Category Archives: Tasting Notes

A Dark Impulse (Capricho Oscuro)

Cigar City Brewing has seen much growth lately, both in capital and popularity. With a recent brewery expansion, two medals from the Great American Beer Festival for their Humidor Series IPA over the past two years, and a ruling by Tampa, Florida’s City Council that allows the brewery’s tasting room to remain open, Cigar City seems to have established itself as one of the state’s premiere breweries. So why, if it’s so established, is Cigar City one of the breweries I’m most excited about for 2011? While I’m next-door neighbors with CCB’s home state, their beer isn’t available in Georgia. Currently, in fact, only some parts of Florida (not even the whole state), New York, and Philadelphia receive bottles and kegs of Cigar City’s beer. That will all change, however, when their beer arrives on shelves in Georgia beginning with the new year. In the meantime, my supply of this much sought-after beer is limited to what I can purchase when in Florida, and the haul from friends’ visits. In following the brewery online, I am amazed by the wide variety of beers they are turning out. As many of the batches don’t seem to be bottled or widely distributed, it is the tasting room that provides an outlet for many experimental or one-off brews. To celebrate the impending arrival of Cigar City to Georgia, I recently cracked open a bottle of one of their very special beers: Capricho Oscuro.

A barrel-aged blend, Batch #4 contains Rye Porter, Warmer Winter, and Big Sound (a Scotch ale). The bottle was dipped in a copper wax, I assume because it was a special release. The wax, however, may have been the only reason this beer wasn’t completely ruined by oxidation. I found a good bit of wax underneath the cap, indicating the cap alone had not provided a very tight seal. Thankful to the wax for its aesthetic and beer-saving contributions, I dove in. As may be expected by the beers that went into Capricho Oscuro, it poured a deep brown (almost black) with deep ruby highlights. The pour yielded almost no head, but what bubbles did form on top of the beer were light tan in color. The aroma was filled with dark fruit and roasted notes: sour cherries, rum-soaked raisins, chocolate, molasses, and vanilla. A slight boozy burn from alcohol was also detectable, and completely expected for a 9% barrel-aged beer. The taste combined the notes from the aroma with a few new flavors. I was very impressed by how such a complex combination of flavors melded together smoothly, supporting each other rather than clashing. The beer started off with the dark, roasted flavors of coffee and cacao nibs, but was then somewhat lightened by the sweetness of cherries, dates, and raisins with some vanilla (likely from the oak barrels) and caramel (undoubtedly Big Sound coming through). As the sweet richness of dark fruits waned, a yeasty bread flavor helped round out the roastiness. I took my time enjoying a snifter of this beer, and was rewarded by the subtle changes that occurred as it warmed. The dark fruits became deeper and all of the flavors became even more legato, although still identifiable, with the increase in temperature. The finish of this beer was extremely enjoyable, and a flavor I haven’t encountered often. I identified it as something contributed by the Rye Porter, as I remembered it from tasting Cigar City’s Soggy Loaf, a porter with pumpernickel and rye grains. I’m no stranger to rye grains in a beer–I live minutes from Terrapin Beer Company, whose first beer was the gold medal Rye Pale Ale, after all. It’s incredible to see, however, the different role that rye can take when added to a porter rather than a more hop-forward style.

The combination of the flavors in this beer kept reminding me of something I had tasted in the past, but it took almost the whole glass for me to remember (see, beer does cause revelations!): a bread pudding I had made last summer with Bell’s Cherry Stout, golden raisins, and cherries. The fruit, stout, and bread produced a flavor that I think very closely mirrored many of the notes in this beer. Check it out here and make it for yourself (provided by Brewery Ommegang).

This beer was a real treat to try, and an excellent exhibit of the skill and know-how possessed by the brewers at Cigar City. A blend of so many different flavors could have easily gone awry, but it didn’t! Even with the brewery’s upcoming distribution to Georgia, this isn’t a beer I will expect to see often, if at all. Capricho Oscuro is a limited beer (only 800 bottles of Batch #4 were made) and is currently only sold at the brewery. Should you have the opportunity to try this beer, or any of its future incarnations, I highly recommend it.

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Filed under American Strong Ale, Cigar City Brewing

Moove on over Milk Stouts

[Update: Moo-Hoo has hit shelves and taps in Atlanta and Athens today (Nov. 1), much earlier than the previously reported December release.]

