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:
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.
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.
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.
Hi-Wire Brewing have taken over the old Craggie Brewery location in Asheville, North Carolina, and have just started producing beer. The theme of the brewery is the circus, which they feel embodies the fun, authenticity, and creativity of craft beer.
Only a few months in, Hi-Wire have a dedicated year-round lineup it calls “Main Attraction” beers — a Pale Ale, IPA, Lager, and Brown Ale, which we have reviewed. (See Bed Of Nails Brown Ale, 92 points.) For a new brewery, Hi-Wire are on point when it comes to bottling — they pretty much bottle everything they make in six-packs, and that now includes seasonal releases. In fact, they invented special packaging for their seasonal beers that uses cut out windows to display the actual bottles in the boxes, eliminating the need for four different facings for four different seasons.
We have also reviewed Hi-Wire’s winter seasonal, Strongman Coffee Milk Stout, and gave it 84 points. But, shortly after the new year started, Hi-Wire put out a “late winter” seasonal — they’re calling it The Contortionist, and it is a Black IPA that registers 6% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 84 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). Very cool that a small brewery like this can decide to add a beer to its lineup and have it in stores this quickly.
The pour made for a small, quickly diminishing creamy head. While the beer looked black out of light, in bright light, it was actually ruby red. Initially, the brew is exceptionally clear with no particles or sediment, but when you reach the end of the bottle, it clouds up significantly. Lacing is fair, only leaving traces of suds here and there.
The aroma is fairly well balanced but serious at the same time — the hops are extremely strong, offering up notes of flowers and pine. The hops quickly hit a giant wall of roasted and toasted malts, bready in nature, laced with hints of coffee and a subtle powdery dark chocolate. Dig a bit deeper and allow the drink to warm some and you’ll begin to pull out notes of orange and lemon peel. The Contortionist has an aroma quite typical of a Black IPA, perhaps just a bit more pungent than one would expect.
On the taste, this beer is both floral and roasted up front, with underlying notes of sweetened coffee. Middle of the mouth sees a dryness take over, along with a pinch of general dark fruits. This leads to a finish of solidly bitter dark chocolate, black coffee, and pine. The finish is long and pleasant, and if you click your tongue to the roof of your mouth, you’ll get a delicious note of slightly sweetened and highly acidic coffee. The Contortionist is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
Typically, I find the majority of Black IPAs on the market to be somewhat chalky in taste. Not the case here — this has a nice depth of flavor that showcases all the typical fare but is still broad in terms of the story it tells. I would advise that the bitterness level is high, but I found it to be easily drinkable for the style, and that’s not often the case with my palate when it comes to Black IPA.
Hi-Wire The Contortionist Black IPA, 87 points. Price: $2.49 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
While I certainly don’t recommend you do this, sometimes a bottle is worth purchasing just because you like the looks of it. Every now and then, you should definitely treat yourself, even if you don’t know what you’ll get when you open said bottle.
Not much information is known about Omnipollo, other than they are an award winning brewery founded in 2010 by Henok Fentie and Karl Grandin. They’re gypsy brewers from Sweden, and they travel the world brewing their beers at various breweries. When we say award winning, they’re the 2013 Best Brewer in Sweden, as per the website RateBeer.
Describing the bottle which contains Fatamorgana, an Imperial IPA, Mr. Fentie says, “My parents came from Ethiopia to Sweden in the ’70’s and got two kids. Me and my brother. Over the years I have gone down to Ethiopia many times, partly to seek my roots but also to experience the wild nature that this incredible country has to offer. A memory that is particularly vivid to me was a time when I – in the middle of the dry savannah landscape – suddenly stumble into a patch of palm tree jungle within which an oasis was hidden. This is the place where the work with Omnipollo Fatamorgana takes off.”
Drawing inspiration from a Saison, Fatamorgana is brewed using oats and wheat; it is also dry-hopped twice with Columbus, Centennial, and Citra. The beer comes in at 8% ABV (alcohol by volume), and it was brewed at DOG Brewing Co., which is located in Westminster, Maryland. DOG Brewing creates beers for restaurants and select stores around the state of Maryland.
Here’s to a shot in the dark…
This one pours out what would typically be considered a strange looking brew, for certain. The head is average in size, super foamy and fizzy, and it dissipates quickly. The beer itself looks a lot like orange juice, extremely hazy and murky in body, and colored yellow golden, two or three shades lighter than actual OJ. Despite its lighter color, Fatamorgana is opaque, as you can’t see through all of the haze. Lacing is very sparse and almost non-existent, only leaving a speck or two of foam here and there on the glass.
Talk about hops…the nose is a brisk punch of all things hoppy, with big notes of tropical fruits and grapefruit. It’s like Hawaiian Punch, fleshy with loads of papaya and mango, and we’ve got some oranges thrown in there, too. There’s a significant grassy kick as well, along with a light musty funk that lends credence to the Saison inspiration. There’s very little malt here, maybe a little grain or bread, but if you like citrus/tropical hops, this is for you. It’s delightful.
On the palate, there’s a large push of grapefruit with a tropical backing up front. Grapefruit rind and the fruit itself are represented, with mangoes and papaya in tow. Juicy oranges transition the middle of the taste into more of a dry grassiness, and there’s a brisk Saison crispness/bitterness that opens the finish, which lingers with dry grapefruit, pine, and subtle mango. The beer is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel and heavily bitter finish.
