Beer Review 0598: Samuel Adams Rebel IPA

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The Boston Beer Company decided to add a new beer to their year-round lineup for 2014, and it’s a popular take on the India Pale Ale: they’re doing it “West Coast-style,” using hops popular in many IPAs that come from the left coast.

Founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, Boston Beer Company are the makers of the Samuel Adams brand, named for the American patriot famous for his role in the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution. Koch, a graduate of Harvard University, was connected to the brewing world by his great-great-great grandfather Louis Koch, who was a brewer. Jim became the first in his family to follow in the brewing footsteps of Louis; Boston Lager, Samuel Adams flagship brand (84 points) was an original Louis Koch recipe and was once called “Louis Koch Lager.”

Rebel IPA has slick marketing copy behind it. We’ll avoid all the glitter and just tell you the basics about the brew: it uses Cascade, Simcoe, Chinook, Centennial, and Amarillo hops, comes in at 6.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and hits 45 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour made a small, soapy head that diminished quickly. Color of the beer was golden with darker hints of copper out of light. The body was perfectly clear, filled with zooming carbonation bubbles; there were no particles or sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving trails of suds as I sampled.

The aroma features a moderate dosage of hops — not a hop bomb like you might be expecting. There’s lots of grapefruit and spicy citrus, especially orange peel and lemon, and there’s definitely some pine. The malt backing is toasted bread with just a touch of caramel sweetness. It doesn’t gain in complexity as it warms; if anything, only the spicy citrus notes ramp up just a touch. Overall, I was expecting more hop aroma, especially for the five varieties this beer employs…

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As for the taste, well… let’s just say this isn’t a “West Coast-style” IPA. There’s spicy grapefruit up front that is quickly overtaken by a dominant lemon peel — the lemon becomes steady and coupled with the bitterness, turns to furniture polish. The malts are light and mostly toasted, with only a bit of caramel and residual sweetness. The finish comes on strong, providing lots of bitterness, but not in a good way. Rebel IPA may only say 45 IBU, but they’re packing tons of medicinal, salty, sharp bitterness in, which would be fine…IF THERE WERE SOME HOP FLAVORS TO GO ALONG WITH IT! There’s not — just spicy citrus and some dry, soapy grapefruit. Sigh. This beer is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy texture.

I would really hate for an inexperienced drinker to get one of these bottles and this be his or her first introduction to a “West Coast-style” IPA. This is just another American IPA, and not even a very good one, at that. To me, Rebel IPA tastes like it has the bittering down solid, but they must have forgotten the aroma/flavor hops. Not to mention…dry hops. And those two things are two of the defining aspects of “West Coast-style” IPA, late addition hops and dryhopping. I’ve had IPAs that hit double the IBUs found here yet still taste sweeter.

It’s not a bad beer, by any means, but don’t expect a West Coast IPA.

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, 76 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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Redux Review 0021: Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine Barleywine

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Back on April 14, 2012, when I first reviewed this beer, I pegged it as a brew that would likely age nicely. Today, we’re here to find out…

Two years ago, Lagunitas had just announced that they would be expanding from just one facility in Petaluma, California to two — the second would be located in the middle of the country, Chicago, to take advantage of distribution opportunities. Lagunitas have almost completed the new facility and are currently running test batches in preparation to crank up to full production.

Olde Gnarleywine is a limited release, a Barleywine that rings in at 10.6% ABV (alcohol by volume). The “Gnarleywine” name comes from the fact that Lagunitas says this is a hard one to make, and the beer sits in tanks for over a month to get everything right.

My initial review went like this:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 31 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

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

Let’s see where we stand, two years later; remember, this is a 2011 bottle, so it’s actually three years old…

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The pour produced an average size, creamy head that lasted. The beer was amber-brown out of light; quite murky and muddy looking. In bright light, it’s a beautiful cloudy bright red, with tangerine highlights. There’s a light dusting of sediment in the beer, making it opaque. Lacing is excellent, leaving thin, solid sheets of crisp foam.

The nose has only gotten more complex with age; there’s sweet caramel and toffee throughout the sniff, with flashes of milk chocolate, booze, and dark fruits (raisin, fig, and prune). It’s a very sweet smell but the booze seems to temper it just a bit — there’s also a lingering hop presence in the form of some grapefruit and pine, with some orange/citrus spiciness. As it warms, an herbal lemon tea begins to come out — more on this in the flavor description.