If you follow me on Twitter (for those who enjoy more than sporadic updates every month or so, I recommend you do), you know that I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of Terrapin Beer Company’s Moo-Hoo since I had a taste of the uncompleted beer after the brewery’s Hop Harvest Festival in September. Moo-Hoo is a chocolate milk stout made with cocoa nibs and shells. Rumors surfaced as soon as news of this beer was released drawing comparisons between it and the second installment of Terrapin’s collaborative Midnight Project Series with Left Hand Brewing, Depth Charge. I was skeptical, however, as Terrapin’s contribution to the collaboration beer was an addition of Jittery Joe’s espresso a la their popular Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout. It was Left Hand who shared their proficiency in brewing with lactose, regularly exhibited in their highly regarded Milk Stout. As the beer’s release has drawn closer, I’ve waited to try it for myself to see what Spike and the team came up with for a milk stout that was all theirs. After seeing hints that Moo-Hoo was ready last week, I am happy to say that I finally tried the chocolate milk stout (or a pint or three) this weekend.

Last Thursday night, I stumbled upon a keg of Moo-Hoo at Blue Sky in downtown Athens. A bar with an excellent selection of bottled beers but no regular drafts, the bright red jockey box on the bar displayed a Moo-Hoo tap handle rather conspicuously. Blue Sky has hosted a couple of casks featuring Terrapin’s special releases in the past, but I’ve always managed to hear about them ahead of time. My anticipation to try this beer was almost over, or was it?

Moo-Hoo at Blue Sky

The keg, which I was told had only been put on just over an hour before my arrival, was all gone. How? There were about a dozen people at the bar, and while I expected Moo-Hoo to be tasty, they couldn’t have put that whole keg away in an hour, could they? [I later found out that the keg was provided for a pub crawl that had stopped by earlier that night.] I extinguished my disappointment with one of Blue Sky’s bottled offerings and called it a night.

On Friday, I had plans to visit Terrapin for an event benefiting Nuci’s Space with a concert featuring Dave Barbe & the Quick Hooks with Patterson Hood (see below). After my near miss the night before, I hoped to score a taste of Moo-Hoo at the brewery. Upon arrival, I almost spotted the Moo-Hoo tap handle from across the room. I’ve got some, right? No! Moo-Hoo doesn’t come out until December, and won’t start pouring at the brewery until November 3.

Dave Barbe & the Quick Hooks with Patterson Hood at Terrapin Brewery

So this is the end of the story, right? We’ll all just have to wait until next week to find out what Terrapin’s first milk stout tastes like? I’m a bit too stubborn to have given up that easily. It didn’t happen at first, but after talking Moo-Hoo with the bartender and flexing some beer knowledge, I guess he decided I was worthy of a sample. I thanked him politely and scurried off to share my first tastes of the chocolaty contraband with the only person I knew who was more excited about this beer than myself: my girlfriend.

Taking our first sips next to these soon-to-be-lucky cases

The aroma alone of this beer is enough to put a smile on your face. Light roasted notes along with little mocha sweetness reminded me of a blended iced coffee. On the colder side, the dark roasted malts and cocoa nibs play a bit of a stronger role that would lead immediately to the bitter ending associated with some stouts if it weren’t for the sweetness of the added lactose, which fades in very gradually and never becomes overly sweet. As it warms, the flavor evokes more thoughts of chocolate milk, although the similarity never becomes quite as literal as other chocolate stouts I’ve had (think Rogue Double Chocolate Stout). A more complex, grown-up flavor prevails, perhaps due to the addition of cocoa nibs (around 900 pounds worth from Olive & Sinclair) rather than processed cocoa powder. I also detected a little hint of vanilla, although I haven’t heard that any was actually added. The mouthfeel was exactly what I look for in a milk stout, with the lactose (and flaked oats) adding palpable texture and creaminess that still ended rather cleanly. Moo-Hoo is quite drinkable, especially for the style. In my opinion, Spike has pulled off something really great here. The flavors could have easily been present, but ruined by a watery mouthfeel, or a satisfactory texture could have been undermined by an over-sweetened taste. Moo-Hoo hits the spot on the cow (this will catch on, I promise), however, in every dimension.

Look for this on shelves in December

Again, Moo-Hoo will be out in stores sometime in December (I’d guess early December) as Pumpkinfest phases out. While it was originally listed as an entry in the one-off Side Project series earlier this year, Moo-Hoo will be a returning seasonal offering each winter (something I am quite excited about, and I’m sure you will be too once you try it). As is the case with all of Terrapin’s seasonals, Moo-Hoo will be available in 6-packs and kegs. [If anyone at Terrapin finds this, please do some special casks of this stuff with added goodies…I’ve got some ideas if you need help.] I don’t have any clue about distribution of Moo-Hoo, but I assume it will be the same as their other seasonals currently, so if you can get Sunray Wheat and Pumpkinfest, you should be able to get your hands on this stuff.

