Hitachino Nest’s Japanese Classic Ale

By: Benjamin Welton

Like a lot of people my age, I have a “thing” for Japan. Some of my earliest memories involve watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Dragonball Z after school, then, after my parents finally buckled and bought me my first video game console, I discovered Castlevania, Mountain Dew, and sleepless nights. I am still surprised that I made it out alive.

As I got older, my fascination waned. Then, sometime in college, I got tired of reading literature that had been written originally in the English language. So, I hit Google and came up with names like Edogawa Rampo, Akimitsu Takagi, and Seichō Matsumoto. Next came Kurosawa, then, after signing up for Uncle Sam, I got heavily into Edo poetry, The Book of the Five Rings, and Yukio Mishima. It seems that I can’t escape the Rising Sun.

Well, I guess my drinking life can, for besides Yamazaki whiskey, I haven’t found a single Japanese product worthy of repeat imbibing. The Kiuchi Brewery’s collection of Hitachino Nest beers might change my tune, especially a tasty little bottle called Japanese Classic Ale. Let’s let the owl be our guide…

japanese-classic-aleFirst Impression: This label is so adorable that I hate it. Blame Occidental customs concerning masculinity, but beer labels shouldn’t suggest Hello Kitty or other animated animals. That said, gripping this squat bottle proved more pleasing than expected, although it promised less bang for my buck.

Pour: The pouring action on this beer is fairly uneventful. No snap, crackle, or pop; the Japanese Classic Ale just spills itself right into your cup. Aroma wise, there’s not much going either, and even when I put my big Jimmy Durante nose all the way into the glass, I still couldn’t really make out notes or hints, no matter how obvious.

Taste: Although this beer is whiskey-colored, it tastes like sugar. Not pure sugar, but it’s sweeter than most pale ales you’ll taste this year. Also, according to the back label, the Japanese Classic Ale is based on an India Pale Ale recipe that found its way to Japan during the nineteenth century. That’s funny, because there’s nothing bitter or hoppy about this beer. It’s smooth, but not watery. Overall, it’s a hand-to-mouth beer: you put it in your hand, then you shove it in your mouth without a second thought. No filigree and no aesthetic lip smacking; the Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale is all function.

Grade: B-

ABV: 5.5%

IBU: 13

Troegs Brewery Sampler Pack

By: Thomas Muhs

Not too long ago, my dad was on a business trip out on the east coast. During his trip he asked me if I had ever tried a beer from Troegs Brewing Company. I said no, and seeing that as a call to action, he sent me a sampler case; 12 beers, four different varieties. I figured instead of drinking and then reporting on them one at a time, I’d give you all four at once. I’ll highlight all the different aspects you would expect to find in a beer review, and then of course you can go and drink some for yourself.

Troegs-Brewing-Company

Troegs Brewing Company is based in Hershey Pennsylvania and has been making beer since 1997. It’s run by two brothers Chris and John Trogner, who combine English style brewing techniques with modern American eclecticism. They currently have seven beers available year round; nine seasonal, and then they run a special one-time batch of beers called Scratch Series. Scratch Series is a line of beers they make that are experimental in nature and tends to use unique ingredients and techniques. These beers are available in very limited quantities however so if there’s one that comes out which catches your attention be sure to grab some quick.

Perpetual IPA

This beer was at one time a scratch series creation but became so popular that the brewery soon put it into full production, making it a year round selection. When poured into a glass it has a clean golden pilsner color with a small but lacey head on top colored bright white. When you put your nose to it you get really powerful aromas of hops which identify as both spicy and floral. The taste however really doesn’t measure up to the flavor of it. The flavor is slightly sweet, cleanly hoppy and just a little bit dry on the finish. But the flavor of this beer is pretty one dimensional and the body of this beer is pretty watery which is a bit of a letdown.  Grade: B/B-


Dead Reckoning Porter

When you pour this beer, it has an unusually dark color, even by porter standards. It seems to look more similar to a stout and has a thick, two fingered head with hues of chocolate milk. It has a nicely complex smell profile with notes of roasted malt, caramel and just a hint of chocolate. At first sip you get a really robust flavor of toasted malt and just a slight hint of hops. It also has some nice tasting notes of chocolate and coffee which helps to round everything out. This beer has great flavor, a nice full body and plenty of different flavors to keep any connoisseur of craft beer satisfied. Grade: A-

