The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.
Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.
Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.
On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.
At 11% ABV (alcohol by volume), Victory’s Old Horizontal is one of the most potent beers in their lineup. This Barleywine is brewed with imported German 2-row malts and whole cone American hops — the name, ‘Old Horizontal’ stems from it’s alcohol potency; have more than one of these and you might find yourself horizontal. Available only in the winter, this beer comes in 22 oz. bomber bottles.
The pour issued forth a large, creamy, long-lasting head that was light brown in color. The beer was amber in color with lighter orange highlights; the body appeared murky but there weren’t any particles or sediment to be found. It does say on the label that this beer is bottle conditioned, but I didn’t find any yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin and sticky sheets of patchy foam.
There’s a ton of complexity on the nose; the hops hit first with plenty of pungent grapefruit, pine, and oranges. Competing just as strongly with the hops are the malts: waves of sweet caramel, sweet bread, toffee, burnt sugar/molasses lead to a rich bounty of dark fruits (raisin, prunes, and figs). The dark fruits and bready sweetness become more pronounced as the beer warms. There isn’t a noticeable alcohol scent. Very nice.
On the palate, there’s a thick layer of grapefruit, pine, and sweet bread up front. The hops really linger quite long, and I think it’s partly thanks to the thick mouthfeel this brew possesses. Those hops ring out like they were just harvested — really fresh and pungent, but the middle of the mouth sees the malt take over with a big blast of dark fruit and sugary sweetness. It really is a battle of sweet versus bitter, then the warm fusel alcohol begins to take over and clean things up; the finish brings grapefruit rind, thick caramel, and alcohol bite. Old Horizontal is full-bodied, to say the least, with a thick, foamy texture.
Without a doubt, this is a fantastic beer, but it really comes down to personal preference here: do you like your American Barleywine to be more hoppy or malty? Right now, I’d classify this as being extremely hoppy, and quite hot in the alcohol department. My tastes could go either way, I dig ‘em both — but in my opinion, I think you’d do this brew some good to let it sit another six months or so, then the malt bill will likely truly begin to shine. Either way, pick up a bottle and settle in for a tasty treat.
Victory are knocking it out of the park this year!
Victory Old Horizontal Barleywine Style Ale, 93 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
AleSmith Brewing Company is located in San Diego, California, and was founded by Peter Zien in 1995. AleSmith has deep roots in the homebrewing community; Mr. Zien was a home homebrewer himself who dreamed of wanting to own a brewery. Well, that dream came true; Zien is also San Diego County’s only BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) “Grand Master” beer judge. BJCP sanctions homebrewing competitions.
To continue the homebrew theme, the other major half of AleSmith, Tod Fitzsimmons, was a former president of the homebrew club QUAFF. He joined the company as a brewer in 1996.
Very recently, AleSmith earned the #1 slot on the website RateBeer’s ‘Top Brewer in the World’ list. (Of note: I’ve only ever reviewed one other AleSmith beer because they are not distributed here in North Carolina; it was Speedway Stout, and I awarded it a perfect 100 points!)
Old Numbskull is a west-coast style Barleywine that is produced year-round. The name gives a nod to English tradition as Barleywines typically started with “Old” in the beer name. Coming in at 11% ABV (alcohol by volume), this is a fresh bottle produced in November 2013.
The pour delivered a very nice looking beer, capped by a large, off-white, creamy head that lingered. The beer was a dull amber-brown out of light; held in light, it became red with lighter orange highlights toward the bottom of the glass. The body was hazy yet still remained translucent, and there were no particles or sediment. Lacing was perfect, leaving behind thick sheets of solid foam as I sipped. Picture perfect for the style.
On the nose, this is much more Imperial IPA than Barleywine — until it begins to warm. Pungent and fresh hops immediately greet you, with impressive waves of resinous pine, grapefruit, orange, mild tropical fruits, and lime. The malt backing is meek at first, only giving off hints of caramel and toffee, but as it warms, it opens to expose deeper, bready notes with delicate layers of chocolate and a hint of dark fruit.
The taste is very much the same, with untamed notes of sticky, fresh hops; big orange peel, grapefruit, sweet tropical fruits and a wallop of dank pine. This couples with a stiff note of 11% alcohol to be unpleasant and medicinal at first; when allowed to warm, more of the malt backing starts to account for itself. There’s a thin layer of caramel and growing dark fruits, with bread crust, and it helps soak up some of the alcohol. By the middle of the glass, Old Numbskull turns into an enjoyable drink that showcases the other, hoppy, west-coast side of Barleywine. This beer is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel. The finish edges up the dark fruits a bit, but it needs more time to be greater defined.