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Filed under Milk / Sweet Stout, Terrapin Beer Co.

Two Blind Pints

When possible, I try to avoid reading too much about a beer before I’ve tried it. There are so many great beer-related websites and social media outlets promoting breweries and their beers (considering the size of the craft beer industry, the volume of beer-related content online is truly a testament to the passion of a growing number of real beer drinkers), but all of this can sometimes be unintentionally detrimental to the enjoyment of a new beer. I’ve noticed that sometimes, I approach tasting a beer for the first time with so many expectations based on what I’ve read from ingredient lists and other drinkers’ tasting notes that I perceive what I should taste rather than what I’m actually drinking. Last night, I had the following two beers at Trappeze Pub without much prior knowledge (yes, I know I probably should have had them before, or at least heard about them, but I hadn’t). My “blind” tasting was further enhanced by ordering from the chalkboard (only listing the name and price of each beer, rather than reading descriptions in the printed draft list menu).

Avery's Maharaja

The first brew up was an Avery Brewing Maharaja. I knew this was an IPA, and I knew it was from Avery out of Boulder, CO-that’s about the extent of what I knew before I ordered this one. Served in a snifter, the Maharaja was a beautiful copper color with a gorgeous cream-colored head. The head retention was amazing; it reminded me a lot of the head on the Belgian-style ales I’ve had recently. A strong hop aroma is present, but along with a certain sweeteness-maybe toffee. The taste can best be described as BIG: a hefty malt backbone is followed by sharp, bitter hops. The hop flavor is quite bitter and astringent, and reminds me of the Tomahawk variety I recently sampled in a single hop IPA from Mikkeller. There are also some piney hop notes that must come from another variety. [Today, I discovered that I was on with the toffee hints but a bit off on hop identification as Maharaja is made with caramel and victory malts along with Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus, and Chinook hops.] The mouthfeel is pretty thick, but the beer still remains bright and fresh in a way. The intense hops really help to cut through the up-front barrage of malt sweetness. I might even guess that this is dry-hopped due to the very palatable hoppiness. Part of this beer does say IPA, but I don’t think it’d be crazy to say it’s close to an American Barleywine (again, super heavy malt, but never syrupy or dark). Almost halfway through the glass, I’m feeling the alcohol in this…I’d venture a guess of 9.5% [it’s actually 10.24% according to Avery]. Overall, this is an awesome beer I could see myself drinking year-round. The strong alcohol and malt have a warming effect and make it suitable for winter, but the hops refuse to take a backseat and would make it just as fitting in the hot summer months with a crisp, dry ending. I’ve had a few of Avery’s beers before, but it’s not exactly a brewery whose offerings jump out to me while perusing a beer list-I believe this beer has changed that. Maharaja is a great heavy-hitting beer that I know I can count on.

Next up was a Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA. [I lost the tasting notes I jotted down about this one on my phone-it’s more convenient, but apparently not at trusty as the pen and paper…anyway, the following is what I gathered from my memory] I tried one of these for the first time on draft last week, so this is my second time tasting it but still without having read up on it. This beer was poured into a tulip glass, and was only a bit lighter in color than the Maharaja-it appears unfiltered, perhaps from dry-hopping. This might not have been the smartest choice after the Maharaja, with its strength still savaging my tongue and perhaps leaving me a bit buzzed, but I tried my best to taste everything in the Mikkeller. The head stood a couple fingers tall, falling quicker than the previous beer but leaving nice lacing. The aroma contained light citrus, but most unexpectedly, mango-like hints. The taste was subtle compared to other varieties of the series I’ve sampled. I went in expecting a harsh hop bite, but got nothing of the sort. Instead, the Nelson Sauvin hops provide a light fruitiness, with white grape flavors and textures. With the exception of the malt, which is dialed way down to showcase the hops, the flavor reminds me a lot of a Pinot Grigio. In addition to the grape notes, I taste a little of the mango I got in the aroma. Also along the lines of a white wine, this IPA finishes with a light dryness instead of the harsher dry end associated with many hop varieties. This seems to be a much more delicate hop than some others highlighted by Mikkeller, which really shows the skill of Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. He has restrained the malt just enough to show off the hops, while still keeping them in check. I’m unsure of when the hops are added in the process exactly, but additions at several different stages must be necessary to achieve so many different notes from one variety. I would recommend this IPA to anyone who enjoys and wants to learn more about different hops, but also to anyone who doesn’t think he/she likes IPAs-you may be surprised by this one. Tasting a beer like this reminds me what a wonderful and adept brewer Mikkel truly is. There are so many well-crafted IPAs available, but tasting such a delicate IPA shows Mikkel as an artist amongst many art students.