Hop Rising Amber Ale

This beer has a deep rich copper color with some hues of ruby and when poured into a glass has a decently thick one finger head colored like sketchpad paper. It has a sweet, slightly floral flavor coming from the hops but also a noticeable malt backbone as well which gives off a similar smell you’d find in an American Pale Ale. The taste is also very similar to an American Pale Ale, but what makes this beer different is that it has a much sweeter malt flavor than most other amber ales which tend to be a bit more roasted in flavor. This beer is very enjoyable to drink and unique among its amber ale peers.     Grade: A-

Scratch Series #111: HopCyclone Harvest Ale

This beer in particular is the one I’m most excited about. I had already tried the previous three before writing about them in this post, but I’ve been saving the Scratch Series for a special occasion. I’ve never featured a special release or limited edition small batch craft beer on this blog before and so I am incredibly excited to share this with you guys. When poured it has a deep opaque tangerine color with a one finger head which likes to stick to the glass and is colored like cotton. When you put your nose to the glass you get nothing but intense spicy hop, which was not what I was expecting. At first sip, you get a noticeable yeast flavor with just a little bit of citrus and a dry hoppy finish at the end. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this beer, but the flavor is great and I would absolutely recommend it. Grade: B+

Coniston Brewing Co. Premium XB Bluebird Bitter

By: Benjamin Welton

The weather is cold and wet outside, and the wind is howling through the windows. Basically, it’s a murder mystery out there, and one full of abysmal writing to boot. Only a hack would equate a New England November with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Conversely, only a pretentious Anglophile, with Inspector Lewis on the mind and a ready quip about the Oxford comma on the tongue, would sit down to do a beer review with a plate of smoky Gouda and plastic cup full of pale ale.

Well, here I sit. Next to my left arm is a bottle of booze from Coniston Brewing Co., an Oxfordshire-based brewery. The bottle in question contains Premium XB Bluebird Bitter—a product that bills itself as “English Pale Ale with American Aroma Hops.” It seems that this English company is aware of the new wave of American brewing, and it is great to see that they are such outspoken supporters of the Special Relationship. Daniel Hannan, the world’s foremost cheerleader for the Anglosphere, would be proud.

xb-bluebird-bitterFirst impression: The bottle is a throwback, with the same shape and contours of its Victorian era ancestors. On top of that, the label is simplistic, soft, and sylvan—three adjectives that describe Great Britain when it is at its best. Finally, upon reading the label, I was impressed with not only Coniston’s description of their own product, but I was also charmed by the specificity of their serving suggestions. Apparently, the Premium XB Bluebird Bitter is best served at 58 degrees Fahrenheit and should be imbibed from one of the straight pint glasses at the Black Bull Inn in Coniston, Cumbria.

Pour: This beer pours with a foggy amber color that runs towards the lighter side of the spectrum. It almost looks like a yellow-amber hybrid, and its head is thin yet clearly present. In short, this is a balanced brew that is both smooth and active in its bubble race to the brim.

Taste: Without a doubt, this is one of the smoothest beers on the market. With mild hops and a vaguely citrus aroma, this beer is more refreshing than robust. In fact, its major drawback is its delicate taste. For a British beer, the Premium XB Bluebird Bitter is decidedly mild. Don’t expect this beer to keep you warm on the moors, but do consider it an option when the weather gets hot or when the cheese is mild. For my part, I picked a bad combination. I guess I’ll drown my sorrows in another beer.

Grade: B+

ABV: 4.2%

IBU: 25-40

 

The Pint Glass is Half Full of Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale!

By: Chasse Gunter

I know it could be in poor taste to write an excuse into a beer review, but I have excuses fit for print (and ten fingers to point with). You know how big of a pain it is to move, right? It’s a universally shared annoyance un-equaled by even the ringing ears that follow a good slap to the face or being hungover and working at the same time. Though moving is as annoying as I said, if you’ve never moved you have bigger issues my friend and should stop reading now to pack your bags: the world’s much bigger than [your street here] of [your home here] , [your state here]. Anyways, multiply the single amass-able ass pain of one big move by six and you got my situation. For a more accurate ass-pain equation, add in a car engine explosion, a break up and several unexpected deaths.

