Beer Review 0398: Howard Brewing Mistletoe 2012 Robust Porter


Sometimes, you never know what you’ll find in a bottle shop. This discovery was not only a beer I’d never heard of, but a brewery located just a couple hours drive, all unbeknownst to myself.

Howard Brewing, located in Lenoir, North Carolina, are a small, 15 barrel brewery with an attached taproom that is open Thursday-Sunday. They also distribute to several restaurants and bars in the area; bottling is extremely limited — according to their website, the beer I have for review today, Mistletoe, is the only beer they’ve ever bottled. (A couple of their year-round brews have went into cans as of March 2013.)

Mistletoe is a Robust Porter, brewed to 6.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and aged in Carriage House Distillery apple brandy oak barrels. Carriage House Distillery is also located in Lenoir; during the brew, fresh NC raspberries are dosed in. Factor in all that with a fancy waxed crown that looks like snow (this is a winter seasonal) and the fact that the bottle is limited release and hand-numbered, and you’ve got yourself what sounds like a really special beer. Let’s see.


The pour issued an average size, creamy head that was lasting and dark khaki in color. The brew was dark black in color, but had some red highlights that almost made the beer purple when held to the right angle of light. Body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing was fair, leaving behind a few pods of suds as I sipped.

On the nose, there’s plenty of tart raspberry, which mixes with a nice edge of dark chocolate. There’s some general roast, but absolutely no barrel characteristics or anything beyond raspberries and chocolate. It’s not a bad thing…chocolate and raspberries go quite nice together.


But the taste…oh the taste. There’s plenty of tart, slightly sour raspberry, and roasted coffee, with a hint of chocolate. But the middle of the mouth takes a bitter turn for the worse, ushering in thick, medicinal bitterness that ruins the pleasant raspberries — like trying to plant a tomato seedling using a bulldozer instead of a garden spade. (Yes, that analogy is a little dramatic, but it was my first thought!) The finish is bitter, bitter, bitter, with a touch of roast and some coffee. Mistletoe is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.

Talk about a disappointment — you’ve got a small batch beer, with a nice waxed cap, brewed with fruit, and barrel aged…and for me, it’s not pleasant to drink. I had a hard time making my way through this thanks to the heavy medicinal bitterness that just doesn’t work with the raspberries (or anything else about this brew, for that matter) and there’s no barrel flavors. All the aspects that go into this beer just don’t meld well, and that’s unfortunate. Avoid.

Howard Brewing Mistletoe 2012 Robust Porter, 68 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.



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