[Note: I’m aware that Trappeze Pub seems to be the setting of most of the beers I end up reviewing. While I want to highlight many of the other great places around town I love to grab some beers, I’ve been to Trappeze almost exclusively lately for the following reasons: a) the draft list has been amazing, I mean dyn-O-mite! and b) with the completed renovation of their kitchen, Trappeze has been turning out some wonderful plates of beer-inspired food. Some different beer joints around Athens will be featured very soon…as in I’ll be going out for “reporting” purposes tonight.]

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Filed under American Double IPA, American IPA, Avery Brewing Company, Mikkeller, Trappeze Pub

Sour in the Peach State

For the past few months, I’ve read that sour beers are an emerging trend and then seen them, myself, popping up on draft lists around the state. In an effort to constantly expand my beer repertoire, I’ve sipped nearly any sours accessible. They have ranged from mildly tart to face-puckering. As summer approaches, though, and the temperature reaches downright uncomfortable heights here in Georgia, one particular type hits home: the sour peach beer. This Monday afternoon, I found myself drinking two different sour peach offerings: New Belgium Eric’s Ale and Dogfish Head Festina Pêche. This was my second time trying Eric’s Ale, a limited part of New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, and Festina Pêche was a thirst-quenching standby last summer, but this was the first time I was able to taste the two together. They certainly shared some characteristics (they both bring tartness and peaches to the table, after all). They had nearly the same light straw color (Eric’s had a slightly more orange tint) with quickly receding white heads (although, the Festina’s foam stuck around a little longer). It was the differences between the two beers, though, that was the biggest treat. Let’s take a closer look at each:

First up was New Belgium Eric’s Ale. As I mentioned earlier, Eric’s is part of the Lips of Faith program from New Belgium, an experimental line of rotating beers. Eric’s Ale is classified as an American Wild Ale, a style that seems to be on the rise but one I can’t seem to find much information about. While I can’t find much consistent information for the specifics of the style, an American Wild Ale is usually influenced by Belgian-style ales and is exposed, in one way or another, to wild yeast or bacteria, imparting a sourness to these beers. The process of making Eric’s Ale is quite experimental, indeed. A sour beer that has been aged in oak barrels for several years is blended with another beer, sweeter and higher in alcohol content. This blend then undergoes a secondary fermentation with added peach juice. The sour tartness and ripe peach flavor certainly prevail, but many other notes picked up in the complex brewing and aging process play supporting roles. Through barrel aging, the oak imparts a subtle vanilla flavor and a dryness that compliments the tart ending. I find the balance of fruity sweetness and sourness very nice, and extremely drinkable considering the 7% ABV. An alcohol content this high is uncharacteristic of a sour or wild ale, but is likely accomplished mostly by blending in that sweeter ale to the sour beer. This beer definitely makes you pucker, but that’s what you signed up for, right? New Belgium says that this is “A sour beer for those who don’t like sour beers. And a fruit beer for those who don’t like fruit beers.” I would agree, but I like both sour and fruit beers, so I don’t seem a qualified judge for the statement’s accuracy.

The second sour: Dogfish Head Festina Pêche

Following Eric’s Ale was a pint of Dogfish Head Festina Pêche. This is the Delaware brewery’s summer seasonal, considered a “neo-BerlinerWeisse”. The Berliner-Weisse style is a wheat ale that incorporates Lactobacillus, creating a sour taste from the formation of lactic acid. Traditionally, these are then mixed with fruit syrups upon serving to help cut into the sourness. Instead, Dogfish Head added pureed peaches to the beer prior to fermentation. While I haven’t had a traditional Berliner-Weisse with syrup, I have to imagine that the fruit being fermented in the beer must create more of a fruit flavor throughout, allowing the peach to take on more than a single note. The first notable difference here, compared to Eric’s Ale, is the presence of wheat. The wheat shows up in the aroma and taste, but I sense the biggest difference in mouthfeel (think of the palatable cloudiness you get from your favorite Hefeweizen). Both beers finish refreshingly dry as a result of the tartness, but the wheat also helps to coat your tongue and leave a bit of lingering sweetness. As I noted earlier, I have had this beer many times before, most often from a bottle, but tasting it on tap this time seemed a little less tart than I had remembered from my last time. This could be due to a slight recipe alteration this year, my taste buds being a little numb after the New Belgium, or simply my mind failing to accurately remember my last Festina Pêche. In any regard, the bite from the tartness (even the one a little stronger in my mind) seems more subdued than Eric’s Ale. Also a bit more tame than the Eric’s Ale is the ABV at 4.5%. One last pleasant surprise in this beer isn’t about what’s there, but what’s not: hops. There is no detectable hop flavor or aroma in this beer (true to the style). My brain and mouth were initially confused to see the fish on the pint glass but never feel the alpha acids of hops stripping the enamel from my teeth, but it’s so nice to see Dogfish Head restrain its love of those bitter buds to put a different twist on a traditional style.

