Monday, November 24, 2008

Devil's Backbone Brewing Company

200 Mosby's Run
Roseland, VA 22967

We arrived after an hour and 45 minute drive from Raleigh Court, taking 460 East to 29 North, to 151 North. The ride home (north to 64 and south on 81) appeared to take an extra few minutes. Virginia's newest brewpub is one of its classiest. The brand new, tall, wood-framed building could be mistaken for a ski lodge, which is fitting considering its proximity to Wintergreen. While we didn't get a good glimpse of the mountains I'm sure the view is impressive - we did see plenty of stars.

The restaurant was just thoroughly impressive in every aspect. From the giant windows on the main facade, to the cozy bar with about 16-20 taps, swiveling wooden stools with backs, deer, bear, and other animals mounted on the walls, all of which were claimed to have been shot in Nelson County except the giant moose head above the working fireplace, from Maine. A sign on the bathroom stall breaks down the origins of all the carpentry and decorations, most of which was recycled and/or purchased locally.

On to the good stuff. We were seated immediately, thanks to reservations, but the wait would not have been too long if there was one. The place was just barely filled at 7:30, and would clear out pretty well by 9:30. We had an attentive server all night, who did well to at least check on our questions if he didn't know the answer (it was opening night). I got a flight of house beers to start, 5 styles, 2 ounces each for $3. The lineup as of Friday consisted of:

Wintergreen Weiss: Picture perfect version of the style, clean banana and clove flavor, very refreshing. 4.7% 12 IBU - I later had a pint, served in the house weizen glass, which will be on sale soon but were not in stock for sale yet.
Eight Point IPA: Typically-flavored American IPA, presumably finished with Cascade, very solid and drinkable. I had 2 of these. 5.9% 60 IBU
Spike: "An unfliltered American pale ale." More of a blonde or golden ale, very light, good if you like that sort of thing. 4.5% 45 IBU
Black Rock Oatmeal Stout: Served on nitro, very creamy head, very sharp reddish hues on the edges, but otherwise black. Very smooth and tasty. I had a pint. 4.5% 20 IBU
Ale of Fergus: A more-than-serviceable, 60 Schilling Scottish session ale, goes down easy, with a good, albeit subtle toffee flavor. 4.0% 22 IBU

As you can see, the stronger ales and lagers are still being allowed to age properly, but the beers they have now are clearly carefully constructed by a pro. The food was also creative and tasty. We started with cheese fries, topped with sauteed green chiles. I tried their bacon cheeseburger ($10, very good) and Bailie had the Hanger Steak, tender slices of steak rubbed with a chili and espresso bean rub, with char-grilled veggies and mashed potatoes ($15), all of which was full of flavor and delicious.

To sum up, Devil's Backbone impressed with quality beer, a classy, yet cozy atmosphere, and tasty food on their opening night. Service was great, and it seems like they really tried to pay attention to detail, as well as run a fairly "green" business. With the 20% coupon we received on Friday for December, we won't hesitate to make the drive again if the opportunity arrives.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel

C+ / 3.25
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | drink: 3

Style: Dunkelweizen
ABV: 5.00%
Purchased: ~$2.49 at Cave Spring Kroger in Roanoke County, VA

Hazy, orange-amber, kind of like a cats eye stone, but kind of dull. Plenty of foamy head that never comes close to fading. The yeast is in the forefront of the aroma, with a subdued creamy banana smell under around hints of sweet German hops.

The taste unfortunately left a bit to be desired. It just seems unnecessarily thin and watery. There's not much malt character, a good hop bite, and some yeast flavors, but in the end you're left with a residual sweetness that isn't even palatable enough to serve as a thirst-quencher.

Freshness may be an issue but a bottling date is nowhere to be found. The bottle is a lighter than normal brown with some greenish tints. I'm not sure the journey west did this one much good.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Castle Eggenberg Doppelbock Dunkel

B / 3.7
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

Style: Doppelbock
ABV: 8.50%
Purchased: ~$2.50 at Vintage Cellar in Blacksburg, VA

Into a flute glass pours a dark yet mostly translucent mahogany ale with a beige head that shows promise before hanging around the edges and finally fading. Carbonation is ample, and head reappears with a swirl.

Aroma is stale when cold, then produces fig with some caramel notes with warmth. Faint herbal, even minty hops.

As with aroma, warmth induces the best flavors from this beer. Highlights are the dark fruit esters of figs and dates, slight butteriness, and a sugary caramel that comes to the forefront towards the end of the bottle.

Mouthfeel is excellent, a bite from the carbonation but otherwise balanced; full-bodied but not heavy.

