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.
Introduced in late 2013, DirtWolf is a new year-round Imperial IPA named after “untamed vines (hops) which rise from the earth with the voracity of a ‘wolf among sheep.’” This brew is made with whole flower Citra, Chinook, Simcoe, and Mosaic hops, all American grown. DirtWolf is 8.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are unspecified. DirtWolf replaces Victory’s Hop Wallop in the permanent lineup.
The pour delivered a beautiful beer topped with a large, bright white head that was frothy and lasted several minutes. The liquid itself was perfectly golden, with a filtered clear body, and no particles or sediment. Lacing was top-notch, leaving behind a thick coating of foam all the way down my glass. Picture perfect for the style.
If you’re nose isn’t prepared for a metric ton of hops, get it ready. Kaboom! Layers of citrus — grapefruit, orange and lemon peel, even hints of lime smash together with dry, dank pine. This is a very hemp-like beer, super fresh and almost skunky it’s so hoppy. There’s a light malt presence here with some sweet caramel, but you’ll have to dig for it. DirtWolf is a brilliant showcase for hops in its aroma — super impressive!
The taste starts out auspiciously enough with a bit of faint grassiness, but hang on: middle of the mouth blasts every taste bud with dry grapefruit and orange peel. There’s a touch of caramel sweetness, which kind of calms down the hops in the early going, but the alpha acids win out in a huge way — this is a brutal, tongue scraper of a beer, and I loved every second of it. Deep pine and grapefruit, orange peel, lemon peel, suggestions of lime — and the finish. OH. THE. FINISH. Like Juicy Fruit bubblegum, this thing is a citrus haven with a shot of ripe, juicy, fleshy tropical fruits. Couple that with a dry bitterness and you’ve got a sublime yin/yang situation going on. After a few sips, the menthol hoppy mouth is in full effect — click your tongue to the roof of your mouth and it’s like a fruity menthol blast. Exactly how much hops are in this little bottle? And where can I obtain more, with great frequency?! DirtWolf is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel. The alcohol is lightly present on the taste, but it adds to the flavor.
AMAZING beer — DirtWolf is like candy to me. Hoppy candy. So fresh, so dank, so fruity…an instant classic on my rating scale, and you can sign me up for a case a month since this is year-round. This is exciting and I’m happy such a good brew came from Victory. Expect this to be a mainstay in my fridge. BUY WITHOUT HESITATION (if you’re into extreme hoppy beers).
Victory DirtWolf Imperial IPA, 97 points. Price: $7.99 US for a four-pack. (A steal!)
We’ve got what sounds like a fantastic beer on deck for today.
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!
Recently, 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 big beers in big bottles. Consider it the experimental side of Boulevard — Bourbon Barrel Quad, affectionately known as BBQ (a nod to Kansas City barbecue), is based on their The Sixth Glass, a Quadrupel that isn’t barrel aged. (I rated The Sixth Glass 91 points on 11/24/12.) When you take that beer and put it in bourbon barrels to age, you get BBQ — but wait, there’s more.
Not only is BBQ aged in oak bourbon barrels, but some of the beer spends upwards of three years in the vessels; the beer is blended using ales of different ages to produce the optimum flavor. 84% of the beer is aged in the barrels, while the remaining 16% is fresh beer. Once again: but wait, there’s more!
In addition to the barrel aging, Boulevard periodically check the barrels and add cherries to replace the “angels’ share” of the beer. If you’re unfamiliar with barrel aging, the “angels’ share” is what is lost to evaporation during the aging process. BBQ is a beast of a beer, coming in at 11.8% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 26 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
No trouble with the cork on this bottle, as it comes off with little struggle and a satisfying pop. The pour produced a large, creamy head that became very foamy as it started to fade, which took quite a while — this one had staying power. The color was a very nice amber-red; the beer looked positively vibrant in the glass, especially when capped with a fluffy head. The body was very cloudy and murky, but there weren’t any visible particles or sediment floating about. Lacing was quite sparse, but that is to be expected with a high ABV beer such as this — the head did regenerate very well, and there were plenty of alcohol legs to admire.