Final verdict — an extremely interesting beer, you’ll be shocked at the hop content this contains. No way would I have ever thought two Swedish brewers would make a beer like this. And like the description says, it is indeed like an oasis. Unfortunately, I think the beer somewhat falls apart when it tries to tap into the Saison inspiration. But this bottle is worth it for the hop profile alone, and this is a good one-time splurge. I would love to get my hands on more of Omnipollo’s brews, consider my interest piqued…
Omnipollo Fatamorgana Imperial IPA, 87 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
In one of the more unique collaborations for 2013, San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery has teamed up with Elysian Brewing, based out of Seattle, Washington, to create two beers featuring pumpkin, both packaged in cans. This marks the debut of Elysian on this website as they don’t yet distribute in North Carolina, but we’ve reviewed several 21st Amendment beers, and they typically impress.
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.
Elysian opened in 1995, the creation of Dick Cantwell, Joe Bisacca, and David Buhler. The company has a production facility and operates three pubs, often churning out 20 different beers at any time available on-tap. Widely known for their beers featuring pumpkins, the brewery runs the Elysian Great Pumpkin Beer Fest, held each October. They’ve made over 300 unique beers since opening; at least 30 of them have involved pumpkin.
He Said, the collaboration, comes in a four-pack, which contains two cans of each beer. The first one up for review is a Baltic Porter brewed with pumpkin puree and juice, Vietnamese cinnamon, and caraway seed. Remember, a Baltic Porter uses a lager yeast — the beer comes in at 8.2% ABV (alcohol by volume).
Pouring made for a nice, average size head that was light tan in color and had a creamy texture. The head lasted atop a beer that looked dark brown out of light, but when held to light became a pleasing shade of ruby red. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing was very good; no solid sheets, but plenty of thin pods of suds stuck to the glass.
The nose is traditional pumpkin beer with a huge malt backing. There’s lots of cinnamon, some clove, and of course pumpkin up front. Even though this beer uses Vietnamese cinnamon, I didn’t think the cinnamon was any more special than, say…”regular” cinnamon. But the malt backing is clearly the star here, pushing deep scents of chocolate, coffee, general roasted notes and bready, sweet caramel. As the brew warms, the chocolate turns from a dark chocolate into more of a fudgey semi-sweet chocolate.
The flavor pretty much follows the nose, with a heavy spice up front that overwhelms on the initial sips, but calms as you get used to it. The cinnamon is out of control, and the caraway seeds, while not appreciated on the aroma, are full-bodied in taste. In the middle of the mouth, the malts begin to seep forward, and it’s very nice; full, black coffee and dark chocolate mingle with a toasty bread. The finish sees the spices kick back up, concluding with cinnamon and sweetened coffee, and a minor edge of bitter orange peel and herbal hops. I’d call that bittersweet, and the finish does help to subdue the spices just a bit. He Said is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.
Really, this brew comes down to personal preference. Are you fond of heavily spiced pumpkin beers? If so, you’ll really love this, especially if you also lean toward drinking Porters and Stouts. I give 21st Amendment and Elysian credit; we need more darker beers that are flavored with autumn/pumpkin spices. But I wouldn’t want more than one of these in an evening, and I doubt I would return to it, even if I find the base beer really interesting (can I try that one by itself, guys?)
21st Amendment/Elysian He Said Baltic Porter, 87 points. Price: $9.99 US for a four-pack of two different beers.
Returning for 2013 is Bell’s Brewery Cherry Stout, a beer brewed with 100% Montmorency cherries, all grown in Traverse City, Michigan — last year, the beer wasn’t able to be made because of a soft cherry crop.
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.
Montmorency cherries are employed in this beer because they are a tart variety, and balance out sweetness from the malt bill. Coming in at 7% ABV (alcohol by volume), Cherry Stout is only available in the winter and comes in six-packs. I’ve often found this beer a little hard to find, so you might have to do some searching for it, especially if you don’t live near the state of Michigan.
The pour draws a small, dark tan head that is creamy in texture but quickly disappears. Color is pitch black; as I poured, I could see a little hint of red in the beer as it went into the glass, and the very edges are reddish when held to light. It’s so dark that I couldn’t tell if the body was cloudy or not — the bottle did have some yeast dregs. There weren’t any noticeable particles or sediment floating about. Lacing was fair, only leaving a small trail of foam here and there.
I found the nose to be a wonderful mix of solid, creamy dark chocolate with a subtle undercurrent of tart cherries. These are the dominant aromas, but the malts also showcase some general roasted and toasted tones, a bit of black coffee, and it just smells overall creamy. It’s a deep aroma but not in a very pungent way.
Cherry Stout is surprisingly tart, in a way that seems to take some of the oomph away from the stout portion of the beer; up front are lots of tart cherries, but they aren’t sour or even mouth puckering. The tartness quickly mixes with a deep note of decadent dark chocolate, and these flavors play well all through the middle of the taste, throwing in hints of black coffee. The finish brings on a touch more tartness, slightly acidic, which entertains an additional slightly acidic dark chocolate. The finish is long, and as it unwinds, the chocolate is replaced with general toasted notes and actual burnt toast. I’d classify this beer as between light and medium-bodied, believe it or not, and the mouthfeel is medium, quite foamy when swirled around the tongue and drying thanks to the tart cherries.
One big plus to Bell’s take on a Cherry Stout: it’s not medicinal. The overwhelming majority of beers that use cherries turn out to be medicinal; this, thankfully, is not. That said, I think the base beer here is probably quite incredible and the cherries seem to dial it down a little too much. And I’m not a big fan of burnt toast flavors, so it loses me after the dark chocolate fades. Still, for a good moment, this is like a chocolate covered cherry in your mouth, and that’s a very good thing. Check it out.
Bell’s Cherry Stout, 87 points. Price: $2.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.