Southern Tier Brewing Company have been in the beer business since 2002, when founders Phineas DeMink and Allen Yahn started the brewery with the goal of reviving small batch brewing. At first, this goal was a reality — using equipment gained from the purchase of Old Saddleback Brewing Company, various brews were distributed in and around the Lakewood, New York area. The distribution circle quickly expanded to New York City, and then to the entire New York state. Small batch, not so much.
That’s what happens when you make good beer. The rest, as they say, is history. Since 2009, the brewery has continually expanded, and the bottling line at Southern Tier can crank out 10,000 bottles per hour. The company’s brews are now distributed in about half of the United States and several foreign countries.
New for autumn 2013 is 2XRye, an Imperial IPA brewed with rye. Technically an adjunct ingredient in beer, rye is known for its ability to withstand harsh growing conditions. In beer, rye is a powerful flavor, especially when teamed with hops; this beer is brewed with three different varieties of hops, and five types of malts. 2XRye is 8.1% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is available in six-packs.
The pour made a very nice looking brew, topped with an average size, soapy head that was bright white in color and lasting. The beer itself was golden-orange in color and brilliantly clear, featuring no particles or sediment, and no hop haze. Lacing was most excellent, leaving a fully coated glass — this is typical of most beers brewed with rye, but it never fails to be pleasing to the eye.
The good times continue on the nose, where a small surprise waits: you might would think this beer to be dominated by a rye scent, but it’s really not — big, punchy grapefruit and pine hops greet the nose, opening up to softer layers of tropical fruits, especially lime. The pine is sticky and the grapefruit is slightly astringent; it’s balanced out by a nice sweetness from caramel malts and the hops themselves actually smell quite sweet. The rye is here, but it’s a subtle supporting character, lending well to blend the caramel and hops together nicely.
On the taste, 2XRye starts out bland, kind of like a hoppy pine needle tea, but that quickly changes as you swirl the drink around your tongue. Deep notes of grapefruit and tropical fruits arrive, all at once dank and light; fleshy fruits dance around dark hits of pine and grapefruit rind. The rye is absent until the finish, which sees some bread crust mixing with a general caramel sweetness; believe it or not, the hops here get sweet until the swallow, when the bitterness comes into play. It’s moderately bitter, doesn’t dry out the mouth, and the alcohol is completely hidden. Final notes are of grapefruit, pine, and fresh rye bread. 2XRye is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
I really enjoyed tasting this beer and found it very subtly played in all directions. While I like rye beers, the majority of them tend to be overwhelming on the rye, and when you start mixing rye with hops, medicinal bitterness often occurs. Not here. This drinks like a really nice, somewhat sweet Imperial IPA that has a dash of rye. I’d even go so far to say this is one of Southern Tier’s best. Bravo!
Southern Tier 2XRye Imperial IPA, 93 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
Pisgah Brewing Company is located just east of Asheville, North Carolina, in Black Mountain, and they have an emphasis on using local and organic ingredients. Once designated a USDA certified organic brewery, the company recently lost that status due to the limited availability of organic hops. According to Pisgah, other, much larger breweries with more monetary influence gobble up the scarce amounts of organic hops, leaving them no other choice but to use hops from sources that aren’t certified organic.
Nonetheless, Pisgah soldier on, brewing a lot of their seasonal and limited release offerings with local ingredients, while still using organic malts. Pisgah’s flagship beer, their Pale Ale, accounts for 75-80% of its sales. The brewery is rapidly expanding, but still does most everything by hand. The beer up for review today, Vortex I, is subject to some confusion on the Internet — listed as an American Strong Ale on some beer websites, this beer is actually an Imperial IPA, comes in at 9.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is hopped with four varieties of high alpha acid hops to the tune of 3.5 grams per glass. They call it the “hoppiest beer in Buncombe County.”
The pour produced an average size, soapy and slightly off-white head that stuck around. The beer was golden-orange in color, very typical for this style, and was hazy. There was sediment at the bottom of the bottle, but none of it was visibly present in the beer, although it was far from crystal clear. Lacing was excellent, a perfect example of solid sheets of thin suds.
The aromatics of Vortex I are quite amazing. This is truly a hop showcase, delivering a ton of orange-forward citrus up front, along with an undercurrent of complex and heavy tropical fruits. There’s passionfruit, papaya, mango, and a squeeze of pineapple juice; this really is like Hawaiian Punch mixed with beer. The malts are very mildly present and enforce the overall sweetness of the beer with a suggestion of caramel and biscuit. As the brew warms, the hops offer a definite touch of onion and garlic.
On the palate, Vortex I doesn’t quite stand up to the excellent aromatics. Immediately, the flavors start with some grassy pine and grapefruit, none of which are really found on the nose. It’s not a bad flavor, by any means, but I was really looking for those tropical fruits to hit my taste buds with a fury…alas, they never do. The hops open up into orange peel and lemon, almost herbal, and the beer quickly transitions from lightly sweet to moderately bitter. The bitterness lays down a finish with a flash of red fruit punch, then lots of grapefruit and pine. This is an Imperial IPA that continues to get more and more bitter as you drink it, starting moderately bitter and ending up giving off menthol cough drop-like bitterness toward the end of the glass. I found Vortex I to be medium-bodied with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.