The nose: AMAZING. Holy wow. Big bourbon and associated barrel notes, such as vanilla and smokey oak. Make no bones about it, this brew is exceptionally sweet, with a heaping truck load of caramel malt and bready dough. The Belgian yeast is in full force; there’s also significant dark fruits, prunes and raisins especially, and the alcohol is here but is a welcome addition, balancing out the sweetness. The sweet end also has a bit of a darker side, featuring molasses, brown and burnt sugars. Throw in a dash of cinnamon and orange peel, and you’ve got one hell of an aromatic beer that only deepens in complexity as it begins to warm.
The biggest thing I noticed at first blush on the palate was the cherries — absent on the nose, and described on the bottle as “subtle,” the cherries in BBQ are anything but a shrinking violet. And that’s not a bad thing. Initial flavors hit with a wave of vanilla and bourbon, along with those cherries, which are mildly tart at first. A large wave of sweetness comes in, bringing caramel that is soaked on fresh baked bread. The dark fruits are light, with hints of rum-soaked raisins, prunes, and figs; the alcohol starts to ramp up in the middle of the taste, bringing on a warmth and a touch of booziness to the taste. To my palate, the alcohol adds some depth, but depending on how you like bourbon and heavy booze, your mileage may vary. The alcohol serves to clean off the palate, readying it for the finish of hot buttered vanilla, bourbon, woodsy, earthy oak, and another hit of the cherries, this time sweet. Without a doubt, BBQ is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel, and drying finish that thickly lays on the barrel characteristics.
Fellow beer lovers, this beer is INCREDIBLE! Age it if you want, but it’s ready to go. The cherries really add a unique touch, and I don’t know if Boulevard is just downplaying the role they play or if they’re more prominent in the 2013 batch, but this fruit is much more than “subtle.” It really adds a powerful dimension to the beer and gives the already prominent barrel characters more teeth. Even at 11.8%, drinkability is through the roof — I started to feel this beer and had to slow down a bit. Just yummy and exceptionally made. Well done, Boulevard!
Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad (BBQ), 97 points. Price: $13.49 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.
A few weeks ago, I asked you to pick the next beer for a redux review, where I take a second look at a beer I’ve already reviewed. It was a close vote, but the 2012 batch of Founders Backwoods Bastard was the most popular choice — so with a little over a year of age, we’re going to take a bottle of this beer from the basement and see how it has developed.
Backwoods Bastard is the barrel-aged version of Founders Dirty Bastard — Dirty Bastard, by all accounts, is what saved Founders from going bankrupt in the late ’90’s. You see, Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) didn’t always make amazing beers — they started life cranking out status quo brew; a mild Pale Ale here, or a nondescript Brown Ale there. It was Dirty Bastard that ushered in a new approach to beer for Founders; they began making beer THEY wanted to drink, not what was deemed generally acceptable by the masses.
Dirty Bastard was Review #145 back in May 2012, and I rated it 90 points. Backwoods Bastard, which is aged in oak bourbon barrels for one year, sees the light of day each November. My initial review, conducted as #270 on November 22, 2012, went as follows:
Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points
Final Score: 96 points, or classic on my rating scale.
In my review, I noted that I thought Backwoods Bastard would be a prime candidate for aging, and recommended drinking it at one or two years. Today’s bottle was put into the container on September 28, 2012, making the beer almost 14 months old. Backwoods Bastard is 10.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 50 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Pouring made for a sparse, almost absent head. The little that was here was soapy in texture, and faded away quickly. Backwoods Bastard pours like muddy river water; it’s deeply cloudy, brown in color with some lighter brown, ruby red edges. There are some light, small bits of particles and sediment suspended in the beer, and there’s a significant yeast cake on the bottom of the bottle. Lacing is fair, leaving behind patchy thin sheets of suds.
