REVIEW: Sah’tea from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Location: Milton, DE
Style: Sahti
ABV: 9%
IBUs: 6
Appearance: Cloudy & Pale Golden-Orange
Aroma: Reminiscent of Belgian Tripel with Notes of Banana & Clove
Flavor: Interesting Clove; Clean Astringency; Hints of Sweet Banana
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Soft Ripe Cheeses, Roasted Duck or Venison

Everyone knows of Dogfish Head Brewery, either because of their strange name, their beer, or the Discovery TV show Brew Masters; which, sadly only ran 5 episodes before being cancelled. They are known for high hop IPA’s, dabbling in some strange brews, and trying to re-imagine some ancient beers to be enjoyed in the modern age. The one I have set to review this week is one of those in the “Ancient Ales” series.

Sahti is a Finnish beer dating back to the 9th century. This beer uses juniper as part of its flavor profile. Juniper branches are placed in the bottom of a kuurna, (a mash tun traditionally made from an aspen log that has been hollowed out) and the beer is filtered through the juniper twigs. The malt bill is usually a single light malt with, possibly, some rye added and very little if any hops. The yeast would have been just a baker’s yeast. Over time the strain most used has become associated with the brew, imparting clove and banana-like characteristics to the beer.

Traditional Sahti is said to be turbid and full-bodied most likely due to the poor flocculation of the baker’s yeast and an abundance of proteins that would not be present if a standard wort boil was part of the brewing process. Instead of boiling, the traditional process uses hot rocks to add heat to the mash. This practice causes the malt to caramelize around the hot stones adding a caramel and burnt sugar flavor to the beer. So, there’s a little bit about traditional Sahti, time to see how Dogfish Head measures up.

The first thing you notice about Dogfish Head’s rendition, beyond the little girl riding the reindeer with a tea pot in one hand and a glass of beer in the other, is the name… uummm “adjustment”. They’ve added chi tea to the brew and changed the name to reflect this addition, cleverly I might add, to Sah’tea. Neither the label or website says anything about using juniper twigs in the mash tun, but juniper berries sourced from Finland are used, can’t get much closer to the beer’s roots then that.
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REVIEW: Brother Adam Honey Bragget Ale from Atlantic Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Atlantic Brewing Co.
Location: Bar Harbor, ME
Style: Braggot
ABV: 10.5%
IBUs: ?
Yeast: Nottingham, Champagne
Malt: Pale, Black, Munich
Hops: Pilgrim, Wye Goldings
Appearance: Dirty, Brown Amber Resembling Dark, Unfiltered Honey
Aroma: Sweet & Malty With a Vinous Stitch of Alcohol
Flavor: Robust Malt & Mouthcoating Sweetness
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Bleu Cheese, Dark Chocolate, Plums

Something new this week. A style I’ve never reviewed… come to think of it I’m not sure I’ve ever had a commercial offering of this style. So, a Bragget for your consideration. A quick note here: there is an older spelling of the name “Braggot,” and this is the more common spelling I believe, but the dictionary recognizes the spelling used by the Atlantic Brewing Company, so in the interest of keeping things consistent I will use “Bragget” in this review.

This is an interesting style of beer with a long, but mostly lost history. The fact that a bragget is actually a marriage of both mead and beer gives it a non-to-firm date of origin, but its roots can be traced back to a wild tribe of the European Isles known as the Picts. Not much of this people’s history is known today. They were enough of a thorn in the Romans side that they were part of the reason Hadrians Wall was built. Most of their beer brewing legacy is lost to history along with any definitive answer to their ultimate fate, but one of the few things that does seem to have matriculated down through the shadowed faults of the past is their truly renowned skills in brewing. Robert Lewis Stevenson even wrote an poem about it.

According to the label this beer’s fermentable sugars are equal parts malt and honey. Historically the bragget contained more mead then beer but using a 50/50 split allows the Brewery to classify this as a beer and not a mead.
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REVIEW: Rubaeus from Founders Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Founders Brewing Co.
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Style: Fruit Beer
ABV: 5.7%
IBUs: 15
Appearance: Deep Red with Pinkish Foam
Aroma: Raspberries; Fruity Sweetness; Hints of Sourness
Flavor: Sweet Raspberries With a Slight Souring Toward the Swallow
Availability: Seasonal (May-Aug)
Pairs With: BBQ & Smoked Meats, Gouda, Rich Chocolate Desserts

The other day I suddenly realized being up in the Northeast brought with it the good luck of making Founders Beers available to me. I immediately headed for the nearest bottle shop to see which of their beers might grace local shelves. It happened there was more than I expected and it took me a while to select which would have the honor of being my introduction to the brewery. But, finally after much hemming and hawing it made sense to try the seasonal first, pay homage to the time of year, try something that wouldn’t be available in a couple months. So, it was the Rübæus found its place in my basket and became next in line for this review.

