Widmer Drifter Pale Ale

Widmer Brothers Brewing
Portland, OR
Drifter Pale Ale

I’ve only ever tried this brew in bars on the West Coast, so seeing it at the bottle shop, I instantly picked up a few bottles with the intention of reviewing at least one before drinking them all casually. I just barely made it.

A thin, off-white head makes a brief appearance before fanning itself out across the surface and all but disappearing.

The color is polished oak and copper. Fine, slow carbonation shows through the excellent clarity of the amber. The nose is all hops, but more sweet than tangy or bitter. Powdery orange and tangerine emerge like the spray from freshly peeled fruit.

The mouthfeel is full, but even. Soft citrus candy flows across the palate, turning tart with some lemon and water cracker malt snap. Green apple skin crackles toward the end – light with a slight tingle of carbonation. The finish is creamy and smooth and, with that effervescence, sort of like an egg cream. A true pale ale with the Widmer’s signature West Coast bent.

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Stillwater A Saison Darkling

Stillwater Artisanal Ales
Baltimore, MD
A Saison Darkly

I don’t know that I’ve had a beer before technically classified as a “dark saison”, but Stillwater gets good reviews wherever it goes, and I’ll admit I love whatever this fad of adding roasted grains to beers is. The Cascadian dark (or BPAs or whatever you want to call it) is awesome, so I’m willing to give this a go, particularly as it’s supposedly actually brewed in Belgium. They make pretty good beer in Belgium, in case you hadn’t heard. Also, a new tag: Saison!

As expected, the head inflates in a hurry, climbing to an inch of smoky brown froth. The effervescence is steady, with the big globules pushing their way to the surface, keeping the head sturdy. The beer is virtually opaque, with only the bubbles on the interior surface of the glass making their presence known.

A Saison darklyThe color is black, save for a slightly cola-brown tinge around the edges. The general aroma is surprisingly light, lacking an overwhelmingly sweet or densely roasted smell that one might expect. Malt is the first thing to appear. It rises as warm bread crust, exposing baked apple, and a touch of butterscotch.

The mouthfeel is busting-at-the-seams full. The carbonation dances across the tongue, carrying with it that roastiness. It emits a smokiness that props up the rest of the flavors. Warm alcohol notes spread in the form of ripe stone fruits across the palate. Dark chocolate, cherry, and dried apricot emerge along with a barely perceptible crackle of yeast and hops, like damp wood burning.

A heap of sediment is still sitting on the bottom of the empty glass. This bottle could sit for a year or more and would probably turn out to be a pretty nice mix of smooth and sweet, but as it is, it’s a really lovely amalgamation of two a porter and a saison.

Lagunitas Kill Ugly Radio

Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Petaluma, CA
Kill Ugly Radio Double IPA

This sucker has been rattling around in my collection for years. I probably should have cracked it open a couple of years ago, but there’s no time like the present, so no sense in waiting any longer.

The pour starts without much head, but a slightly yellowed froth flexes a bit before settling to a lace. The clarity is initially impeccable, though the latter half of the bottle has sediment, with sparse carbonation (probably due to some slow seepage or cap decay). The color is burnished copper in the middle – a real shiny penny glow – with some soft caramel orange around the sides.

The nose is a surprisingly malty, with rich molasses coming forward, but soon giving way to overripe apricot and dried pineapple aromas. The mouthfeel is surprisingly light and not at all cloying or burly, as the ABV might indicate. A very even grassy twang hits, before pine and tobacco cross the middle of the palate. The finish rolls into dry apple skins and there is a breath of alcohol, but no wallop despite expectations.

This bottle has been cellared for at least four years, and it’s pretty mellow for what I was expecting to be a pretty bold brew. Certainly, a maximum of three years in the dark would have been better than the 50 months I unintentionally gave it, but it goes to show that Lags constructs hardy beers.

Saranac White IPA

A guest review from Max – plus a new “Limited Release” tag and category!

Matt Brewing Co.
Utica, NY
Saranac White IPA

There seem to be so many IPAs at one’s finger tips today that one might
think the beer industry has come to target only hop heads. This isn’t a bad
thing, mind you, but it is rare to find a really good hoppy IPA that tastes
different from, well, a really good hoppy IPA. Batter up, Saranac White
IPA. What drew me to this beer was essentially the fusion of two of my
faves: a citra hops IPA and a Belgian-style white. The results had the
potential to delight, but you never know with seasonals, because if they
bomb they are only around for a few months.

