REVIEW: Elder Betty Weiss by Magic Hat Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Magic Hat Brewing Company
Location: South Burlington, VT
Style: American Weiss Ale
ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: 13
Appearance: Hardened Amber, Resembling Over-Brewed Iced Tea
Aroma: Wheaty Bread with Fruity Sweetness
Flavor: Hints of Fruity Sweetness, Light Malt, Elderberry Tart; No Hoppyness
Availability: Summer Seasonal
Pairs With: Elderberries, Crisp Salad, Grilled Fish, Mozzarella

I like fruit in beer if it’s done right. Too often fruit is overused, making the beer more akin to kids fruit soda or punch, then something worthy of more refined subtleties. Finesse and restraint, in my opinion, should be at the forefront of any brewers mind who has the idea of adding fruit to the fermentation formula.

I was intrigued when I saw Magic Hats summer seasonal was a Weiss brewed with Elderberry. I wondered what approach they would take. Would it be the light hand that is, seemingly, rare where fruit meets beer, or the heavy “fruit must be the main player” hand, so much more common in the fruit beers I’ve tried? And then it was Elderberry. I know Elderberry. I’ve brewed a very delicious plum and elderberry mead. Every year I forage elderberry. In fact, I went to my freezer and popped a few in my mouth just to reacquaint my memory with Elder Betty’s offerings. Then there was the way it was presented, a folksy Elder Betty Elderberry tree as the matron of summer, I had to give it a try.

“Tired and thirsty I did come, to an Elderberry under summer sun and found soothing balm within, ancient Betty’s weiss’ened grin.

Magic Hat as one of the most impressive lists of “interesting ales”, and though most are not available any longer. It is worthwhile to stay abreast of future offerings in their Reclusive Rarities; whatever is next in line is sure to be worth a taste if for no other reason than that it will be unique. This one is available and so it called to me like a Siren singing a slightly different tune then all her sisters.
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REVIEW: Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale from Humboldt Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Humboldt Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: American Brown Ale
ABV: 5.7%
IBUs: 32
Appearance: Hardened Amber, Resembling Over-Brewed Iced Tea
Aroma: Malty Backbone with Nutty Hints
Flavor: Sweet, Roasty & Slightly Hoppy
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Grilled Chicken or Pork, Pineapple, Colby or Asiago Cheese

This is my first foray into Humboldt brewing. The brewing company’s history writes like the “little brewery that could.” It was first started back in 1987, being one of the first craft breweries to come on the scene in California. From the very start this brewery was on a mission to brew responsibly and sustainably. It’s easy to see why when you look at where the brewery was located. Humboldt County is home to the awe-inspiring majesty and might of the redwoods and it is an easy step, after seeing nature at its most spectacular, to want to help preserve it.

In 2000 the brewery was having trouble keeping up with production and Firestone Walker Brewing stepped in to lend a hand. Then in 2005 Firestone Walker bought the brewery, changing its name to Nectar Ales. The brewery was then bought in 2013 by Total Beverage Solutions, but for the present, their line of beer is still being brewed by Firestone Walker.

It will be interesting to see where this “little brewery that could” will go from here. Will it reopen its own doors again? I don’t know and can’t find much information on the net about where they are headed. However, they have added a new beer to their line this year. It is a limited release double IPA named “500 B.C.”, referencing the age of the great trees that shaded this breweries humble beginnings; ten cents from every bottle sold goes to Redwood conservation. With a 26 year history, multiple awards, and a small flock of only 5 beers; I can only imagine each being a pretty intense labor of love.
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REVIEW: Imperial Java Stout from Santa Fe Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Santa Fe Brewery Company
Location: Santa Fe, NM
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 8.0%
Hops: Bravo & Fuggle
Appearance: Black with Brown Pancake-like Batter Foam
Aroma: Coffee, Chocolate and Hints of Malt Roastyness
Flavor: Cold Coffee, Sweet Malt
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Desserts

I was bouncing around town, stopping in at the different places that have decent beer selections with the burning question of what to do this week’s review on, when I wondered into the “local fares” selection and suddenly the thought it me, “Why not?” “Why not, review something local for a change.”

So I took some time (a lot) scrutinizing the New Mexico brews (you can never take too much time in making a careful survey and selection of what you will partake of for the next week). After what certain uninformed people might call an inordinate amount of shelf browsing, I decided on this robust-looking offering from Santa Fe Brewing Company.

Santa Fe Brewing Company is the oldest brewery in New Mexico. It reopened in 1988… that’s right reopened. The name was first incorporated back 1882, but unfortunately, closed up after 10 years, and only 22 years before probation hit. In 1988 Mike Lewis, after obtaining some unused custom made open top fermentation vessels, revived the Santa Fe name for another go at its already established brewing tradition.