Alcohol not pronounced at all despite the 8.5%. Highly drinkable, but might start sitting heavy if sessioned. Worth a try if you see it.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 09-07-2008 03:31:09

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Four + Brewing Co. Rype

C+ / 3.15
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | drink: 4

Style: American Pale Wheat Ale
ABV: 4.00%
Purchased: $1.89 at Vintage Cellar in Blacksburg, VA

Pours a bright golden color with lots of carbonation but little head. The aroma is a sweet, nutty citrus, just right for the style. While not overpowering, the flavor is primarily citrus with very little malt character. Spiciness from the hops and heavy carbonation make it a refreshing summer ale, but it feels more like a soda on the palate than a beer. Easily sessionable if a light flavored wheat ale is your style but the carbonation is too much for me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Orval Trappist Ale

A- / 4.2
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 4

Style: Belgian Pale Ale
ABV: 6.90%
Purchased: ~$5.25 per 12 oz. bottle at Countryside Classics in Salem, VA

Bottled on 24/06/2005, enjoyed on 30/07/2008. Two fingers of foamy white head cover a hazy, pale amber body in my snifter. The head retention is remarkable, settling at 1/4" and leaving a layer of lacing like snow coating frost on a window as the liquid below disappears.

The first whiff is mainly of sweet banana, with some residual clove as well. The banana is almost exclusive as the beer warms and is very rich, like banana pudding.

There is more clove than banana to the taste, although both are still present. The initial sour acidity yields to a sweeter bubbly foam as I roll it over my tongue. There's plenty of carbonation and a spiciness from the hops which is more prevalent at lower temperatures.

The quality of this beer is evident across the board, although I'd prefer the banana carry over more to the flavor to override the sourness of the yeast.

Avery Salvation

B+ / 3.85
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | drink: 4

Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
ABV: 9.00%
Purchased: $6.99 per 22 oz. bottle at Vintage Cellar in Blacksburg, VA

Hazy, pale orange with minimal head. Nose heavy on sweet orange, rich with vanilla undertones, the way flavored Belgians should be done. Very candy-like, surprisingly low on phenols for a Belgian. Second pour produces 1/2 inch of head that settles very quickly with minimal lacing. Just not a strong point of this one.

The flavor exhibits a similar honey-candy-marmalade from the aroma, while the yeast pokes its head out a bit to add trace clove to the mix. The hops add a subtle earthy spice and are well-placed for the idea. However, while the aroma is warm and relentless, the flavor seems to peter out towards the end of the bottle. I feel that this is because the beer is under-carbonated, which consequently produces a more oily rather than dry mouthfeel.

Nevertheless, the alcohol is far less noticeable on the tongue than in the brain. It's not hard to drink, so heed the warning the 9% abv sign on the bottle.

Homebrew Session: Belgian Stong Pale Ale

At long last, I've tackled another homebrew, the first since I've begun this blog, but the 12th in my two-year brewing career. The reason for the delay (over four months) was primarily that I had been focused on upgrading my system to support all-grain mashing, and wanted to put every spare penny towards that goal. But the government stimulus funds didn't last long and the usual summer travel frenzy took care of the rest and I'm finding myself looking at Fall before I'm able to take the plunge.

As a consolation, I decided upon brewing my most ambitious beer to date in terms of strength, and resolved to eliminate all the mistakes that I knew I could control that seemed to plague me (and my short attention span) again and again. Specifically, to use only malts that need not be mashed (you have no idea how much I've done this even since I learned it was a mistake), to measure the hops carefully and not overdo them, to cool the wort efficiently but not too far, etc.

I then settled on a Belgian ale of some sort, a beer that is light enough to be thirst-quenching on a late summer evening, yet strong enough to obliterate all my previous attempts. From there, I picked out a yeast that would be both available to me at Blue Ridge Hydroponics, since I didn't want to wait to order anything special, as well as be robust enough to ferment in a range of temperatures. I selected the White Labs Begian Ale Yeast since it can ferment up to 78 degrees. In the end, this wasn't too important as I wound up doing the primary fermentation in my air conditioned computer room. More on that later. I also chose a Belgian Strong Pale Ale for the "style" as it gave me more room for experimentation, and did not require fermentation procedures or temperatures beyond the scope of my equipment.

Yeast Starter:

2 oz. Munton's Light Dry Malt Extract
2 cups filtered tap water
1 vial WLP 550 White Labs Belgian Ale Yeast (best before 8-5-07)

~5 gallons Kroger Spring Water
0.5 oz. 20L Crystal Malt (grains)
1 lb. 14 oz. Munton's Light DME
10 oz. Corn Sugar
1 lb. 8 oz. Private Selection Organic Sugar (cane)
6 lb. Blue Ridge H and H Super Light Malt Extract
2 oz. Hallertaur hops (60 min boil)
2 oz. Hallertaur hops (5 min boil)
1 tsp Irish Moss (15 min boil)
0.5 oz. Ground Coriander (purchased from Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op)

Yeast Starter:

7-26-08 Set out yeast ~ 5 hours before pitching. Realized yeast was out of date more than a year...Brought water to boil, added DME, boiled ~8 minutes, added slightly more water to remove stuck DME from scale tray. Transferred to 22 oz. bottle w/ funnel, both sanitized with no-rinse sanitizer. Set in ice bath in sink (3:30ish).
Pitched at 80 degrees F, 4:18 (48 min later). Very little activity noticed until 7/28; postponed brewing until 7-29, when i was still in a krausen phase, but slurry was forming on the base of the bottle.


