The third and final Backstage Series beer of 2013 sees Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan) pulling something out of their notoriously delicious barrel collection: a 12.6% ABV (alcohol by volume) wheat wine named Sweet Repute, which spent sixteen months at home in the caves at the brewery.
According to Dave Engbers, co-founder of Founders, the Backstage Series allows “beer enthusiasts who don’t have the ability to make it to our taproom an opportunity to experience some of the beers that, historically, have been limited to our taproom and a handful of high exposure events. Although these are not brewed in large volume, it is our intention to distribute them to all of our markets.”
Without question, Founders Backstage Series are the hardest beers for me to obtain. Demand and hype are through the roof. Most shops only get one case, which in terms of the 750 ml. servings these beers are doled out it, equals just twelve bottles per store. To make matters worse, these beers typically see release on a Monday, during what would traditionally be considered normal working hours. It all boils down to one of those “right place at the right time” sort of things…
Along with the difficulty of finding the beer, cost comes into play. Typically, Backstage Series beers sell for around $14.99 per bottle, and you’re left wrestling with the lingering question “is this really worth it?” Sweet Repute retails for $18.99 per bottle, a spike upward in price likely due to the time commitment Founders gave the beer.
Speaking of which, the beer: Sweet Repute is aged over the course of sixteen months in bourbon barrels and maple syrup bourbon barrels; to clarify, the maple syrup bourbon barrels are barrels that previously held bourbon, and then held maple syrup, and have now contained Sweet Repute. Unlike many barrel aged beers, this is not a blend of aged beer and fresh beer; it’s 100% bourbon barrel aged.
Pouring produced an average size, creamy head that was bright white in color and lingering. The beer was golden in color, perhaps a shade or two darker than that, with a cloudy body. The beer remained translucent despite the cloudiness, and featured no particles or sediment even though there were plenty of yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle. When I got to the end of the vessel, I emptied everything into my glass and there were some heavy chunks of sediment floating in the beer. Lacing is good, leaving behind very thin, spiderweb sheeting.
On the nose, we’ve got bourbon, bourbon, and more bourbon. If you don’t care for bourbon, you might want to look away. All the associated notes are here: vanilla, toasted coconut, and a hint of oak. The sweet in Sweet Repute is correct; there’s a huge wave of caramel sweetness, which combines with the maple syrup to be super-sweet. The maple notes are gorgeous with the bourbon and vanilla — this is an extremely nice smelling beer, especially with the complete absence of any booze presence. As it warms, the maple really begins to show its teeth. If you’re looking for any wheat/grain character, guess again. I did catch a faint orange peel suggestion, but as it warmed, that disappeared.
Touching beer to palate, we’ve got an exceptionally sweet beer on our tongue, indeed. Wow. It’s nearly cloying but just kisses the edge — up front, candied coconut (think Dum Dum lollipop) and sugary vanilla from the bourbon barrels. Initially, this is stiff like a sip of bourbon, but a nice hit of maple comes in to soften the palate, delivering with it another dose of sugar, this time somewhat burnt, and an ash/oak character. The flavor remains steady throughout, only changing on the finish, which sees the wheat wine in this beer finally appear with imperial strength notes of wheat and grain, topped off by a bit of bitter orange peel and a massive, repeat: MASSIVE wave of alcohol. Sweet Repute makes no attempt to hide the 12.6% ABV, and it’s a hot, hot brew. The finish is long and turns bittersweet, finally ending the nearly excessive dose of sugar. Sweet Repute is full-bodied, with a medium, fairly creamy mouthfeel, which is helped out by the soft carbonation.
Final thoughts… Sweet Repute really reminds me of 2013’s Doom Imperial IPA (94 points) without the hops and the alcohol HIGHLY ramped up. Now, this beer does soften a bit as it warms as far as the bourbon goes, but the alcohol remains at a constant high and the sweetness never fades. I expect that from a beer named “Sweet Repute,” but the heavy alcohol is a bit much. I’d say this is a prime candidate for aging, but I’m not sure how the more delicate flavors like the maple and vanilla will hold over time.
You have to love bourbon to dig this beer. I mean, you can’t just have an okay relationship with bourbon, you’ve really got to dig it — perhaps even drink it on a regular basis. Wheat wine? Yeah, maybe — before they put it in the barrel. One thing is for certain…we’ll check in here again, down the road, and report back.
Founders Sweet Repute Wheat Wine, 88 points. Price: $18.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.
The most recent collaboration beer from Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) sees them teaming up with 10 Barrel Brewing Company of Bend, Oregon, and Bluejacket of Washington, D.C. for an Imperial Porter named for its texture: suede.
The collaborative idea came to fruition through email, where head brewers from 10 Barrel (Tonya Cornett) and Bluejacket (Megan O’Leary Parisi) decided to go with a high-alcohol, chocolatey porter. A few more emails later, the beer had suddenly become flavored with ingredients that could be obtained locally near Stone’s facility, where this beer was brewed. Suede Imperial Porter is brewed with avocado honey, jasmine, and calendula flowers. (A calendula is a marigold.)
