Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Surly Brewing Co - Coffee Bender

Not too long ago I started a thread on Beer Advocate that actually had been getting quite a few responses.  I randomly get thoughts while drinking a beer that I figure would be good for discussion purposes.  This one was about your favorite brewery that is outside of your distribution area.  It might seem like a weird question to some, but for those of us who trade, it's hard not to name nearly every brewery we consistently try to trade for.  For me, I tried to focus on beers I want that have a great regular line up.  A lot of people ended up wanting to have breweries in their areas that release huge seasonal and specialty beers that we many times trade for.  While that would be awesome, I want to be able to go to a store and find beers that I want that are sitting on shelves in other parts of the country.

One brewery that makes great beer as part of their regular line up is Surly Brewing Company.  I recently did a locals for locals trade with a guy who is new to trading for some bombers from Pipeworks.  While I knew we were doing extras, I didn't expect him to send me 2 cans of Surly Coffee Bender and 2 cans of Surly Furious IPA.  Surly is well known for some of their bigger beers that people will readily look for.  They have an entire day dedicated to their giant Russian Imperial Stout called Darkness.  While I have and have had this beer before, I'm just really happy to get my hands on some of their regular brews.

I had Coffee Bender one time while doing a bottle share with a few friends.  If memory serves me correctly, it was one of the best coffee beers I'd ever drank.  Coffee and beer isn't exactly a brand new concept.  Lots of stouts and porters feature a wide variety of coffee flavors.  They are typically combined with a lot of chocolate and other bold flavors.  Surly takes a different approach to their coffee beer.  Instead of a stout, they brew it as a brown ale.  The more tame malts are less dominant of the palate which really allows the beer to feature the coffee.  Additionally, to make sure this brew is dominated by coffee, Surly says they cold steep the brew in coarsely ground coffee beans from Guatemala for 24 hours.

Appearance - The beer pours out a dark color, but it has a lighter quality to it.  A lot of coffee based beers try to go for that dark black oil consistency.  This one uses a much lighter approach to deliver a very dominant coffee blend.  There is a light tannish head that develops on top.  A nice sticky residue and excellent lacing develops on the side of the glass.  

Smell - The aroma is dominated by the huge smell of coffee.  However, it's not quite that acidic bitter feel.  It instead has a more cream and sugar aroma to it.  It is much more reminiscent of smelling an iced coffee blend or frappuccino.  There are no apparent hops on the nose: instead, you get a big malty backbone.  Finally, I think I detect a slight vanilla aroma coming off the brew as well.

Taste - The beer starts with a crisp and clean taste.  The malts don't dominate here.  They back off to allow the coffee to take center stage.  The coffee builds as the beer develops; however, it never overwhelms the taste buds.  There are some lighter sweet notes that give you the feeling that this isn't just a black coffee beverage.  You get the light cream and sugar notes.  The coffee flavor does manage to kick up slightly more at the end with a little bit of that acidic flavor.  Perhaps this is the coffee flavors mixing with the hops.  The coffee lingers on the aftertaste.  

Mouthfeel - I think this beer qualifies as the most crisp and clean coffee focused beer I've ever consumed.  The composition never becomes too syrupy which really lends itself to having this beer feel more like an iced coffee beverage than a beer.  The booze hangs back, so you really don't get a dominant beer feel here.  

There is no sign that Surly has any intentions of distributing to the DC Metro area any time soon, but they have a big fan that's hoping it's not completely outside the realm of possibility.  If you live in an area that has Surly on the shelves all the time, then I hope you count your blessings.  You have a great brewery available to you on a very consistent basis.  

Grade: A
Trade the Coffee Bender came in

Friday, February 7, 2014

Birthday Beers

When you collect as much beer as I do, you really look forward to just about any excuse to have people come over and drink it.  I think that might be the biggest problem with collecting beer.  Sure my wife would say it's all the money I spend on buying and shipping beer, but I believe it's people thinking your stocking piling for a giant bender. It's like I'm some ragging alcoholic who is drinking fifteen 10% Abv beers in one night.  Some nights are bigger than others, but I really only go to the cellar twice a week or so, and it's one bottle at a time.  Therefore, the more  beer geeks to satiate, the more beers can be consumed.

It just so happens that my birthday seems to fall every few years on the same day as the Superbowl.  It's always the same day as Groundhogs Day, which I think is always a reason to party, but this year we had three reasons to have some people over and raid a few of the bigger beers I've been holding on to.  Truthfully I had started considering which beers we should drink well before we even hit 2014.  I have so many big bottles I've be holding on to, you have a few things to consider when selecting.

