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.
With session IPA becoming a growing trend in craft beer, you had to know a low-alcohol hop-bomb made by the hop geniuses at Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, California) would soon be on the horizon. In March of this year, they released ‘Go To IPA,’ named such because many claimed this would be the beer they would most often reach for when session drinking.
Session beers often stir up a bit of controversy — what alcohol percentage do you define as “session?” For most, it seems around 4.5% or lower fits the bill. Stone’s version of an all-night pounder comes in right at 4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is made using the “hop bursting” technique. Hop bursting is when the majority of the bitterness found in the beer (65 IBUs or International Bitterness Units, here) comes from late addition hops, typically added with 15 minutes or less to go in the boil.
Mitch Steele, Stone’s brewmaster, says there is a small bittering charge added just before the wort comes to a boil; the late additions are comprised of El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra, Cascade, and Sterling hops. The beer is finished with dry hops that are comprised of mostly the same additions used late in the boil.
The problem with most session IPA is that the low alcohol often makes the beer thin and lack mouthfeel, becoming more of a hoppy tea rather than a traditional beer. Let’s see if Stone has found balance that truly is a ‘Go To…’
The pour issued up an average size, bright white head that was soapy and frothy in texture. It quickly diminished, leaving one finger of foam atop a golden beer that had just a hint of orange to it. The beer was brightly clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving solid sheets of suds after each sip. It’s a very nice looking beer.
The nose is a knuckle sandwich of hops; we’ve got a big Mosaic presence — sweet melon is tackled by oranges, pine, and dankness. There’s some light grapefruit and lemon peel. Overall, I found the hop aroma to be sweet in nature, resinous, and completely covering any malt backing this beer might have. But…there probably isn’t much malt here to begin with; I detected perhaps some grainy sweetness. It’s clean, extremely hoppy, and just as advertised.
Tasting brings on a light bitterness, reminiscent of grapefruit rind, then the middle of the taste explodes with all sorts of hop delight. Pine, melon, light tropical fruits, peaches, very fresh and clean. But things get a little muddy without a malt backbone — the hops fall apart some, and garlic/onion begin to take over the flavor profile. The bitterness, while only 65 IBU, is intense, especially with the lack of any sweetness and the bone dry finish. As it warms, the finish became more pleasant with dank notes of pine. Go To IPA is light-bodied, with a thin, drying mouthfeel. The bitterness, while heavy, isn’t too much, but it borders upon it.
Like many of its competitors, Stone’s Go To IPA lacks body and packs a heavy bitterness. It’s a nice beer, certainly drinkable with some interesting hops, but I’m not sure I could session this due to the hop tea thinness. I know Mitch Steele is a big fan of using 95-100% base malts in IPAs and (especially) Imperial IPAs, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach to take on a beer of this sort.
Stone Go To IPA, 84 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
The Boston Beer Company decided to add a new beer to their year-round lineup for 2014, and it’s a popular take on the India Pale Ale: they’re doing it “West Coast-style,” using hops popular in many IPAs that come from the left coast.
Founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, Boston Beer Company are the makers of the Samuel Adams brand, named for the American patriot famous for his role in the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution. Koch, a graduate of Harvard University, was connected to the brewing world by his great-great-great grandfather Louis Koch, who was a brewer. Jim became the first in his family to follow in the brewing footsteps of Louis; Boston Lager, Samuel Adams flagship brand (84 points) was an original Louis Koch recipe and was once called “Louis Koch Lager.”
Rebel IPA has slick marketing copy behind it. We’ll avoid all the glitter and just tell you the basics about the brew: it uses Cascade, Simcoe, Chinook, Centennial, and Amarillo hops, comes in at 6.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and hits 45 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
The pour made a small, soapy head that diminished quickly. Color of the beer was golden with darker hints of copper out of light. The body was perfectly clear, filled with zooming carbonation bubbles; there were no particles or sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving trails of suds as I sampled.