Brought two gallons of water to 165F, added grains, covered at 175F @ 8:10 PM. Heat off, let steep for 30 minutes. Remove grains, add DME, corn sugar, cane sugar, and finally malt extract, in that order. Turn on heat, and bring to boil (8:53 PM). Boiling at 9:20 PM. Add 2 oz. Hallertaur hops at 9:28 PM. Hops could have smelled a little cheesy (due to storage issues from supplier), but could just be true to style. Hops bought from friend had sat in single Ziploc bag in fridge for ~3 months. Had him seal them airtight in 2 oz. bags prior to sale, put in freezer immediately after.

Added Irish moss 45 minutes after boiling (10:13 PM).

Added 2 oz. Hallertaur finishing hops and ground coriander at 55 minutes after boiling (10:23 PM). Removed from heat at 10:28 and cooled in ice bath in sink (two bags of ice rotated with water). Cooled to 78F by 11:00 PM.

O.G. 1.083 at 77F (1.085 corrected). Pitched yeast at 11:08 PM. Shook from 11:17-11:22 PM, put in front of kitchen A/C with blow off tube for the night.

Moved to closed air conditioned computer room the following morning. Steady bubbling noticed at 12:05 PM on 7-30, less than 1 second between bubbles. Room temperature 68-72F for majority of fermentation. Noticed room temp down to 62F at lunch on 8-5, so corrected quickly to 69F. Roused yeast continuously during fermentation but avoided oxidization from shaking. S.G. at 6:00 PM on 8-5 was ~1.026, and krausen still abundant, so fermentation left at least one more day.

Hoping for a 38 IBU, 8.5% abv spice Belgian Strong Pale Ale, sometime in September!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Roanoke Railhouse Brewing Company: Research Tasting

On Sunday the 13th, this article was published in the Roanoke Times regarding the new Roanoke Railhouse Brewing Co. The Times had first reported on this brewery in this article last October.

I jumped at the chance to attend the blind tasting conducted by Martin Research mentioned in the former article. Having not read the article until Monday, I quickly sent an email to Martin and was informed this morning of a cancellation by one of the participants for their 6:30 appointment this evening. Again, I jumped and was fortunate to have responded in time to be allowed into the study.

The idea behind the tasting was to create a group environment in which individuals (about 20 in our group, although I don't know the total number of groups that will be assembled between tonight and Thursday) were given the chance to taste 8 styles of beer, and rate their impressions.

SPOILER ALERT!!!! If you plan on participating in this tasting or talking to someone else who will be do not read any farther!

We were asked first to give our age and our favorite domestic and imported beers. Then we were given checkboxes that basically covered a scale of 1-5. The lowest being I would not drink this beer, the highest being this beer is awesome. We were also encouraged to write some brief notes in the margins beside each beer describing what we liked or disliked about the beer.

Going into the tasting, I knew full well there would only be fairly standard and non-extreme styles offered. It was not disclosed, and still unclear whether the beers would be commercial examples of a style, or potentially test-batches or homebrews the brew master had previously made. There were a couple of beers in particular that appeared to at least resemble well known commercial beers; an amber lager resembling Sam Adams Lager, and a maibock resembling Rogue Old Dead Guy. Again, this was just speculation.

The remaining styles appeared to consist of the following: a dunkelweizen or German dark lager, a porter, a pale ale, an IPA, an amber and an English mild. This list leaves the notable exceptions of a wheat ale and a stout, which I had figured would have been great candidates for "the palate of the Roanoke masses," as the study had hoped to predict. The only consolation I take in the omission of these styles at this event was that the first Times article indicated one rotating seasonal beer flanked by two consistent "flagship" styles. The suggestions given for these seasonal styles? A wheat ale and a stout.

Now for the interesting part. Judging by our groups reactions in discussion after tasting, the Sam Adams(-esque?) beer was the only real consensus pick as a favorite. There was more polarization on most of the other beers with the exception of the mild/light ale, which no one seemed to particularly enjoy. If I had to guess, I'd say the IPA, my favorite, would probably not make the cut, but could be offered as a seasonal, as there was huge polarization over the hoppier beers. The maibock seemed to be well-liked among the anti-hoppy beer crowd, and at least tolerated by the hop heads, so look for that as a possibility too. I personally liked the porter as well, which although it tasted like a porter and was very flavorful, may not have actually been as the color was a bit light.

The bottom line is, I consider myself very fortunate to have been a participant in RRBC's research, but I hope that I may have helped sway the vote in favor of beers that both succeed and challenge Roanoke beer drinkers. A member of the Star City Brewers Guild made a valid point earlier about the RRBC's selection of flagship beers: while us beer geeks might love for them to brew a more extreme or hoppy beer, we tend to crave variety. RRBC's key market is going to be the threshold beer drinker that prefers something above the American macro, but is not devoted enough to actively seek out variety.