First I had to pick bottles that are different, and yet, somewhat complimentary.  Next, I had to figure out what my other friend, who is also a beer collector, would be bringing to the party.  Then we had to figure out what order we would be drinking them in.  There were quite a few bottles to pick from, but I figured it would be a night for dessert.

The Bruery - White Chocolate (2012) - The first beer we drank on the night was a beer I traded for over the summer from The Bruery.  The Bruery puts out big beers, and they have a beer club that allows their members the ability to buy their special releases in bulk.  The 2013 White Chocolate was somewhat known for being infected, but I thankfully have been hoarding a bottle of perfectly fine 2012.  This beer's abv comes in over 14%, so it was obviously a giant beer to kick off the events. But, while it had quite the high alcohol, I would say the beer hides it well.  It's a wheatwine they age in used bourbon barrels with cacao nibs and vanilla beans.  The beer's flavors were certainly big on the vanilla; however, the chocolate flavors really back off.  It was absolutely a great birthday beer and one big way to kick off the tasting.

Goose Island - Backyard Rye - The second beer of the night was this big Bourbon County variant from Goose Island.  Bourbon County is a line of beers they put out once a year that makes the beer nerds in America go nutty.  This particular variant has been aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels with fresh mulberries, marionberries, and boysenberries. I've had a few of the variants from this series, but I think this one might have been one of my favorites.  Unlike the previous beer, this beer is a big beer from start to finish.  The smell is in your face, the booze is in your face, and the berries even come on strong.  I'll be very interested to see what time does to this bottle.  Thankfully I have a bottle in my cellar, so I'll give it some time to develop.

Avery Brewing - Odio Equum - One thing I've come to realize about doing a tasting, you need to have that beer that breaks up the styles.  Typically I look for lighter beers to bring in the diversity.  This time we decided to bring in a sour ale.  This beer is a belgian-style red ale that has been brewed with raspberries and aged in first use cabernet sauvignon barrels.  Avery makes some crazy good barrel aged beers, so we were really excited to see how they do sours.  This one provided some really nice light flavor to break down the giant stouts that preceded and followed it.  The raspberries weren't overbearing, and the wine barrels provided a nice sour flavor.  I'm definitely not a big cabernet sauvignon fan, but I apparently really enjoy when you but an awesome beer in it.

Westbrook Brewing - Mexican Cake (2012) - The last beer of the night was the big beer I basically centered the whole tasting around.  Mexican Cake is a highly sought after imperial stout that is brewed with cacao nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and fresh habanero peppers.  I've had a few hot pepper beers, I've brewed a hot pepper beer, and I've traded for a few big hot pepper beers.  However, I've never had a beer with habanero peppers in it.  Thankfully, this big 10% beer was fairly well-balanced for having such a strong pepper in it.  The pepper and cinnamon definitely played well off each other, but they were kept fairly in check by the base beer, vanilla, and cacao.  This is one beer I'm certain I'll be getting again.  I have an amazing hook up with a guy around this brewery who I regularly trade with.  Next time I'll be interested to have this one a little younger.  I'd like to see if the fresher the beer the fresher the peppers.

Ultimately it was a great tasting.  My palate was pleased, my groundhog saw his shadow, and the team I was pulling for lost.  Can't win them all.  I won where it counted and that's all that matters.  Time to start planning for the next tasting.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dark Horse Brewing Co - Tres Blueberry Stout

One of the biggest components to my previous blog, and I'm sure this one as well, is reviews of some of the various brews that I drink.  I try to vary up the beers that I review.  I like to review some of the more far out there concoctions that I come across, but that can be frustrating to the regular consumer who doesn't feel like trading or searching for an elusive brew.  Therefore, I would also like to make sure that I review some of your more everyday beers as well.  With that being said, this particular beer isn't exactly your everyday brew.

Dark Horse Brewing Co is a fairly good sized craft brewery out of Marshall, Michigan.  While living in the right area can guarantee you that this particular beer is easy to find, you have to live in one of the 8 states they distribute to in order to find it.  They have three additional states they have partial distribution to, but I live right across the boarder from one of them and I didn't see this bottle there.  This one was sent to me as an extra in a trade.  Extras are one of my favorite parts of trading.  It's just fun opening up a package and finding a few extra bottles you didn't know you were getting.

Finding a blueberry stout in my trade was a somewhat exciting and disappointing experience.  Fruit beers in general tend to be very hit or miss for me.  I have started to find more of a love for them.  The increase in sours, IPAs, and other styles that include fruit have started to win me over.  Stouts aren't really known for being fruit centric though.  While I was worried I wouldn't like this brew, I was very interested to give it a try.  Plus it made for a nice beer for my return to blog reviewing.

