Deschutes “Hop In The Dark”
Hop In The Dark is a seasonal Black IPA (Cascadian Black Ale) available May through June. Aromas appear rather dull, but hops stand at the foreground with bright hints of citrus (orange) and pine. Malts lie below as roasted barley give notes of burnt toast, cocoa, and coffee.
The palate opens in a gentle malt roast initiated by baker’s chocolate. Hops steadily rise with a tart edge of grapefruit. Sweet malts slightly take the lead in flavors of caramel and malted milk balls. Bitterness jumps into the back in an herbal character driven by pine. Escalating toward a bitter climax, grapefruit zest becomes the focal point. Final suggestions of coffee surface on the back-end as malts unfold grainy details of oatmeal. Hop oils leave behind a thin coating which lingers as a prolonged aftertaste. The mouthfeel is very smooth and stout-like, then slightly shifts gears as hop oils accumulate for a somewhat dry conclusion that closes clean and crisp. Drinkability is very good, aided by a modest ranking 6.8% ABV.
Overall, this isn’t as aggressive on the hop load as other Black IPA’s in my memory. It comes across more like a hoppy porter than anything. I find the bitterness to be perfectly aligned with the degree of malt roast, resulting in a complementary flavor combination where each side fights for control. As in all Deschutes brews, this is very balanced in terms of malt and hop weight. In the end, it probably ends up more on the hoppy end of the spectrum. I have always appreciated this style, but having anticipated something bigger and better, I guess I was a bit disappointed with Hop in the Dark. I think this is a good, palatable example of this niche style, so I recommend it to those of you who share a divided love for both Stouts and IPA’s. It’s at least worth one go.
Known Malts: Pale, Crystal, Chocolate, Chocolate Wheat, Black Barley, Flaked Oats, Midnight Wheat
Known Hops: Northern Brewer, Nugget, Centennial, Amarillo, Cascade, Citra
Firestone “Stickee Monkee”
Stickee Monkee is a limited-release Quadrupel brewed with an addition of Turbinado brown sugar and Belgian candi sugar, then aged for up to fourteen months in fine bourbon oak barrels. Its name is a nod to Belgian monks, but also references the Sticky Monkey flower that grows along the California coast. This was originally created in 2010 to fill in the sweet gap in the brewery’s barrel-aged Anniversary Ale blending program, but was just recently bottled for first time in May 2014. Firestone prefers the term “Central Coast Quad.”
On the nose, sweet aromas abound with brown sugar, butterscotch, and toffee. A big barrel presence gives hints of coconut, vanilla, tobacco, and leather. Malts smell like banana bread and graham crackers. Fruity notes of fig merge with orange zest and cinnamon.
The palate begins in sweet layer of toffee as a creme brulee flavor comes to mind. Malts accumulate into a sticky pool of molasses that stops just shy of cloying. Fruity hints emerge in a character like dried figs, raisins, dates, and plums. The bourbon barrel brings out vanilla, coconut, leather, and musty tobacco. Pushing even deeper, a subtle malt roast develops suggestions of gingerbread muffins with a touch of chocolate. Finishing flavors are salty like peanut brittle, enclosed by a poignant twist of spice with an outline of licorice, rising toward a bitter edge of orange peel. Alcohol eventually surfaces, yet while being disguised in bourbon, has little to offer apart from a gentle arrival of tannins. The final flavor remind me of German chocolate cake. Hop contribution is practically non-existent, appearing only as a light contribution of pine oil on the finish. Mouthfeel is chewy, smooth, and creamy with a full, well-rounded body that closes in heat. Alcohol proves to be incredibly deceptive, so drinkability is unhindered by its influence.
This will go down as my highest-rated domestic Quad. In some ways, it almost tastes more like a bourbon-aged Barleywine. Where most will simply fail to stand up to the greatness of traditional Belgians, this has given me a newfound respect for the American interpretation of a well-established classic. The oak adds a nice degree of complexity that tastes very complementary to the stylistic qualities of the quad. Barrel-aging a Belgian is unheard of, so this is a rather progressive approach as far as I understand. I do think it needs more Belgian yeast in order to to really taste traditional. This should perform wonders in a cellar. Okay, so it might lack the more intricate complexity of a genuine Belgian Quad, but I’m impressed. Stickee Monkee is a delicious brew that gives me one more reason to love Firestone. I highly recommend it!
Paso Robles, California
Pipeworks “Something Hoppy This Way Comes”
Something Hoppy This Way Comes is an Imperial IPA with rotational release. It features an interesting addition of white wheat, as well as two other hop varieties I don’t recall ever seeing before. Pipeworks is a fairly new Chicago brewery that began with money raised on Kickstarter. Aromas are fruity like peach, ripe grapefruit, and lemon. Grassy hops are detailed by pine needles. Malts appear as lightly caramelized sweet notes.