My recommendation: a smooth dark lager ala Sam Adams, a wheat ale that beats the crap out of Blue Moon, and a rotating seasonal that cleans up the rest between a winter stout, spring maibock, summer pale ale, and fall porter.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Southern Tier Imperial Cherry Saison

A / 4.4
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale
ABV: 8.0%
Purchased: $7.99 per 22 oz. bottle at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Pours a majestic hazy blush-gold with a modest white head that hides on the edges of the glass. Not much lacing, but oh well.

The initial aroma is grass and hay from the yeast, with a touch of cherry. Very clean, and gains strength with time. More of a sweet, honey-cherry-smokey oak flavor with warmth, which puts the first few whiffs to shame. Served outside on a warm day, it should be spectacular.

I should mention that I've had but one Hoppe and two Unearthlys at out of state beer bars and loved them both, so I was ecstatic about seeing four of their selections at the local beer store this week. First sip is verrry complex on the palate, but I'll take a stab at it: the first thing I get is mustard seed of all things. I've never tasted anything like it in a beer. Mint, oregano, tomato/ketchup, grass, oak trees, a babbling brook, and a partly cloudy sky may also be found here. And some vanilla and cherry. Theres a dry bitterness attributable to the magnum hops but not an overwhelming hop flavor. They show up more on the nose.

Mouthfeel full for a saison yet it sits easily on the palate and has a pleasant spicy kick on the finish. Speaking of kick, there's a pleasant warmth building in my chest and buzzing in my legs as I tackle the final 5 or so sips. With this beer, Southern Tier has done nothing to remove itself from the top 3-4 of my favorite breweries.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Unibroue Maudite

A- / 4.2
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 5

ABV: 8.00%
Style: Belgian strong dark ale
Purchased: $2.49 per 12 oz. bottle at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Served in a Maudite snifter, this beer pours with 3 fingers of pillowy head that crest over the top of the glass. It holds together well leaving tons of fine lacing. The body is a dark auburn color, slightly hazy. There's a gentle fragrance that is clove-y and yeasty, with a farm-fresh quality that intensifies as it warms and is swirled. Almost minty.

There's a lot to like out of the first sip; abundant caramel and specialty malt flavor balanced well with the Belgian yeast, and a light, wet, yet highly carbonated almost soda-like mouthfeel that seems to provide exceptional drinkability. Finishes spicy but still not dry. This beer provides a jolt to all senses.

If I could change anything, it might be sacrificing some drinkability for more depth in the body. If I'm paying $2.50 a bottle I'm probably not going to be pounding these all night, so it could sit a little heavier. Still, that's a minor complaint. Very nice, and now I'm even more proud of my Maudite snifter.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Left Hand Oak Aged Widdershins

A+ / 4.55
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4

ABV: 8.80%
Style: English Barleywine
Purchased: On tap at Union Brewhouse in Weymouth, MA for $5.25 per 10 oz. draft

Enjoyed on tap at Union Brewhouse in Weymouth, Ma. Being the only tap offering served in a 10 ounce (tulip) glass, and it being my birthday, I of course had to try this one out.

This beer was fairly light for a barleywine and until looking it up I couldn't tell if it was a barleywine or just a strong ale of some sort.

The aroma was amazing and completely unexpected. The first thing that came to mind was opium; a very dense, floral, perfume scent, with malts providing a candy backbone. Superb.

Taste was similar, floral and malty with a spiciness. I probably could have stuck with these all night, but they would have been peeling me off the bathroom floor. Very intriguing and unique brew, hope to find it again.

Union Brew House

550 Washington Street
Weymouth, MA 02188

/ 4.05
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4 - $$

I've visited the Brew House about 8 times in the past few years, all since I've moved south from Mass. Unfortunately, most times I head up I forget my checklist...For those that don't know, the Brew House has a checklist of 99 beers, and sign them off as you order them. When you complete the list, they'll put a plaque with your name and witty quote on their wall.

Most of the beers on their list are good, but far too many are macros. Molson and Corona for example. However, if you're just stopping by, you'll have no problem finding quality beers to drink. Their motto is "No Crap on Tap," and of the 15 or so rotating taps, I've never seen it compromised.

The patio area is great in the summer if you're not interested in catching a game. Problem here is service is hard to get. Although we did have a new girl who might not have been accustomed to the pace of the bar yet.

Inside, there are HD tv's showing local sports games, maybe 10-12 tall bar tables, and a decent size curvy bar. Digital juke box, Golden Tee, and other bar staples are around. I scooped a copy of Beer Advocate magazine on my way out last time - I think it was free?

The bar food is great, and the nachos are enormous. Service has always been friendly, and usually knowledgeable. Definitely check it out if you're on the South Shore.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Weyerbacher Blasphemy

B / 3.65
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | drink: 3

ABV: 11.8%
Style: Belgian-style quadrupel
Purchased: $8.99 for a 22 oz. bomber at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

This one is not to be fucked around with, to put it blasphemously. Pours a dark amber with a prune-ish tint, and a couple fingers of head that settle in a ring around the rim of my snifter. There's a sharp blast of booze in the nostrils comprised of bourbon, vanilla extract, banana and some raisin, though not as much as the Quad, it's close cousin.

