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: 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: Wake ‘N Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout from Terrapin Beer Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Terrapin Beer Co.
Location: Athens, GA
Style: Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout
ABV: 8.6%
IBU: 50
Appearance: Deep brown, almost black
Aroma: Roasted coffee & malts, hints of chocolate
Flavor: Medium-Roast Coffee With Semi-Sweet Chocolate
Availability: Seasonal — Winter
Pairs With: Grilled Steak Topped With Blue Cheese; Cheesecake

It wasn’t very long ago that Georgia was a wasteland for craft beer. Very little was made there, and even less made it out of the state. That has changed over the last few years, spurred on by the success of a fairly young, Athens-based brewery. In the decade they have been open, the Terrapin Beer Company has built up quite an impressive roster of beers, accompanied by plenty of medals.

Perfect for the winter season, their Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout is a pleasant, warming brew that has drawn accolades from beer drinkers and critics alike. Brewed with coffee roasted by Jittery Joe’s Coffee just down the road from the Terrapin brewery in Athens, Georgia, the blend is a custom mix specifically for Terrapin. It is available for sale online, so you can treat your non beer-drinking friends to a taste of this acclaimed mix.

Appearance

Packaged in 12-ounce bottles, the beer pours out thick and dark, brown bordering on black in color. It is dark enough that light will not shine through it, a great look. It creates a high, thick head that is mocha in color. It takes a while to subside, and the beer leaves good lacing throughout the glass. It is best served in a shifter glass, but is acceptable in a pint glass as well.
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REVIEW: Storm King Stout from Victory Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: American Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.1%
Appearance: Dark Brown
Aroma: Caramel, Roasted Malts
Flavor: Caramel, Espresso, Bitter Chocolate
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Chocolate, Brisket, BBQ

Imperial stouts, like many imperial styles, have devolved over the years. Where they were once smoky, flavorful brews with a slight uptick in alcohol content, they have transformed into dark, syrupy messes with overbearing alcohol notes. For some, the aim has shifted from flavor to inebriation. On the other end of the spectrum is Victory’s Storm King.

At 9.1% alcohol by volume, Storm King barely nudges the heavy hitters of the class – sought after beers such as AleSmith’s Speedway Stout and Three Floyd’s Dark Lord are well into the double digits, while Dogfish Head’s massive World Wide Stout comes up just short of 20%. Even Bell’s Expedition Stout, a stalwart of the style, comes in above 10%. What Storm King provides, however, is a beer that is an all-around winner, well balanced with plenty of discernible tasting notes.

Appearance

The appearance is of a standard imperial stout – dark brown, bordering on black, with amber coloration towards the top of a pour. Poured properly, it will produce a small but stable dark tan head – it won’t overwhelm the glass, but will produce just enough to provide a pleasing appearance and a good opportunity to inhale the scents.

Aroma

Storm King Stout - Victory Brewing

The aroma is one of caramel and roasted malts, with hints of chocolate and coffee thrown in, and a distinct hop note that will pierce through the others in the end. Surprisingly, the smell of alcohol is not as present as in many other beers of the style – it smells more like a standard coffee or espresso stout. As it warms, the alcohol aroma will develop slightly, but will never overpower it.

Flavor

The taste delivers what the aroma promises, but with some surprises. The caramel, espresso, and slightly bitter chocolate is all there, with a slight burn thanks to the Imperial nature. The overwhelming taste is that of roasted malts, with almost a slightly burnt hint, a note that is further enhanced by the aggressive hop finish. This bitterness adds a certain drying snap to the end of a sip, and provides a great change of flavor throughout a mouthful. It definitely leans towards the more bitter end of the Imperial Stout spectrum.

Tasting Notes

Victory doesn’t cheat by providing a creamy texture to counter the bitterness, they let it all hang out. The feel is mildly carbonated, on the dryer side of the Imperials. It is also not particularly thick, allowing it to play the field between a drinking beer or a sipping beer.

When it’s all said and done, Storm King is definitely a winning brew. It is somewhat of an oddity – an Imperial style that you can drink a few of in a sitting without risking alcohol poisoning, a stout with a distinct hoppiness. It is an incredibly balanced beer for its style, wowing the drinker with taste instead of beating them into submission with high alcohol content and one singular, overbearing tasting note.

For the true stout fans, who want to push further, Storm King can sometimes also be found on cask, adding a whole new level to the brew. A hand-pumped pint will produce greater aromas, accentuating the base ingredients, with sharper hops and bigger, toastier malt aromas. The mouthfeel will develop as well, it will be creamier and less carbonated. It is well worth having on cask when available – where sometimes the cask is a mere gimmick, in the case of Storm King, it enhances the beer.

This is the type of beer we’ve come to expect from Victory. The Downingtown-based brewery, founded in 1996, has a history of producing well-balanced, basic beers. They tend not to be too experimental with their beers, instead producing brews that fit the style profiles very neatly. While this has resulted in very little in the way of decorations, it has earned them quite a following as far as beer drinkers are concerned.Victory are one of the most highly respected and distributed craft beers in Pennsylvania, and their restaurant and brewery is a key part of any Pennsylvania brewery tour. It has lead to them being the most highly distributed craft beer from the state – Victory can be found in 30 states, plus Japan and Singapore. It has also helped them to become an integral partner in a number of collaboration beers, working with the likes of Dogfish Head, Stone, and Fat Head’s.

One of the most unique things about Victory is their brewing methods– they are one of the few breweries that use whole flower hops in their brewing process. Their brewers feel that this provides better flavor and aroma to the beers. This move has earned them praise and collaboration on an international level, with the German Hop Growers’ Association tapping their talents for a number of specialty beers for events in the past.

So as the weather cools, grab yourself a nice, warming bottle of Storm King for a little bit of relaxation.

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