Beer Review 0600: Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Witbier

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Boulevard Brewing Company started as a traditional Bavarian brewhouse on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City. The first beer made, in 1989, was Boulevard Pale Ale, and John McDonald, the founder, delivered the first keg of it to a local restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when the brewery made major expansions, increasing from a modest 6,000 barrels to the aforementioned 600,000 barrels. Quite a jump!

In late 2013, Boulevard was purchased by Duvel Moortgat, a family-controlled Belgian brewery who also own Brewery Ommegang, another Belgian-inspired American beer maker.

In addition to a full regular line-up of beers, Boulevard makes a “Smokestack Series,” which are all intensely flavored beers in big, corked and caged bottles. Consider it the experimental side of Boulevard — new for the 2014 summer season is Two Jokers, and Boulevard are calling it a “Double-Witbier” because of the 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) strength. Brewed to be a revival of the classic Belgian Witbier, the beer is flavored with cardamom, coriander, orange peel, lavender, and grains of paradise. There’s lactic fermentation involved, too, which should lend some tartness.

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The bottle uncorked with a satisfying pop; in the glass, the beer produced an average size, bright white head that was frothy and rocky. The head disappeared quickly, leaving behind a thin coating atop a dark golden-orange beer which had a cloudy body. Although cloudy as a typical wheat beer should be, there weren’t any chunks of particles or sediment (the bottom of the bottle did contain a thin layer of yeast). I’d call it cloudy enough to be opaque; lacing on this beer didn’t happen, perhaps just a spare wisp here or there.

On the nose, the spices play off heavy, with big notes of lavender and coriander. There’s mild peppercorn along with some sweet orange peel; the actual beer aspect lies low in the background, providing scents of grainy wheat. There are some lactic notes from the yeast, and a dry, powdery, doughy aroma. Odd yet interesting; as it warms, it takes on more of a tea-like nose instead of a beer…

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A mild tartness greets the palate, and it quickly sees itself to the door thanks to a copious amount of spice. Lavender and sugary orange peel for the win — it intensifies as the tart fades, and the yeast brings on more of a traditional bubblegum, light clove, and banana ester. While quite strange at first, the drink opens up into less of a head-scratcher with a rush of wheat, and when combined with subtle tones of lemon and the aforementioned bubblegum is quite nice. The finish brings back a hint of the tartness, leaving the mouth dry, a touch powdery, and very lavender. Two Jokers is light-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

I think this is a very polarizing beer that you’ll either dig or mildly appreciate without wanting a second glass. I find myself in the latter category; there’s just too much going on here. Some folks like all the spice and accouterment. Sometimes, I can go for that — but largely, I’m into the more traditional aspects of beer, and I think this Boulevard brew would be quite tasty without all the extras. Also, I’m not sure the lactic tartness plays well here — it’s nice on the finish, but the initial taste of the first sip is a mess. This beer has a lot going on but it gets dull fast.

Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Witbier, 83 points. Price: $8.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.

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Beer Review 0599: Stone Go To IPA

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With session IPA becoming a growing trend in craft beer, you had to know a low-alcohol hop-bomb made by the hop geniuses at Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, California) would soon be on the horizon. In March of this year, they released ‘Go To IPA,’ named such because many claimed this would be the beer they would most often reach for when session drinking.

Session beers often stir up a bit of controversy — what alcohol percentage do you define as “session?” For most, it seems around 4.5% or lower fits the bill. Stone’s version of an all-night pounder comes in right at 4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is made using the “hop bursting” technique. Hop bursting is when the majority of the bitterness found in the beer (65 IBUs or International Bitterness Units, here) comes from late addition hops, typically added with 15 minutes or less to go in the boil.

Mitch Steele, Stone’s brewmaster, says there is a small bittering charge added just before the wort comes to a boil; the late additions are comprised of El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra, Cascade, and Sterling hops. The beer is finished with dry hops that are comprised of mostly the same additions used late in the boil.

The problem with most session IPA is that the low alcohol often makes the beer thin and lack mouthfeel, becoming more of a hoppy tea rather than a traditional beer. Let’s see if Stone has found balance that truly is a ‘Go To…’

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The pour issued up an average size, bright white head that was soapy and frothy in texture. It quickly diminished, leaving one finger of foam atop a golden beer that had just a hint of orange to it. The beer was brightly clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving solid sheets of suds after each sip. It’s a very nice looking beer.

The nose is a knuckle sandwich of hops; we’ve got a big Mosaic presence — sweet melon is tackled by oranges, pine, and dankness. There’s some light grapefruit and lemon peel. Overall, I found the hop aroma to be sweet in nature, resinous, and completely covering any malt backing this beer might have. But…there probably isn’t much malt here to begin with; I detected perhaps some grainy sweetness. It’s clean, extremely hoppy, and just as advertised.