Even more bourbon in the flavor, and while it's hard to cut through the booziness, some of the raisin and fruity esters present themselves on the sides of the tongue. Although only .6% higher in abv than the Quad, this is a whole different ballgame due to the sharpness of the alcohol. Make sure you're not going anywhere for a while; this is one of few beers I would recommend sharing your bomber with a friend. Acidic on the throat and heavy in the stomach, it's not something you'll probably need or want seconds of. That said, I'm always a fan of extremes, and this one certainly fits the bill.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mellow Mushroom Restaurant

1309 W. Main Street
Charlottesville, VA 22903

A- / 4.25
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4.5 - $

I got away from work for Tuesday and Wednesday this week to attend the VAMLIS Conference for GIS professionals in Charlottesville, VA. I'd heard there was a Mellow Mushroom in town, so imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered my hotel sat on top of it.

I meandered over at around 5:15, after the conference let out, and found myself in the middle of their $2 a beer happy hour that ran from 4-6. With 39 beers on tap (yeah, I counted), and most of those quality microbrews, this was a luxury rarely experienced for me. To put it in perspective, Roanoke's largest quality tap selection is about 10 at Blue 5, and their beers are typically $4-5. Even when happy hour ended, standard price was $3.50 a pint (maybe 12 for a pitcher? happy hour pitchers: $9).

I was again impressed when I found that even some higher ABV beers like Ommegang Hennepin and Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre were the standard price. In fact, the only non-
standard beer on the menu was Leffe Blonde, which was $5 and served in a snifter. One last note about pricing, if it rains, you get a dollar off your beer. While it did sprinkle outside a bit after happy hour had ended, I didn't get the deal this time.

So I started with a Hennepin and a 10" Jerk Chicken pizza shortly after 5, and the next thing I know I looked up and it was almost midnight and there were 9 beers on my tab. Did I mention I was giving a presentation the next morning at 9am? Wooops! I hold responsible the quality and variety of the beer and the good company I met at the bar (though not having to drive home helps). Not to worry, the presentation went fine, and so was I; well, at least after stopping back in for lunch and a couple more pints the next day on my way home. After all, I'd forgotten my leftover pizza.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Brooklyner Weisse Beer by Brooklyn Brewing Co.

B+ / 3.95
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 4.5

ABV: 5.10%
Style: Hefeweizen
Purchased: Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

This beer poured with out much of a head for me, and it's also surprising that it's a rather clear straw color without much yeast floating around. I bought it as part of a basket of five different beers that was marked down from a ridiculous 25 dollars to $4.99. Still, the label claimed fresh before July.

The smell is extremely clove-heavy as it should be; banana abounds as well. There's a spice that I can't place in the aroma that is really emphasized in the taste. It's slightly cinnamon, a bit meaty, like roasted ham, plus vanilla and butterscotch. There's definitely a lot going on.

The taste is much as i described, but the cinnamon spiciness, and some fruitiness is highlighted.

The mouthfeel is interesting, bready, foamy, sharp on the finish, and of course spicy if that makes sense. Again, complex.

Nothing major to detract from drinkability. True to style.

This might be the most impressive offering by Brooklyn Brewery I've had yet, aside from the appearance, which may have been due to a weak pour. Still, no lacing, no real sign of head retention. If i had another 20 minutes to smell it I could probably find 20 more aromas. Good summer ale.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Humboldt Red Nectar Ale

A / 4.3
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

ABV: 5.5%
Style: American Amber Ale
Purchased: $1.99/bottle at Sumdat Farmer's Market in Roanoke, VA

Pours a murky, sediment-filled auburn color with a finger of beige head that covers the glass fairly well. The unfiltered characteristic gives the impression you're drinking a homebrew, but I wish I could make 'em this good. Very jazzy label by the way.

Smell is lively, citrus hops blended with candied, buttery caramel malt. Chocolate presents itself with warmth.

Candy on the palate as well, with a chocolaty caramel flavor, and it goes very well with the citrusy hops. For me, the most distinguishing character is the chewy, tangy, and slightly bready mouthfeel. This beer definitely has it's share of specialty malts, which give it a soft, unique flavor, but it is balanced with the hops enough to be quite drinkable.

I hadn't seen this one for a couple years so I picked it up when I found it in town (at Sumdat Farmer's Market). Still impresses now as it did then. Excellent version of the style.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

A- / 4.15
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4

ABV: 10.8%
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Purchased: $6.99 at Sumdat Farmer's Market in Roanoke, VA

Pours darker than a black steer's tukus on a moonless night. Attractive caramel cap of fine bubbles which thin out a bit but gravitate to the edge of the glass where they leave their mark copiously.

Aroma is roasted and toasted malts and some earthy hops.

Big and bold, imbibing this beer feels more like eating chocolate birthday cake with caramel icing, at least in body. The taste exhibits some of this, but leans more heavily on toast and nuts. Starchy and bready on the finish, the mouthfeel is silky up front.

Butter presents itself on the nose and palate as the beer warms, and with it a more prominent booziness. And this one will have ample time to warm, as it's a very slow sipper. No room for seconds; more like dessert for two.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Boscos Nashville Brewing Co.