Overall, both of these beers are very refreshing and perfect for the summer. The Eric’s Ale tends to bite a little harder and would serve to wake up my mind after a long summer day. It’s Festina Pêche’s sour and wheat that will have me continuing to reach for it when I seek shelter from the hot sun. They would be great before a light summer dinner or alongside a great salad. They are also something I will surely be trying to incorporate into some of recipes using Georgia peaches (I’ll update you on this later). The familiarity of fruit in these can help bridge the gap for anyone making their foray into the world of sour beers. Next time you want a nice refreshing brew, but are a bit burnt out on bitter, give one of these a try.

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Filed under American Wild Ale, Berliner-Weisse, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, New Belgium Brewing Inc., Uncategorized

The Tail End of a New Tradition

Atlanta’s a mere 70 miles from Athens, but I seldom find the time to make it over to the big city. When I found out that Atlanta would be hosting its first Beer Week this year, however, I knew I’d have to somehow make time for the trip to enjoy some wonderful beers with wonderful people. I watched much of the week come and go, not being able to fit a trip to Atlanta into my schedule. I settled for enjoying some beers at my place, cooking a few dinners with beer, and going out in town for some newly released beers (hardly settling, right?). [While I didn’t take any notes to write reviews, I did try the following for the first time at Trappeze Pub: New Belgium Eric’s Ale, Terrapin ’08 Big Hoppy Monster, Terrapin ’08 Rye Squared, and Terrapin ’08 Imperial Pilsner...go have any and all of these, they were amazing!] Finally, on Saturday I had a chance to get over to Atlanta with my girlfriend. After eating lunch with her dad, we made a couple quick beer stops. I was able to grab one of the last bottles of Terrapin’s Side Project Vol. 6 90 Shelling at Tower Wine & Spirits, which I hope to taste and review very soon. Next was a quick stop at HOBNOB, for some milkshakes made with my girlfriend’s favorite, Left Hand Milk Stout (I’m sure these would turn out great at home, but if you’re in the area, you should drop in to grab one). The next and final stop on our trip was Decatur’s Brick Store Pub. Arriving late in the afternoon, we found the place pretty crowded (perhaps because it was the last day of Atlanta Beer Week, or because there was a free concert on the square just outside the pub that night, or perhaps simply because it was Saturday at the Brick Store Pub).

Thanks to some fellow pub patrons, we were able to get two seats at the bar only a minute after walking inside and ordered what we had come to Brick Store for: Terrapin Boom Shakalager. The first available sample of Terrapin’s latest Side Project series in the state, I was happy we hadn’t missed out on this special cask. Having only released one other lager that I knew of (All American Imperial Pilsner), I was very interested to see what Terrapin’s Spike had done with this one. So, how was it? This is a clean, but hefty lager that’s distinctively Terrapin. There’s nothing light about this lager-the color’s about the only close-to-typical thing here. Our pints were a little translucent; I don’t know if this was due to chill haze, the cask, or if this is just how the final product will appear. An up-front malt sweetness is countered by a strong, piny hop flavor. The strength of the hops are not found in intense bitterness, however, but a fresh concentrated aroma and taste. [I later found out that the beer is dry-hopped with Tettnanger (a German variety that’s new to me), explaining the fresher hop flavor.] There’s a hefty alcohol presence detectable, but no boozy burn at all. Overall, I liked what I tasted, but I wasn’t enamored. Since this was offered in a cask, I hope that the final release will be elevated by some more carbonation. Perhaps this will improve the mouthfeel and taste slightly for me to like it as much as the other beers in the Side Project series.