The pour unleashes a powerful head similar to that of a Boddingtons, the cascading abruptly ceases (note the glass here) and you are left with a beautiful orange-ocher haze. Don’t try and stare down this lady, she, like most women are tough to see through and patience will serve you best as you make your way through the aroma which, like most analysis of this beer, is refined citrus. The most prevalent smell is grapefruit, then grass.

The mouthfeel takes you on a wild ride starting with a blast of citrus, however the infusion of 2 Row, Wheat, and Oat malts, tone down the hop as the backside of the taste releases an array of spicy vanilla and coriander (Saranac also uses 2 Row malt in it’s Vanilla Stout).

There is a wonderful duality between these different styles, they harmonize
when they need to and clash at just the right moments. This is certainly
one of the most refreshing IPAs I’ve ever tried and I would be very happy to
see a re-release in time for grilling season. While hardly a session beer at
6%, I drank three in 20 minutes after the Giants won the NFC championship
with no problem!

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, CA
Ruthless Rye IPA

Much-maligned rye has made a serious comeback and I am a huge proponent of its revival. It’s most commonly added to IPAs to impart some peppery spice to the bitterness already present. So, in the hands of Sierra, this is an exciting addition to an already strong seasonal line.

Pour carefully: a billowing, crackling, faintly tan head explodes over the top of the beer. As it descends slowly, it sticks to the inside of the glass. Extremely fine carbonation can just be seen – the clarity is excellent, but the beer is dark. The color is a clear toffee brown, like burnished oak.

The aroma is initially a bit like wet socks. There is pine sap, faint lemon, and the contradictory aromas of damp wood and burnt pumpkin seeds. The mouthfeel is very good, starting off with a creaminess that coats the mouth, but which is instantly stripped away by an intense woody bitterness, like a dortmunder. That drifts backwards with the swallow, giving way to a combination of intense citrus bite and the nuttiness of those toasted pepitas from the aroma.

This is a fascinating beer – it is neither pure hop bomb, nor just a peppery rye ale. It has the lager-like qualities of a German pilsner, but the piney tartness of an IPA. Certainly, it’s one of the most interesting beers I’ve had in a while, and it’ll wreck your palate for anything milder to follow, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t badass. I’m biased: I love Sierra, but this really is a sick brew.

Empire IPA

Empire Brewing Co.
Syracuse, NY
IPA

No bottle photo here – I picked up a growler at my friendly neighborhood bottle shop, the new and awesome City Swiggers. Having a local  beer shop like this is something I’d only dreamed of while I schlepped to the Lower East Side or even the outer boroughs to find my specialty bottles. So, thanks to City Swiggers for, y’know, existing.

A crackling, orange-tinted head fluffs up, clinging to the sides of the glass. Almost perfect clarity shows sparse, slow carbonation. The color of burnt sand in the afternoon sun, this beer has an orange blush to it with a touch of dun.

The nose has sticky and resinous grapefruit and passion fruit notes, and a touch of mango. The mouthfeel is full, with that hop stickiness overwhelming the breath of creamy malt. Mostly under-ripe grapefruit dries out the middle of the tongue, while the softer tropical fruits spread out and back across the palate.

It’s certainly a hop-forward IPA for lupulin fanatics, but the finish is slightly more cloying – sticky, really – than expected. If the finish were a bit more sere, I’d rave about this one, but it just misses on the finish.

And in case you were wondering: yes, I did finish the whole growler after the Giants won the NFC Championship game.

Heavy Seas Gold Ale

Clipper City Brewing Co.
Baltimore, MD
Heavy Seas Gold Ale

A slow, slightly glugged pour yields little in the way of head, though a lacy white honeycomb sits on top of this mildly carbonated ale. The clarity is just this side of glassy. There is some blush through the middle of the glass, but the color is otherwise a wonderfully tawny gold.

The nose is biscuity – warm bread crust and honey on top of some slightly floral hop perfume. A light vegetal smell sits beneath the slightly murky lupulin layer.

The mouthfeel is nice and even; soft at first as a mild ale should be, but opening up towards the back of the swallow with sweet tangerine and mandarin that carries just a faint tart pop. The finish hangs on for just a moment, coating slightly, before gradually dissipating into a slightly malty sponginess.

Again, this is a mild, though not entirely quiet session ale. I’d sit down with a couple more of these in front of me.