Draft Notes

One beer at a time…

Bell’s Hopslam

Hopslam 6 packBells Hopslam is one of those beers with a cult following who anticipate the annual/seasonal release. It carries a lofty reputation with ratings of 100 by Beer Advocate and Rate Beer. The hype associated with this beer is evident on social networks such as Twitter and Untapped and of course as soon as I saw it was coming to my neighborhood, like a teenage girl stalking Justin Bieber, I had to find this Michigan beer.

I paid enough attention to the craft beer scene to know that 1/21 was the Virginia release week. In anticipation I was tracking my local beer stores like a hawk and finally a batch hit Arrowine who posted a note on Facebook at 11am. During my lunch break I make the call to have a 6 or two held, to my disappointment all 25 cases had sold out in an hour. F!!!. I call another small beer joint in Vienna (Norm’s) to see if they had received their delivery and sure enough it is coming in the following day. What time?  I ask.  Between 11am and 4pm I am told, as if setting up an appointment with Comcast cable. This is a risk I cannot take, so I check in with mega store Total Wine & Beverage. Bingo! Just landed on the floor is the word, so I head down to the store immediately. $22.99? WTF? Who, besides Belgian Monks, charge that much for a six-pack? After coming this far and all the anticipation, of course I pay.

Let’s talk the anatomy of this Hoplsam. The beer is an Imperial IPA weighing in at 10% ABV and about 80 IBUs (based on a few independent websites, not official).  Bells included six different types of hops into this beer, to include a hefty dry hopping with Simcoe hops. The interesting addition to this big IPA is a “dollop” of honey. This particular six-pack was bottled on January 15, so quite fresh at 2 weeks.

Time to drink up. As usual I am using my tulip glass to ensure I can take in all the aromas which I love in these Imperial IPAs.

The appearance is a cloudy orange with a quickly receding white head.

Aromas are not as strong as I expected considering the 6 hops in there and the dry hopping (not to mention the name).  I definitely detect piney, grapefruit, & floral notes.

The tastes I pick up are earthy, citrus, pine, and all things Pacific Northwest. The honey is evident, which brings a unique touch of sweetness before you are smacked by the bitter finish.  An alcohol taste is present, but far from what you may expect at 10% ABV.

Bells GlassMouth Feel is somewhat syrupy and chewy with minimal carbonation. It leaves a distinct coating around the mouth leaving me smacking my lips taking in more of that bitter taste.

Overall the only negative I have on this beer is the lack of aromas I look for in my hopped up beers. However, once I got past that I can see the appeal of this brew with its fine use of hops. The addition of honey works well to throw the taste buds before the bitter finish. It makes you want to go back for more and more of this very drinkable 10% ABV IPA. I will give Hopslam 4.5 Mugs out of 5 on the Draft Notes Scale.

Part of me wants to rate this beer a little lower due to the price tag, but it truly is a nice beer. I would recommend trying this if you get a chance, but I think there are equally good choices in the Imperial IPA category at better prices. As usual I am going to suggest one of my favorites Deviant Dales by Oskar Blues; however, Lagunitas Sucks (released in VA this last week too $8.99/6), Dogfish Head 90 Minute, Victory Hop Wallop, and Green Flash Palate Wrecker are fine substitutes at a better price (Most are year round too).

Learn more about Bell’s Brewery here: http://bellsbeer.com/. Other suggested beers from Bell’s include Two Hearted Ale (IPA), Amber, Kalamazoo Stout, and most of their seasonal beers (Oberon, Java Stout, Christmas). Can’t go wrong with this brewery!


Washington DC Brewery Crawl

It has been a very exciting few years for the Washington DC area beer scene with multiple breweries opening doors and pushing out high quality beers. A week or so ago I was excited to take part in a brewery crawl covering three within the small confines of the District of Columbia. The crawl included Chocolate City, 3 Stars, and DC Brau. I have sampled many of the (year round) beers offered by each; however, this was my first visit to each brewery.

Our first stop was at Chocolate City Brewing Company located at 2801 8th Street NE in an old warehouse which they have converted over time from a run-down mess (check out the address on Google street view) into a brewery ready building. Although I forgot to ask once I got inside, it looks like they have added an elevated deck for what I hope will be used for summer tastings.

Outside the brewery was one of the many food trucks you can find around DC. This one today was the El Floridano, serving a few different sandwiches using pork and meatloaf. Food trucks and a brewery are an awesome combination and seem to be the trend in these parts. You will see later, that my biggest mistake of the day was not buying a sandwich.

