I’m certain we’ve never reviewed a Brazilian beer here before; after 594 reviews, I’d say it is about time.
Cervejaria Colorado began brewing in Brazil in 1995, and rather than attempting to recreate American and other style craft beers, they set out to embrace their Brazilian heritage and brew beers with ingredients that can only be found there. They’ve got beers brewed with coffee, cane sugar, cassava flour, honey, and nuts, and all of the special ingredients come from Brazil.
The brewery itself is located in a sugar cane growing region near São Paulo (exact location is Riberão Preto), known for its extremely high quality water supply, tapped from the Guarany aquifer.
I don’t have much information about Guanabara, other than it is an Imperial Stout brewed with Black Rapadura cane sugar. The beer isn’t listed as a year-round or seasonal offering on the Colorado website, so all the facts I have come straight from the bottle. The beer is named for “the breathtaking bay in front of Sugarloaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro,” and is apparently Brazil’s first Imperial Stout. Guanabara checks in at a whopping 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) and only recently started appearing here on the beer shelves in North Carolina.
Pouring made for an average size, almost large light brown head that is creamy and long-lasting. The beer appeared jet black out of light, but when held to a light, it’s actually a reddish-purple color that has lighter brown highlights around the edges. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, but there were significant yeast dregs at the bottom of the bottle; despite many swirls with a couple ounces of beer, the yeast never went into suspension. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind thin, solid sheets of foam.
The nose features a heavy presence of chocolate, roasted, and toasted malts. There’s also a grape/raisin/prune dark fruit aroma that hits right from the start. The chocolate lingers between milk and dark; there are notes of coffee, but the sugary sweetness kind of tones what would likely be deep black coffee down a notch. Yes, this beer contains cane sugar, but it’s not overly sweet on the nose. There’s plenty of caramel, and as you might expect, it mixes well with all the chocolate. As the beer begins to warm, a grapefruit hop note begins to shine.
On the palate, it’s roasted bready malt to open, and it quickly expands to a ton of dark chocolate, coffee, and dark fruits. This is very good, and it only gets better — the flavors deepen, and it’s sweet, but doesn’t even begin to approach cloying or even highly sweet. Instead, the sugar seems to soften the mouthfeel a bit; it also adds another dimension to the solid coffee note. It almost tastes like this beer has coffee that uses milk chocolate as a creamer. The finish is sweet with both milk and dark chocolate, and a parting shot of hearty roast and cinnamon. The 10% ABV is completely hidden, and this is dangerously drinkable. Guanabara is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy texture.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this brew, but I’m here to inform you that you’ll get an outstanding Imperial Stout should you choose to try it. I’m calling this a nice change of pace because it sees the typical onslaught of deeply roasted malts take a backseat to more chocolatey and dark fruit flavors, and it doesn’t have a thick mouthfeel. I also love the 20 oz. bottle — for a big beer, that seems to be about the perfect size to make an evening out of. I would love to try some other Cervejaria Colorado beers! Go Brazil!
Colorado Guanabara Imperial Stout, 94 points. Price: $8.49 US for one 20 oz. bottle.
Each year, Goose Island (Chicago, Illinois) produces variants of its Bourbon County Brand Stout. Since 2010, they’ve teamed up with nearby Intelligentsia Coffee to make a coffee version of the beer, and each year, the brew uses a different coffee.
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.
The 2013 bottling of Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout uses Intelligentsia’s Los Inmortales coffee, to the tune of 2,000 pounds of the El Salvador-sourced beans. The coffee was cold brewed and used in the beer; surely not coincidentally, Los Inmortales is 100% “bourbon” cultivar, and comes from a fragile tree that typically has a low yield. So it mirrors the beer in the fact that it is bourbon barrel aged, and is also limited. BCBCS is 13.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Pouring produced a small, soapy head that lingered for a fair bit before disappearing to not even a cover. The coffee variant produces more head than regular BCBS; the color is pretty much identical, and the drinker is faced with a pitch black, opaque beer that has a small hint of lighter brown edges when held to light. The beer appeared clear as I poured, and I didn’t notice any particles or sediment. Lacing is very sparse, almost non-existent.
The nose features pretty much what you’d expect: huge coffee, but it’s definitely sweetened and influenced by the bourbon barrel aging. The coffee seems quite dark, heavily roasted and black, but the barrel flavors swoop in and create a hazelnut creamer effect, along with a shot of caramel. The barrel pops off heavy notes of vanilla, tamed bourbon, and almond. As it warms, the coffee doesn’t intensify but the vanilla does, enhancing the hazelnut. The huge alcohol contained within this beer…is completely hidden! Amazing.
