Red Seal Amber Ale is produced in Fort Bragg, California by North Coast Brewing Company. The beer is an award-winning Amber Ale that is often compared to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (85 points) in terms of balance and substance. Red Seal Ale is 5.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and registers 42 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
North Coast opened in 1988, founded by Mark Reudrich, and quickly developed a staunch reputation for quality. Beers from North Coast have won over 70 awards in international competition. The brand features a core line, a California ale line, and “ultra premium” offerings. Red Seal fits in the core line, and is available year-round.
The pour served up a beautiful beer, topped with an average size, slightly off-white soapy head that was built to last. The beer itself is a nice light amber color with golden highlights. It’s very clear, with lots of carbonation bubbles, and no particles or sediment. Lacing is excellent, and the glass is covered with thick and solid sheets of foam when I’m done. Exceptional!
On the nose, the hops win out overwhelmingly — there’s pungent notes of pine and grapefruit, but they do mix with a solidly yet subtle sweet caramel and lightly toasted malt backing. I was surprised by the hoppiness as this is described as an “Amber Ale” — it certainly smelled like a traditional west coast Pale Ale to me. As it warms, more hints of citrus and a bit of grass reveals itself.
The flavor very much continues the Pale Ale theme; in fact, I’d just go ahead and call this one a full-fledged Pale. Piney and spicy hops blast away up front, immediately drying out the palate; there’s a rich, dark undercurrent of malt, but it’s no match for the hops. It’s bready and toasty, but those pine hops quickly turn resinous and bring in flavors of orange peel and grapefruit. The finish sees another kick of spicy hops, with exiting dry notes of orange peel, lemon, and grapefruit rind. Red Seal is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy, somewhat gritty mouthfeel. I also noticed a small touch of alcohol as the beer significantly (in the final sips) warmed.
Is this beer having an identity crisis? Maybe — North Coast classify this as an Amber Ale, yet the label says “copper-red pale ale” in the description. In my opinion, this beer is a classic example of a west coast Pale Ale, dry and hoppy, with just a kiss of malt backing; enough to make it NOT an IPA. And it has those classic spicy hop flavors going on instead of an all out alpha acid bomb. I can see exactly why this is often compared to Sierra’s Pale Ale — it’s astonishingly similar, if not a couple levels better. I enjoyed this beer and could see it pairing well with a variety of food options.
North Coast Red Seal Amber Ale, 89 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
The 2012 edition of North Coast’s (Fort Bragg, California) Old Stock Ale finds the brewery providing a helping hand to its hometown sister city — Otsuchi, Japan was hit hard by the 2011 tsunami, leaving the 800-year-old city devastated.
As of the release of this beer back in February, the people of Fort Bragg had donated a quarter of a million dollars to the recovery effort. And for each bottle of Old Stock Ale 2012 bought, North Coast makes a donation to the rebuilding fund.
North Coast opened in 1988, founded by Mark Reudrich (his signature is scrawled across the label of Old Stock) and quickly developed a staunch reputation for quality. Beers from North Coast have won over 70 awards in international competition. The brand features a core line, a California ale line, and “ultra premium” offerings, which is where the yearly Old Stock Ale release fits in.
Old Stock Ale is a beer that North Coast encourages you to cellar as age will only enhance its flavors. This Old Ale is brewed with Maris Otter malt, and Fuggles and East Kent Golding hops. The ABV (alcohol by volume) is 11.7%, and IBUs (International Bitterness Units) register at 36. For 2012, this beer was available in 750 ml corked and caged bottles, and 12 ounce containers.
Firstly, cheers to North Coast for not having a cork that requires pliers to open. My fingers thank you! The pour produced an average size head, creamy and lasting. The beer was dark amber in color, like nearly burnt caramel, and it had red highlights around the edges. The liquid was clear in body, featuring no particles or sediment, and it also left behind no lacing. But with the big 11.7% ABV, it left plenty of alcohol legs when swirled in the glass.
The aroma featured two dueling notes, big and bold up front: caramel and coconut. There were background touches of cinnamon and herbal hop. This aroma reminded me very much of cinnamon swirl bread, with the coconut providing a bit of a sweet cake feeling. There were some dark fruits, which, when coupled with the alcohol, took on a rum-soaked raisin quality. The alcohol was well hidden; what was present only added quality and wasn’t a distraction.
On the taste, Old Stock presented fruitcake up front, with a caramel topping. This beer is very sweet from the start, but it isn’t cloying. Middle of the mouth opens up with some dark grapes and raisins, hints at cinnamon, and the finish comes on strong with another load of caramel, a hop hit of some bitterness, and an ultimate conclusion of bready caramel that borderlines burnt. At this point, the alcohol rears its head and it is a beast, fully warming the body and taking over. This beer is definitely full-bodied, and the mouthfeel was medium – pretty foamy when swirled around the tongue.
