet malts for a summery beginning.  Like I said, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for a hurricane, but it is still quite delicious.  Some very dominant brett flavors mix in with some nice light clove notes.  I personally would have enjoyed more clove than brett, but it’s still tasty.  There are some interesting fruit flavors that follow the brett.  You get some nice ample citrus and pineapple notes that match quite well with the brett.  A certain grassy straw quality that continues throughout the entire brew.  You get a little light tang towards the end that is probably due to the hops, and you get a little light citrusy finish on the end as well.

There is one really big piece of advice I’ll give on the mouthfeel, let the beer rest before you drink it.  My typical way of drinking has me examining the liquid, smell, and taste before I go back to the mouth.  This means that I get to see what the mouth is like after the beer has sat and with a fresh pour.  The fresh pour on this one is a carbonation bomb.  You have to let it sit a few minutes to even let it be drinkable.  After it has time to rest, you can taste a little syrup that accompanies the big amount of carb.  The brett is a little overwhelming; however, it does have a pretty fresh taste to it.  The beer finishes kind of dry, but it’s a really nice mix of flavors.

I’m not sure this beer was perfect for the storm, but in the end any old drink while your stuck in the house can’t be bad.  Brett beers walk a fairly fine line for me; however, I thought this one wasn’t too bad.  I really don’t seek out Brett beers, but I seem to happen on them quite often.  If you’re into brett this is a great beer, and if you’re not, then I doubt you’ll really like this.  This one basically comes down to personal taste.

Teacher Grade: B-

A Tale of Two Cans

I just started to become really interested in craft breweries about two years ago.  I was always interested in different beer.  I pretty much never bought anything I recognized at the bar, and I even started collecting labels to try to remember what I had consumed.  About the same time a lot of this was going on, DC was hit with the biggest/longest week of snow it had experienced in years.  As a teacher, I was out of school for an entire week.  Thankfully, I am able to walk to various bars and restaurants from my house.  So, one day we walked down to an amazing sub shop a few blocks away.  There I found and purchased my first six-pack of 21st Amendment Brew Free or Die IPA.  I was kind of shocked to see such an interesting beer at this hoagie shop, and because we were basically snowed in, I felt the need to pick it up.

As of right now, I have two different beers from 21st in my fridge.  Monk’s Blood is billed as their Belgian Dark Ale.  The site states that the brewers actually traveled to Belgium to research and develop the recipe for this beer.  They state that it pairs well with rich winter stews, so even though it may not be really easy to find right now, I think you can kinda call this a somewhat wintry brew.  The other can I have is their actual winter beer: Fireside Chat.  Their site states that this beer is a like kick in the butt and a hug at the same time.  This one has various different spices included in the brewing process; however, they really don’t go into great detail on what those other spices are.  Either way, having previously enjoyed the other beers I’ve had from 21st, I was very excited to delve into these two.

Both beers have a really dark color to them, and in the proper light, i would say that they both have  some red coloring in there.  Although Monk’s Blood is clearly more red than Fireside.  They both have a pretty hazy quality to it; however, Fireside is actually harder to see through in general.  Thanks to my new Victory Brewing glass, I was back to being able to see the head that developed on top of the beer.  Both of them had an ample amount of head and a really nice amount of lacing on the side as well.  I know that a lot of people have a fear of canned beers.  The restaurant I work at is proof of that.  They only have beers in can and on tap. One of those actually is 21st Amendment’s Back in Black.  It’s amazing how many people immediately go tap when they hear the others are in the can.  21st here proves that you don’t have to fear the can. These beers look as good, if not better, than some other beers in a bottle.

These beers obviously move in completely different directions for smell and taste.  Monk Blood is a Belgian style beer.  Therefore, it has a lot of rich citrus smells.  I was a little surprised to smell so much cherry in here as well; however, I think it may be the blood catalyst.  There is some interesting slightly spicy clove smell that you can pull out that I don’t really get out of most Belgian beers.  Fireside Chat, on the other hand, has an extremely spicy smell to it.  However, this is more like spices from the spice rack and not a rich clove spicy smell.  The biggest spices I pull out of it are nutmeg and cinnamon.

Monk’s Blood has a surprising long malty bready intro to it.  This leads into an interesting mixture of the citrus and big bold fruit flavors.  I really pull out a lot of the cherry, but there seems to be some other deep red fruits there as well.  The spicy clove flavoring follows bringing an interesting kick to the entire composition.  I really like it actually.  It adds a little bit of a different dimension to the normal Belgian.

Fireside Chat has a slightly shorter malt introduction.  This leads to an immediate kick of the spices I described in the taste.  I pull the nutmeg out the most, but I can tell it is a blend of different spices. I find it interesting how a lot of winter beers taste like a pumpkin beer with the pumpkin pulled out. It fits very nicely in the timeline of beer.  Fireside starts to get a little sweet as an ample taste of chocolate enters the equation.  I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t notice it on the nose, but it is clearly in the taste.  The spices and chocolate blend into a very pleasant aftertaste.

Both of these beers have a nice amount of carbonation that doesn’t overpower the beer.  If anything, Fireside’s manages to keep the syrupy nature down, while Monk’s Blood does become slightly syrupy near the end.  Both of them end really nicely and keep their flavors lingering on your palate till its complete finish.

I honestly really like both of these beers, and I would be more than happy to pick up a few more at any point in time.  It’s tough to choose which beer I like more when it comes down to it; however, I think I have to hand it to Fireside Chat in the end.  It’s ability to blend in a very pleasant and warming amount of chocolate really won me over.  Plus, I like that there is zero syrupy feel throughout.  Monk’s Blood is still a great beer, but I think my choice is Fireside.

Teacher Grade: Fireside Chat : A

Teacher Grade: Monk’s Blood : A-