For the high ABV, I found this highly drinkable and the alcohol was completely hidden. It’s sad that the flavors don’t really match the complexity of the nose, but the taste here is still quite good and will please the lupulin lover nicely. That said, the bitterness tends to collect and become a bit medicinal the longer you drink it, so take that into account.
Pisgah Vortex I Imperial IPA, 92 points. Price: $8.75 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
‘Tis the season for all sorts of seasonal releases from Bell’s Brewery, located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Over the next couple of months, you’ll start to see a whole bunch more beers from Bell’s at your local bottle shop, because the cooler months are their peak release time.
The brewery has been producing beer since 1985, but the initial concept was a homebrew store. Well, any self respecting homebrew store will probably eventually start making its own ale; Bell’s started out brewing in 15 gallon soup kettles covered with Saran Wrap. Today, they’re one of the biggest craft brewers in the country, having just expanded to a second facility just this year. They’re also one of the most respected breweries, and I rated one of their beers, Hopslam, a full 100 points on my rating scale.
Each year in late summer (since 2010), Bell’s releases another super hoppy Imperial IPA called The Oracle. I’ve often heard this beer described as “Hopslam without the honey.” I’ve sought this beer out for several years and have never been able to find it, until now. Most stores only get a case or two; why, I couldn’t exactly tell you. The Oracle is brewed in the West Coast IPA style, using hop varieties found in the Pacific Northwest. This beer is double dry-hopped, comes in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is available for a very short time in six-packs, if you’re lucky enough to find one.
Pouring produced a truly gorgeous beer that had an average size, bright white head that was dense, very creamy, foamy, and with a lasting quality. The beer itself was dark golden in color, approaching amber, and had just a tease of haze to the body. The liquid was translucent and didn’t have any particles or sediment; lacing was a very nice display of super thin yet highly clingy layers of foam. Pretty much your classic Imperial IPA.
And true to the style, the nose holds up its end in spades. We’ve got a heavy dosage of hops with a sweet malt backing that concludes with a punch of alcohol. The hops are massively tropical fruit up front; think papaya and mango with a dash of pineapple — dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find some dank pine resin, grapefruit, orange, and even some grassy notes. The malts stay out of the way but add a caramel candy sweetness to the fruity aspects, and there’s just a twist of alcohol at the end to remind you this beer is a big boy. Impressive and fresh!
On the palate, The Oracle holds up to expectations and is almost a tale of two different beers. The first beer is sweet and sticky, giving up pineapple and other lighter tropical fruits mixed with honey-like caramel. But as you get to the swallow, this beer opens up and shows you another side, pounding you with aggressive bitterness and notes of pine and grapefruit rind. One thing that stays consistent is the sweet caramel, but it plays a dual role, enhancing the tropical fruit sweetness, but also making the pine bitterness more pronounced and even tea-like at times. The 10% ABV cleanses the dry palate, readying it for another sip. The Oracle is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy, and drying mouthfeel.
I can’t remember who described this beer to me as “Hopslam without the honey,” but they are right on the money, sort of. At first, this IS Hopslam, until the abrupt 180-degree turn in the middle of the taste. I can safely tell you that this incarnation of The Oracle is much better than the 2013 version of Hopslam; however, when Hopslam is on, it is slightly better than this beer, in my opinion. But it’s really up to you: if you like your Imperial IPAs sweet, you’ll probably like Hopslam better. If you like a massive but not overwhelming crush of bitterness, The Oracle is your gig. Too bad it is so hard to obtain. I love them both.
Bell’s The Oracle Imperial IPA, 98 points. Price: $17.99 US for a six-pack.
It is with great sadness and heartbreak that I start off a beer review on this note, but sometimes life is hard. On August 24, Matthew Courtright, a brewer for Stone Brewing Co., died from complications after a forklift accident on the job. Mr. Courtright was just 27 years old, and not only was he living a dream working at Stone, he was an unabashed home brewer, taking time outside his hectic schedule with Stone to make home brew. Because he loved beer and he loved making beer.
Mr. Courtright worked for Stone in Escondido, California, but called Michigan his home. He worked at Liberty St. Brewing in Plymouth, Michigan before moving to Stone. Judging from his page on Instagram, he loved Stone and he loved Escondido and he certainly loved beer. But he also loved going back to Michigan and visiting his family and friends.
I personally did not know Mr. Courtright nor do I know any of his friends, nor do I know anyone that works at Stone, nor do I know anyone who was personally affected by his loss. But the passing of this young brewer makes me, as it should you, take pause and remember that there are real human beings behind the ales and lagers we love. Craft beer is made by people not very different than you or I, people who are after a great tasting experience that makes you take pause and think about the world, brings a little light to your day and smile to your face. It, like anything else in life, has its risks and rewards. And so it is to Matthew Courtright, Stone Brewing Co., and the craft beer community that we raise a pint of Stone’s 17th Anniversary ale — perhaps a beer that Mr. Courtright himself worked on.
