BrewDog – Paradox Smokehead

It’s funny how much your tastes develop and change as you get older.  This can of course span beyond just the realm of beer and paradox smokeheadalcohol.  I grew up a very picky eater.  A few of the more normal things I didn’t like eating when I was younger were eggs, chinese food, various vegetables, onions, and plenty of fruit.  I may not have been the most healthy child ever.  Now, getting older, I enjoy a lot of these different things.  I still don’t eat fish, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be capable of doing that.

Anyway, I’ve seen a lot of development in flavors in the realm of beer and alcohol over the years as well.  While a lot of it hasn’t been due to a particular dislike for anything, it is instead a lack of exposure to a lot of the more developed and mature options out there.  Working in a big city with so many colleges, I have to deal with a lot of kids just coming into their real discovery of alcohol.  They no longer need to hide that they drank one of their parents beers or take shots out of cheap plastic bottles their big brother got for them.  While they now have the capabilities to try the good stuff, wallets and the lack of knowledge keep them ordering silly or cheap things. I’ve actually had someone come up to my rather classy bar and say, “It’s my friend’s 21st birthday.  Do you know how to make a Nazi Death Camp?”  I also couldn’t help but laugh when the Marine who had just turned 21 told me he was really into shots right now. I mentioned that he should look at some of the good craft beers out there, and he scoffed that he drank beer when he was 14, he had moved on to shots.  I would hope that I didn’t sound as dumb as many of these children who have approached my bar, but I’m sure I did as well.  I certainly drank my share of cheap beer and gross vodka growing out of the discovery stage of alcohol.  Upon starting at my restaurant nearly three years ago, my knowledge spread from good beers to good scotches and bourbons too.  My other area of interest beyond beer.

One thing that I’ve started to learn about is scotch.  Particularly I’ve really come to enjoy some of the smokier and peatier versions for sure.  That’s ultimately one of the big reasons why I was interested in this bottle.  I was at a store in Maryland when I noticed a little sign that told me all BrewDog beers were $2 off.  There were a few different bottles to choose from, but I was most interested in this one because of the islay whisky casks it was aged in.  Smokehead apparently refers to the company they got the casks from, and islay typically means good smoke, so I was hoping for a nice beer/scotch crossbreed.

This one pours out a super dark black color with the near consistency of oil.  There was only the slightest hint of any head on the top of the beer following the pour in the form of an occasional dark bubble.  Swirling the glass results in no lacing at all; however, the sticky residue left from the beer lingers quite a while.  As expected, the beer was far too dark to really have any clue about the clarity, but the total lack of any head or lacing certainly makes the beer seem rather low in carbonation.

smokehead glassI had my hands a little full when I went to open this bottles, so I was holding it against my chest when I popped it open.  It may have been the first time that the aroma hit me that hard when opening a bottle.  I did happen to spill a little on myself which may have assisted in the intensity, but it was powerful.  The smoke and peat aroma is huge on the nose.  The beer smells very strongly of the whisky scotch influence.  The overwhelming influence of the casks manages to hide all signs of the imperial stout base.  In the end it’s clear this is all malt and no hops.

The flavor profile is basically completely dominated by the cask contributions.  There is some big malt backbone that kicks off the beer, and it’s the one place where the peaty scotch influence is the least present.  The stout base at the start has a lot of dark chocolate sweetness to it; however, not a whole lot of roasted coffee.  The coffee aspect of the stout may be there, but it is completely swallowed up by the smokey peat flavor.  Not long into the flavor profile, the big whisky and peaty scotch flavor kicks up.  The booziness from the casks comes in huge and is followed up quickly by some very well developed smokey peat flavors.  The peat isn’t really big and bold like a laphroaig, but it is more developed and aged tasting.  The beer ends with a lot of roasted smokiness and overall sweetness.  It’s the somewhat overpowering nature of the sweetness at the end that was my least favorite aspect to this beer.

The mouth here matches a lot of what could be visibly seen in the glass.  It looked like oil, and it had a rather thick and syrupy nature to it.  There appeared to be no carbonation, and it really didn’t have much carbonation at all.  All of the smoke, peat, and scotch add great flavor, but it’s the slight over sweetness to it that kept it from being a perfect beer for me.  I will say, I chilled this beer and the bottle instructs you to drink it at room temperature.  As it warmed, the sweetness dissipated and the smoke became even more intense.  I have a feeling I could have avoided the sweetness if I had just followed directions better.

I realized slightly before doing this tasting that I had somehow found a bottle that may have sat on that shelf for years.  The bottle states that it was bottled on 08/08/08.  Had I realized this before hand, I would have probably grabbed more than one.  While it’s actually not the oldest beer in my collection right now, I was happy all the aging time had been done for me.  I have no idea if the brewery held on to these and just recently released them, but you won’t be disappointed if you can kind one of these still on the shelf.  Here’s to developing a more mature and developed palate!

Teacher Grade: A

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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

StillwaterArtisanal

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-