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Tasting brings on a light bitterness, reminiscent of grapefruit rind, then the middle of the taste explodes with all sorts of hop delight. Pine, melon, light tropical fruits, peaches, very fresh and clean. But things get a little muddy without a malt backbone — the hops fall apart some, and garlic/onion begin to take over the flavor profile. The bitterness, while only 65 IBU, is intense, especially with the lack of any sweetness and the bone dry finish. As it warms, the finish became more pleasant with dank notes of pine. Go To IPA is light-bodied, with a thin, drying mouthfeel. The bitterness, while heavy, isn’t too much, but it borders upon it.

Like many of its competitors, Stone’s Go To IPA lacks body and packs a heavy bitterness. It’s a nice beer, certainly drinkable with some interesting hops, but I’m not sure I could session this due to the hop tea thinness. I know Mitch Steele is a big fan of using 95-100% base malts in IPAs and (especially) Imperial IPAs, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach to take on a beer of this sort.

Stone Go To IPA, 84 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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Redux Review 0024: Founders Doom Imperial IPA

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What happens when you age a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial IPA in the best way possible? Today, we’re here to find out.

Without question, Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) Backstage Series brews 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. Last April, when Doom was released, I managed to snag two bottles. I immediately reviewed one while it was fresh, and scored it 94 points, one of the better Backstage Series beers that I’ve had.

I decided to squirrel one away, just to see what happens — and I aged it the best way possible; for one solid year, this bottle has remained in my fridge at a constant 38°F. With one year (and probably a few days), we’re going to crack the crown and see what we’ve got.

For those new to this beer, Doom is a bourbon-barrel aged version of Founders Double Trouble (rating: 93 points). It was previously known as “Hand of Doom” when served exclusively in their taproom; it was selected in 2013 to see a wide release in the Backstage Series.

My initial review went like this:

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

So, what’s happened to this beer over the span of a year while stored in optimal conditions? Let’s see…

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The pour produced an average size, soapy head that diminished fairly quickly. There were lots of carbonation bubbles zooming to the top of the drink; the beer was golden in color and was brilliantly clear, with not even a hint of particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving weepy sheets of thin foam.

On the nose, not too much has changed since our initial visit — bourbon barrel collides with tropical fruit hops. We’ve got coconut, vanilla, and pineapple up front, with touches of grapefruit and orange peel. It’s almost like the barrel contributes some sweetness; there is a definite caramel malt backing, but the vanilla and somewhat woodsy/spicy barrel amplify the sweet level. As it warms, the vanilla and coconut notes show more, along with a dry twist of lemon peel.

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The age of this beer shows up on the taste; it’s not wholesale radically different but Doom is now drinking more like an American Barleywine instead of an Imperial IPA — up front, grapefruit, coconut, and pineapple. It’s initially sweet but turns moderately bitter after the first couple of swishes in the mouth; the bitterness is balanced by a solid note of caramel. The once-juicy fruits have turned dry, leaving only hints of faded pineapple, grapefruit, and spicy vanilla. The finish is warm, with a hit of the 10% alcohol, a nice layer of bitterness thanks to grapefruit rind and pine, and a layer of hot bourbon. This beer is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

This is still a very nice beer, and easily one of the better barrel-aged IPAs around… (barrels and IPA tend to rarely go together, in my opinion…) but as you might have expected, Doom was better fresh. I do think if you have a bottle of this and it hasn’t aged in a fridge, you will probably be in for worse results. While quite drinkable (and enjoyable!) you’ll find this is now more like a Barleywine than an IPA.

Founders Doom Imperial IPA, 89 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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Redux Review 0023: Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale

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Dogfish Head’s (Milton, Delaware) Red & White, a high alcohol wheat beer that spends time aging on wood, is probably my favorite beer from the eccentric brewery. I reviewed it back on May 14, 2012, and awarded it 95 points, which is classic on my rating scale. At that time, I decided to squirrel away a few bottles and return periodically — two years later, we’re making that second trip, and it is the subject of this review.

Brewed only once each year, Red & White uses a Belgian yeast strain, and sees additions of coriander and orange peel. The beer is a blend — 11% of the final beer is aged in Pinot Noir barrels, while the other 89% rests on oak barrel staves. You could call this an Imperial Wheat, as it comes in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). Sam Calagione, Dogfish’s founder, came up with the idea while attending a wine dinner, where he departed wanting to make a beer that had vinous qualities.