Stone Brewing Co., celebrating 17 years in the business, has released a very German influenced IPA to mark the occasion. Named Götterdämmerung, or “twilight of the gods,” the beer is a 9.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) IPA brewed with all German hops and pilsner malts. Hops used include Magnum, Herkules, Merkur, Opal, Emerald, Strisselspalt, German Hersbrucker, and Sterling. Cool names, eh? Stone consider this beer an unconventional tour of Deutschland by way of Southern California. Sounds just like a trip Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, co-founders of Stone, would want to take you on with one of their beers.
The pour gave way to a perfectly golden colored beer that produced a small, bright white head. The foam was soapy and had some staying power atop a beer that was exceptionally clear, nearly sparkling. The body contained no particles or sediment, and lacing was outstanding, leaving behind solid, thin sheets of suds.
On the nose, instead of getting a big burst of hops, the aroma is quite subdued and showcases some lighter fruit hops. Big notes of peaches and blueberries mingle with some lemon peel and tropical fruits; the malt backing is grainy and sweet and not really there. As the beer warms, the hop aromas combine and are quite sweet for 102 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), reminding me of honey. I wouldn’t quite call the aroma dull as far as the scents you can pull out, but it’s dull in terms of how it doesn’t really grab your nose and make you pay attention.
The taste starts out as inconspicuous, with a very mild peach and berry note — yes, the berries are unique, especially in a beer brewed without any type of fruit — but it quickly ramps up thanks to the 9.5% alcohol. In rushes some lemon peel before a crushing bitterness starts, along with some cracker malts. The bitterness is almost too much, skirting the edge of medicinal, but it rides a nice wave with the huge alcohol presence. The finish has the hoppiness of an Imperial IPA but the malt backing of a Pilsner, which only enhances the bitterness and alcohol.
The impression I was left from Götterdämmerung was one of a rough draft — it almost seems like Stone finished working on this brew halfway through. It’s not bad, by any means — it just feels unfinished. While the idea of a German IPA is unique and worthy of exploring, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if those pilsner malts were replaced with something more beefy. Stay far away if you don’t like boozy beer.
Stone 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA, 85 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
21st Amendment began operations in the year 2000 and are located just two blocks from where the San Francisco Giants play baseball. Both principal founders — Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan — took a brewing science course at UC Davis, trading their successful careers to follow the passion of brewing beer.
As you might suspect, 21st Amendment is named after the actual 21st Amendment of the United States, which repealed the evil Prohibition.
A few years ago in the midst of a hop shortage, 21st Amendment came up with the idea to brew a huge IPA with a ton of hops at their brewpub, and to age it on oak. The beer was appropriately called Hop Crisis, and makes use of Columbus, Centennial, and Cascade hops. Aged on oak spirals, the beer comes in at 9.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 94 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Hop Crisis pours an average size, creamy head that is bright white in color and looks very nice atop a golden-orange beer. The brew is slightly hazy but is still translucent, and is absent of particles and sediment. Lacing is perfect, especially for a beer with a higher ABV; the foam creates solid sheets that stick to the side of the glass that I’m not sipping from.
On the nose, there’s a heavy tropical fruit presence, especially passionfruit, pineapple, and papaya. The oak treatment shows its head and mingles well with all that fruity sweetness — this beer does resemble a fruit juice concentrate, but a hard one, as there is a noticeable punch of alcohol. The malts reinforce the moderate sweetness, giving off caramel and sweet breads. As it warms, a tangy note of grapefruit and some orange peel start to come out, and the oak begins to play nicely with the alcohol.
The flavors start with big punches of grapefruit and orange — the tropical fruits so prominent on the nose aren’t featured at first; in the middle, they start to show up, but lighter in fare; more of a mango and papaya than anything else. This beer gets fairly sweet very fast, and it stays that way, counterbalanced by a decent sized squeeze of alcohol and raw oak. The finish turns malty for a second, yielding to the oak and some Tootsie Roll candies before hitting a dry, grapefruit conclusion that warms the body with more alcohol. I found Hop Crisis to be full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
I really enjoyed this beer for a couple of distinct reasons — I’ve never really found an Imperial IPA that was aged on oak that was very good, but this one used the oak to its advantage and it never overtook the flavor of the hops. In fact, it played super nice with everything and in the end, even lent a bit of balance to the sweetness, supporting the bitter finish. There seemed to be a good balance here, and not a boring one — the sweetness was heavy, but the bitterness and woodsy flavors were just as prominent, rewarding the palate with a really full-flavored experience. I’d pick this one up again in a heartbeat.
21st Amendment Hop Crisis Imperial IPA, 93 points. Price: $3.79 US for one 12 oz. can.