On the nose, this beer continues to have one of the best aromas that I have ever laid nose to — intense, sweet, and thick caramel collide with a growing presence of dark fruits. The bourbon is here but it has tamed a lot, leaving behind bits of oak barrel and vanilla. The drink is no longer boozy; instead, it shows depth with a nice note of milk chocolate and cinnamon spice. There’s toffee and molasses; just as before, this is perfect.
With 14 months of age, Backwoods Bastard sees the bourbon dialed way down, issuing up a sort of slow, mild start of syrupy caramel, but it quickly ramps up with burnt sugar and prunes. The bourbon is still here, alive with mostly barrel characteristics like vanilla, wood, and a subtle spice. The flavors swirl around in build in complexity, introducing some cinnamon and milk chocolate to the mix. The finish is solid and warming, giving all of the 10.2% ABV — milk chocolate, cinnamon, oak, and oxidized yet still sweet caramel. The beer is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel, and soft carbonation.
In my opinion, this beer has improved, and that’s coming from someone who loves the red-hot notes of fresh bourbon barrel aged beers. I think Backwoods Bastard has become more complex; while the bourbon volume has been turned down, there’s been an introduction of milk chocolate and cinnamon. However, I don’t think this beer has reached peak performance yet, so we’ll continue to let a few bottles get older and revisit next year. The 2013 version of Backwoods Bastard recently became available, and I highly encourage you to pick up a four-pack and drink one today; then, save the other three for a later date and admire the story as it unfolds.
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
Founders Backwoods Bastard (2012), 97 points. Price: $12.99 US for a four pack.
New Glarus are all about keeping it local. “DRINK INDIGENOUS,” their bottle crowns say — and they mean it; New Glarus doesn’t distribute beers beyond the state of Wisconsin, saying it’s all they can do to keep up with demand just for their home state.
Founded in 1993 by Deborah Carey (the first woman in the United States to found a brewery), New Glarus started life in an abandoned warehouse with used equipment. Dan, Deborah’s husband, is a master brewer and was a production supervisor for brewing giant Anheuser-Busch. Dan unearthed copper kettles from a brewery in Germany that was to be demolished; when the retiring German brewer learned that his equipment could live on, he sold all of the goods for scrap value to Mr. Carey.
With New Glarus currently celebrating 20 years as a brewery, expansion is in order — the good news about the expansion is that lots of extra room will be dedicated to New Glarus’ stellar fruit beers, of which Strawberry Rhubarb is a brand new edition, having just came out this summer. (Check my other New Glarus fruit beer reviews — Serendipity, which earned 97 points, or Raspberry Tart, which garnered 91 points.)
The inspiration for Strawberry Rhubarb came from Mrs. Carey, who suggested to her husband that he make such a beer. Apparently, strawberry-rhubarb pie is a big deal in Wisconsin, even if it takes a ton of sugar to make rhubarb palatable. On the label of the beer, rhubarb stalks are described as “barbaric,” referring to their sharp tartness. “Rhubarb doesn’t taste very good, so it was a lot of work. But we figured out a way to do it,” says Mr. Carey.
Strawberry Rhubarb is brewed with a wild yeast, and comes in at 4% ABV (alcohol by volume). If the beer sells well, it will join the year-round lineup; the rhubarb is local, provided by attendees of New Glarus’ Polka Fest in June 2013. In exchange for the ingredient, New Glarus offered beer tokens. The strawberries are courtesy of the state of Oregon.
This beer pours an average size, creamy and soapy head composed of both large and very dense, small bubbles. The foam lasts atop a reddish-brown beer that looks pretty murky, but actually isn’t as cloudy as you think. Out of light, this looks more brown, but held to light, you see a vivid red glow and that the cloudiness does not contain particles or sediment. Lacing is fair, leaving a few thin but sticky sheets of coating.