Founders Brewing Company is probably the best known brewery in Michigan. The brewery was started by Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers in 1997 as the Canal Street Brewing Company. The name was tribute to an area of Grand Rapids where, back in the 1800’s, several breweries made their home. The company’s original label was a black and white view of canal street with the word “Founders” above it. And so, it wasn’t a big leap to a name change for the burgeoning brewery.

“In-tribed five times was the raspy berry to twine a song of summers merry.”

Starting the brewery required a leap of faith on Mike and Dave’s part. They both only had homebrewing experience and “real” jobs. They made the leap. Quit their jobs, took out loans to cover start-up expenses, and went for it.

It took them some time to find their legs, but they finally did. They turned their backs on brewing well-balanced but unremarkable beer and refocused on what had made them want to brew beer in the first place… beer that they themselves got excited about. And low and behold it made other people excited too.
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REVIEW: Mean Old Tom by Maine Beer Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Maine Beer Company
Location: Portland, ME
Style: American-Style Stout
ABV: 6.5%
IBUs: 40
Hops: US Magnum, Centennial
Malt: American 2-Row, Midnight Wheat, Roasted Barley, Caramel 40L, Chocolate, Flaked Oats
Appearance: Deep Mahogany, Smooth Tan Head
Aroma: Sweet Malt, Coffee, Dark Chocolate, Molasses & Spiced Sweetness
Flavor: Subtle Coffee; Bitter Chocolate frolicking with Sweet Malts
Availability: Rotating
Pairs With: BBQ & Smoked Meats, Gouda, Rich Chocolate Desserts

After a rather busy in-house week finishing up the American Brewers Guild brewing course I am back reviewing. I’ll be up here in Vermont for five weeks, which has made a whole new selection of beer suddenly available to review. Makes things fun and I get to try stuff I’d never get my hands on back home. So, with much excitement and some passing trepidation (where to start)… I dip my toes.

The Maine Beer Company started out small. I mean really small. David and Daniel Kleban started with just a one barrel system (a barrel is 31 gallons), and this was before the term “nanobrewery” was a common part of brewing language. They grew fast, pushed hard by an ever growing tailwind of outstanding small-batch recipes and word-of-mouth praise.

The Maine Beer Company label is what caught my eye first and probably part of the reason I picked it up. All their labels are classy, clean, and very understated when compared to the garish wash of color and artwork that confronts you when standing in front of your local beer selections. This one stands out because it is neither garish or colorful. It is simple.

Mean Old Tom has a cranky looking face drawn on a pristine white background and the name of the brewery and beer presented in simple font. The backside of the label gives a little note about how they came up with the name. That’s all there is to the label. Nothing else. And this simplicity makes their beers easy to recognize and find on the shelf.
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REVIEW: Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Deschutes Brewery
Location: Bend, OR
Style: Porter
ABV: 5.2%
IBUs: 30
Hops: Cascade, Tettnang & Bravo
Malt: Carapils, Pale, Wheat, Chocolate & Crystal
Appearance: Pours Dark, Dark Brown with Glimmers of Red on the Edges
Aroma: Roasty Malt; Cocoa; Coffee; Chocolate; Hints of Pine
Flavor: Subtle Coffee; Bitter Chocolate frolicking with Sweet Malts
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Grilled/Smoked Meats; Robust Onion Soup; Coffee or Chocolate Cake

This is an interesting one. Not only is this an old beer, first brewed in 1988, but also this is Deschutes flagship beer, a position you will rarely find the porter style occupying. In 1988 Gary Fish opened Deschutes as a brewpub, the first in Bend, Oregon. He named his new business for both the county that Bend is in and the magnificent Deschutes River that flows through the town.

Deschutes, like any other brewery, has had its share of lows. In the winter of their first year they had to dump ten consecutive batches of beer due to bacteria contamination. They found the contamination was due to a flaw in their brewing design that had the grain mill directly above the mash tun, and airborne grain bacteria from the grain dust kept drifting down into the mash.

After they got this not-so-little hiccup remedied, people started to notice how good the beer coming out of this new little brewery was. They sold 310 barrels of beer in the first year.