By Old Ale standards, this is really nice. The flavors are great, the aroma is outstanding, but the alcohol…it’s a bit much. You need a couple of people to share this bottle with. Drinkability suffers due to the 11.7%, but I think allowing this brew a couple of years downtime would probably help that out tremendously. My recommendation is to buy two of these; enjoy one now and track the differences in a couple years. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with an outstanding creation, and you’ll be supporting a decent and just cause.
North Coast Old Stock Ale 2012, 92 points. Price: $11.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.
For this beer, North Coast Brewing Company (Fort Bragg, California) partnered with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, located in Washington, DC. The brewery makes a contribution to the Institute for each bottle sold.
Thelonious Monk was an American jazz pianist, known for his improvisational style; he is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, a remarkable feat considering Monk only wrote about 70 songs, while Ellington penned over 1,000.
You might remember my review of another beer inspired by a jazz legend: Dogfish Head Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, which I recently redux reviewed and gave a perfect 100 points to. Since both Davis and Monk have beers made in their honor, I decided to research and see if they ever crossed paths; indeed, they did: In 1954, Monk participated in a recording session that would become the album Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants. But Davis, a master of improvisation himself, found Monk’s idiosyncratic style too be difficult to play to, and asked him to not accompany him. Reportedly, the two almost came to blows, but more recent accounts suggest that there were no hard feelings, and any argument that occurred was just a rumor.
I digress. This is a beer review. Brother Thelonious is a Belgian-style Abbey Ale, brewed to 9.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 32 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). This is a year-round release from North Coast, and comes in a variety of bottle sizes: 12 ounces, 375, or 750 ml. Both of the larger-sized bottles are corked and caged. And the cork is really put in there: I had a hard time getting it out, having to use a jar opener gripper to get a good handle. I was beginning to think that I might not be able to review this beer because of my wimpy cork-pulling ability.
The pour produced a large head that quickly diminished, but while it was there, it was frothy and light tan in color. It provided a nice contrast atop a reddish-brown, tawny beer that was hazy in body but free of particles and sediment. As I sampled, there was no lacing, but there were plenty of alcohol legs when agitating the drink.
On the nose, I picked up the 9.4% ABV straight away, but it wasn’t overpowering. Actually, it was nice, when coupled with the dark fruits this drink provides to the aroma. With the raisins in the scent, this one takes on a rum-soaked raisin-like smell, and when coupled with the sweetness of caramel and toffee, that aroma intensifies. I picked up notes of plums and figs, along with a leathery, musty yeast. There was a solid note of bread, and a hint of peppery spice.
The taste was classic Belgian Strong; flavors of caramel and dark fruits up front, followed by a sweet bread middle and a medium mouthfeel that was fairly frothy. There’s that musty yeast component, too, and the finish hits the boozy rum soaked raisins and a hint of spice, with general malt sweetness. This beer has nice flavors but is very basic in complexity. As the finish unwinds, there’s a gentle alcohol warmth.
I found Brother Thelonious to be a great beer that was just a touch too hot in alcohol. I think this brew tries really hard to be a Trappist Ale, but doesn’t quite get there. I would love to sample this with a couple years of age; I imagine it would be even better with the alcohol tamed. Brother Thelonious is a nice beer with solid core flavors, but nothing too extreme or overly outstanding. The value here is great, though.
North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale, 92 points. Price: $8.99 for one 750 ml bottle.
I reviewed North Coast’s Old Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout brewed in Fort Bragg, California, on February 27, 2011. It scored the following in the categories I use to rate beer:
Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 11 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability/Overall Experience: 32 of 35 points
Final Score: 92 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.
I recently sampled Dogfish Head Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, which is also a Russian Imperial Stout, and rated it 99 points. After having that beer, I passed by a four pack of Old Rasputin in my local bottle shop. Thoughts went through my head: I should review that one again. Maybe my palate has changed when it comes to Russian Imperials.
So here we are, for my second Redux Review (the first was Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale). For this type of review, I revisit beers I have already put through a regular review, to see if anything has changed with the beer or with me since the last time I tasted it.
Since the initial review, North Coast doesn’t appear to have gone through any major changes and Old Rasputin should be exactly the same as it was during the first try. I have reviewed one other North Coast beer in this time frame, their Old Stock Ale 2011, which only received 78 points. I thought that beer could use some aging.
Let me make it clear that this is not a bottle of aged Old Rasputin, although you could clearly do that. It comes in at 9% ABV (alcohol by volume), so this one could store for a while. This is a fresh bottle.
The Redux Review
The pour made for a large tan head that billowed overtop the glass, creamy in texture with big soda pop bubbles. The head was of lasting quality, atop a very dark, motor oil black beer that had gorgeous ruby/dark amber edges. The body looked to be clear of any particles or sediment, but it was hard to tell for sure since the beer was opaque. The bottom of the bottle didn’t show any evidence of yeast. This is one excellent looking beer, complete with large wispy sheets of lacing.
