Posts Tagged ‘review’

As a general rule, I really dislike stout winter beers. Last year, I reviewed Magic Hat’s Howl and it reminded me yet again why I shy away from this winter dominating style. There is always too much malt, too much chocolate, or too much coffee flavors that I always feel like I’m eating dessert.

I love dessert. But I don’t want it bottled.

But that was last year and given that the world may be ending in a few short weeks, I thought I might as well give another stout an honest shot. I found a 6 pack of Two Brothers Northwind inside their variety pack sold at Cosco. I cracked open my first one later in the week and had an epiphany.

I really hope the world doesn’t end.

Two Brother Northwind pours coal black and forms a cola like head on top. I’ve seen dirty white head before, but Northwind seems to extract color from the beer to color its foam.  Northwind poured very thin, almost watery. There was very little carbonation. Like other stouts, the aroma bursts of chocolate, coffee, and sweet malts. Already there was nothing that would indicate this was going to go any different than the stouts of the past.

I also want to take a side bar and get you on my side. Think about it. This potentially was going to be the last black beer I would ever try before the apocalypse and the watery appearance and familiar overwhelming chocolate/coffee aroma just made me sad.

I took a deep breath and sighed before taking my first sip. Yes, I’m not being melodramatic here. I actually sighed aloud. But something was different this time. Something was…good. Northwind tasted almost creamy and melted over my taste buds filling my palette with sweet malt and roasted mocha flavors. But this time, neither of these flavors overwhelmed the others. They worked together in a wonderful harmony.

This is without a doubt the best stout I have ever had.

Two Brothers North Wind can be found in 6 packs for around $9 in only in the winter months between November and February. Northwind is listed as a 9% ABV beer, but it did not feel nearly that heavy. Two Brothers is located in northern Illinois and currently distributes only to Ohio, New York, Minnesota, and Illinois only. This is the fourth Two Brothers beer I’ve reviewed and I have yet to find something about this microbrewery that I generally dislike. Northwind is another fine example of the high quality brews they continue to put out.

Grade: A

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Don’t be afraid Sam Winter Lager haters, there is something different about this (and last years) Winter Lager. I typically like the seasonal beers put out by Sam Adams. I reviewed earlier in year the Summer Ale as well as Latitude 48, and the East West Kolsch. However, I had always avoided the Sam Winter Lager mostly because there are so many winter beers that I typically don’t like, that I didn’t want to take a risk. Winter Lager has disappointed me in the past and I’ve run from it in past holiday seasons. However, when a free one is placed in front of you by a kind bartender, you can’t turn it down.

Winter Lager pours a humble brown with a gold tinge to it. The head arrived two fingers tall, but quickly subsided, leaving a small amount of lacing around the glass. Like many winter beers, there was a traditional spice aroma lifting from the glass accompanied by a mild malt flavor. My first sip was pretty bland, but the flavors eventually collided together and I understand what they were trying to get at. Although ginger is the prevalent spice taste, I believe there are elements of nutmeg or perhaps allspice that linger in the background to remind you that this is not a simple beer. Winter Lager has a mild bitterness that is similar to orange peel and contains a pleasant malt flavor. Simply, there is nothing overwhelming about this beer, yet at the same time, there is nothing underwhelming about it either.

I’m from New England and I love Sam Adams. I’m still questioning their status as a microbrew given their mass distribution and seemingly endless production of barrels, but I can get past that because this is yet another example of the kind of high quality beers that they put out year after year in mass quantity at an affordable price. This beer can be found everywhere in New England and most regional areas. I’ve found it at many of the liquor stores, supermarkets, and yes, even drug stores here in the Chicagoland area. You can pick up a 12 pack of Winter Lager for around $15 or a six pack for around $9. You can also find this buried inside the winter variety back alongside the Boston Lager, Sam Adams Light, and another seasonal beer. This is a solid offering from a solid brewery that serves as a pleasant post Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas lager.

Grade: B

Taken with flash in a dark room. Colors are not accurately portrayed.