My initial review went as follows:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.

With two years in the bottle, and without having been disturbed since I laid it to rest in 2012, let’s crack into it.

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Pouring makes for a small, soapy, bright white head that lasts atop a beautifully vivid golden-orange beer. The body is cloudy, as you might expect from a wheat beer; there were no particles or sediment, but there were plenty of yeast dregs at the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was pretty good for such a high alcohol beer; there was a respectable sudsy layer at the top of the glass before all the action tapered off.

Possibly the most disappointing aspect of this aged beer was the nose, which has taken a sharp decline in complexity. I remember this beer having hoppy notes, funky yeast, and a large spice presence — not today. There’s some general malt sweetness up front mixed with a bit of orange peel. The alcohol is heavy, almost boozy; there’s plenty of the oak barrel, and a slightly wine-like scent going on. Think woodsy, ashy oak and a bready sweetness. As it warms, some coriander starts to mingle. Sweet, plenty of alcohol, but dialed-down when it comes to the scents you’re here for.

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On the taste, it’s more of a return to form — orange peel, coriander, and sweet grain hit up front, with a touch of light caramel sweetness. Eventually, the sweetness starts to win out, and it’s more of a toffee/Tootsie Roll thing going on, which I find typical in some aged beers, especially Barleywines — but this drinks a lot like a Belgian Tripel, not so much in yeast flavor, but in how dry it is. There’s notes of grape skin and oak barrel that come through, and the finish is warm (not boozy!) with dry orange peel and very sweet bready yeast. Red & White is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

This beer has changed a lot, and I’m more inclined to like it fresh. There’s significantly more grape and wine-like flavors here than I remember, which I suppose is what Mr. Calagione was after; however, a fresh bottle is more beer-like and seems to be easier drinking. Perhaps my tastes have changed some. Drink it fresh if you want a beer with some wine qualities; try it aged for wine with beer qualities.

Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale, 87 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.

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Redux Review 0022: Olde Hickory The Event Horizon Imperial Stout (2012)

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Back in December 2012, I first reviewed Olde Hickory’s The Event Horizon, a limited-release Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. I gave it high praise, awarding it 95 points, calling it “perhaps the finest example of chocolate in a beer that I’ve had to date.” Why not age one and see how it does over the course of time? That’s why we are here today.

Olde Hickory Brewery is located in Hickory, North Carolina, and was founded by Steven Lyerly and Jason Yates in 1994. They started making beer on a seven barrel system, and the small batch mindset continues to this day, with batches being 800 gallons or less at a time. In fact, Olde Hickory are so small, the majority of their beers have hand stamped best by dates on the bottles.

The Event Horizon is brewed once yearly, using ten different malts and local honey. It is then placed in oak bourbon barrels and allowed to age for an undetermined period of time; release is always in the late fall. The beer is 8.5% ABV (alcohol by volume).

My initial review:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 13 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.

With around 18 months of basement time, let’s drink this one again…

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The pour issued up a small, dark tan head that was creamy in texture, but didn’t stick around very long. The beer is a spectacular stout black, with not even a glimmer of light coming through around the edges. This brew is dark; it’s so dark, that I couldn’t begin to tell you anything about the body of the beer other than it didn’t appear to contain any particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving behind initial solid yet thin sheets of suds, but it grew more sparse as I sipped.

One word to summarize the nose: AMAZING! Well-rounded: tons of chocolate, both dark and milk, semi-sweet and bitter, plenty of sweet caramel, and it’s balanced with just enough bourbon barrel character to make it really interesting. The bourbon lends itself more to the spicy end, with notes of vanilla bean and mild oak. Waves of these scents compete, and as it warms, a dark fruit twist joins in. Sweet, complex, and nearly mind-blowing…now I’m ready for a sip!

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The initial flavors go off like a bomb: thick caramel, sweet chocolate, then vanilla and heavily roasted malt. There’s a kiss of dark fruit (cherries and prune) before a solid note of bourbon kicks in and continues to linger throughout. The finish sees the return of dark chocolate, and it’s layered — echo upon echo of fudge bittersweet goodness, this beer is suddenly like climbing a mountain of fine chocolate. Wow. There’s a nice honey sweetness in the back, and the concluding notes bring a wash of hot alcohol, bourbon, and toasted oak barrel. Event Horizon is full-bodied, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel.

Not only has age been super kind to this beer, but it’s turned it into a work of art. The flavors are strong, complex, and it has all melded together breathtakingly well. When I say this was a treat to drink, I’m not exaggerating. Pure joy!

Olde Hickory The Event Horizon Imperial Stout (2012), 98 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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