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Sadly, the taste didn’t really keep up with the delightful aroma. Initially, there’s plenty of caramel and toffee, and it hangs around for awhile; middle of the mouth features some faded grapefruit hops, and sugary sweet milk chocolate. But I began to notice as this brew warmed that an herbal lemon flavor started to come out more and more, and it’s medicinal, like a cough drop. At first, it blended well with everything else; but halfway through the glass, it started to take over. The finish is hot with alcohol, riding out lemon, caramel, and heavily toasted bread. These flavors didn’t really meld well, but it wasn’t awful. Without doubt, Gnarlywine is full-bodied, and has a thick, foamy mouthfeel. And the further you got into the bottle, the more the finish hit that same herbal lemon cough drop note.

A couple of notes here: first, this beer really reminded me of Lagunitas Imperial Stout (85 points) in terms of amount of sweetness. In fact, in my review of that beer, I called it an “Imperial Stout-Barleywine.” Secondly, this beer really didn’t age well. The flavors changed for the worse and the alcohol simply didn’t budge. I think those hop flavors that were so good in the fresh bottle turned into a honey-lemon cough drop and the toasted (nearly burnt) bread on the finish never really went anywhere. I do recommend you try this beer as it is a bit of a unique take on Barleywine, but do it fresh.

Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine Barleywine, 88 points. Price: $3.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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Redux Review 0020: 21st Amendment Monk’s Blood Belgian Dark Ale

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Here’s a beer that I’ve been looking forward to trying again for a very long time — back in early 2012, I sampled 21st Amendment’s (San Francisco, California) Monk’s Blood, a Belgian Dark Ale brewed with eight different malts, Belgian candi sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean, local figs, and aged on oak chips. AND SERVED FROM A CAN!

I rated it 91 points, and I was so impressed with the beer that I ranked it #15 on my Top 25 Beers of 2012 list.

My initial review:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 13 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 31 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 32 of 35 points

Final Score: 91 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

What an appropriate time to dig into the basement and pull out this can, dated from 2012 — 21st Amendment recently announced that after a one year hiatus, Monk’s Blood will be returning to bottle shops as a limited release four-pack, and should remain available until the end of May, 2014. They encourage you to enjoy it fresh but to also age some. Let’s take a look and see what some time does to Monk’s Blood, the curious oak-aged beer in a can.

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Pouring spills forth a beautiful beer capped by a large, frothy head that is light tan in color and lasts. The beer is muddy and murky amber-brown out of light, but in light is revealed to be a deep mahogany with red highlights. There is some cloudiness and a light presence of particles and sediment. Lacing is excellent, leaving sticky patches of foam in the initial sips.

The nose is very nice and quite complex; big notes of toasted and doughy bread, cinnamon, and dark fruit are the main flavors, followed by more delicate tones of woodsy oak, rum-soaked raisins, and sugary cinnamon. There’s lots of cinnamon here and it serves to enhance the booze in a good way, making this seem like cinnamon bread with a dipping of some thick boozy syrup. It’s awesome and I think age has worked magic here, not only making the aroma more complex, but melding the individual scents into a potent marriage.

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On the palate, the cinnamon is high in the mix, and the vanilla that was once here has taken a backseat to more of a cinnamon/oak flavor and a generous helping of dark fruits — raisin bread, doughy yeast, and toasted/slightly burnt sugar lead the way. The oak tends to come out through the middle, and the flavor pretty much stays the same until the finish, which brings on even more cinnamon and a moderate bitterness along with a delicate sugary edge. It’s interesting if a bit jarring, at first — this beer really comes into its own as it warms, just about to room temperature. The alcohol is completely hidden. Monk’s Blood is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

Overall, I thought the beer gained some in the aroma department but lost a little in the flavor — it tasted somewhat oxidized, or a little less full-flavored, than I remember. That might sound crazy given that it was in the perfect environment, a can — but that’s how my taste buds experienced it. That said, it’s still an outstanding beer, and I highly encourage you to seek out some of the fresh cans and tune in. I bet you’d never guess this came out of a can! Start out cold (45°F or less) and allow to gradually warm, sipping slowly — this brew tells a story.

21st Amendment Monk’s Blood Belgian Dark Ale, 90 points. Price: $2.49 US for one 12 oz. can.

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Redux Review 0019: Sierra Nevada Oatmeal Stout (Beer Camp #45)

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One of the better (if not the best) beers to come out of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Series was released in the 2012 mixed pack, and was an Oatmeal Stout. Originally named “Snowed In Stout,” it was brewed by camp attendees to celebrate Chico, California’s lone snow day in 2011. The beer hit 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 51 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), and was brewed with a generous amount of rolled oats.

I initially rated the beer 93 points back in October of 2012:

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Appearance: 13 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: 93 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

As mentioned in my review, I said I was going to try and save a couple bottles of this Oatmeal Stout for a return look… I have, and here it is.

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The pour rustled up an average size, creamy tan head that lingered around atop a dark chocolate brown beer. It had lighter brown edges — not a true pitch black stout; the body appeared clear and free of particles and sediment. Lacing was good, leaving behind patchy thin sheets of suds.