Alchemists wasted hundreds of years trying to turn lead into gold and my only dream is to meld excuses into high numbers with plus and dollar signs sandwiching them. Bottom line here is a glass half full approach—which, upon further digging, is a uniquely First World metaphor: we have glasses and water to put in them. Frankly, most of the world does not have either, so all are glasses are half full. I have places to pack all my luxuries in and move into, albeit annoyingly often. And, I had a car and loved ones to lose in the first place. I’ve been trying to bring you close to my point of anguish so that we may raise fists to the sky at an affliction that effects all the planets inhabitants, in various degrees (literally) and calender dates (geographically). Lets pour one out and sit in a moment of angry silence in observance of summer time’s untimely death. The only thing I’ve been putting off more than unpacking and selling my car for scrap is reviewing a fall beer. I wish I had bigger problems so this one wouldn’t crush me so—actually, I don’t.

Though reluctant, I’ll admit, there are some downright amazing autumn craft beers—especially in Washington (the state, not the one with the white building in it). Looking though my diamond plated first-world beer goggles: at least I have something tasty to drink indoors while the stupid leaves outside fall to the cold ground and turn stupider colors than they started out as. I guess I’ll drink to that.

elysian_pumpkinFirst Impression: For the first time ever, I bought a single beer from a six-pack to see if I could. And you can. Also, I’m not allowed to drink at my current housing location, and a single beer is much easier to sneak in and out (as they have nothing to clank against). I turn the sink on to cover the sound of bottle opening and shove my nose to the top of the freshly opened bottle and sniff in hard, attempting to smell though my congested nose. Nothing. I clear my nose and and try again. I finally catch the scent—it smells of the wafting odor the escapes the flesh wound of a freshly sliced Jack-o-Lantern to be. The best of the worst times is approaching. There is also a hint of caramel and nutmeg.

Pour: I dump some out on a plate for some idea of the color. A beautiful amber-orange color. I swish a wallop in my mouth, sensing an immediate toasted pumpkin flavor and lingering hints of nutmeg and clove. I was pleased that this beer did not have either the pure pumpkin puree-like flavor or the artificial taste (I haven’t actually ran into anything fake tasting this year). I can taste the highly boasted of seven pumpkins per barrel.

Final impression: (while shaking fist at sky) I express contentedness loud enough out of my mouth to probably be heard over the running sink. This is the alcoholic liquid version of pumpkin pie. I ask the beer god of summer what he has even close to that. I take the absence of a reply as nada with a capital N. By the last sip it did leave something to be desired—another five bottles. Sorry, I get corny during the harvest season.

Grade: A

ABV: 5.9%

IBU: 19

Left Hand Brewing Co. Deep Cover Brown Ale

By: Katie Schroepfer

Left Hand Brewing Co. has been busy celebrating their 20 years of brewing this entire year, coming out with new and old beer for their anniversary. Many people know Left Hand for their smooth and creamy Milk Stout Nitro, Sawtooth Ale and IPA. I recently visited the brewery searching for a good 20th anniversary brew. The bartender had plenty of suggestions for different beers I should try, but I went with their Deep Cover Brown Ale, a beer brewed just for their anniversary.

deep cover brown aleFirst Impression: I’m not a huge brown ale fan, so I was a little skeptical about this beer, however the bartender talked it up and it’s one of their older brews. I figured it was worth a try.

Pour: The beer pours with a dark amber color that you can slightly see through. The head is a cream color that dissipates slowly.

Taste: This is one of the smoothest brown ale’s that I have ever tried. The beer has a nutty, clean flavor to it with a little bit of sweetness. It’s a tasty fall beer. The hops are basically nonexistent. As an English style brown ale, the Deep Cover Brown Ale has a lot of flavor to it and I can see why it is one of their 20th anniversary beers.