'10 & '09 DFH Immort Ale

Dogfish Head Immort Ale ('10 on left, '09 on right)

Next, I took advantage of another special offering at Brick Store that night: a vertical tasting of 2009 and 2010 Dogfish Head Immort Ale (the clear winner for bargain of the day at $9 for two 12 oz. portions of these rare, and strong, beers). First, I tried the 2010. Immort is a deep, complex blend of flavors, all balanced delicately by the guys at Dogfish Head. Smoky malts emerge with the richness of added maple syrup, which is accompanied by the spice of vanilla and juniper berries. The newer Immort also ends with dark dried fruit flavors, leaving a lingering deep sweetness. The 2009 Immort: wow, what a difference! I honestly didn’t expect one year of aging to change this beer that much, but it sure proved me wrong. Served in different glasses, the color was a bit tough to compare, but the 2009 was a bit more honey-tinted. A much bigger sweetness, not unlike golden raisins, first hits you from the aged version. Overall, it had lost a lot of the very dark fruits but it still seemed to maintain enough robust depth to keep it from being too sweet. A subtle smokiness was still present, and the softened vanilla note provided a smooth transition from the initial sweetness to the slight smoked wood. A new Immort Ale was just the second Dogfish Head I ever tried, and while I think nothing less of the newly bottle version, I’ll likely pick up a few bottles to age soon. With only one year apart, this vertical tasting really showed me how drastically even a brief aging period can effect a beer’s qualities.

After finishing two of the 11% Immort Ales, I was quite satisfied with being done. What kind of beer geek would I be, though, only having three beers for the inaugural Atlanta Beer Week? I needed one more. To round out the experience, I decided to try one of the draught offerings from the upstairs Belgian bar. Having just purchased my first beer from Jolly Pumpkin this week (which will be consumed and reviewed within the week, I promise), I was excited to try some of a beer I’ve heard about for months: E.S.Bam. Jolly Pumpkin E.S.Bam is one of four Farmhouse Ales in a series from the Michigan brewery. After reading so many times about the stellar Belgian styles from Jolly Pumpkin, I had some high expectations. They were met. I have no clue whether the specifics of

Jolly Pumpkin E.S.Bam on the left, my girlfriend's Rodenbach Grand Cru on the right

E.S.Bam meet the Style Guidelines for a Saison, and I couldn’t care less. The beer was presented in a tulip glass with a beautiful, thick white head that probably would’ve lasted forever if you could keep your hands off of it. For me, this is what a farmhouse ale should be: dirty, earthy, slightly tart. There are many things going on in this one, but I’m less concerned with dissecting its individual nuances and more simply smitten with how authentic this tastes. The front and middle notes are reminiscent of the earth (in the wonderful way you can taste dirt in homegrown tomatoes). Later, the earthiness gives way to a little tartness finished by a dry end (more the texture of wood than the flavor of it). Upon tasting it, my girlfriend likened it to a “horse barn”, in a completely admiring and nostalgic way (she grew up riding). I can’t remember having another beer as representative of something without it being an actual ingredient. Sure, I’ve had a cherry lambic that tasted exactly like a cherry, or a coffee stout that tasted like a mug of the black stuff, but to encapsulate loamy, musty earth so well is incredibly impressive. What a great way to end the night and the first ever Atlanta Beer Week.

Now begins the countdown to next year’s festivities!

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Filed under American Strong Ale, Brick Store Pub, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Saison/Farmhouse Ale, Terrapin Beer Co.

Soaking up some local love

There were plenty of reasons to celebrate at Trappeze Pub tonight. First, the local craft beer institution turned 2 years old today. While more and more bars in Athens are offering craft beers and microbrews, none match the combination of selection and beer knowledge offered by Trappeze. In addition, local brewery Terrapin Beer Co. was on site for the debut of its new Belgian style imperial stout, Dark Side. While there was quite a crowd on hand, I managed to squeeze up to the bar and began the night.