Upon entering through a garage door style entrance, I was shocked to see how small this brewery actually is. Chocolate City only sells kegs or growlers and those kegs I rarely see on tap at local bars. Based on the small tanks set in the back corner, I see why their output is quite limited. To the right of the brewing equipment, a small table is set up with a couple of taps serving 6 ounce samples.  The brewery website lists 4 beers in their line-up, two of which are available for a free tasting.

Choclate City Brewery

Choclate City Brewery

The first beer I tried was the Cornerstone Copper, a well balance amber ale. This beer I have seen and consumed a couple of times at DC bars. To be honest I was not impressed the first time I tried it. This batch straight from the brewery was nice and not as I recalled. Turns out, per an impromptu tour by one of the founders, they had some quality issues during the first few batches which they obviously corrected.

Choc City KegThe second offering was the Cezveza Nacional Dark Vienna Lager. I had seen this beer mentioned on Facebook and Twitter as “Cerveza Nacional” and I was always confused on why they would produce a Corona style beer. On this day as they pour me a dark lager I am immediately embarrassed of my prior assumptions and I guess you could say stereo types. This is a smooth dark lager with a nice roasted taste which I would classify closer to a German Dunkel (They classify as a Dark Vienna Lager which I guess is close enough to Germany). Maybe I relate it more to Germany as I really wanted to just start drinking it by the liter.

We move on to our next stop a few miles away, 3 Stars Brewing Company at 6400 Chillum Place NW. 3 Stars is located in what used to be an auto body shop amongst a row of industrial buildings and a random little dinner across the street. As we walk up to the entrance the first thing I see is a guy grilling to the side of the entrance, grilling a pork loin to be exact. I was hungry due to stupidly skipping the last food truck, so I had to ask.

Entering the building we come across quite a large crowd in a very spacious warehouse.  In the immediate area the crowd is around about 6 taps with multiple employees pouring samples like there is no tomorrow. One employee is yelling for growler fills to move to the front. I guess paying customers get preference. Interesting concept.  We get in line for ID check and tickets, then in another line for beers. Quite a process compared to our last stop.

I attended the 3 Stars release party at Church Key on 14th St NW over the summer, so I was curious to see what was new. The release party featured variants (Cask, Draft, and some flavor conditioning) of the Pandemic Porter, Southern Belle Brown Ale, and Peppercorn Saison.  Honestly, that particular set of styles is not amongst my favorites, so I was excited to see what new they had to offer. Well, once again we have multiple versions of the Pandemic Porter (Regular, Coffee, & Chocolate Nibs) and the saison; however, a new beer greeted me named Sea Change Pale Ale.

3 Stars Mural

3 Stars Mural

I tried the 3 porters, saison, and pale ale. Unfortunately I got the bottom of the cask Chocolate version of the porter, so I can’t really speak to that, but the regular and coffee versions were solid beers I would drink again. The pale was not very good, I was quite disappointed in this one as I figured it to be my go to 3 Star brew being the Pale Ale fan I am. My favorite was definitely the Peppercorn Saison, which I believe I also enjoyed during the release party.  The thing of it is, there are no pepper corns in this saison and I have no idea where the name came from. So if you get a chance to try it, do not expect to have any pepper notes.  Do expect a quality saison.

During my tastings I decided to take a look around the brewery which is quite open in layout. In the middle are the tanks and brewing equipment and way in the back are some barrels aging some beer. I assume another flavor of the Pandemic, but who knows. One thing that stood out about 3 stars was the home-brew shop within the brewery.

3 Star Home Brew Shop

3 Star Home Brew Shop

Equipment, hops, barley, bottles, etc. You name it, they sell it. I was surprised to see that the home-brew store had a steady flow of customers and many making purchases.  All of a sudden we are getting kicked out due to DC laws saying they have to close at 4. When the hell do I get some of that pork loin? Apparently never.