Alright, so, if you read my notes about this beer included at the bottom of the review, you’ll see that I dog it a little for lack of coffee…but here’s what I found: when allowed to warm (30 minutes or more), the coffee notes begin to come out more. And this is a beer that you need to sip on for a fair bit before making your mind up; initially, it’s almost like Bourbon County Brand Stout watered down with a bit of coffee. But when allowed to come into its own, you’ll be rewarded with a really tasty blend of flavors. We’ve got black coffee that quickly changes to flavors of hazelnut and vanilla; then comes in a stiff layer of bourbon, bringing in some warm alcohol. But the finish is where this brew shines, leaving behind dark berries, chocolate, caramel, and chunky brownie. Wow! The coffee and vanilla flavors here are the major stars, and they do all of the heavy lifting. At 45 minutes in my glass, this is a treat to sip on, and it’s better than pretty much any dessert you could think of (exception: creme brûlée!). Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout is full-bodied, with a thick, foamy mouthfeel. The alcohol is fairly stiff, so be prepared.
If you have bottles of this beer, I recommend that you enjoy them now. Obviously, the coffee is going to fade, hence why it was bottled less than three weeks before release. But right now, this is drinking spectacular, and you should enjoy a serving of this after your next satisfying meal as a dessert. I was initially a bit disappointed, but I fully changed my mind over the course of the entire glass.
Goose Island 2013 Bourbon County Brand Coffee Imperial Stout, 94 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the two newest releases from Victory Brewing Company — both are Imperial IPAs, and both seem to be taking beer drinkers by storm. I’ve already reviewed one of them, DirtWolf, and scored it a whopping 97 points, classic on my rating scale. DirtWolf is a delicious beer that I described as tasting like hop candy, and it certainly took me by surprise, as it did to most drinkers. Today’s review, Hop Ranch, also seems to also have the same hype.
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.
Hop Ranch is an Imperial IPA coming in at 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is made with a nod to hop ranchers, who cultivate and grow hops. The beer uses just two hops, Mosaic and Azacca.
Pouring brought on an average size, initially creamy head that turns soapy as it diminishes, which is a slow process. The yellow-golden beer is nicely capped by the bright white head; body is clear but contains heavy particles and sediment, reminding me of orange juice with pulp. The brew is translucent despite the heavy sediment. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind thin but even sheets of suds as I sip.
On the nose, the hop presence is bold and pungent, offering up notes of grass, oranges, garlic, and onion. It’s almost abrasive; as it warms, undertones of pine and grapefruit begin to come out. There’s virtually no malt backing to be had; perhaps just a touch of graininess. Hop Ranch certainly smells like it will be a hoppy powerhouse.
And it is, but in a very good way — unlike the aroma, these hops are smooth and gentle. The beginning of the sip warms your taste buds up nicely with orange and grapefruit before going in with a blast of exceedingly ripe oranges, lemons, and peaches. It’s like hop candy in liquid form, and it’s delicious. The finish curbs nearly all of the sweetness, delving into moderate bitterness with continued peaches, oranges, and adding some dank pine. Hop Ranch is light-bodied (believe it or not) with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
Two new IPAs from Victory so far in 2014, and two smash hits. Wow! This brew is dangerously — I repeat — DANGEROUSLY drinkable. The 9% alcohol vanishes without so much as a trace, and not only is the beer refreshing, it’s smooth and like drinking hoppy candy. Watch out. Very impressive, Victory. I advise you to pick this up if you see it.
Victory Hop Ranch Imperial IPA, 94 points. Price: $8.99 US for a four-pack.
I sat a goal for myself at the start of 2013 to review one beer from The Bruery (Placentia, California) each month. Things didn’t quite work out that way, which I why I have worked three Bruery beers in this month, bringing this year’s total to 10 different beers from this particular company. Not too shabby.
The Bruery opened in 2008, the home brew product of Patrick, Chris, and Rachel Rue. Patrick and Chris are brothers; Rachel is the wife of Chris. The first home brew batch the three made was an amber ale with Cascade hops; as the years went by, Patrick, who was going to law school, saw his beer passion become bigger than his law studies. He decided the rest of his life should be dedicated to making beer, so he got loans and started The Bruery, which is a fusion of his last name, and well… Brewery.
Most of The Bruery’s beers are considered to be experimentations brewed in the Belgian tradition. None of their beers are filtered or pasteurized; all are bottle conditioned and use a proprietary Belgian yeast strain.
White Oak is a blended beer — it’s 50% wheat wine aged in bourbon barrels (called White Oak Sap) and 50% Mischief, a golden strong ale that I’ve yet to review. The result of the blend is an 11.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) beer that rings in at 20 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). White Oak is part of The Bruery’s “special collection” series and is a limited release; it began distribution in October of 2009.
The pour delivered a large, long lasting head that was frothy in texture and turned more foamy as it began to diminish. Color of the beer was pale golden, with a cloudy body that made it difficult to see through. Although cloudy, there were no particles or sediment; lacing was excellent, leaving behind thick and chunky clumps of foam.