This beer comes in a pretty simple, unassuming canned six-pack. This is part of the breweries “green initiative,” along with the recycled and completely reusable plastic six-pack carrier, which can actually be returned to the brewery and reused. On the can the Brewery’s humor shows through the simple design with a coffee cup on one side and the words “before noon”, while on the other side is a beer mug and the words “after noon.” A serious warning “Not For Use With Donuts” is also printed across the bottom of the can.
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REVIEW: Hopothermia by Alaskan Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Alaskan Brewery Company
Location: Juneau, AK
Style: American Double IPA
ABV: 8.5%
IBU: 70
Appearance: Fresh, Shiny Copper with Fluffy Off-White Foam
Aroma: Citrusy, Fruity Mix; Notes of Apricot & Pineapple
Flavor: Balanced, Surprisingly Smooth & Mellow
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Spicy Food, Bitter Salads, Pizza, Wild Game (you caught yourself)

Most everyone knows the on-going love affair between the American craft brew industry and their IPA’s, Imperial IPA’s, and Double IPA’s. So, it will be no real surprise that here I sit reviewing another offering to this already crowded arena. Don’t get me wrong I’m right there with most hopheads in the feeling that “the more the merrier.” This latest addition comes to us from the far, cold north. Alaska. That’s right far to the north they labor to bring us their love affairs, their versions of the common styles.

Alaskan Brewing Company opened in 1986, but remained unknown to a large portion of the lower 48, until recently, when they widened their distribution. I didn’t know a thing about them until they expanded into New Mexico in 2013. This brewery is one of the most decorated Great American Beer Festival entrants and continually turns out high quality beers without taking themselves too seriously.

“A glass to the northern country, and a beer bearing hidden bounty.”

Hopothermia comes in a nice four-pack. The artwork is understated and nice. The cartoon is green with a frozen hop cone making up the degree sign between hop and thermia. There are funny things to read all over the cartoon (like I said, seems they don’t take themselves too seriously). They even wrote a poem to go with this beer. These guys are men after my own heart.
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REVIEW: Smithwick’s Premium Irish Ale

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Smithwick’s & Sons LTD.
Location: Kilkenny, Ireland
Style: Irish Red Ale
ABV: 4.5%
IBU: 20
Appearance: Bright Coppery-Red Hue with Puffy White Foam
Aroma: Mild, Malty Sweetness; Hints of Nut & Roasted Grains
Flavor: Smooth & Malty; Notes of Nuttiness & Toffee
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Corned Beef, Irish Beef Stew, Cabbage, Potatoes

Saint Patrick’s Day is upon us, and with it comes the hunt for some good Irish beer to hoist high in celebration of the old saint and everything Irish. Of course the first beer that comes to most everyone’s mind when talking Irish is Guinness Stout, and with good reason; Guinness is probably the most recognized stout in the world. But, because it is so widely recognized I decided to travel just a bit down the list of imported Irish beers and review something not quite so well known. Cue Smithwick’s, or Smithick’s (the w is actually silent). Now, granted this is a product of Guinness, but it is not a stout, and so may appeal to more palates in search of Irish waters, then its darker brother.

But first, a little history. Saint Patrick’s Day, as it is celebrated today, is really an Irish-American made holiday. Until this change took hold, it was celebrated in Ireland as a Christian feast day, where families would get together and have a good meal. The raucous celebrations we see today are a product of Irish-Americans searching for a way to reconnect to, and celebrate their ties to the old country; including the parades and the color green, which is taken to an extreme in Chicago where a part of the river is dyed green every year.
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REVIEW: Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Location: Escondido, CA
Style: American Strong Ale
ABV: 7.20%
Appearance: Polished Mahogany, Stout Tan Foam
Aroma: Oaky Vanilla
Flavor: Sweet Malt, Hoppy Bitterness with Hints of Caramel & Vanilla
Availability: Year-Round

I honestly have yet to try a beer from Stone Brewing that I don’t like. Granted, I haven’t tried all of their beers and some are pretty hard to come-by, but to varying degrees I’ve found each one that I have been able to try pretty outstanding. To my knowledge the Oaked Arrogant Bastard is the exact same recipe as the original Arrogant Bastard with the addition of being aged on oak chips.