The beer was released in a limited quantity in October; the ABV (alcohol by volume) comes in at 9.6%, and IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are 50.
Pouring produced a small, creamy, light tan head that provided a nice, lasting cap. The beer was dark brown in color, with ruby highlights when held to a bright light. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and the lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin yet solid sheets of fine foam.
The aroma delivers sweet honey with equal parts milk chocolate and coffee up front, with backing notes of a nice roasted malt blend. The hops are herbal, and verge on some mild grapefruit rind; the large alcohol content is completely hidden, but this beer does kind of give off a grapey Imperial Stout note. Absent are the dark fruits that typically accompany the grape jam. As the beer warms, the roasted hit combines with a nice caramel note to really darken things up. What we have here is fairly typical for the style, but it’s fairly typical of a very good example of a Porter.
On the taste, the avocado honey really comes out first, backing some nice thick caramel. It’s not too sweet, and the jasmine is a big player here, too. It hangs with this combination for a bit and you really notice the creamy, silky mouthfeel right away. A punch of dark fruits hit in the middle of the taste, backed up by the grape jam note found in the aroma. But on the taste, the dark fruits are here, as evidenced by raisin and prune. The grape flavor continues to the finish, which winds up with honey again, more jasmine, and minor finishers of milk chocolate and sweetened coffee. As it warms, there’s a growing grapefruit hop presence that doesn’t really provide any bitterness, just a pinch of dryness. Suede Imperial Porter is medium-bodied, with a medium mouthfeel that is very suede-like.
Smooth beer? Yes, achieved — and the other big achievement has to be the lack of alcohol on the aroma and taste. This is a big beer at 9.6%, but honestly, it drinks like a typical 5-6% Porter. You had better be careful with this one. The honey and jasmine add some interest to the flavor, but you have to recognize that this is just a very nice base beer that could probably stand alone without the “strange” ingredients. And marigolds? Never tasted one, so that’s just label speak to me.
10 Barrel / Bluejacket / Stone Suede Imperial Porter, 91 points. Price: $7.49 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
SKA Brewing Company, located in Durango, Colorado, began producing beer in 1995 when two underage guys (Bill Graham and David Thibodeau) decided the answer to them not being able to legally purchase beer was to make it themselves. Inspired by Ska music, (which, I must state, I am NOT a fan of — it’s kind of like American jazz combined with Caribbean music) they brewed some beer and found they were good at it.
And that’s all the history their website (skabrewing.com) gives, so I have to stop there.
SKA’s Autumnal Molé Stout is a seasonal release, brewed with cocoa nibs, spices, three different chile peppers: Mulato, Ancho, and Anaheim. All of the peppers used in this beer are relatively mild on the Scoville scale, which is a numerical rating scale used to measure the spicy heat of peppers. This beer comes in a can, and rates 5.5% ABV (alcohol by volume).
First off, I should note that I purchased a six-pack of this beer because I enjoy beers that are brewed with peppers. I didn’t drink all six cans, but I can personally attest that each can exploded upon opening, leaving you with a mess that looks like this:
If you have this beer, I advise opening it over a sink. Perhaps it was just this particular batch, but it seems like SKA overfilled these cans, resulting in the spillage.
Pouring produced an initially huge head that was dark brown and frothy in texture, but it fizzled away exactly like a cola would. The color of the head was very dark; darker than most Imperial Stouts! That said, it was bizarre that the head disappeared as quickly as it did. This beer is pitch black in color, with just a hint of a lighter brown edge when held to light. The body appeared clear, but when I got to the end of the can, there seemed to be lots of particles and sediment floating about, as well as an oily sheen on top of the beer. Lacing never formed.
The nose is dominated by cinnamon and peppers, but it’s not spicy peppers, its more of a garden/earthen aroma. The malt base shows just a bit, giving off a bit of roasted coffee. It’s an odd aroma that is stagnant and unchanging as the beer warms.
And the flavors follow the aroma, delivering a heavy, overwhelming blast of cinnamon and pepper. While there might be just a touch of spiciness, it’s mostly pepper flavor; think bell peppers and soil. The use of cocoa nibs comes off as powdered cocoa, which blends well with the heavy-handed cinnamon. The true star of this brew is the finish, which rewards with a nice deep note of smokey roasted coffee, serving to fade the cinnamon to more of a background player and mingling with the earthy peppers nicely. I’d call Molé Stout full-bodied simply because of the overuse of spices, but it’s quite thin and foamy in texture, much like a cola.
While Autumnal Molé Stout has a nice finish, that’s really the only redeeming quality. If I’m drinking a beer that uses peppers, I’m expecting a fair bit of spice; sadly, the only spice you’re getting here is a wallop of cinnamon, and that makes for drinking an entire glass a chore. Good luck getting all the way through this one; don’t be like me and get a six-pack, sample this before committing.