For lack of a better term, I’m going to treat Gordon Biersch like a microbrewery for just today. The restaurants themselves are owned by a multi-brand restaurant operator called Craftworks which also runs Old Chicago, Rock Bottom, A1A Aleworks, and a slew of other regional chain restaurants. The brewery, however, is located in San Jose, California, and produces all the Gordon Biersch beers as well as contracted brews for Kirkland (sold at Costco) and Trader Joe’s. Given their distribution, they probably produce more barrels than a “microbrew” is allowed to, but I’ll forgive that for just today.

The Czech Style Pilsner pours a beautiful golden wheat colored. The head is sticky and left quite a bit of lacing, but did dissipate quickly. There was very little aroma wafting from the beer. It smells fresh and clean, but I could detect very little hops, alcohol, malt, or any other flavor. My first taste revealed exactly what my nose was expecting. Clean, fresh, immature hops with a little bit of alcohol burn. There were no complicated flavors, no waves of flavor. This is simple pilsner that could probably be produced using a home brewing kit.

I do also want to mention that Gordon Biersch serves their fries covered in parsley, salt, and minced garlic. This beer reacted pretty violently with the garlic aftertaste and my mouth felt like it was on fire. I’m attributing this to alcohol burn, but also the idea of serving fries with minced garlic, not cooked down, also kind of bothers me (even though they were delicious). At Gordon Biersch, this was not a beer to eat with a burger and fries. That in itself is a problem.

As far as pilsners go, this is another fresh, clean beer. The 5.6% ABV is not too harsh making this something you can sit down and have a few of without overdoing it. You can buy Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner for around $10-12 for a 12 pack. At this price point and quality, I would happily buy this by the case and serve it at barbecues or family parties. This is a good beer, but nothing extraordinary or something worth going out of your way to find.

Grade: C-

Half off all draught microbrews at redFlame Pizzeria in beautiful Lincoln Park, IL gave me an opportunity to try Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. There was a host of other breweries on the menu ranging from the well known (Dogfish Head) to the local (Goose Island), but I wanted to give Sumpin’ a try mostly because it gave me an opportunity to be completely lame and mention to the waitress “Can I get a little sumpin sumpin.” White men around the world are all slowly shaking their heads in shame.

Sumpin’ is a beautiful reddish orange color and is described as an American wheat ale. I know those of you who have tried Sumpin’ are thinking that this is an IPA and I did at first as well due to the weight, feel, and taste. But Lagunitas has a trick up their sleeve which makes this an incredibly unique and tasty beer. There was a nice frothy head on my draft and it was bursting with grapefruit aromas. The taste maintains the flavors of the aroma with subtle hints of grapefruit and the bitterness of the peel. It finishes clean and makes for a very easy drinking beer.

Sumpin’ is a beer that I would gladly throw into my summertime and fall rotation regardless of the $11 per six pack price tag. The 7.3% ABV packs a nice punch as well, making this is a better value, similar to other beers at this price point. According to the Lagunitas website, you can now find this year round, so ensure that you’re favorite distributor has this on its shelves or can get it for you. I couldn’t imagine drinking this beer out of a bottle and I would highly recommend it be poured into a proper pilsner  glass with a narrow mouth to capture the aromas. Do yourself a favor and go get yourself a little sumpin’ sumpin’. You’ll be glad you did.

Grade: A-

I had to look this one up on Wikipedia, but Kölsch is a local beer speciality of Cologne, Germany. This, of course, made the title of Sam Adams East-West Kolsch make a whole lot more sense in its reference to Berlin. Further reading revealed that ordering a Kölsch in the wrong town or pub can lead to harassment and has led to violence in the past. Oh those crazy Germans.

I found a couple bottles of East-West tucked away in the Sam Adams Summer Variety pack. I had originally intended to use these bottle to make some bratwurst, but thought it couldn’t hurt to give one of them a try.

Kölsch beers are typically poured into tall, thin glasses because the taste deteriorates quickly in this style and less surface area means the beer lasts longer. I used the thinnest pilsner glass I had in this spirit.

East-West pours a clear, straw yellow that is nearly translucent. There was very little carbonation in East-West (although my picture did catch a beautiful array of bubbles rushing to the top) and virtually no head formed. The only aroma that emerged from East-West was a clean hop taste with very little else present. My first taste revealed what my nose detected – clean, fresh hops, not extremely bitter like a pale ale, but still prevalent. I detected a floral under note somewhere, but it was not strong enough for me to identify. The finish was clean and refreshing.

