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.
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…
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.
Somebody has to make a Christmas beer that isn’t a “winter warmer” or spiced.
Bell’s (Kalamazoo, Michigan) was founded by Larry Bell in 1983 — originally, Bell’s was a homebrew supply shop. But the itch to create beer was there (with all that homebrew equipment, who could blame them?) and the actual brewery portion of the company fired up with the initial batches brewed in 15-gallon soup pots.
The first beer was sold in September 1985; originally self distributed by Mr. Bell and his (then) nine employees, the company grew to produce 500 barrels in 1989; and in 1993, the brewery became the first in Michigan to open an onsite pub.
Today, Bell’s has a capacity of more than 500,000 barrels, and the company has two different production facilities.
Bell’s take on a Christmas beer is for it to be sessionable and not use any of the typical spices often found in Winter Warmer style beers. As such, Christmas Ale is brewed in the Scotch Ale style, with 100% Michigan-grown barley, which they have custom malted by Briess Malting. The hops are a blend of varieties grown in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest. Available in the winter months, Christmas Ale is 5.5% ABV (alcohol by volume).
The pour made a large, foamy head that was long lasting. As I sipped, it hung around in about half finger amounts, growing larger if you swirled the glass. The color was dark amber, with some lighter orange highlights toward the bottom of the glass. Obviously, this beer is unfiltered, as it has lots of chunky sediment floating throughout; despite the particles, it’s an otherwise clear beer. Lacing is excellent and began as soon as the head initially diminished, leaving thick clumps of suds.
On the nose, for a winter-type beer, we’ve got a timid aroma, yet well balanced. It has initial notes of sweet caramel and some general roast, and opens up into an equal hoppy side, giving off fresh pine and grapefruit. If you imagine a well-hopped Scotch Ale, you’re thinking correctly — just turn the volume down the aroma a couple of notches, as it’s quite subtle. It doesn’t change as it warms — a bit dull, but what’s here is nice.
The taste is much the same, very light and bready with a hint of caramel sweetness. Not at all what I expected; this brew is really light and almost watery. Some nice citrus hops save it, picking up when the sweetness starts to fade, opening up to some pine and sweet, juicy grapefruit. The finish is wheat filled and grainy, creating a very clean and almost crisp finish that cements how light-bodied the brew is. Christmas Ale has a medium, foamy mouthfeel and average carbonation.
Well, this is not at all like a Scotch Ale or a Winter Warmer. The pine flavors do remind me of Christmas, and I can’t say I was put off by the beer when considering the time of year. It’s a decent brew, and it sure would be sessionable and easy to drink a few of these, but to be completely honest with you, after about half a glass I was ready to move on. It’s basic, no frills, and simple, and it’s unlike Bell’s to be this way. Perhaps a good transition starter for the commercial lager drinker.
Bell’s Christmas Ale, 83 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
Yesterday, we reviewed Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) Old Guardian Barleywine, the 2013 edition, and awarded it 94 points. Bold and aggressive, the hops were powerful but matched by just enough malt body, and the heavy-handed alcohol made it a nice representation of an American Barleywine.
Today, we’re looking at a variant of Old Guardian, made for Stone’s “Odd Beers For Odd Years” series — this program comes around each odd-numbered year, and sees a different take on one of Stone’s beers. In 2013, it’s Oak-Smoked Old Guardian, which is the regular version brewed with a substantial amount of German-smoked malt.
Coming in at 11.4% ABV (alcohol by volume; 2013 Old Guardian classic version was 11.6%) and 70 IBUs (International Bitterness Units; ten units less than regular edition), this beer was intended to provide a gentle smokiness that doesn’t diminish the hop flavors or bitterness.
The Oak-Smoked variant of Old Guardian pours a large collar of creamy, off-white head, which was built to last atop a nice orange-amber colored beer. The brew had some ruby red highlights when held to light, and was hazy in body, but featured no particles or sediment. Lacing was most excellent; appearance wise, this was very much like regular Old Guardian, but perhaps a bit redder and more hazy.
The noticeable difference grabs you by the nose and pulls hard — immediately, there’s woodsy and meaty smoke. To put it bluntly, this beer smells like raw hot dogs and a grill full of smoldering oak chips. There is a light sweetness that comes through with some caramel, and a soft, citrus, orange hop presence. As it warms, the smoke becomes more prominent and takes on notes of toasted, almost burnt bread. Let it warm further, and you get fresh-cut oak tree. Interesting, especially when compared to the original version.
Up front, the flavors are gentle and soft, with oak smoke combining with grapefruit and pine hops. This easiness continues into the middle of the palate, which is creamy caramel, knocking on the door of coffee beans; then, the finish starts, and your taste buds are smacked around by a burning oak plank, and heavy alcohol. Combined, the finish is very bitter with ample piney hop; the smokiness reaches its peak and joins forces with the big alcohol in an unpleasant, solvent-like way. This Old Guardian is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy texture.
The smoke dominates in a good way on the aroma and presents itself nicely in flavor until the finish. There’s just too much alcohol here, and the smoked malt makes it worse. I think age might do this some good, and don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a horrible beer, but you might want to have a couple of people around to help you finish this one. If you purchased a bottle of 2013 Old Guardian regular edition, I think it is worth your while to pick this one up just to examine the differences. But Stone named this one appropriately: odd year, indeed.