1805 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37212

/ 3.35
vibe: 3 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3 | selection: 3.5 | food: 3.5 - $$

I first heard about this place in an airline magazine listing the supposed best brewpubs in various states, so decided to check it out as I visit Nashville a few times per year. We went on a Saturday afternoon after lunch hour. The bar was small, tucked in a corner, and filled up so we grabbed a booth. The greeter appeared kind of quiet and sullen and made me wonder if I should worn something better than shorts and sandals into this place. The server was more upbeat and attentive at first, but less so after we were served.

A friend and I had the 8 beer for $8 sampler, which was hit or miss. In particular, the "stone" beer tastes little better than a Budweiser, the IPA was a corn sugary disappointment (for me, my friend liked it better) and some of the others were unremarkable. The dunkelweizen was my favorite so I ordered a pint of that, although the Irish red was the epitome of a session fightin' ale and would have been great if we decided to spend the rest of the evening here.

We also ordered a spinach and artichoke dip that was good and ample for the four of us. Beers were $4.50 a piece. The restaurant was spacious, with paintings on the walls, half of pears, half other things. I got some snobby vibes but it could have been a lot worse. Not a bad visit, probably good for a date, but not necessarily a place I'll seek out again.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Legend Brown Ale

A- / 4.2
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

ABV: 6.5%
Style: English Brown Ale
Purchased: $3.99 at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Three plus fingers of creamy head, dense bubbles slowly settling, leaving 1/4" of head over the mahogany-amber body. For all the froth, lacing is minimal.

Watermelon, yeast, bubble gum on the nose. Fruity, malty, refreshing and light, but complex.

Fruity, candied malts up front, while light citrus hops provide a dry finish, and round out the malts.

Mouthfeel is spot on for a brown. Wet at first and dry on the finish.

Easy drinker, sits well. Perfect with some hot dogs watching the afternoon ballgame.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Boulder Hazed and Infused

A- / 4.15
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 3.5

ABV: 4.85%
Style: American Pale Ale
Purchased: $2.19 per 12 ounce bottle at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, Va

This beer pours about 3 fingers of thick-foamed off-white head, so much so that I can't fit a whole 12 ouce in my oversized Maudite snifter. Head sticks around the whole way down the snifter. Impressive looking.

There's a hefty amount of piney, citrusy hops on the nose, as well as a light apricot aroma, and it reminds me of HIPA and other Magic Hat hoppy beers, in the way it is dryhopped with sweet, pungent hops. The smell has an aggressive, sharp, and clean bouquet that just overtakes your olfactory nerves.

The taste is light citrus and almost lemon. The hops are juicy rather than overly bitter; they taste and smell very fresh. So thick with hops it resembles perfume and oil.

Mouthfeel is light but it's full of flavor. I can't believe this beer is under 5% ABV. I don't remember the last beer I had at that level but it tastes 2% stronger than it really is.

Very impressed by this and the Mojo I've tried from Boulder Beer Co. They know how to do their hoppy beers and they are all better than average. Hops are definitely in excess for a beer of this strength, but are still constructed in a refreshing and tasty manner. For Hop Heads Only.

Boulder Mojo IPA

A- / 4.15
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 4.5

ABV: 6.8%
Style: American IPA
Purchased: $2.19 at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke

This beer is a very attractive sunflower color with a tight two finger beige head. It's sticky and retains about 1/4" the whole way down, with good lacing.

Aroma is thick and resinous, citrus, grassy hops, maybe Columbus? Nope, the bottle says Amarillo, and I can see it now. Some candy-like malts in there as well.

Flavor is big and hoppy, herbal with citrus notes. Hop-heavy like an IPA should be. The bitterness on the finish is near perfect for the style. The lingering herbal pine taste makes a nice touch.

Sits pretty evenly on the tongue, dry and full-bodied but not syrupy.

This is a very nice offering, true to style and bold as the label claims. My first beer from Boulder, and I'm impressed.

North Coast Brother Thelonius

B+ / 3.95
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 3.5

ABV: 9.4%
Style: Belgian Style Abbey Dubbel
Purchased: Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

I settle down on the warmest afternoon of the year so far with one Brother, as I wait for my own to arrive from Boston. The note on the bottle couldn't be more fitting: "CARPE DIEM VITA BREVIS." Life is short, seize the day.

It pours a very hazy auburn brown with a finger of tan head that thins out, not quite covering the chalice. The bubbles are very fine and foamy. Lacing is sparse, but it gets extra points for having such a cool bottle and label.

Caramel is most prevalent in the aroma but it is complemented by fruity esters, raisin and prune. Some earthy, woody hops are involved. With warmth, buttery notes show up, and finally some booziness when you get to the dregs.

Raisin, prune and caramel again on the tongue, but in that order. It's a bit sour but not very bitter, and this eases up a little as you drink more of it, or have a bite of cheese (I'm having muenster). Earthy hops are there as well.