Generally, I would say this is a light, refreshing beer with a decent flavor profile. On the Sam Adams website, they indicate that this is only the second year East-West has been brewed. They also explained that the floral note I detected was jasmine. They age East-West on a bed of Jasmine flowers to extract a light trace of the flower’s aroma. This is the only Kölsch style beer I have ever had and it makes me want to try others to compare. That said, I can’t say East-West is anything special. East-West is a good beer – well balanced and refreshing. I like it as part of a variety park, but I can’t see myself purchasing a six pack separately.

Grade: C+

I may get fire bombed for this, but I find the French to be the epitome of civilization. I say this, of course, as a generalization because 1) I come from a French background, 2) I know there are counter culture within the French culture that play against this, and 3) the French are generally portrayed as nasty, nasty people. But when I first tasted Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale, I couldn’t help but be transported to the French countryside where the elderly are respected, the villagers are cordial to each other, and there isn’t a need for anything fussy.

Domaine DuPage pours a deep orange-red, almost the color of a perfect sunset. There was very little carbonation rising from the glass resulting in very little foam. The aroma indicated a fresh, clean taste, with very little overwhelming hop or fruit flavor. My first taste was mystical as described above, but it was the middle of the glass that helped me to see what this ale really was all about. If you think about the French countryside and the life of its inhabitants, you have to first block out all of your misconceptions of the French and everything you have ever heard about Parisians (they are what give the French a bad name). French country life is a humble life, simple, but full of life and daily appreciation for seeing the sun every morning. This ale captures that by putting its floral hop flavors out in front and backing this up with the taste of fresh baked bread and orchard fruits such as apple and pear. While none of these may rise to the top at any given time, they work together in harmony to create a pleasant embrace.

This particular beer may be brewed and bottle in Midwestern USA, but it captures perfectly the essence of what I only imagine is French countryside life. It’s like seeing an old friend after so many years and picking up right where you left off or like spending an entire day taking a stroll through the fields and rolling hills without a care in the world as to who may be calling your cell phone or what’s the latest gossip. This is a simple beer that has the power to remind all of us what we’re missing when life gets a little bit too much.

Domaine DuPage is an easy drinking beer that does not take it’s toll given the moderate 5.4% ABV. A six pack will run you around $9 and I do hope Two Brothers get more distribution so other parts of the country can experience their superb quality beers. As everyday drinking beers goes, this is a wonderful beer that I highly recommend.

Grade: A

Before I started writing Microbrew Mondays, I was in love with all IPA style beers. The bitterness, the aftertaste, it all seemed like a beer revolution to me. Needless to say, when I first had Latitude 48 IPA from Sam Adams, I was in beer heaven. The first time I ever tried this beer with on a tour of the Sam Adams brewery tour. Latitude was still in its testing phase and our tour guide poured heavy sample glasses closer to 8oz probably because ours was a smaller group. I enjoyed this one so much that I stole my friends glass as well – more like traded him my next sample – whatever that might have been. Fast forward three years, a bottle of Latitude 48 was left at my house following a party and I thought now would be a good time to revisit an old friend.

Latitude 48 pours a deep copper color with a fare amount of dirty white foam. This was an easy beer to pour due to a smaller amount of carbonation that is pretty typical in most Sam Adams beers. The head immediately bursts of hoppy flavor indicating a potent IPA. My first sip was like going home. Sam Adams uses three different hops from three different countries whose regions all lie on the 48 latitude line. My first taste made a liar of my nose. There was not an overwhelming hop flavor making me question this as a traditional IPA. However, the definitive hop flavor, mild sweetness, the characteristic bitter finish, and the 60 IBU does place this in the range for American style IPA beers. The mouth feel is a little thin and I wish there was something just a little heavier given the rich color.

This is another fine example of the kind of microbrew that Sam Adams puts out year after year. Latitude 48 has only been mass produced and distributed for two years, so don’t be too surprised if you haven’t come across it. Latitude 48 is available year round in six packs for around $8 or for $13 for a 12 pack. The 6% ABV is on par than some other American IPA style beers available. Overall I find this to be a well crafted beer that has significant potential to be a fine everyday beer.

Grade: B-