The palate makes a bittersweet introduction saturated by herbal hops, including flavors of fresh-cut grass and green onion. As smooth wheat accumulates, sweetness rises slightly above the bitterness for a brief moment. Citric sour notes rise up on the back in a lemon tart flavor combined with grapefruit zest. Next comes a quick splash of fruity flavors related to pineapple and plantain. Perpetual hop oils continue to cling in a bitterness flavored like grapefruit peel and mint. The mouthfeel is smooth over dull carbonation, departing clean, skipping the palate wreck effect.
Overall, I think this is a tasty double with steady sweet support, which may actually come across a touch too sweet according to some. The thing is, bitterness is fairly low, so there’s not as much counterbalance (although this does open up a steady stream of pleasant hop flavor). Drinkability is impressive, especially considering the high ABV. That lower than average bitterness also opens up room for more alcohol exposure, because it comes across a little boozy, and 10% isn’t easy to hide. It’s good, but not great. I still recommend it.
Known Hops: Sorachi Ace, Zythos, Cascade
Known Malts: 2-row, white wheat
Three Floyds “Blackheart”
Blackheart is an English IPA that uses only English hops, malts, and yeast in an homage to the roots of this style. The nose isn’t particularly bright, but is quite unusual in the best of ways. Fruity notes resemble orange and nectarine. Bready malts give a sweet hint of caramel. Hops bring in grassy undertones with a touch of spice. A hidden note resembling toasted coconut is delightful to find, but fades quickly. Alcohol can be detected only as the beer warms, but I find 8.5% to be the most perfect ABV for this style.
The palate begins as punchy malts stir up flavors of sweet bread and graham cracker. Hops rise in a fruity mix of orange and apricot. A leafy, grassy character begins to emerge with a weak outline of juniper. The bitterness level is perfect as it maintains steady agreement with the aforementioned sweetness. Next comes a flash of coconut, followed by a soft climax of zesty, minty hops. Alcohol-based fruity esters surface from behind in the most agreeable contribution of flavor. The mouthfeel is satisfying for its creamy roundness that slowly shifts toward a dry conclusion.
This is a great IPA, but I’m impressed these are all British hops, because they have a reputation for weakness. The ingredients may be English, but they’re treated as American. The toasted oak provides no direct attribution of flavor, so if they didn’t mention it, you’d never be able to distinguish its presence. Perhaps it adds a finer flavor I’m simply unable to associate with oak or wood. I suppose this would be more of an Imperial English IPA were this style to actually exist. Sweetness plays a big role on flavor, but ends up being a very agreeable counterpart to the bitterness. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the interesting and original taste of this IPA! Three Floyds has yet to disappoint me. I recommend it.
Alesmith “Speedway Stout”
Speedway Stout is a coffee-infused Double Stout using locally roasted beans supplied by Ryan Bros. This selection is available throughout the year. Thanks for the trade, Brewgie Howser. Aromas are lead by chocolate malt, dark berry notes, cold brew coffee, caramel sweetness, faint vanilla, and hints of booze.
The palate begins in a huge delivery of coffee, running alongside a deep undercurrent of dark chocolate and cocoa. A tart acidity rises in dark fruit flavors that resemble berries, plums, and black cherry skin. Bitterness strikes in a sort of hop spice with dull herbal undertones. A burnt caramel sweetness rises from behind, acting as the perfect oppositional force to the roasted bitterness. Thick flavors of brown sugar and blackstrap molasses settle on the back-end, finishing with suggestions of malted milk balls, brownies, and coffee cake. The aftertaste provides a deeper display of charred malts in a lasting resonance of chocolate with finishing touches of vanilla. The mouthfeel is dense, round and wet like heavy cream with weak carbonation, drying out as warm alcohol settles on the back of the throat.
As for coffee stouts, this one is a real winner that really stands out from the crowd. I find it best to let it warm, because this allows one to fully grasp its greatest flavor potential. Temperature is important. No doubt, coffee is a big player here, but one which rises and falls with good focus and control. Hops provide their essential bitter influence, yet their flavor contribution is constantly masked by the domineering oversight of roasted malts. Though the ABV is high, alcohol actually has surprisingly limited influence on flavor. I had expected a good double, and I leave completely satisfied. I definitely dig it, so I highly recommend it!