The hops add an abundant spiciness to the mouthfeel. It's very light-bodied for such a strong beer and the only thing really keeping me from chugging it down is the sourness. I'm not overly familiar with the style but I'm sure the sour characteristic was intended. The alcohol itself isn't very noticeable but there is a sharp acidity that can be a little overbearing. Overall pretty enjoyable.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

La Crosse City Brewery Moe's Backroom Pale Ale

C+ / 3.1
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | drink: 3.5

ABV: 5.7%
Style: American Pale Ale
Purchased: Kroger in Roanoke, VA

Pours with a rather large foamy beige head and translucent amber body. The head retains itself pretty well, covering the body comfortably, and forming a modest patch or two of lacing.

There isn't much in the way of an aroma for a pale ale. Ever so subtle citrus notes and not much else.

The flavor is actually decent for a pale ale at this price. There's a nice thick, slightly resinous citrus flavor and a touch of grapefruit bitterness - seems like a Cascade-heavy beer to me. The one drawback is the obvious use of sugar adjuncts, which impart a slightly cidery, ultimately ersatz flavor and aroma to the beer.

There's not much wrong with the mouthfeel - it's maybe a little thin on body and a bit overcarbonated but finishes dry and refreshing as a pale ale should.

Drinkability suffers a bit from the sugary flavor, which gets old pretty quick and doesn't sit very well in the stomach. For $5.49 a six-pack, this beer definitely serves it's purpose well, and may top the list of beers you can buy for under a dollar a piece. I'm sure I'll return to it next time I'm low on cash.

Anheuser-Busch Wild Blue (Blueberry Lager)

F / 1.05
look: 1 | smell: 1 | taste: 1 | feel: 1 | drink: 1.5

ABV: 8%
Style: Fruit/Vegetable Beer
Purchased: Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Well, they did it, they conned me into buying an A-B beer. Intrigued by an 8% blueberry beer, I picked up a single at the local wine and beer shop and was looking forward to trying it.

Then I saw the label and looked it up: Anheuser-Busch product. Crap. Then I poured it out. It's a sickening bright fruit juice purple color with a purpleish-pink head that can't wait to vanish. You can smell the fruit juice from a foot away.

Tastes like a blueberry Spark's or something. Just sweet, syrupy juice with no real hint of anything resembling hops or malts anywhere.

Mouthfeel is thin and syrupy, so sweet it makes you pucker, a slight bite on the finish the only thing resembling actual beer.

No, I do not want to drink any more of this. I suppose this could be a decent choice for an alternative to juice at breakfast, but unless you're used to wine cooler and are looking for something stronger, avoid this beer!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hops and Barley Shortage

You may be wondering why your favorite 6-pack just went up in price a buck or two, and some beers are reaching $1.50 to $2.00 and up per bottle. This mostly has to do with the hops and barley shortage that literally every brewery has had to deal with over the past year, and will continue to have to do so for the foreseeable future.

A lot has been written about the topic and most brewmasters have addressed it on their own websites, but basically what is happening is that supply of ingredients is dwindling while demand for craft brews has dramatically increased. Farmers, through no real fault of their own, have failed to honor contracts to provide hops and barley to suppliers, in most cases opting instead for corn or canola (rapeseed), from which larger profits can be gained due to the emergence of ethanol, which is being touted as a "green" additive to gasoline.

Less room in fields and less interest from farmers leads to less barley and hops for brewers, at a time when new breweries seemingly spout up weekly, and brewers seek to fuel the public's desire for bigger, stronger, extreme beers. As an example, this recipe for a 5-gallon homebrew clone of Pliny the Elder, which is probably my favorite beer ever as I write this, uses over a pound of hops and nearly 16 pounds of barley per batch, which will produce about two cases of beer. Don't get me wrong, I loooove this beer, but when you consider a normal batch of wheat beer, golden ale, Irish red or the like uses more like 2 ounces of hops and maybe 10 pounds of barley per 5-gallon batch, imagine how tough it is for breweries like Russian River to produce these beers on a national scale.

Other factors have led to the shortage: a warehouse fire wiping out about 2% of American-grown hops last year. A below-average growing season due to poor weather. Brewers will probably lean towards more modest recipes in the coming months. Homebrew supply stores like mine in Roanoke have notified customers that hops will only be sold by recipe, with a maximum of about four ounces to be sold only when customers purchase their malts and yeast at the same time. Ingredients for the IPA I am currently brewing ran me close to $70 for a 5-gallon batch, while in the past I had rarely topped $50. The Irish Red I brewed in February, which contains significantly less ingredients, was under $40.

It will be an interesting year ahead (and probably more), as we watch brewers practice conservation and discretion in their own ways. Sam Adams recently sold off 20,000 pounds of hops to smaller microbreweries that were not able to obtain them due to lack of supply. From all accounts within the industry, however, the beers we enjoy will continue to line the shelves, as long as we continue to buy them. We may just need to shell out some more dough to make that happen.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brouwerij De Musketiers Troubadour Blonde Ale

A / 4.35
look: 4.5 smell: 4 taste: 4.5 feel: 4 drink: 4.5

ABV: 6.5%
Style: Belgian Pale Ale
Purchased: Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Served this last bottle of a four-pack in a tulip glass. Three fingers of clumpy, sticky, white head settle slowly leaving large patches of lacing on the edges of the glass. A solid thick later of large-bubble head sits atop a hazy straw body.