Jump ahead three years and business was booming. Gary Fish likes to say they did so well, so fast because of their attention to detail, quality ingredients, and a sense of community that the brewery worked hard to foster from its very beginnings.
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REVIEW: G’Knight Double Red IPA from Oskar Blues Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewing Co.
Location: Longmont, CO
Style: American Double/Imperial IPA
ABV: 8.7%
IBUs: 60
Appearance: Subdued Orange-Red With a Little Murkiness Within
Aroma: Fruity & Clean, Minimal Hints of Pine & Malt
Flavor: Fresh Citrus & Pine, with Hints of Malts Trailing Behind
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Cajun cooking, Spicy sausages, Saucy BBQ, Sharp Cheddar, Strong Blue Cheese

Many times when I go looking for beer I have something in mind; a style, a brewery, something.

But this week, amid a push to get a bunch of things done at home before I take off for six weeks, I went hunting with nothing concrete in mind. I wandered aimlessly for a while, like a ship with no rudder, stopping here and there, retracing my steps to stand in front of beer I’d just seen, hoping that something would pop out at me.

Well, nothing popped and after about ten minutes the practical side of my brain overrode the part seeking divine, beer muse, intervention. What had I not reviewed in a while?

Several styles ran through my mind, but something hoppy jumped and plastered itself all over my brain wall, like a jar of lobbed molasses. So, here I am reviewing something hoppy.

The Oskar Blues Grill and Restaurant opened in 1997 and their first beer was brewed in the basement the following year. Oskar Blues has won multiple awards, their first was in 1998, a bronze from the Great American Beer Festival. Some will claim they were the earliest craft brewery to start canning, but there’s some dispute on this point, so we’ll just say they were one of the first. Though, it is safe to say that canning great beer has become Oskar Blues “thing.”

They have proved that the same world class beer can be packaged in this eco-friendly and lighter container. A can protects the beer from the oxidative effects of any light, they offer a tighter seal than bottles, get cold faster than bottles, and are easier to take into the outdoors and public places.

“Sip from the red river and learn of the Hop Giver”

The one standing argument against cans is the metallic taste some claim the can imparts to beer. But, this is more a fault of the drinker and not the packaging. These days all cans have a liner inside that stops any direct contact between the aluminum and beer… that is until you drink. When you take a sip your lips are in contact with the can as is the beer. Guaranteed if you pour that beer into a glass or cup there will be no metallic taste. But, I digress…

This particular beer was first dubbed Gordon Ale, but the name had to be changed after a trade mark dispute with Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant. It was brewed as a tribute to Gordon Knight, a Vietnam vet and early forerunner in the Colorado craft beer movement, who died in 2002 while fighting a wildfire.

G’Knight Double Red IPA from Oskar Blues Brewing

G’Knight has won multiple awards including World Beer Championships in 2008 and 2010. It’s a big beer in every sense of the word. From what I can gather four different malts and three different hop varieties are used, with a generous dose of Amarillo, dry hopped, just to round things out.

The Pour and Aroma

A whopping three and a half fingers of loosely packed, off-white foam builds through the pour. It retreats slowly over the next several minutes to a finger high stronghold of wet dense foam. Color is a subdued orange-red with a little murkiness to it, no doubt a consequence of the hop amounts within.

Aroma is fruity and clean, like standing in a meadow with a slight breeze pushing through a stand of citrus trees, mixing with the air above fresh grass and flower. Pine and minimal sweetness lurk here too. I catch very little malt character.

Mouthfeel and Taste

The body is big and thick with a warming mouthfeel that runs smooth at the front, but transitions into a viscous stickiness toward the back.

Fresh citrus and pine pervade with hops knocking bitter close behind. Malt comes through more here then in the aroma and it’s bigger than expected. Though, it feels a bit like the race is being run with the hops continually getting just faintly ahead of the malt. It balances on the very edge of being balanced and drinks like it might fall to the hop-side at any moment. Swallowing leaves some nice heat. The aftertaste is viscous, creating a cottonmouth-like gumminess that lasts a long time.

Finishing The Impression

This beer will certainly not be to everyone’s liking. It’s not gonna quench any thirsts and its high ABV and viscous-like mouthfeel make the thought of drinking more than one in a sitting a little, well… terrifying. It’s a beer worthy of its bigness, but G’Knight is definitely a sipper, one of those beers you reach for on a relaxing quiet evening; a beer to accompany a movie or good book.