Grade: A

ABV: 4.4%

IBU: 16

Kingdom Brewing Staggering Angus

By: Beer Baron PA

The first beer I have decided to review from Kingdom Brewing is their Staggering Angus. Kingdom Brewing has a very interesting story surrounding their farm, (that’s right- farm,) and visiting their brewery was quite the adventure. Be sure to check back to read about it. In any case, In front of me now is a K.B. Growler that I intend to finish off in a couple of minutes. We sampled several beers from their warm and cozy tasting room and all of their beers were quite eclectic, this one the most unique. My experience there will surely be unparalleled for years to come. Their Staggering Angus was influenced by the Black Angus cattle they keep on their farm. Guess what they feed them- spent grains, yeast and hops. Way to keep things green Kingdom Brewery! Jennifer Cook, co-owner, introduced me to the beer this way, “After you’ve enjoyed a pint of it, it’s very sneaky, so it feels like you’ve been kicked by a black angus. It catches up with you.” With that being said, this is a spruce beer, so among some of the spruce I’ve had… It sure beats many.

kingdom brewing

First Impression: So this beer is a double black spruce IPA and it is very dark. It sports a soft head that foams with the pour and quickly squints back into the beer. The aroma immediately tells you this is a very different sort of brew. In fact, the spruce is very evident. Pine wafts up with an aroma of freshly grated orange peel. What I smell is the spruce harvested on location at +700 ft in elevation. After a growler full… it sure caught up with me.

Pour: The pour is very dark with a hue of deep garnet. A full glass is almost ebony. The head comes up and quickly comes down into the beer with a coast of foam that hugs along the edges of the glass. Strong orange and pine lift from the glass as soon as it settles.

Taste: Imagine a pile of oranges. Bitter spruce complements some of the sweet and tart of the orange taste. Roasted malts are definitely distinct in the brew, bringing everything together in a creamy light to medium bodied beer. There is a little bit of astringency that comes with the orange peel taste. The alcohol is masked with some sweetness and the esoteric beer comes together in an unforgettably quirky combination.

Grade: B

ABV: 8.0%

IBU: Undetermined

 

 

 

Brasserie Lefebvre’s Blanche De Bruxelles

By: Benjamin Welton

All the great detectives are drunks. No, I am not talking about real life police officials. I am here arguing that the best fictional sleuths—those men who exist only as black letters stuck inside of paper pages that are held together by glue and binding—are all wet. American icons like Philip Marlowe and The Continental Op mirror the hardcore drinking habits of their creators (Raymond Chandler for the former, Dashiell Hammett for the latter), whilst their international counterparts are as likely to ponder a case in a pub as they are in private.

During an evening out at an upscale French restaurant, I drank a beer and immediately felt like one such literary lush— Inspector Jules Maigret. With a tobacco pipe in one hand and a beer in the other, the laconic commissaire never fails to exude all things Gallic. Maigret’s creator, Georges Simenon, was Belgian, not French. A Walloon from Liège, Simenon was a morally complicated man who often found himself longing to be more like his upstanding creation. Despite their profound differences, both creator and creation shared a passion for beer, which is easy to understand given their Belgian heritage (one in actuality and the other in spirit). Brasserie Lefebvre’s Blanche De Bruxelles White Beer is emblematic of that rich heritage, and this bright, crisp beer is the perfect accompaniment to a night spent amongst the canals, whether they be in Paris or Brussels.

french beerFirst Impression: I was served the Blanche De Bruxelles White Beer from an aluminum can, which, to be frank, did not impress me. Other than that, the can’s aesthetic, which primarily revolves around the Manneken Pis or le Petit Julien, the landmark bronze fountain in Brussels which depicts a young lad urinating. The good folks at Brasserie Lefebvre make sure that you can’t mistake their Belgian White Beer for anything other than what it is—a uniquely European product.

Pour: This beer pours fast and with a bright, light body that caps off with a surprisingly strong white head. As with other wheat beers, the Blanche De Bruxelles does not contain a lot of movement once it has been successfully poured, and yet to call this beer stagnant would be a mistake. The Blanche De Bruxelles should sit in your glass with calm, reassuring reserve.