Oak and beer have a long history. Oak barrels were widely used in the storing of beer for a long time, but ironically many brewers went to great lengths to keep their beer from picking up much of the flavor imparted by the wood. Some even went so far as to line the inside of the barrels with brewers pitch to minimize contact between the beer and wood. This can definitely be understood in some cases, not all beer styles (especially a lot of the lighter styles), favor oak flavor. The styles most associated with oak and other wood aging are heavier darker beers, such as, Old Ales, Stouts, Porters, Dark IPA’s and Browns (and sours). Arrogant bastard being an American Heavy falls nicely into the beer styles that do benefit from the added complexities gathered from time in contact with oak.

“Glass-trapped darkness delicately cloaked in balancing act with ag’ed oak”

The bottle has the usual artwork endemic to Stone Brewery; stylized gargoyle (this one holding a beer mug), with the words “You’re Not Worthy” across the bottom, and the usual tirade is on the back of the bottle, which incidentally, if you’ve never tried Stone Brewing company, their very funny monologs, alone are worth buying a sampling of their beer. The one for both the Oaked and regular Arrogant Bastard starts with, “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it.” Sounds like a challenge to me.
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REVIEW: New DogTown Pale from Lagunitas Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Company
Location: Petaluma, CA
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.10%
IBU: 62
Appearance: Bright Gold With Hints of Orange
Aroma: Fresh Pine with Grapefruit & Floral Notes
Flavor: Piney Hops, Malty Sweetness, Dry Aftertaste
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Fajitas, Pork Chops, Turkey

This one is brand new for me. I’ve tried their Maximus IPA, but unfortunately I will have to reintroduce my taste buds to it at some point, because I don’t remember a thing about it, (other then I liked it); which will make it that much more fun to go back and visit.

But, back to the here and now, a new beer in front of me, waiting impatiently to be tried. Lagunitas was started in 1994 by Chicago native Tony Magee and has grown into one of the 6 largest craft breweries in America. According to the Lagunitas website this is not their original Pale Ale recipe, but a mix of that recipe and an IPA called Kill Ugly Radio, a limited release beer in 2007.

Thus the “new” in the DogTown name. All Lagunitas beers have a tongue-in-cheek story that borders the label. This one says,  ”This is not the original Pale Ale as brewed in faraway 1993 in the back of the Old House of Richards Building in the West Marin hamlet of Forest Knolls right next to little Lagunitas… it is way better. Back then the beer tasted like broccoli and kerosene and the carbonation ate right through and drained your stomach into your gut…”I wonder?

The Pour And Aroma

An old and new did merge together in golden brew. The same, was neither. One did not convert the other…
…But almost.

New DogTown pours the color of bright gold with hints of orange highlights. The last runnings splash down through a vigorously built three fingers of lathered foam. Almost perfect lacing is left as foam line drops to meet the level of the golden liquid.

Aroma hits like an IPA. Big pine and fresh resin are very apparent, with some floral character peeking through once in a while, and a little grapefruit on the side. The floral notes, though very subtle and a little hard to catch, are quiet nice once recognized.

The Mouthfeel and Taste

Mouthfeel is light to medium and the first thing I notice is the hops. It is much less mellow then I would expect from a pale ale. This one has a much more IPAish hop forward taste. The bitterness has some grapefruit-citrus notes to it, but the first sip is a bit like chewing on pine needles.

Lagunitas New Dogtown

A little malty sweetness and hints of honey shine all too briefly at the backend of the taste. It tries to peek through the thick forest, and succeeds fleetingly, before being beaten back by the overpowering punch of pine and resin. Aftertaste is dry with remnants of the bitterness bully’s passing. The taste isn’t bad, but it took me by surprise. This is supposed to be a pale ale, right?

Overall Impressions

This beer turns out to be an IPA’s not-so-little brother. In fact, going strictly off of the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines this ale is at the northern limit of the pale ale end and could comfortably make the transition into the IPA category with little to no changes. And (side note here) actually Lagunitas’s IPA ranks lower on both IBU’s and ABV compared to this new pale ale, something that, though strictly speaking does not put this pale in the IPA category, is non-the-less interesting.

The malt character is just barely present, and the IBU’s would fit nicely into the lower end of an American IPA. Placed in either of these categories though, it still wouldn’t be high on my list of something extraordinary. Possibly it is the mixing of their original recipe with an IPA that brings this one dancing, back and forth, across the line between the two styles, but not really making an impression in either. It would be interesting to taste that original pale ale recipe, just to get a hint of where they were coming from when they decided to revamp this beer.

New Dogtown is not a bad beer, but it misses the balance of a good pale ale, instead seeming to prefer taking the harsher road of a wanna-be IPA. I might go back to this beer if I wanted a decent IPA, but (IMO) there are too many better pale ales out there to warrant drinking this one as a representation of the style.