San Diego, California
Revolution “Crystal Hero”
Crystal Hero is a limited-release IPA, solo-hopped with the Crystal varietal. This will mark my first experience with Revolution. Aromas resemble juicy fruit gum with lots of tropical hop notes spearheaded by pineapple. Citrus appears lighter with hints of grapefruit. Grassy, cannabis-driven notes are held over a sweet cradle of honey comb.
The palate begins sweet and sugary, then quickly rises toward a tart, citric bitterness resembling kumquat and tangerine. Tropical elements follow with flavors of kiwi and mango. A bitter kick of grapefruit peel marks the climax. While malts accelerate their powdered sugar sweetness, grassy hops begin to enclose the rear in a combination of spearmint extract and pine needles, closing in a zesty finish. The mouthfeel delivers a smooth, quaffable body with lower than average carbonation (which I prefer).
This is quite the juicy, hoppy treat, especially for a single IPA! It’s not that it’s sweet, it just isn’t that bitter, which is one reason why this is so solid and drinkable. The hops primarily touch on tropical fruit, followed next by grapefruit bitterness, then mild grassy undertones with a hint of spice. This is proof that Crystal hops can clearly stand on their own without the need of any additional support. Overall, I think this is a tasty IPA, and I recommend it if you ever find yourself around Chicago.
Goose Island “Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout”
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout is an Imperial Stout brewed with Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso beans, then aged in bourbon barrels. This particular bottle dates back to 2010, and the label suggests no greater than five years in the cellar, so I assume the coffee character will have greatly diminished. Its release is rotating, but will prove difficult to locate.
Aromas are packed with bourbon, but carry a surprising amount of fruity notes resembling cherries and dates. Finer hints of licorice. Thick malt notes stand out like dark cocoa and baker’s chocolate over an edge of coffee. Malts give heavy sweet notes like molasses, while the bourbon adds a warm vanilla character with a fine hint of oak. Alcohol adds some prominent boozy notes.
The palate begins with abundant sweetness flavored like brown sugar and maple syrup. Coffee surfaces in a light roast as malts dig deeper toward a body of chocolate with flavors of malted milk balls and fudge. Fruity tones arise in a black cherry likeness with a touch of licorice. The malt continues to expand, developing a slightly deeper roast as 60 IBU’s of bitterness weigh things down. Loads of bourbon notes envelop the back-end with flavors of vanilla, leading up to a sour, lactic acidity while alcohol rises to the surface in a gentle climax of spice. Sweetness then pushes past the aftertaste in a semi-sticky display of syrupy molasses. Finishing notes reveal deeper characteristics of oak with suggestions of tobacco. The mouthfeel provides a wet, slick, well-rounded body over dull carbonation. It’s got a smooth texture and viscosity like chocolate milk, which allows for some surprisingly drinkability, despite the high ABV. Alcohol departs with considerable chest warmth, requiring slow sipping.
This reminds me of coffee with vanilla ice cream and syrup. It’s a sweet, malt-forward double stout. I’m getting a huge bourbon presence, much more than coffee. As for the negative side, I would prefer a bit more roast and bitterness to help balance the sweetness, but this is likely a factor related to the age of my bottle. I’ve enjoyed it, but perhaps my expectations were a bit too high. Overall, it’s more of a sweet dessert beer best suited for two. I recommend it to those of you with a palate deep enough to appreciate the flavorful impact of the bourbon barrel on a double stout. Cheers to you, Vic!
Known Hops: Willamette
Known Malts: 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black
Deschutes “Pine Mountain”
Pine Mountain is a German-style Pilsner, which is actually an old release that’s been newly resurrected for year-round availability in 22 oz. bombers. Aromas reveal lemongrass hops, fragrant yeast, corn, and grainy pilsner malts containing a modest sweet note.
The palate begins in sour highlights of lemon juice. The malts descend with a balancing sweetness as smooth cereal grains push toward flavors of saltine crackers and sourdough. Hops begin a gentle bitterness with grassy undertones, as if outlined by a trace of pine. Finishing notes are a tad spicy like black pepper over a dull fruity note resembling apricot. The mouthfeel delivers peppy carbonation that grows sharp before winding down in a dry conclusion. The body is medium-light, but proves to be quite lively.
This is hoppy for a pilsner, but you should’ve guessed that would be the case with a name like Pine Mountain. By that, I mean hoppy in flavor, not bitterness. The palate actually has surprising balance, where bitter and sweet components taste parallel as they perform a subtle shifting of control and weight. However, hops have much greater impact as it resonates out. It’s a good pick for the outdoors, because it’s clean, light, and refreshing. You all should know by now, this isn’t my typical style, but I always appreciate the delicious malt flavor only found in a pilsner.
Known Hops: Hallertau Mittelfrüh
Known Malts: Pilsner