Our final stop is a few miles away at DC Brau. Now DC Brau really must not want people to stumble upon the brewery as it is hidden like a CIA safe house.  Located behind a strip mall at 3178-B Bladensburg Road NE, we circled a few times and eventually found the entrance while pissing off a few locals doing u-turns.DC Brau Cans

We had a private tour arranged for our group of about 20 ($10 each including tastings), so we have the reception area to ourselves as they kick out the other customers for closing time. Growler sales were over and it was about to be our time to taste some of the 14 beers listed on their website. As I get to the bar I am greeted by the friendly staff and given the option of two beers. Are you serious? 2 beers to choose from at the largest brewery inside the District? Which really in not that large, but still! The Public Pale Ale or Penn Quarter Porter is the selection. The Public Pale Ale maybe my favorite local beer and I have gone through my fair share of pints and cans, so I am happy to drink another and I do. I eventually have a porter and am as usual happy with that one too. Nothing new for me on this visit. DC Brau, I am not mad, just disappointed.DC Brau Rye Whiskey Barrels-Art

After a quick welcome from one of the co-founders we begin the tour, but not before getting another refill.  After about 15 minutes of explanations of mash and grain and the usual, the tour guide recommends we go back for another refill. DC Brau is now back on my good side as this continues for the next hour as we cruise around the facility. In the storage area I spy a bomber of On the Wings of Armageddon, the imperial IPA I was really hoping to get my hands on and try at the brewery. Unfortunately I only go my hands on it and then had to put it back. It was a great tour and we really got to see a lot of the brewery, to include the so called Bat Cave which was storing some future limited release sours doing their time and bacteria that could apparently take down the brewery if it escaped the cave.  FYI, I did not touch that. Upon completion of tour we of course had one more “sample” before parting ways for food – finally.

Bat Cave!

Bat Cave!

Overall, I was happy with the brewery crawl and was proud to see some local breweries doing well. Every stop was a slightly bigger operation, but all have a part in the community with a variety of specialties and offerings. Chocolate City was very personal with the owners giving improvised tours, 3 Stars catering to both their consumers and home brewers, and DC Brau catching east coast attention with their hop bomb style.  All in all a promising future in DC beer.

For more information on these breweries, you can find their websites here:

Chocolate City: http://chocolatecitybeer.com/

3 Stars Brewery:  http://threestarsbrewing.com/

DC Brau: http://www.dcbrau.com/

Southern Tier Brewing Company 2XIPA

2XIPA labelIt has been a relaxing break for Christmas and New Year’s, but time to get back to work. To start off 2013 I have decided to take a look at Southern Tier’s 2XIPA, as nothing gets a year started better than an Imperial India Pale Ale.

Southern Tier Brewing Company of Lakewood, New York was founded in 2002 by Phineas DeMink and Allen “Skip” Yahn. This brewery distributes about 50,000 barrels annually covering most of the United States and about 7 other countries.

Southern Tier has a fairly standard year round line up including a pale ale, IPA, wheat, and a porter. They also have quite a few seasonal releases such as Old Man Winter Ale and a Crème Brulee Stout (try a taster before ordering this – very sweet, great for dessert though!); however, I think they are most known for their annual release of “Pumking”, an Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

The 2XIPA I will be reviewing has an ABV of 8.2%, but I can’t find an IBU rating. It most likely would fall between 70 and 100 IBUs for this style. The brewery uses 4 types of hops, 3 malts, and ale yeast to brew up this beer. I have placed this beer on the counter for about 10 minutes to give it time to warm and will taste this beer in my usual tulip glass (conveniently the glass recommended by the brewery).

Appearance is a deep gold with small amount of white head which recedes very quickly.

Aromas I detect are piney hops, vanilla, and citrus notes. Not as big in the aroma department as most imperial IPAs I have had.

When I taste the beer, huge hops jump out immediately which is a surprise based on the aromas. I thought it may be lighter, but it is delivering that imperial punch one would expect. I pick up some earthy flavors and definitely the malts in the distant background. A very bitter finish stuns the tongue.

2XIPA glass n bottleMouth feel is light to medium density, minimal carbonation, and it is quite crisp which about dries out my mouth within seconds.

Overall this is a solid Imperial IPA with all the features one would expect. 2XIPA does not stand out in any major area, but it is definitely not lacking anything I look for in this style. I would definitely drink this beer again, but probably would opt for others if I had a choice. I will have to give this beer 3 mugs out of 5 on the Draft Notes Scale. Try Oskar Blues Deviant Dale or Dogfish Head 90 Minute before you choose this one.

To learn more about Southern Tier, check out their website here: http://www.stbcbeer.com/ and more specifically their beer list is here: http://www.stbcbeer.com/our-beers/. For my international readers, here are all the regions distributed to outside the US: Australia, Denmark, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Ontario, British Columbia, and the United Kingdom. Cheers to 2013!