More Beer Reviews:

REVIEW: Rebel IPA from Samuel Adams Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Samuel Adams Brewing Co.
Location: Boston, MA
Style: West Coast IPA
ABV: 6.5%
IBU: 45
Appearance: Light Amber, Liquid Copper
Aroma: Citrus-Dense, Piney Grapefruit
Flavor: Surging Citrus, Crisp & Clean Pine, Dry Aftertaste
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Tex-Mex, BBQ Ribs, Stuffed Jalapenos, Aged Cheddar

A year-around IPA from Samuel Adams, all I can say is, “about time.” Samuel Adams has done a couple seasonal IPA’s (Latitude 48 and Whitewater), and maybe a couple more are buried in the depths of their specialty collections (Grumpy Monk comes to mind), but they have never put up a year-around offering.

Samuel Adams was started back in 1984 and is one of the original breweries that started the reemergence and upward swing of craft brew popularity in America, which makes the absence of an IPA in their lineup that much more puzzling.

Rebel is marketed as a “West Coast” IPA. What does this mean? Well, this beer combines five varieties of hops grown on the west coast (Cascade, Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook, and Amarillo). Is this all that separates it from other IPA’s? I’m not sure. Maybe. I’ve never quiet understood the distinctions of west coast and east coast IPA (or why it was felt this distinction had to be made).

“Five Coastals did contrive their oils to inhive, in a bitter ploy of bottled joy.”

Sure, one is supposed to have more hop character, one is supposed to have more malt presence; one is more citrus and tropical fruit, the other more pine and wood. But, across the IPA spectrum, crossover of these typical characteristics makes this type of distinction rather moot (IMO). If it’s a good IPA, it’s a good IPA.
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REVIEW: Moose Drool from Big Sky Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Big Sky Brewing Co.
Location: Missoula, MT
Style: American Brown Ale
ABV: 5.1%
IBU: 26
Appearance: Deep Mahogany & Reddish-Copper
Aroma: Nuts, Toffee, & the Sweetness of Honey
Flavor: Malty Sweetness with Chocolate & Coffee Notes
Availability: Year-Round; Bottle & Can
Pairs With: Grilled Steak, Roast Beef Sandwich, Shiitake Mushrooms

If the name doesn’t pique your interest and entice you to take, at the very least, a cautious sip, then something is missing in you my friend. I have this thing about beer names; the more wacky, fun, off-the-wall they are, the more I feel the beer behind the name might be worth a try. And come on, how much more off-the-wall can you get then calling something you’re supposed to drink and enjoy Moose Drool?

So, I’m sure you have the burning need to know… why call it Moose Drool? Interestingly, the founders and owners, Neal Leathers, Bjorn Nabozney, and Brad Robinson, kind of worked backwards when it came to finding names for their beers. They asked Bjorn’s mother to paint a bunch of wildlife pictures. For each of these, they would try to create a name for a beer. Once you know this bit of the story and have seen the label, it’s easy to see why this beer had to be called Moose Drool. There was just no way around it.

“Come… hold your cup under bearded chin, and collect excellence from wetted grin”

Moose Drool is Big Sky’s most well-known beer and definitely deserves this hallowed place in their lineup. Moose Drool was the second beer the company brewed way back in 1995 (Whistle Pig Red Ale was their first and I’m a little upset to say, I never got a chance to try it). But if I can’t try the first, I’ll be more than happy to settle for the second.
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REVIEW: Spring Blonde from New Belgium Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Co.
Location: Fort Collins, CO
Style: Belgium Blonde Ale
ABV: 6.0%
IBU: 48
Appearance: Deep, Translucent Gold with Snow-White Foam
Aroma: Mild Lemon Zest, Grainy Yeast, Bread
Flavor: Malty Sweetness, Mild Bitterness
Availability: Spring Seasonal
Pairs With: Grilled Chicken, Creamy Pasta, Salmon Rigatoni

I am always ready to sample any new offering from New Belgium Brewery up in Fort Collins, Colorado. What’s not to love about this place; it is employee owned, run in a highly sustainable and environmentally ethical way, and they make some killer beer. Which are all reasons they made my list of American Breweries to visit.

Back a couple years ago Outside Magazine rated New Belgium the number one company to work for in their yearly “50 best places to work list.” And, as if all that wasn’t enough, the employee “extra” that inspired this beer and, most likely, was a big factor in their ranking at the top of Outside’s list, is a spring biking trip to Belgium for all 5 year employees; a trip to see the companies roots, as it were. I’d have to say that’s quite the perk.

I love most of their beers (and sorely miss some of the ones they have discontinued), and a chance to try a new offering is hard to pass up, especially something they haven’t tried to brew yet, like a Belgian Blonde Ale.
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