The nose has definitely stood some age, and shines as brightly as before, and has developed in complexity. We’ve got a rich blend of roast, caramel, and sweetened coffee, along with dark and milk chocolate, and a nice soft vanilla. Backing all of this up is a growing presence of dark fruit; it’s grape-like and has notes of raisin and prune. It builds as the beer warms; the chocolate aspect of this brew is mocha and quite sweet, especially when combined with the vanilla. Good stuff.

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On the taste, the dark fruits mix with caramel up front, and the initial flavors reminded me of English Barleywine. This quickly fades as a rush of sweet dark chocolate moves in, along with some light coffee. There’s just a touch of grapefruit hop bitterness before the finish, which sees the dark fruit toned down for more of a roasted, toasted bread, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, and char. The 9% alcohol is completely hidden in taste and feel. The finish is a ‘stiff’ bittersweet, meaning you can expect to be enjoying the lingering notes of this one for quite a while. The brew is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

I wouldn’t call this beer worse than when I first had it, just different. It’s still an excellent brew that has retained a lot of good qualities (roasted and chocolate character, along with more depth to the dark fruits) but some of the mouthfeel (for an Oatmeal Stout) has been lost and what I’m currently sipping on doesn’t seem to quite feel like I wrote it a couple years ago. Maybe my palate has changed some? Age has been a bit indifferent here, it seems. But if I were first tasting this today, I don’t think I would be as crazy about it as I once was.

Sierra Nevada Oatmeal Stout (Beer Camp #45), 90 points. Price: $18.99 US for the Beer Camp twelve pack, where you get three bottles of four different beers.

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Redux Review 0018: Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels

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Today, we’re taking a look back at a rare beer, an expensive beer, and one that’s certainly well-aged. In 2013, Thirsty Dog (Akron, Ohio) released a bourbon barrel aged version of their Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout. I reviewed the regular beer, awarding it 93 points; I rated the barrel-aged version even higher, giving it 97 points. What makes this beer even more special is that it was bottled already having been aged for 11 months, so today, the beer is around two years old.

In my initial review, I compared this beer with the likes of Founders KBS (100 points) and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout (98 points):

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 34 of 35 points

Final Score: 97 points, or classic on my rating scale.

The only real pitfalls to the beer I could find were the price ($27.99 per four-pack!) and a somewhat tepid mouthfeel. Otherwise, I described Bourbon Barrel Siberian Night as “tasting like a big layered cake that has melted chocolate chips inside, with scoops of vanilla ice cream serving as frosting and a bourbon syrup.”

I’ve pulled another out from the basement so we can see where it stands today…

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Pouring created almost no head, just a very thin coating of oily, light tan foam that quickly fizzled away. The beer is pitch black, no light coming through; there are some lighter brown edges when swirled in the glass. While dark, the body appeared to be clear and free of particles and sediment, and there weren’t any yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle. Surprisingly, lacing is fairly good despite the absence of head, leaving behind thin sheets of tan foam.

The nose, just like the first time, is incredible. The bourbon finds itself toned down some and the main player is plenty of creamy dark chocolate, along with caramel, and toffee. But the bourbon is still here, and it’s woodsy bourbon, with traces of oak barrel. The chocolate aroma plays very nicely with the presence of dark fruit; chocolate-covered cherries, prune, and raisin make this a complex nose. The bourbon is mature, not hot at all, and the subtle notes really started to come out as the brew approached room temperature. There’s hints of smoke, some sweetened coffee, vanilla, and just a glorious wall of bittersweet chocolate morsels. Amazing!

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And the taste… well, it follows this nose. Mind. Blown! Wow. Caramel and toasted marshmallow start off, opening to chocolate cake frosting and vanilla bean. A gentle bit of smoke brings on sweetened coffee, rum-soaked raisins, and woodsy bourbon. This beer is not hot; in fact, it’s quite refined and very smooth, and has gained some of the mouthfeel that I thought was missing when I sampled it last year. I’m not even to the finish yet, and I’m stunned. Siberian Night ends on smokey, bittersweet dark chocolate notes, with an ever-present tingle of bourbon, vanilla bean, and sugary cake frosting. This brew is full-bodied, with a thick, foamy mouthfeel.

Age has done this beer well. Ever since I first reviewed this, I thought it was an underrated beer — in fact, I might go so far as to say it’s a bit better than Founders KBS or Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, as it seems a bit more drinkable. There’s not much else I can say other than if you see this, grab it; a superb blend of flavors, just the right amount of alcohol, and a good journey of a beer.

In redux:

Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 35 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 34 of 35 points

Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, 98 points. Price: $27.99 US for a four-pack.

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