Throwback Brewery Campfire Smoked Porter

A good friend of mine from the “live free or die” state recently brought me a bomber of Campfire Smoked Porter by a small brewery named Throwback Brewery. Throwback is located in North Hampton, NH and from what I see on their website, currently only distribute within the state. They pride themselves on using local ingredients and strive to eventually be 100% local all the way down to the malt as was done by many small breweries pre-prohibition (Hence the name Throwback).Throwback Campfire

I thought a porter would be a good follow-up to my last review on Sierra’s Narwhal Stout. What is the difference between a Porter and a stout you may be asking? Well, I was asking and it is actually a good question that does not seem to have one answer. Some say it is simply that a stout is a stronger version of a Porter. Others note the use of roasted barley in Stouts gives a more roasted taste. The problem is there are many exceptions to many rules, especially in today’s craft brewing scene. Not to mention variations of each like Baltic Porters and Milk Stouts.

Yeah, so I didn’t answer the question either. Moving on…

The Campfire Smoked Porter weighs in at 6.4% ABV and 48 IBUs. The” smoked” portion of this beer is created by smoking the malts of New Hampshire applewood. I don’t usually talk pairings, but the Throwback suggests barbecue or s’mores off a campfire. S’mores? Seriously? Well ok, I probably would try it if I was ever around a campfire.

Now down to business. After I let the bottle sit out for about 15-20 minutes to warm up, I pour from the 22oz bottle into my tulip glass. Appearance is a black body with a khaki head; a lot of head as seen in the picture. I actually poured two glasses thinking I made a bad pour the first time.

Throwback Campfire GlassThe aromas are smoke and well, that is really all I can detect.  I could actually smell the smokiness immediately after opening the bottle. This smells exactly like a German Rauchbier (maybe on the lighter side).

When I take my first sip, the smoke jumps out immediately, but not as overwhelming as I expected based on the aroma. I taste the bitterness of the hops coming through followed by a beautiful espresso finish. Little bit of that bitterness lingers. Exceptional balance for sure.

The mouth feel is that of a full-bodied beer with plenty of carbonation present. Stings the tongue a little at first and leaves a slightly syrupy layer in the mouth.

Overall I am a bit conflicted with this beer. I don’t like that flood of smoke in the aroma every time I stick my nose into the glass while taking a sip. However; the taste of smoke, hops, and coffee flavors are extremely well-balanced and have me going back for more. I am going to rate this 3.75 Mugs out of 5 on the Draft Notes scale. I recommend this beer as a “try it if you see it” if you like a little smoke in beers, if not it may not be your thing so step away unless feeling adventurous. I definitely will be requesting another Throwback beer from my NH connection on his next trip home.

To learn more about Throwback Brewery, check out their website at: http://throwbackbrewery.com/.  If you are interested in the porter vs stout conversation, here is one of the articles I read by the respected magazine Beer Connoisseur: http://www.beerconnoisseur.com/porter-versus-stout. Cheers!

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout

Narwhal LabelMany craft beer drinkers credit Sierra Nevada as one of their “gateway” breweries introducing them to the tastes of craft beer and drawing them away from boring macro beers. I picked up the often available Pale Ale many years ago and continue to enjoy it to this date. Today I find myself far from the old pale ale holding a Narwhal Imperial Stout which is part of Sierra Nevada’s High Altitude Series (Hoptimum and Bigfoot also in this series). Narwhal (2012) was release in October and has been highly touted by many beer drinkers/reviewers. The beer weighs in at 10.2% ABV and 60 IBU using Magnum hops and about a half dozen malts (including 2 Row Pale and Roasted Barley). One item to note for those watching their figure, this beer has approximately 305 calories which is far from 150 or less in the average pilsner or lager. The (hopefully) awesomeness of this stout will be worth it though. Let us drink.

Appearance is black as tar with dark tan head which recedes within 30 seconds. Aromas I detect are sweet chocolate, slight coffee, and a touch of smoke. Aromas are all fairly mild, but blend quite well. Immediate tastes are roasted coffee and a little chocolate with the smoky roasted barley coming through. I detect the alcohol after a sting of bitterness leaves the tongue. There is a silky smooth mouth feel creating a medium body. Narwhal and GlassOverall, I would say they blend of roasted coffee, chocolate, and smoke come together quite well. It is interesting how the aroma leans towards the sweet chocolate (slight coffee) and then the taste is primarily coffee (slight chocolate). I think my favorite part of this beer is the silk like mouth feel. Probably not what the brewery would hope for as the highlight. The lingering alcohol taste is a bit much for my liking. I will rate this beer 4 Mugs out of 5 on the Draft Notes scale.