First up was a cask featuring a dry-hopped version of Terrapin’s Rye Pale Ale. Thanks to my neighbor at the bar, Mr. William Orten Carlton (“Ort” is an Athens bar staple, early cultivator of the Athens music scene, and featured writer for Athens’ Flagpole Magazine), who politely yielded in ordering his second serving of the hoppy rye concoction, I was able to get a pint of the cask ale (although, it wasn’t without much perseverence and a careful tipping of the cask by bartender Kathleen. Ort was rewarded for his sacrifice by receiving the last pint out of the cask, and we dove in together. The beer was amber in color and very murky, undoubtedly due to the yeast and hops residing in the bottom of the cask. An off-white head about a finger’s width tall lasted only long enough for me to first observe it, and then fell, leaving little lacing in the glass. Upon first taste, the familiar sharpened sweetness of the original Rye Pale Ale stood strong, but gave way to a nice fresh and preserved hop flavor, reminiscent of white grapefruit. My attempts to pin down exactly what variety of hops were used (per my tongue and the Terrapin crew) were to no avail. I was offered a guess, however educated or uneducated it may have been, by a Terrapin staffer of Cascade. I also overheard more than once around the bar that the hops had been grown in-house, although I was never able to confirm it with anyone. Whatever the variety be, I think the dry-hopped Rye was not just an interesting variation on one of Terrapin’s flagship brews, but an elevation of the original Rye itself. I was impressed with just how well the sharpness of the rye and the fresh hops complemented one another, and would definitely love to see an encore of this beer. Many might have been turned off by the glass I ended up enjoying. The yeasty, hoppy beer in my turtle pint glass probably wasn’t the same as the first pint enjoyed from the cask, but why should it be? Drinking a cask ale is an experience. From the tapping, to the interesting and creative small-batch variations, to the often short window of time it’s available, a cask ale is just as much about everything happening around the cask as what’s in it. I found nothing unpleasant about the pulpy matter in my glass. If anything, I enjoyed the even closer connection I was offered to the hops that went into the beer.

I finished the Rye as I spoke with Ort about past and planned field trips to breweries and craft beer-loving towns (look out Asheville, my list of places to visit within a weekend just doubled). Next I ordered my primary intention for tonight’s visit: Terrapin Side Project No. 9 The Dark Side, a Belgian Style Imperial Stout. Dark Side unsurprisingly pours a deep brown, and provided a quickly retreating tan head (exhibiting more French than Belgian tendencies). Dark, roasted malts combine with almost bittersweet chocolate hints to provide a robust yet smooth taste, further complemented by a velvety mouthfeel which reminded me of dark chocolate even more. Upon dissection, hops are certainly present, but don’t at all try to stand in the way of the emphasis on the malt characteristics. This is a heavy stout, and would serve well as a winter warmer, so I really appreciate the timing of its release. Overall, this is another solid entry in Spike’s Side Project series. That said, I can’t say I’m running out first thing in the morning to pick up a few bottles of the new stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark Side and as hard as it is to set my local-brew bias aside, I don’t find this beer incredibly new and unique in light of Wake ‘n’ Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout and Depth Charge Espresso Milk Stout, a collaboration between the Athens boys and Left Hand Brewery. Sure it doesn’t have all the same notes and nuances the other more similar brews contain, but I just get much of the same feeling about them all. On its own, the Dark Side is a very well-constructed ale, but considering the repertoire of Terrapin’s beers, it just doesn’t stand out from the other dark, roasted, chocolate, and  sometimes coffee combinations.

With two beers down and the crowd at Trappeze beginning to thin, I was able to actually grab a stool and speak with Kathleen (who was recently featured in an article spotlighting the bar in Athens Food & Culture Magazine…and I promise I’m done with the local media plugs, however both I’ve mentioned are awesome reads and free if you’re ever in Athens to pick one up). Needing something to bring me back from the Dark Side, I ordered a refreshing old standby: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. The keg had just recently gone down, however. It seems I have a knack for wanting the one thing of which a bar has just run out, but I’ve learned that it usually means I should just try for a completely different style. If I wasn’t going to come full-circle with my hop-bursted Bell’s, then I might as well stick with a dark winter warmer-type. As Kathleen listed some of the newer arrivals, the Mikkeller Christmas Porter jumped out. Mikkeller has just recently come up on my radar, and since then I haven’t stopped hearing about it. A Danish brewer more than a brewery, Mikkeller operates out of the facilities of various other breweries, traveling around Europe and the United States and creating some highly acclaimed beers in the process. I recently acquired a trio of Mikkeller single hop IPAs that I am waiting to try as long as hopefully learn more closely the characteristics of each hop variety (perhaps knowledge that would have been useful during my first beer). After all that I’d heard, my third beer became an easy decision. The “Christmas porter” turned out to be Mikkeller To From (or From To, according to some labels on previous years’ bottles, which include blanks right on the label making it an easy and obvious beer to give for Christmas). So how was my first taste of Mikkeller beer? Let me just say those Cascade, Warrior, and Simcoe bottles sitting at home have a lot to live up to now. A deep, nearly burnt flavor (think the fine line between creme brulee and charred creme) first hit my tongue and gradually faded away without a detectable hop note. The absence of a heavy, lingering dark malt aftertaste almost begged me to take another sip to remember what it tasted like. As I got further into the porter, I was able to detect different, yet subtle flavor notes, although identifying them wasn’t so easy. Cinnamon and what I might best describe as pine became more noticeable as I continued to drink. The mouthfeel was light for such a dark and complex porter, which I could certainly appreciate as my second dark beer in a row. I was surprised to find that the alcohol content topped out at 8%, however, a little lower than what I had anticipated while tasting it. This is a great Christmas beer and served well as my introduction to Mikkeller beers.