So, you remember those strawberry candies you had as a kid that had the wrapper that looked like a strawberry? (You can see a picture and order them here.) They had a soft, gooey center — officially, these candies are called Strawberry Bon Bons, and they come in 5 pound bags. These candies were one of my favorites as a child, even though I wasn’t that crazy for actual strawberries. This beer smells EXACTLY like those candies — creamy, sweet, and strawberry. There’s really no beer component to this aroma other than maybe some biscuit malt, and that might be reaching. There’s a touch of tartness, but mostly sweet creamy strawberry, note-for-note identical to those Strawberry Bon Bon candies.
The taste starts out just like those candies — creamy strawberry, very fresh and sugary sweet. It’s light bodied but the flavor is heavy, if that makes any sense — this continues until right before the finish, where a touch of tartness starts drying out the palate, similar to cranberry juice. The finish has a long lingering creamy strawberry, dessert sweet, but savory at the same time. The mouthfeel is thin and foamy, with active carbonation. The taste is, quite simply, addictive.
Folks, this beer is every bit as good as Serendipity. I must sing the praises of New Glarus — I haven’t had even a mediocre beer from them, and I SO wish I could just amble down to the store and pick them up any old time. I must thank Dave (Untapped user OnWisconsin) for sending me this brew in a trade, otherwise I would have never gotten to try it. This is a must-have if only to revel in the fact this is beer, not strawberry candy.
New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb Fruit Ale, 97 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.
Editor’s Note: Beer 5 of 7 in my birthday beer week, in which I celebrate my birthday by reviewing beers I’ve sat aside for the occasion. I turn 31 on August 14. I advise you to celebrate your birthday accordingly, too!
Tax day here in the United States (April 15) is typically not something worth looking forward to — but Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) release a treat each year on that date, appropriately known as Stone IRS — Stone Imperial Russian Stout. I reviewed the beer one year ago today, and rated it 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.
Each odd-numbered year, Stone does an “Odd Beers For Odd Years” program, where they produce some variants of both IRS and their Barleywine. For 2013, Stone have taken IRS and dosed it with several hundred pounds of espresso beans grown in Indonesia and South America, then roasted at Ryan Bros. Coffee, a coffee roaster located close to the brewery. You might say just as Stone are a craft brewer, Ryan Bros. are craft coffee roasters, so the pairing is fitting.
And the flavors of espresso should be fitting for the IRS flavor profile. First produced by Stone in July 2000, the recipe has remained largely the same ever since. For many years in the mid-2000’s, this beer was one of the top beers in the world. While it doesn’t quite have that status today, it still ranks very high, and is known as a first class representation of the Russian Imperial Stout. While classic IRS comes in at 10.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), the Espresso variant hits 11% and ramps the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) up to 65 from 60.
Pouring produced a small, creamy head that was composed of tight bubbles and had lasting power. The color was pitch black, opaque, and with only a very small lighter brown edge at the top of the glass when held to light. Although completely dark, the body appeared to be clear, and there were no noticeable particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin, tan sheets with Swiss cheese-like holes.
The aroma features a mouthwatering blend of sweet Hershey’s syrup chocolate and sugary coffee, and is very much like a candy bar. As it opens up and warms, caramel comes out, and a big hit of dark fruits — raisin, prune, and grape. There’s also hints of licorice, and, believe it or not, ripe cucumber! Extremely nice.
As this odd-year variant hits the tongue, a wall of coffee and chocolate slams down, mixing and mingling expertly. The coffee starts to take over and turns into strong espresso, a mountain of dominant flavor, but eases off and inserts in some mixed berry, raisin, fleshy grape, and prune. As the beer starts to warm, this section of the palate is quite complex and you taste something new practically each sip. The finish is a stiff roasted bittersweet espresso and dark chocolate. Full-bodied, the mouthfeel is thick, creamy and slightly foamy.
The intensity of the flavors alone make this a great beer, not to mention the quality of those flavors. My favorite part was how well the espresso mixed with the dark fruits from the base beer; put simply, this beer is a delight to sample, a complex beer that ought to be brewed more often than on an odd-year notion.
Stone 2013 Espresso Imperial Russian Stout, 97 points. Price: $6.49 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.