The aroma features a moderate dosage of hops — not a hop bomb like you might be expecting. There’s lots of grapefruit and spicy citrus, especially orange peel and lemon, and there’s definitely some pine. The malt backing is toasted bread with just a touch of caramel sweetness. It doesn’t gain in complexity as it warms; if anything, only the spicy citrus notes ramp up just a touch. Overall, I was expecting more hop aroma, especially for the five varieties this beer employs…
As for the taste, well… let’s just say this isn’t a “West Coast-style” IPA. There’s spicy grapefruit up front that is quickly overtaken by a dominant lemon peel — the lemon becomes steady and coupled with the bitterness, turns to furniture polish. The malts are light and mostly toasted, with only a bit of caramel and residual sweetness. The finish comes on strong, providing lots of bitterness, but not in a good way. Rebel IPA may only say 45 IBU, but they’re packing tons of medicinal, salty, sharp bitterness in, which would be fine…IF THERE WERE SOME HOP FLAVORS TO GO ALONG WITH IT! There’s not — just spicy citrus and some dry, soapy grapefruit. Sigh. This beer is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy texture.
I would really hate for an inexperienced drinker to get one of these bottles and this be his or her first introduction to a “West Coast-style” IPA. This is just another American IPA, and not even a very good one, at that. To me, Rebel IPA tastes like it has the bittering down solid, but they must have forgotten the aroma/flavor hops. Not to mention…dry hops. And those two things are two of the defining aspects of “West Coast-style” IPA, late addition hops and dryhopping. I’ve had IPAs that hit double the IBUs found here yet still taste sweeter.
It’s not a bad beer, by any means, but don’t expect a West Coast IPA.
Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, 76 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
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.
Nantahala Brewing is located in Bryson City, North Carolina, which is surrounded on all sides by the Great Smoky Mountains, the Cowee Mountains, and the Plott Balsams. The brewery was founded in 2009 by Chris Collier, Mike Marsden, Joe Rowland, and Ken Smith; these four purchased equipment from R.J. Rockers Brewery in South Carolina to get going. After licensing, they started producing beer in 2010.
Over the four years they’ve been open, Nantahala have carved out a year-round set of beers, as well as seasonal and higher gravity offerings. Their tap room is a hot spot for live music, and things look busy for the brewery.
Up for review today is a year-round brew called Dirty Girl, which is a Blonde Ale brewed with noble hops. The beer comes in at 5.75% ABV (alcohol by volume) and just 10 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). Nantahala says it’s “lager-ishly refreshing.”
Dirty Girl pours a bright white, very small, soapy head that quickly fizzles away. The beer is a touch darker for a Blonde Ale than I would have expected, looking more mid-golden with a touch of haze. The bottle promised a clear beer, but this definitely has some haziness to it, and I let the chill haze fully disappear before writing this. There are no particles or sediment present; lacing is good, leaving behind thin sheets of suds.
On the nose, there’s not much here to report. There’s sweet grain; straw and grain-like scents, along with a very faint presence of citrus hops. You might call it a smidgen of orange peel, and maybe just a bit of spice. That’s about it. The aroma is pretty much like a lager, just made with good ingredients and no adjuncts.
And if that’s what they were after, that’s exactly what they made. This beer is crackery up front, with plenty of grain and straw. It’s sweet but not cloying; I must say that it does hide the 5.75% ABV very well. There is a suggestion of hops with hints of herbal notes and grapefruit, but calling it more than a suggestion might be a bit much. The finish is overly crisp and clean, with a residual bready sweetness that quickly fades and slightly dries out the palate. Dirty Girl is light-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.
It’s hard for me to rate a beer like this. While this is not a style I approach often, I don’t think this is a very good example of it; instead, this is a picture-perfect representation of a beer that a brewery makes to satisfy the light lager drinkers without having any megacorp lager on tap. And there’s nothing wrong with that — I just wouldn’t recommend this beer, simply for the fact that it really has no redeeming flavor. This is something I would drink on a hot day to feel refreshed; and if beer is your thing for that, then pick this up. Or if you can’t find your go-to fizzy yellow industrial lager, here’s an ale example made without the adjuncts.
Nantahala Dirty Girl Blonde Ale, 69 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.