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REVIEW: Sprӧcketbier Black Rye Kӧlsch from Stone Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Location: Escondido, CA
Style: Black Rye Kölsch
ABV: 5.4%
IBUs: 40
Appearance: Dense black with rich tan head
Aroma: Sweet Malts with Hints of Coffee, Damp Smoke & Earthiness
Flavor: Crisply Clean Character, Distinct Bitterness & Mix of Hops, Spicy Rye and Darker Malts
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Pork Roast, Chicken Wings, Aged Gouda

This interesting Frankenstein-like venture into the rethinking of a classic style is the first winner in a new line of beers brought to us by Stone Brewing Company. The line is dubbed the “Spot Light Series” and pits two-person teams against one-another in search of truly unique recipes. The company wide competition takes place over a year in which submitted recipes are brewed and judged.

The competition has no restrictions or limits when it comes to style and creativity. A brewer’s paradise. Each submitted recipe is judged by co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, as well as brewmaster Mitch Steele (and by the sound of his name possibly a superhero).

The winners get the honor of having their beer brewed and distributed all across the country, to be enjoyed by all. But wait there’s more… the winners also get the opportunity to go on tour, sit, drink, and watch, as adoring fans swoon over their winning product.

So, Spröcketbier has passed the judges gauntlet and become the first. This creative recipe was brought to light by Stone’s Quality Production Assurance Lead Rick Blankemeier and Production Warehouse Lead Robbie Chandler. They won out, over 18, other what I can only guess, were extremely stiff competitors. I mean it’s Stone Brewing… everybody and their dog can brew a solid entry with their eyes closed.

“Surprise awaits in gathered dark of bottle with sprocket’s mark.”

Oh, one more thing before we get into the wet stuff. If you pay any attention to beer glassware you will know that a Kölsch has its one special, tall narrow cylinder of a glass, called a stange. It’s the first time I’ve used mine… seems like a good reason in itself to try this beer.

The Pour and Aroma

Sprӧcketbier Black Rye Kӧlsch

The Spröcketbier pours a dense black color and looks much like a porter. Even when held to direct light it’s only the very periphery of the opaque liquid that hints at a possible color lost in the black. A tan, almost Guinessian (that’s right I made up another word), head builds to a respectable two-finger height. This rich head drops slowly over the entire hour I’m drinking the beer and it’s only toward the very end that the beer peeks out from behind this protective and nicely resilient blanket.

Aroma has the “cleanness” expected of Kölsch yeast. Sweet malts pervade with hints at coffee brought on by roasted malts. There are whispers of dark stone fruit intermingled with a grassy quality, and damp smoke.

Mouthfeel and Taste

The front-end highlights the light Kölsch character. The fizz and snap of loaded carbonation lends a crisply clean character to the sweet malts that hit the beach first. A distinct bitterness washes the middle palate. A mix of hop, spicy rye, and darker malts, imparts a clean coffee-like character. In the transition there are hints of the darkest meat at the center of cherry and plum, close to the pit, where you get a whisper of nuttiness. It dry’s at the end leaving medium astringency and thoughts of the next sip.

The light mouthfeel is at odds with the color of this beer and runs pleasantly smooth with just the right amount of carbonic bite.

Finishing The Impression

Spröcketbier plays at confusion a bit. A game of tag is run across the palate, with the back-and-forth slap of a light Kölsch touch and the pervasive rumblings of a porter character suddenly gelded of its full robustness. In all it works magnificently. The sweet malts are well-balanced against rye spiciness and notes of hopped citrus.

It works well as a summer beer, being light, crisp, and easily sessionable, but to my mind a more intriguing place for this beer is in that place between seasons. Especially say, the winter/spring shift, or the summer/fall. As these places are transition zones in the year’s cycle… so this beer holds a zone between styles; working hard at bridging the gap between warm summer day thirst quencher and cool winter warmer.

If this beer is the standard of creativity and quality we can expect from this new series that shines a spotlight on the hard work of Stone employee’s, I just hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next addition.


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REVIEW: Lips Of Faith Wild2 Dubbel from New Belgium Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Company
Location: Fort Collins, CO
Style: Dubbel
ABV: 8%
IBUs: 30
Hops: Liberty, Target, Goldinas
Malts: Carmel 80, Oats, Wheat, Pale, Special-B, Munich, Chpcolate Wheat
Fruits & Spices: Shisandra
Appearance: Hazy, Deep & Beautiful Mahogany
Aroma: Bubblegum with notes of Banana, Pepper & Earth
Flavor: Sweet Malt, Wild Yeast, Earthy Hops & Shisandra
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Hearty Meat Dishes, Beef Stew, Steak, French Morbier Cheese

This beer is one of the newest additions to New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series. It seems most craft breweries have that limited release series where brewers are allowed to stretch creative wings, reinvent styles, and generally do what every brewer dreams about.