Stone 2013 Old Guardian Oak-Smoked Barleywine, 83 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
All week, we’ll be looking at beers from Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve series.
Central Waters brew beer in Amherst, Wisconsin. In 1996, Mike McElwain and Jerome Ebel bought an old brick building and spent two years restoring it — when it was ready for beer production, the home brewers acquired some used dairy equipment and retrofitted it into a brewery. Using their own recipes, the pair produced many different styles of beer, but most notably, an award winning Barleywine.
The brewery continued to grow, even as ownership changed. In 2001, McElwain and Ebel sold the facility, and shortly after, the main brew kettle cracked beyond repair. So on its fifth anniversary, Central Waters purchased what amounted to a new brewhouse.
Today, Central Waters is owned by Paul Graham and Anello Mollica, who together have 24 years of brewing experience. Another move took place in 2007, which saw Central Waters locate to Amherst.
The Brewer’s Reserve series, as you might have guessed, is the place in the portfolio where the limited release brews reside. Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout is an Imperial Stout aged in oak bourbon barrels for one year, with each barrel containing 75 pounds of Door County cherries. It’s not exactly clear if this is the same base recipe as used for the regular Bourbon Barrel Stout.
Coming in at 10% ABV (again, alcohol content not listed on the bottle), this Cherry Stout is exceptionally hard to find due to a soft Wisconsin cherry crop. Many thanks to Dave (Untappd user OnWisconsin) for sending me this beer in a recent trade.
The pour brought forth a disappointing and nearly non-existent sparse head, light tan in color. Just like the regular Bourbon Barrel Stout, this was dark brown in color, but did have some ruby red mixed in thanks to the cherries. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing just didn’t happen. That’s to be expected with a high ABV beer, but still disappointing.
The nose on this beer is a delight, but I implore you to savor it before you take a taste, because after I sipped, I couldn’t pull all of these flavors out again. There’s lots of bourbon and vanilla, and it’s especially smooth. Then, you have the cherries, which mix delightfully with chocolate and a mild hint of coffee. Add all of these scents together and you get a detectable hit of banana. I really dug the aroma.
On the taste, if you’re expecting a sweet cherry, you’re going to be half disappointed. There’s an immediate tartness along with bourbon and vanilla. Yes, tart bourbon. That’s a head scratcher — it’s not bad, but it certainly is unusual. Once your tongue adapts, it is actually pretty good — but after the initial burst of flavor, there really isn’t much to be found here until the finish. That’s when the tart cherries turn sweet and bring in a ton of vanilla; then on the ultimate conclusion, the cherries turn tart again and you get a nice bourbon hit when clicking your tongue to the roof of your mouth. And just like the regular Bourbon Barrel Stout, I found this medium-bodied with an especially thin mouthfeel…and cloying because of the sweetness. Thin and cloying, who would have thought?
This isn’t the cherry I was expecting, yet strangely I was drawn to this beer and finished it with ease. It does seem to be a little better on the cold side; while it was warming, I noticed the cherries took on a medicinal, cough syrup flavor. But the big letdown on these Central Water stouts continues to be the texture; they’re more like a Porter, but retain the sweetness of an Imperial Stout, which makes for an odd combination.
Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout, 83 points. Price: $3.59 US for one twelve ounce bottle.
Terrapin Beer Company (Athens, Georgia) have put out a new volume of their “Side Project” series, which are a group of beers that are limited release, tend to be on the experimental side, and come in bomber bottles. Some of these beers eventually make their way into Terrapin’s seasonal releases in 12 oz. bottles.
Volume 19 — Mosaic — is a red Rye Ale brewed with 100% Mosaic hops. Mosaic are a relatively new variety of hop to the United States, the daughter of a combination of Simcoe and Nugget hops. Released in 2012, Mosaic were developed by Hop Breeding Company, LLC and offer floral, tropical, fruity, and earthy characteristics.
In addition to only being brewed with Mosaic hops, Terrapin’s Side Project Mosaic is brewed with rye malt. The beer is 6.6% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
The pour drew a small, soapy and fizzy head that quickly dispersed. The color was just as described on the bottle — red, with perhaps a lean toward brown. Body was slightly hazy, but there were no particles or sediment. Lacing, as with most rye beers, was good.
There were heavy hops on the nose, shooting forth lots of tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, along with a very nice hit of lime. The rye is definitely present, giving off a mild spice and bread. I also detected a pretty big note of caramel. Overall, the hops are juicy and ripe, while the rye kind of gives a nice solid stage for them to dance around on. Nice.
The taste, however, is a bit of a different story. The rye was up front; so were the fruity hops, but they weren’t anywhere near as prevalent as on the nose. I got a pineapple juice flavor along with some mango, then the rye completely took over, drying out the mouth. Very bready, the finish is like straight rye bread with a moderate grapefruit pith bitterness. Medium in body, the mouthfeel was also medium with a foamy texture.
Sigh…unfortunately another Side Project beer from Terrapin that I’m not crazy about. I’ve also found that the Mosaic hop can be very hit or miss with me — sometimes, it’s really fruity and candy bar like; other times, like this one, it tends to fade into the back if another strong flavor is there to dominate it. It sure did seem like Mosaic drank much heavier than 6.6%, too — I had a difficult time finishing this entire bottle. Not the flavors I was looking for, but it is a well constructed brew, like all Terrapin offerings.
Terrapin Side Project Volume 19 – Mosaic Red Rye Ale, 83 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.