If you’ve got a fresh bottle of this beer and you want to open it (which I think you should), allow it to warm for about 25 minutes after you pour it — I think you’ll avoid the stiff alcohol astringency. Don’t get me wrong — the 11% never disappears, and you surely do feel it, but this becomes a much better brew as it warms. Now, as for aging…I think if you check in around 6-8 months, you will be greatly rewarded with a classic beer.
AleSmith Old Numbskull Barleywine, 93 points. Price: $10.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.
Preface: We’ve already reviewed Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) once before — last year, the 2012 version scored 98 points. Although it scored highly, it wasn’t really a beer that I was overly enamored with…however, after finding the 2013 version on tap late last year, I knew that I needed to review this beer again. So today we’re going to look at it once more, considering it is (arguably) the pioneer of barrel-aged beers.
There’s a lot of information to dive into before we get into the fun part of this review. First, a little history about Goose Island’s (Chicago, Illinois) Bourbon County line of beers: While barrel-aged beer was around long before 1994, Goose Island made it popular in the United States when they placed Imperial Stout in bourbon barrels to celebrate their 1,000th batch of beer made at the original Clybourn brewpub. After tasting the results, it seemed like every brewery either had or wanted a barrel aging program. Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout achieved legendary status.
Goose Island opened in 1988. John Hall was the visionary, and he was inspired by the beers he had tasted in travels across the country. He started the brewery with the notion that drinkers wanted to see their beer being made, so Goose Island actually started as a brewpub. In 1995, a dedicated facility was built with a bottling plant to keep up with demand.
In 2011, 58% of the company was sold to the world’s largest brewer, ABInbev. As result of the sale, many of Goose Island’s everyday brews are now made in New York. However, Goose continue to produce the more connoisseur-friendly bottles in Chicago, of which Bourbon County is part of.
Released once each year, BCBS typically comes in around a striking 15% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The malt bill is impressive (2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black) while there is just one hop used: Willamette. I couldn’t find any information about how long this beer spends inside bourbon barrels, but the bottle suggests it will “develop in the bottle for up to five years.”
Discerning drinkers noticed that 2013’s release included two different alcohol contents — of the bottles I have to sample, the 14.2% ABV version was bottled on August 20, while the 14.9% ABV was packaged on August 29. Why different alcohol contents? Well, with barrel-aging, things like alcohol content tend to be unpredictable. And with federal agencies that control the information placed on beer labels always lending a watchful eye, it pays to be precise when it comes to alcohol content in the beer you make. I thought not only would it be interesting to review BCBS again, but to also review both “versions” of the beer to see if there are any differences. I think this is a very fair take, especially since the beers are only nine days apart in age — and age is a big factor when looking at a brew such as this one.
2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout — 14.2% ABV
The 14.2% version pours out a very small, dark khaki head that is soapy and diminishes quickly. Color of the beer is pitch black, like an Imperial Stout ought to be, but it does have lighter brown edges. As I poured, the body appeared clear and free of particles and sediment. As expected for the high alcohol, there was no lacing, but there were some alcohol legs when the beer was swirled.
On the nose, we’ve got a very smooth, sugary sweet brew with a complex bevy of aromas. Up front, sweet caramel, burnt sugar and bourbon greet the nose, bringing in deeper notes of vanilla, charred oak, and sweetened coffee. There’s a light amount of dark fruits, especially raisin and prune, and some toasted marshmallow. While the beer has a stiff scent to it, it’s not overly boozy. When allowed to warm, the vanilla bean notes really come out more, and the bourbon is smooth and plays well with the charred barrel. It’s reminiscent of a beer that’s already been aged for a couple of years.
If you thought the nose was smooth, wait until you have a taste. Wow! Burnt sugar and caramel provide a base layer of sweetness that isn’t cloying but rather complex; then we have creamy marshmallow and vanilla beans to layer on top of it. The bourbon comes out in the middle of the taste, more in charred oak barrel than anything else; this beer finishes with a punch of grape dark fruit, high quality dark chocolate, and toffee. It’s warm but never boozy. Full-bodied, with a thick, foamy mouthfeel.
A classic beer without a doubt, this beer drinks like Goose Island took their sweet time with it. Subtle, nuanced, and complex, an absolute wonderful beer.
Goose Island 2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout (14.2% version), 98 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout — 14.9% ABV
Bourbon County’s higher octane bottling pours a small, dark khaki head that is soapy and fades within 30 seconds of pouring. The beer is ink black but does have lighter brown edges when held to light; the body is noticeably clear as I poured, with no particles or sediment. Lacing never happened, but there were lots of alcohol legs when agitated.