Maybe the main difference between this series and others like it is the extreme and exotic (perhaps strange) ingredients New Belgium brewers are willing to put in their explorations. Many say that this series is extremely hit or miss, that some have been great, others have been downright awful. With only one (here in a few minutes that will be two) under my belt I’m in no position to judge.

I don’t remember what the other one I tried was, but I remember liking it. And even if one didn’t sound that great to me I’d still give it a shot. Each is unexplored territory. Offering the chance of something good, but not just good, something beyond the norm. Getting one, or two, or six that you don’t much care for shouldn’t stop you from delving back into uncharted waters. The next one could be the one you’ve been waiting for all along. Maybe this one is it.

The unexplored territory in this one comes in the form of Shisandra fruit and a Trappist yeast with wild brettanomyces. The brettanomyces puts the funk and tartness many Belgian beers are known for (though usually not Dubbels). Shisandra is a woody vine native to China, Russia, and parts of Korea. It is highly valued for its medicinal properties which are believed to help with liver disease and normalizing blood sugar to treating asthma, insomnia, nerve pain, depression, and memory loss.
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REVIEW: Ovila Saison from Sierra Nevada Brewing

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Saison / Farmhouse Ale
ABV: 7.5%
IBUs: 24
Hops: Summit, El Dorado, Styrian Golding, Mandarina Bavaria
Malts: Two-Row Pale (Estate Grown), Wheat, Caramel
Appearance: Light Amber-Orange, Blemished Gold, Creamy Head
Aroma: Fruit & Spice, Pepper, Subtle Hoppy-Hay
Flavor: Farmhouse Funk with Bready Notes; Apple & Citrus
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Fish, Curried Dishes, Poultry, Camembert Cheese

I’m pretty excited about this one. It is a collaboration between Sierra Nevada Brewing and the Trappist monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, California. These efforts first started in 2011 and the first release was an Abbey Dubbel.

Part of the proceeds from these shared brewing endeavors goes to fund an ongoing building project on the monastery grounds. In 1931 the monks’ old chapter house was dismantled by the Hearst family, stone-by-stone and shipped from Spain to America to be used in the construction of a mansion.

These plans fell through and the sacred stones remained unused and scattered until ownership was returned to the Abbey. Slowly but surely the old chapter house is being rebuilt, funded by contributions and joint undertakings.

This recipe is a slight reworking of an earlier Ovila Saison and boasts mandarin oranges and peppercorns. A pound of mandarin oranges are used per barrel of beer (barrel equals 31 gallons). All the oranges are locally grown including a portion from the Abbey orchards, handpicked by the monks.
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REVIEW: Smokejumper Smoked Imperial Porter from Left Hand Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company
Location: Longmont, CO
Style: Smoked Imperial Porter
ABV: 8.8%
IBUs: 55
Hops: Mt. Hood, CTZ
Malts: Smoked Munich, Roasted Barley, Pale 2-Row, Chocolate, Wheat, Rauch, Special W,
Appearance: Dark as a moonless night with mocha-colored foam
Aroma: Mix of Sweet Molasses, Warming Alcohol & Not-so-Subtle Smoke
Flavor: Rich Smoke; Dark Malts, Molasses & Chocolate-Espresso
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Meat dishes, BBQ, Smoked Salmon, Sharp Cheddar Cheese

With a forest fire burning in the Gila, about 15 miles away from Silver City, this beer just sorta seemed right. A time to sit, drink in some smoke, and reminisce, for a moment, about those times when I ate smoke trying to catch wildfire. I’ve worked with the men and women this beer is a tribute too. They deserve the honor.

Left Hand brews this beer as a tribute to Smokejumpers, the courageous souls of the wildland firefighter community that parachute into rough country, risking their lives to save national resources and property from fire. It is widely considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the US.

It is a no brainer that the official beer of the National Smokejumper Association needs… well, smoke. But how to get the right smoke?

The brewers at Left Hand realized that to get a close rendering of the smoky sense of a wood fire they would have to smoke their own malt. After many trials, a wood combination was found that seemed to best signify the smoky character they were searching for.

This beer was first brewed in 2006 and won gold in the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in the smoked beer category. It was brewed again to great acclaim in 2012 and now for a third time, this year.
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