I had another great night at Trappeze with an excellent group of beers and beer-loving people. Congratulations to Trappeze on a wonderful two years, and to Terrapin for yet another Side Project release!

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Filed under American Pale Ale, Baltic Porter, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Mikkeller, Terrapin Beer Co., Trappeze Pub

Home(brew) is where the heart is…

Within a month of my 21st birthday, only several weeks of craft beer consumption under my belt and still quite limited in my knowledge of the brewing process, I had already decided that I wanted to homebrew my own batch of the beverage with which I was now fascinated. About four months later, I got my first chance. After discussing homebrewing avidly with my friends, one of them, Tim, received a brewing starter kit for his birthday and enlisted the help of a few of us to help him. Soon, we went back to Athens’ local Blockader Homebrew Supply to get the ingredients for our first beer. After consulting the staff, it was decided that a brown ale would be a good candidate for our first homebrew, as it was comprised of a relatively short list of ingredients and was also pretty forgiving of rookie mistakes made while monitoring fermentation.

The next night, on November 5, six of us gathered in a basement to lose our homebrew virginity. We used a partial mash recipe, something I was quite happy about. While I knew it’d be best to not dive into making the most complicated beer possible, I just didn’t think my enthusiasm for finally making a homebrew would be quenched with an all-extract kit. I regret one thing about our first brew: in our beer infancy, I didn’t ask, nor would I probably have comprehended, what grains and hop varieties we were supplied with at Blockader. Nonetheless, we eagerly began and prepped all of the equipment. While steeping the grains and adding the malt syrup, and probably to the dismay of many fellow homebrewers, we shared several bottles of wine. Hey, we didn’t have any beer yet…what were we supposed to do? Finally we added hop pellets during the boil as instructed, first a bittering dose and then a late aroma addition, something I haven’t seen in many other brown ale recipes. Once the boil was finished, we waited for the wort to cool…and we continued to wait, maybe having another bottle or two of red. The expense of a wort chiller suddenly seemed reasonable. It was a late night, but we had completed brewing, and were one step closer to enjoying our own beer.

After two weeks of fermenting, a few of us enjoyed another night of camaraderie while bottling. Our entire brewing experience was about friendship, so we decided to bottle in bombers that would allow us to share our beer with each other and with new friends. The ale bottle-conditioned for another two weeks, and was then ready to enjoy…well almost. While the finished beer still hadn’t been tasted and there was no guarantee it would even be palatable, we wanted to make sure it looked good. Several witty names generated and discovered already existing later, it was decided that the name First Time Brown Ale would adorn the bombers. We made labels and had them applied, most without wrinkles, just in time for First Time’s debut. The beer was finally unveiled, exactly one month later, at a Christmas party attended by all six original brewers. So how was it?

First Time Brown Ale poured a deep brown, still barely transparent when held up to light, with a thick, light tan head about two fingers in height. The head retention was impressive, already instilling me with a sense of pride before I had even tasted it. The aroma was dominated by dark, chocolaty notes with no detectable hops. When sipped, rich malts first hit my tongue, giving way to a lingering nutty mocha flavor, kept in check ever so slightly by a faint hop bitterness. After tasting it, and with what I now know about different grains, I would guess that the specialty grains we added were biscuit and chocolate malt. The nutty flavor was not as strong as beers dubbed “nut brown” ales, but reminded me a little of hazelnuts. The bite of carbonation was a little strong at first, but seemed more pleasant and subdued when the beer reached a more appropriate serving temperature for brown ale around 45° F. Perhaps only because I was a little skeptical of its flavor initially, the malt syrup seemed to remain an obvious part of the finished product. This might, at least in part however, just be me negatively attributing the heavier body and mouthfeel of the dark malts on the back of my tongue to the dark malt syrup. Overall, our first homebrew was a great success.

After only my first taste, my mind was soaring way past this first base beer, dreaming of chocolate, peppers, fruits, and all kinds of other adjuncts. First Time Brown Ale is an easily enjoyed, very drinkable beer, although I doubt anyone has enjoyed it quite as much as the six of us who created it. The few critiques that emerged from evaluating First Time offer places to focus on improvement during our next brew. With our first step complete, I eagerly look forward to our progress down the road to becoming homebrew pros…or amateurs…on the road to becoming great homebrewers.

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Filed under American Brown Ale, Homebrewing