The aroma has lots of dark fruits; this beer has a grapey edge to it that is somewhat vinous, but also leans to prunes, raisins, and some figs. The alcohol is prevalent, and the sweetness serves to amplify it even more; we’ve got lots of sweet caramel, burnt sugar, and charred barrel, along with spicy bourbon. As it warmed, it seemed the charred notes turned more into smokey scents, amplifying the bourbon even more.
It dominated on the aroma, and it also dominates the palate: the dark fruits open the taste with a thick layer of raisins and prunes mixed with burnt sugar and caramel. Booze is apparent the moment it hits the tongue; middle of the mouth transitions into some hot, spicy bourbon with mere hints of vanilla and smokey char. The finish is vanilla bean, caramel, milk chocolate, and hot, fusel alcohol. The beer is full-bodied, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel.
This beer shows great potential; don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty as it is, but it is overly boozy and a bit much. Even with the young age, it has excellent depth, and should round out nicely in another six months or so.
Goose Island 2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout (14.9% version), 93 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
Without question, I found the 14.2% ABV version of BCBS superior to the 14.9%. I have two questions: Why not brew it to 14.2%? — and — Why not brew it even just a touch lower, say 11 or 12%? I think the results might be surprising.
You know, sometimes it’s okay to make a beer and have it ready to go right at the point of purchase…
Beer Review 0543: Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top Imperial Stout
Did you know that Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, mastermind behind Mikkeller, has a twin brother? His name is Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, and he also makes beer, under the Evil Twin name.
Like Mikkel, Jeppe is a gypsy brewer, roving around the world and using breweries to stage his creations, leading to plenty of collaborations. It all started in 1998, when Jeppe started a beer club in Denmark, tired of the same tried and true beer offerings available there. He and his friends would share new beers they found; this eventually led to home brewing. Opening up a bar of their own was an idea, but it never worked out — Mikkel continued to purse brewing, while Jeppe went in a different direction: he opened a bottle shop.
In 2010, Jeppe found himself a busy man — not only was he running a bottle shop, he was also teaching school. Why not have another job? After a chance meeting with a big-time distributor, Jeppe sent him 20 pallets of beer he’d made, and it sold out in less than 24 hours! Today, he and his family reside in New York City, and are leaving a mark in the beer world, making highly acclaimed beers that generally receive lots of praise. Guess it must run in the family.
Several weeks ago, we reviewed Evil Twin’s Imperial Biscotti Break, giving it 92 points. That beer is an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee beans; this variant of it, Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top, is the same beer dosed with sour cherries; however, the label says “natural flavors.” We’re not exactly sure what that means, but it is brewed at Westbrook Brewing Company in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. It’s also apparently a seasonal, being aimed at folks who have a tough time during Christmas. The ABV (alcohol by volume) is a whopping 11.5%.
Release from the bottle produced an average size, creamy head that was light tan in color and thick in texture. Color of the beer was ink black, with no light visible except for a small ruby red edge toward the bottom of the glass. As I poured, I noticed that the body appeared to be clear, and there weren’t any particles or sediment. There was a notable amount of yeast in the bottom of the bottle, but I was careful not to disturb it. Lacing was good, leaving solid sheets as I sipped, breaking up into thin coatings that had a slight red tint to them.
The nose is pretty much like regular Imperial Biscotti Break; heavily roasted, with lots of black coffee, dark chocolate, and sweet caramel. The dark fruits are dialed to high, with a big presence of grape and fig, and there’s a touch of herbal hoppiness to be had. Two things that are notably absent: no alcohol, despite being 11.5%, and there are no cherries here. The roast completely covers the cherries (or “natural flavors”).
On the tongue, this beer starts with a heavy toasted bread that opens into dark chocolate and raisins. In rushes the black coffee, strong as if freshly brewed, but a cool thing happens when you swirl this around in your mouth: there be the cherries! They’re subtle and very mildly tart, but add a nice edge and combine well with the creamy layered dark chocolate. A cherry on top, indeed — this is very nice, finishing with layers of dark chocolate, heavy roast, and black coffee. It seems the tart cherries help to dry things out a bit, too. This brew is full-bodied, with a luxurious thick, creamy mouthfeel.
Well played on the cherries (or “natural flavors”), Mr. Bjergsø! We continue to marvel at this beer; just like its sibling, this variant is a big boy of a beer that hides the large alcohol and is simply packed full of heavy flavors that are delicious. It’s so flavorful that you might think about pairing this with a dessert or sharing the bottle amongst good friends. ’Tis the season for giving, after all.
Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top Imperial Stout, 93 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
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.