Taste: The typically Belgian tastes of coriander and orange peel are immediate, and so too is a rich and creamy aftertaste. Rather than being bitter like its Germanic counterparts from Germany or the United Kingdom, the Blanche De Bruxelles is a cloudy beer that tastes refreshing, crisp, and clean. If enjoyed in a long pokal, this beer will slide down your throat, reaching the back of your spinal column even before you are ready for your second sip. The one drawback here is that this beer doesn’t sit well if left unattended. For instance, if you are engaged in a dinner conversation, then your best bet is to drink with some giddy-up.  Also, this beer is somewhat seasonal, with its best time being late summer/early autumn.

Grade: B+

ABV: 4.5%

IBU: Unknown, but somewhere between 10 and 20

14th Star Brewing Company

By: Beer Baron PA

Sometimes life is more than the journey. Sometimes, it’s about the brewery at the end of the road. So there we were setting out from Burlington Vermont to St. Albans City which gave us 45 minutes of lush landscape patterned with farm land and those beautiful nearby green mountains. Awesome, yes, but there was still that brewery at the end of the road. No flowers were too beautiful to stop and smell. We wanted beer. So we traveled watching green license plates slide along I-89. It was almost as if everyone’s destination was 14th Star Brewing Co. Maybe that’s because we wanted to share our adventure with all the fellow drivers and passengers.

14th star brewing co

Owing to our luck, 14th was open when we got there. I say luck because as it turns out, they are open for only 3 days a week for a total of about 11 hours. Perhaps it’s a bit strange, but ask the owner Steve Gagner who will tell you they’ve reached their fourth year of sales projections in just one year. That’s substantial growth in a town of 8,000. They operate from a small space where the beer pours as fresh as water from a natural spring.

The small brewery has been open now for a little over a year. Steve Gagner runs the show and his extensive background of service in the Army is evident in his muscular bulk. In fact, much of the inspiration for the fruit of his labor is in honor and appreciation for those that serve and have served. For 14th Star, it’s simple. As Steve says, “We pledge that every day we’re in business is a day to remember, honor, and show our appreciation for [soldiers] who ask so little, yet give so much.” Even Memorial Day is more than a day to Steve; in fact, it is the essence of the brewery. For example, some of the proceeds for their hoppy ‘Valor’ ale go to supporting the ‘Purple hearts Reunited Foundation’ which is a non-profit that returns lost or stolen purple hearts to men and women who earned them, or to their families.

You can see Steve’s background strongly influence his passion for beer. Even the name 14th Star goes back to when Vermont first joined the Union. In 1791, Ethan Allen (also a beer enthusiast) made the effort to add the 14th star to the American flag. We are glad to have you on this side of the border Vermont!

14th made their debut at Vermont’s Brewers festival, July 2012. They obtained their brewing license only a month before the festival and doubted they could turn out enough beer for the event. They did.

Now 14th Star brews approximately 900 gallons of beer a month with just 3 brew tanks. See for yourself and ask for a tour. They will be more than happy to show you. Expect to taste all their beers on draft. You’ll never know what’s on tap and what sold out. It could be their hoppy nutty Valor, their citrusy 1493, their malty Harvest Brown Ale with notes of caramel, the nectar-like Honey IPA with locally sourced honey, or their Porter brewed with local maple sap donated from friends and family. It could even be their Winter Warmer or American Pale Ale. Just ask to drink good beer. You’ll be in good hands.

Dixie Brewing Company and Voodoo Lager

By: Yelena Keselman

After my first trip to New Orleans this past July, there is no doubt in my mind that this area of the South is one of deep cultural roots and unique flare. Walking the streets, one cant help but become immersed in the profound sense of pride that each and every person in Louisiana emits, whether its in the dialogue on the streets, music booming from the bar windows, or finger licking food. There is an unbreakable spirit that is apparent in all residents from the briefcase businessmen to the charismatic street performers.  As many other first timers, I was inspired by its lively beauty but also saddened by the permanent aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Although the strong community of New Orleans has made it apparent that that this tragedy did not make the city and therefore will not break it, it is still a haunting aspect of life here. One chilling reality of the impact is the story of Dixie Brewing Company.

dixie_brewing_company

Dixie Brewing Company is one of the oldest breweries in the U.S. and was founded in Nawlins (New Orleans) Louisiana in 1907. It ties into a pivotal point in American history, during the time of prohibition, when New Orleans maintained its position as the leader in beer production for the Southern States. Progressing through times of economic prosperity and hardship as 20th century rolled on, Dixie was able to hold strong until 1989 when lack of funds forced owners to file for bankruptcy. In 1992 under new ownership, the brewery underwent a transformation with the release of a series of new brews; including the spellbinding Voodoo Blackened Lager. A great time for this shift as the craft beer industry was slowly picking up steam.