The Sierra Nevada website points out that this is a great beer to age, so I would be curious to try this after a year of two of aging to see how much of the alcohol dissipates. That would make me happy and push that rating up. Not sure I have the patience to wait though! Learn more about Sierra Nevada here: http://www.sierranevada.com/. Interested in Narwhals? Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narwhal. Rumor is they enjoy bacon.

21st Amendment Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale

One of my favorite things about winter is trying winter spiced ales (warmers) as the breweries can really get creative with the style. I have been looking forward to writing a review on one of my favorites from last year, 21st Amendment Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale. In my opinion, 21st Amendment has solid beers across the board minus the Watermelon Wheat (My wife loves it though, so it has an audience).  The brewpub was founded in 2000 and is located a couple of blocks from the Giant’s stadium in San Francisco. Besides the fantastic beer, 21st Amendment is known for their creative art design (and names) on the beer cans (Check them out here: http://21st-amendment.com/beer).Fireside Chat Can Fireside Chat is named after president FDR’s depression era radio addresses which, per the brewery website, “were like a kick in the butt and a hug at the same time”. This spiced English ale has an ABV of 7.9% and an IBU rating of 45. Seven malts, two hops, and a top fermenting ale yeast were combined for the base ale and spices (probably cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and other secret ingredients) were thrown in the mix to produce the final product. Time to taste…

Appearance is dark amber brown with about a half-inch of tan head. Aromas I pick up include nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Pretty much anything you could think of in mulling spices, but nothing too overwhelming.  The tastes I encounter are nutmeg, cloves, sweet malts, chocolate, and a bitter finish which definitely lingers until my next swill. The mouth feel is lighter than I expected, but still a slight syrupy coating. Not much carbonation to speak of. Overall, I enjoy this beer quite a bit and the find the balanceFireside Chat Glass between spices, malts, and bitterness to suit me quite well. I am going to rate 21st Amendment’s Fireside Chat 4 Mugs out of 5 on the Draft Notes Scale. One of my favorite winter spiced ales for sure, but probably not for everyone. So try it at a bar before you buy a 6 pack. I find that the number of ingredients in spiced ales can complicate the tastes and we all may pick up one spice (or malt) more than others. Therefore, I find it interesting to hear what others pick up or find to be the dominate taste/aroma.  If you happen to pick up a can or two, please comment with your opinions.

To learn more about 21st Amendment Brewery, check them out here: http://21st-amendment.com/.  Also, who is coming with me??? A winter warmer beer fest – http://www.ashevillebeerfest.com/  – a nice way to celebrate Australia Day on Jan 26th.

Breckenridge Brewery 471 Small Batch Double IPA

This week I wanted to take a look at another Imperial IPA, this time by Breckenridge Brewery out of Breckenridge, Colorado. I would like to see how this one measures up to one of my all-time favorite beers, Deviant Dale’s, which is also from the Rocky Mountain state. The brewery was founded in 1990 by a self-proclaimed ski bum home brewer just off the popular slopes of Breckenridge. A couple of years later as the brewery grew; they expanded with an additional facility in Denver. Today they distribute to 32 states, so most of you should be able to find a Breckenridge Brewery beer at your local beer oasis. I primarily see the Avalanche Amber and Lucky U IPA, but in Virginia/DC I am also able to get some of their Seasonal and the Small Batch series. The Imperial/Double IPA I will be reviewing today is the 471 Small Batch. This beer combines Munich, Pale, Carapils, Caramel-30, and Torrified Wheat malts along-side of Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, and Fuggle hops. The ABV is 9.2% and IBU measures in a 70, so I am expecting a nice hop punch out of this one and curious to see how well they balance all those malts with the hops.

This beer’s appearance is a deep copper with a creamy white head leaving moderate amounts of lacing on the glass. The aromas include apricots, citrus, pine, and an earthy/grassy scent. All very nice as is expected with most IPAs (at least in my opinion), especially the doubles. The tastes I find are citrusy hops, grapefruit, and pine. Additionally, there definitely is a little sweetness to be found, followed by a bitter finish. Not as hoppy as expected, but it is very well balanced with the hops and malts coming together quite well. There really is minimal alcohol taste for a 9.2% ABV which is a result of this nice balance. The mouth feel is fairly light with medium carbonation. Overall, I would say this is another very solid DIPA and one that I would recommend you try if you can get your hands on it. I can’t say it quite meets Deviant Dale’s (Oskar Blues) level, but give it a shot as you will not be disappointed. I will rate Breckenridge Brewery’s 471 Small Batch Double IPA 4 Mugs out of 5 on the Draft Notes Scale.

Learn more about Breckenridge Brewery at: http://www.breckbrew.com/.

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