The nose really reminded me of a barrel aged Triple — yeah, that’s probably something you don’t smell often. Big bread notes from the malt bill and the yeast; grainy malts, doughy, musty yeast. The bourbon is here but it’s more of the barrel characteristics than the actual spirit itself; plenty of sweet vanilla with minor tones of woodsy oak and coconut. The orange peel works itself in nicely, along with a very mild grape/raisin that borders on dark fruits. The alcohol is completely hidden, and it’s a very nice aroma to match a great visual.
On the palate, White Oak opens with creamsickle — sweet vanilla and orange peel, with twinges of light oak wrapped in crisp wheat and grain. The bourbon is, once again, very subtle, just producing a bit of heat on the tongue, cleansing the palate for more flavors of toasted coconut, and even more orange peel. The finish is very dry and bittersweet — lingering vanilla, orange peel, and bready yeast with a fairly big alcohol warmth in taste and body feel. I’d call this brew full-bodied, with a medium, quite foamy (lively carbonation) mouthfeel that is very arid on the swallow, a lot like orange juice.
White Oak is a very nice beer that is nuanced and complex — the finish is a bit harsh, and the alcohol is perhaps too much at this stage in the game, but I found this bottle to be easily drinkable and quite tasty. I’m not sure about the age as there is no date stamped to the bottle or label, but I’m guessing it is this year’s bottling and perhaps a bit of downtime would relax the alcohol. It, combined with the active carbonation, are a little sharp. This beer is one to watch and check back in a few months. Outstanding.
The Bruery White Oak Wheat Wine, 94 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle. (I happened to find this on deep discount; you can expect to pay around $15.99 for this bottle under normal circumstances.)
I’ve saved a bottle that I hope turns out to be a special beer for Halloween. Barrel-aged pumpkin beers are kind of a rare thing — Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing Company makes one — and this particular bottle has been stashed in my basement since Halloween 2012.
The Uinta Brewing Company has been brewing since late 1993. Named after an east-west mountain range in Utah, the brewery operates in a 100% wind-powered facility, becoming the first Utah company to achieve this environmentally friendly goal. As of this writing, their beers are distributed in 25 states, and even some foreign countries.
Uinta split their beers into three different lines — a Classic Line, an Organic Line, and a Crooked Line, which is reserved for higher gravity beers. Today’s beer is from the Crooked Line; Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin is a beer brewed with fresh pumpkin and “fall spices” that has been aged in oak barrels for six months. The beer is limited edition, with only 850 cases produced. Utah artist Trent Call was commissioned to provide the label artwork.
The beer comes in a nice corked & caged bottle, and registers an appropriate 10.31% ABV (alcohol by volume), and 39 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Pouring stirred up an average size, off-white head that was creamy and liked hanging out atop the beer. Color of the brew was a reddish-amber, and although it was clear in body and had no particles or sediment, it was still opaque, even when held to light. Lacing was excellent, especially for such a high alcohol beer — there was wispy foam stuck to the glass throughout sipping.
On the nose, obviously the “fall spices” used to brew this beer have long since faded given its 13 month storage in my basement. There’s mostly caramel malt with a gentle layer of biscuit malt underneath. The alcohol hasn’t completely disappeared, but this is not a boozy beer by any means — there’s also oak, woodsy barrel scents, along with some vanilla. I detected a small amount of pumpkin and cinnamon left, and the cinnamon became especially prominent as the drink approached room temperature.
Sipping, and my suspicions were confirmed — this is much more like an Old Ale than a Pumpkin Ale with a year of downtime. Big caramel washes over the tongue, along with a ton of cinnamon and faded nutmeg. Notes of brown and burnt sugar join the caramel to make it even more powerful; this brew is sweet but not cloying, and you do get some bitter relief on the finish. The only trace of pumpkin hits in the middle and it’s moreso in texture, but a brief pumpkin pie (with graham cracker crust) transitions into the finish, which is softly bitter thanks to the oak aging — the wood hits, sharp at first, then softens with a gentle vanilla wash. The alcohol will creep up on you; after about eight ounces, I could feel the warmth in my body. Oak Jacked is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
The takeaway here, with one year of sleepytime, is that this beer tastes very much like Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale (my rating: 96 points). Considering how you feel about pumpkin beers and barrel-aged beers, that could either be a good or bad thing. Personally, I really enjoyed this beer, and I found it a nice change of pace to a typical pumpkin brew. That said, I’d really love to try it fresh and see how the pumpkin contributes to the mix. I don’t think you can go wrong here unless you just don’t care for beer that has been aged in a barrel.
Uinta Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2012), 94 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 750 ml corked & caged bottle. (I got this on deep discount because I waited long after Halloween to buy it!)