As you may have guessed this story doesn’t end well, like many other establishments Dixie fell victim to the forces of Katrina in 2005. Sitting in an area of New Orleans called “Mid City” it’s traditional brick style architecture was no match as the levies broke and the floodwater poured through windows and foundation.  As time went on and water cleared, the original building was slowly looted of most equipment to the point of no return. It currently sits in its original location on Tulane Avenue, abandoned, as an eerie reminder of the catastrophic events that took place.

In 2007 the owners of Dixie pushed forward with an ambitious revival. Unfortunately, unable to re-create the mass production of the past in New Orleans the brand is now brewed and bottled by Huber Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin (of all places?). According to some articles I read this beer is only distributed in the Midwest and Southern areas but I was lucky to get my hands on the Voodoo Black Lager at good old Cost Plus World Market (who doesn’t love it)

VooDooBeerBeadsFirst Impression: I love the intricacy of the metallic label; it offers a glimpse into the Louisiana swamp culture. Cypress trees adorn the sides with ghostly Mardi Gras masks dangling in the shadows.  Voodoo itself is a spiritual practice, brought to New Orleans from Africa during the time of slavery. The label and dark essence of the brew definitely bring upon an otherworldly sensation.

Pour: This beer pours a mix of ruby red and brown. The color resembles that of Amaretto with a light headed nature. The powder-like foam slips right off of the glass. The strong aroma exposes me to a scent of cherry and caramel.

Taste: This buttery beer seems light then gives a malty kick as it makes it way down.  Malt type liquor isn’t something I am too fond of but this one plunges with ease. A chilled voodoo would be a great accessory on a hot summer day in the South, especially with some charbroiled oysters (mmmmouth watering good)

Although I wouldn’t call this a gourmet beer, I give it a good grade because it advertises itself the way it truly tastes. A refreshing yet oily elixir meant to bring out a little New Orleans flavor inside any drinker.

Grade: A-

ABV: 5.4%

IBU:45

Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

By: Thomas Muhs

Well folks, the summer seasonals are vanishing from the shelves only to be replaced by the next round of Oktoberfest and pumpkin flavored seasonal offerings.  As a side note, when did pumpkin flavored everything become par for the course when it comes to fall? (I’m looking at you pumpkin spiced latte from Starbucks, seriously people lose their minds over this stuff.) Anyway, there’s no denying that fall is approaching so it only makes sense to go out and explore what many craft brewers have to offer. The beer I’ve chosen to try in spirit of the season is Ichabod Pumpkin Ale from the New Holland Brewing Company. They’re based out of Holland, MI and have been around since 1997.  They have 10 beers they make year round and seasonally which does not include anything in their Agribrew, Single Batch High Gravity, Hatter Day Hatters, and Cellar Series.  They also run a full scale distillery out of their Holland location but they only distribute their products regionally to 16 states, so that’s something to keep in mind if you decide to try and purchase a product from New Holland.

ichabod_Pumpkin_AleFirst Impression: The first thing that stood out to me was the name of the beer itself. It’s a clever nod to the classic tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman of the Hollow, which is a perfect motif to represent the fall season.

Pour: The beer is a clean deep amber color with very little head at the top once it’s poured.  When you put your nose to the glass you get a smell remarkable similar to pumpkin pie, with the cinnamon and nutmeg notes standing out distinctly.

Taste: It has a well measured pumpkin flavor which blends nicely with the spices that were brewed into it.  But you can also taste the barley on the back end which really helps to keep this beer from being too sweet and overdone.

Grade: A

This is a beautifully balanced beer that delivers great flavor without being too sweet and sitting too heavy.  A great seasonal choice perhaps for a costume party you might find yourself at this Halloween (bonus points if you dress as a headless horseman.)

Cheers

IBUs: 16

ABV: 5.2%

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