Smells exactly how a Belgian blonde should smell: clovey, yeasty, with a touch of banana. Also smells like yellow cake batter when it warms.

The taste is again clovey, phenolic with bready yeast and banana flavors. Spicy on the tongue and slightly sour on the finish. Lots of flavor for a modest ABV.

Mouthfeel is fairly spicy and sharp, but also leaves a bit of a silky coating on your tongue. Nevertheless, pretty light and certainly very drinkable. Recommended.

A Few Basics

This post will contain some basics regarding the beer rating system, what to look for in a good beer, what makes up a beer, etc., and I will probably come back to it in the future to add things. If you have any questions about anything I write, please let me know and I'd be more than happy to clarify.

Beer ratings are based on Beer Advocate's beer rating system. This is a scale of 1 to 5 based on the five main components of tasting a beer, and the % of rating contributing to overall score:

Appearance: 20%
Aroma: 20%
Taste: 40%
Mouthfeel: 10%
Drinkability: 10%

To save myself from republishing everything Beer Advocate has already quite ably written, look here for descriptions of each category. There's a load of good information on this website, so we'll keep that website for basic reference and this one for my thoughts.

As you check out the ratings I give, keep in mind that these are relative to style. What this means is that if I give an Imperial IPA a 3.8 and a wheat beer a 4.4, it doesn't necessarily mean that I liked the wheat beer better than the IIPA, it just means that the wheat beer is great compared to other wheat beers, and the IIPA is not quite as great compared to other IIPAs. Cuz I like my IIPAs.

Head: The foam you see at the top of a beer is referred to as head. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually a good thing to have a lot of. Head can be fluffy, pillowy, foamy, sticky, non-existent, etc. Generally, I pour my beer right down the center of the glass and let the head do it's thing. If the head sticks to the side of the glass, that's a good thing; it's called lacing, and the more of it the better, in most cases. Great beers tend to form intricate patterns down the side of your glass. Sometimes you'll get a heavily carbonated beer that is 80% head when you pour it vigorously. Here you can cheat and start by pouring it down the side of the glass, straightening it up as you go. Whatever you do, don't pull the old frat party trick where you wipe your finger on the side of your nose, then stir the head with it (unless it's a Beast Light or likewise). That kills the head, which can hurt the aroma and mouthfeel of the beer.

Also, make sure you have a "beer clean" glass. This means wash your glass out using non-scented, powder detergent that doesn't leave any residue on the edges of the glass. Generally, this excludes all liquid detergents. Either clean your glass with a basic powdered dishwasher detergent, or just rinse it with water after you drink a beer. I don't know how sanitary the latter is, but I do it a lot and it treats a head well, and I'm not dead yet.

Glassware: There are all kinds of options for glasses you can pour your beer into. Certain beers require special glasses to be appreciated to their fullest. Most beers, you can get away with pouring into a typical pint glass, mug or stein. I prefer a snifter for beers with more intricate aromas, and generally those with higher ABVs. It's a good idea to get yourself a nice snifter if you like beer. You'll be glad you did. For more on glassware, check out: BA Glassware .

Great Divide Old Ruffian Barleywine Style Ale

B+ / 3.95
look: 4 smell: 4 taste: 4 feel: 4 drink: 3.5

ABV: 10.2%
Style: American Barleywine
Purchased: $7.99/22 oz. bottle at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Pours a murky fig color with a couple fingers of creamy khaki head that leaves strong layers of lacing down the snifter. It hangs around in a clump at one side and a ring around the glass.

Caramel malts hit the nose first, then dark chocolate, toffee, and roasted malts. The fruit talked about on the label begins to shine with warmth - mostly of the dark variety like fig and prune. Some earthy hops round things out.

Flavor is far more bitter than the nose lets on, a great swath of which expands across all corners of the palate with the first sip. Again, these hops are earthy and woody, developing some floral and slight grapefruit character as it warms. Caramel and chocolate are still prevalent all along. Five degrees or so of warmth makes all the difference. With the second pour out of the bomber, you're now drinking a vanilla caramel praline ice cream cone with chocolate sauce, albeit still with a bitter backbone, but more subdued.

The mouthfeel is massive and robust, and the hop bitterness is relentless. I'd recommend cellaring this one for a while. Alcohol only shows up both in nose and on tongue towards the final 20% of the beer, but it's so full-bodied, it's one and done per sitting for this one. It's a great version of the style but a bit too bitter for me at least at this age.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I want to keep this short so I can get into the stuff I really created this blog for - well, in short, BEER. This blog will probably be updated fairly regularly, considering I'm pretty much always drinking, or brewing, or buying, or reading So crack open a cold one, bold imbiber of the barley 'n' hops blogosphere, because you've come to the right place if you want to know what to drink, where to drink it, or how to make it (don't worry, that will be the last Bud Light reference in this blog). And since it just took me a half hour to come up with that zinger, on to the posts.