The aromatics were solely geared toward the malt end; there’s a big note of caramel, along with a general roasted and smokey scent. There’s a bit of coffee and some general grain, with a small note of chocolate. As the beer warmed, the chocolate note got more pronounced and made the aroma even more appealing, but while overall good, not as vibrant as you’d think, if you judged by appearance.
On the taste, the tongue is met with a combination of chocolate and caramel, leading to some roasted malt and leading to a surprising finish. This beer has a hoppy ending, but it fits right in with the coffee note that hits you after the swallow, giving a fitting bitterness. There’s a good hit of acidity and then a warming effect from the 9% ABV. The warming was almost medicinal while the beer was directly out of the refrigerator; as the temperature went up, the medicine-like taste went away.
Man, this is a fantastic beer. Old Rasputin is a BIG beer, very well made, and you should seek it out now. This is a mysterious beverage that fits the mysterious looking bottle. There’s no hops in the aroma but they’re definitely there in the taste. This beer does things that generally don’t happen…
So, in redux:
Appearance: 15 of 15
Aroma: 13 of 15
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35
Drinkability/Overall Experience: 33 of 35
North Coast Old Rasputin, redux score of 95 points. Price: $8.99 US for a four pack.
Old Stock Ale, the 2011 vintage, comes to us from North Coast Brewing, located in Fort Bragg, California. This beer is different from the majority of brews featured on this website in the fact that it can be cellared and aged — each year, a new vintage is released and you are encouraged to buy at least two bottles, one to enjoy in the present, and one to “lay down” for as long as you’d like for future tasting.
First, about the brewery: North Coast opened in 1988, founded by Mark Reudrich (his signature is scrawled across the label of Old Stock Ale) and quickly developed a staunch reputation for quality. Beers from North Coast have won over 70 awards in international competition. The brand features a core line, a California ale line, and “ultra premium” offerings, which is where Old Stock Ale fits in. I have reviewed one North Coast offering before, Old Rasputin, which I gave 92 points.
Released yearly, Old Stock Ale is an example of an old ale, which is a highly complex and full-bodied malt drink. As mentioned earlier, this beer has a high alcohol by volume content (11.9% ABV for 2011 — it may vary depending upon year) and is suitable for aging. Now, that is probably enough fodder for an entire article unto itself, but aging beer is about like aging wine, minus the bottles being stored on their side (store beer upright). If you have a beer suitable for aging, keep it in the coolest part of your house away from light and you should be good to go. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need a special cellar.
So what can you expect after you age a beer? Expect the flavors to mellow and blend into each other. It most always is a good thing; beers become more complex and smoother with age, sometimes creating something radically different from when you first sampled. Which is why, if you have an age-worthy beer, you buy a bottle to try immediately so you can get a flavor baseline.
A couple of notes about how this beer review differs from all my other reviews: As you can see, I used a wine glass instead of my regular mug. This is because since Old Stock Ale is so high in ABV, only pouring half the beer into the wine glass paces myself for responsible drinking. I should also note that I allowed this beer to warm up for thirty minutes prior to drinking.
The pour yielded no head, just an ultra-fizzy cover that faded quickly, like soda pop. The liquid itself was a beautiful deep ruby red, clear with no particles or sediment. There was no lacing to speak of, and immediately after the pour, there were columns of bubbles rising to the surface. These disappeared about five minutes after release from bottle.
Aromatics took a turn to where many high alcohol beers do: medicinal. There were prominent cherries, but mixed with the extreme alcohol, it unfortunately turned Nyquil-ish. But there are also some good things to point out, particularly the note of caramel present, and a slight coffee scent. There’s also plenty of dark fruits like fig and prune, very reminiscent of port. But the cherry medicine-like scent was too prominent, making this a turn-off for the nose.
The taste reveals a bouquet of rich dark fruits, very sticky sugar, some hazelnut and toffee. The finish gives a huge alcohol kick, which warms the entire body and makes the drink worth the price of admission. The texture isn’t exactly thick (although I circled it on my review sheet) as it is sugary sticky; I just used ‘thick’ as a descriptor for how sticky this beer is.
The final verdict is this: If you have a bottle of 2011 Old Stock Ale, you’d probably be wise to sit on it. Some age would probably do this beer good, particularly with the medicinal aroma. The flavors, while complex, play off like there is more to be revealed.
It’s a good tasting beer to my palate already, but with time these rough and dodgy edges will probably smooth.
North Coast Old Stock Ale 2011, 78 points. Price: $3.49 US for one twelve ounce bottle.
Some might ask, why bother if you have to wait for the beer to age for it to be at its best? Well, patience is often rewarded. Try it.