SKA Autumnal Molé Stout, 69 points. Price: $9.99 US for a six-pack.
The Bruery opened in 2008, the home brew product of Patrick, Chris, and Rachel Rue. Patrick and Chris are brothers; Rachel is the wife of Chris. The first home brew batch the three made was an amber ale with Cascade hops; as the years went by, Patrick, who was going to law school, saw his beer passion become bigger than his law studies. He decided the rest of his life should be dedicated to making beer, so he got loans and started The Bruery, which is a fusion of his last name, and well… Brewery.
Located in Placentia, California, most of The Bruery’s beers are considered to be experimentations brewed in the Belgian tradition. None of their beers are filtered or pasteurized; all are bottle conditioned and use a proprietary Belgian yeast strain.
Oude Tart is The Bruery’s take on a Flanders Red Ale — a quick visit into this style of beer, as we don’t review a whole lot of them: a Flanders Red Ale is a type of sour ale that uses wild organisms (Lactobacillus) to produce sour flavors. The beers are typically aged in oaken barrels for long periods of time, and often different ages of beers are blended together to get the final product. Oude Tart is aged in oak barrels from 6-18 months; it is then blended to achieve its taste. The beer uses red malts to achieve its color — it comes in at 7.5% ABV (alcohol by volume).
The pour spills out a very small, eggshell colored head that is soapy in texture. It doesn’t have much lasting power, fading to some large bubbles atop the beer very quickly. The beer itself is a dull, somewhat murky brown out of light, but when held to a bright light, is a beautiful, vivid shade of ruby red. There appeared to be a slight haze to the body, but there weren’t any particles or sediment. There was a fair amount of yeast resting at the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was a no-show, but that was to be expected with a beer of this style.
The nose is excellent stuff — plenty of tart cherries exist up front, with a touch of woodsy oak. Oude Tart is vinous (acidic) but still maintains a bit of sweetness with some caramel malt. There’s a vinegar presence here but it seems refined and doesn’t wrestle with the other scents too much. Yeah, it’s pretty simple stuff, but wonderfully done. I couldn’t keep my nose out of the glass, and that’s saying something for a person who doesn’t tend to care for sour smelling (or tasting) beers…
So let the surprises continue. I really liked this brew. It’s fairly tart up front, with a splash of sour cherry, but the cherries have a thick backbone to them that is undeniably brown ale. There’s even a bit of tart dark fruits, like a sour grape or tart prune; the palate becomes quite dry and is hit with apple peel and some cranberry. The finish comes on quickly, issuing up a fading hit of sour on the swallow, and unwinding with deep notes of oak, funk, and leather. Oude Tart is medium-bodied, with a light, very dry mouthfeel. Carbonation is exceptionally low.
While a sipper for sure, the subtle complexities that exist within this brew are really tasty. I really loved the oak finish, and for the first time ever in a beer, I get the leather flavor. While I’m not too crazy about sour beers, this has some backbone to it instead of just being out to slam the palate with as much sour as possible, and that’s the kind of thing I’m after in every single beer I try, not just the ones that don’t fall within my preferred flavors. Very impressive, The Bruery!
The Bruery Oude Tart Flanders Red Ale, 90 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 750 ml bottle (I got this one on deep discount, as Bruery beers have a tendency to sit on shelves in my area.)
The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.
Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.
Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.
On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.
Victory HopDevil is a year-round IPA that is brewed with whole flower American hops. The beer makes use of Victory’s hopback machine, which acts like a giant French press that is filled with hops. HopDevil comes in at 6.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 50 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
The pour delivered a very nice looking beer, capped with an average size, off-white head that was both creamy and soapy in texture. The head lingered around and was easily regenerated when swirled in the glass; color of the beer was a nice shade of golden-orange, and it had a just a touch of haziness to the body. There were no particles or sediment, and lacing was excellent, coating the glass in solid sheets of foam.
On the nose, there’s a ton of hops, specifically grapefruit and pine. Those two aromas are astringent, but the backing players of orange peel and general citrus add in some color. I thought the aroma had a perfume-like quality, with very minimal malts, perhaps a bit of light caramel and sweet bread. And this is an IPA that takes on a bit of a soapy note, too.
The flavors start out suspiciously mild with just some herbal hits up front, but it opens up wide to reveal stiff wallops of grapefruit and dark pine. The lighter, more fruity flavors swirl around but are minor, leaving behind some fleshy, juicy orange and lemon. The finish gets more and more bitter the deeper you get into the glass, drying out the palate with grapefruit and pine, along with a lingering note of toasted bread. HopDevil is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
This is a decent beer with excellent flavors of grapefruit and pine, but it lacks the depth needed to be an outstanding brew. By the end of the glass, my palate was somewhat tired of drinking because the finish started to get medicinal. I’d recommend you check this out if you’re really into grapefruit and pine hops; otherwise, this is good but average.
Victory HopDevil IPA, 85 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.