Appearance: The beer poured out a nice super dark black color with a somewhat oil consistency.  While this was to be expected, it's always appreciated when I see a beer's appearance to be consistent with what I expect from the style.  Perhaps my favorite part was the moderate mocha brown head that developed on top of the beer.  Swirling the glass resulted in some nice lacing and ample sticky residue that stuck around on the side of the glass.

Smell: I wasn't sure what I should be expecting as I put my nose to the glass.  Would a super sweet blueberry mess dominate, or would the base style take center stage?  I was very delighted to find that the roasty coffee aroma was the more dominant of the aromas.  The coffee base combines with some nice rich chocolate notes to provide a good foundation for the potent blueberry aroma that does eventually combine in with the rest.  Somehow, the beer seems to almost have a 2 stage component to the aroma.  The blueberries manage to hang back until after you've been hit by the more roasty base. Eventually, you definitely get a sticky sweet blueberry muffin aroma.  It reminds me of when I open the can of blueberries for the box of blueberry muffins we sometimes make.

Taste: The blueberry flavor here is certainly center stage, but it doesn't steal the show.  The first sip had me a little worried.  The blueberries dominate the palate at the start, but they are met quickly by the bold roasted coffee backbone.  This enables the beer to feature blueberries while still staying true to the base stout style.  As the beer transitions toward the second half of the flavor profile, there is a nice kick up of some sweet chocolate.  At this point the blueberries have backed off and the beer is a rich chocolate and coffee stout.  The fruit isn't done yet though.  The blueberries come back towards the end to work their way into the aftertaste.  The beer ends with a big kick up of roasted woodiness, slight smokey notes, and lingering blueberry sweetness.

Mouthfeel: This beer doesn't lean too much towards the thick and syrupy feel; however, you do get a little bit of syrup in there.  Mostly you have a rich and robust texture.  The flavors are surprisingly well-balanced.  The fruit is accented here and there, while you are mostly left with a great bold stout.  The beers roasted notes are especially long-lasting through to the end of the flavor profile.

Overall this is a great winter offering from a really good brewery.  I've had limited experience with this brewery, but it's definitely one on my long list of breweries to visit in the future.  While I was quite skeptical if I was actually going to like this one, I was more than pleased it ended up as an extra in my trade.  It only makes me want to try more from them.

Teacher Grade: B+

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sharing is Caring

In my absence from the world of beer blogging, I often found myself realizing I was still coming up with topics to blog about.  Perhaps the desire to analyze this industry I invest so much time and money in is something I just can't shake.  Whatever comes of this in the future, and whatever ultimately managed to bring me back, really doesn't matter.  I sit here with great aspirations to once again produce multiple posts a week.  In reality, I hope to get at least one quality piece written and posted as frequently as I can.  It's not like life has finally calmed down.  If anything, it's actually more busy than it has ever been.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see where we go from here.
first trade
One of my first trades
One topic I've definitely delved into in the past is the unfortunate way in which beer distribution is handled here in the U.S.  I remember the first time I found out there were beers out there being produced in different areas of the country that I couldn't possibly find at my local store.   I searched high and low for a store that would carry this elusive Three Floyds Brewing Co product. Try as I might, there wasn't a single store in the area that could produce a single ounce of beer from this mythical brewery.  They, like many breweries across the country, don't distribute to this market.
There is a wide variety of reasons why breweries don't send their beers from sea to shining sea. Obviously production is something to take into account.  There are some breweries out there that have a hard enough time keeping up with the demand in their own backyard.  Others produce an incredible amount of quality and varied beers, but they don't have distribution deals with companies that deliver to certain states.  There are actually some midwestern states that don't get Stone Brewing Co and even more that can't get Dogfish Head.  Yuengling, America's oldest brewery, only makes it as far west as Tennessee.  So how is a beer geek to survive knowing all of these great beers seem completely unattainable.
True, some join beer of the month clubs, or they order what they can from various companies online.  That, however, is still quite limited in what you can get.  Ultimately, the only real way to solve this dilemma is with beer trading.  I can obtain various breweries here in the Washington DC area that a lot of other states can't get.  While I sit at home wishing I could get various beers siting on the shelves of their local stores, others do the same wishing they could get some of the beers off my shelves.  In the end, through the help of a few different websites, we talk, figure out a fair deal, and mail out the beers of each other's dreams.  Oh it's not a perfect system, and there are those out there that would like to harm others, but it's the best way to get those products some of us can only dream of.
Washington DC doesn't necessarily have a plethora of beers others are looking to get.  But there are a few sure fire products you can always get someone to jump on.  Many people are quite interested in trying Duclaw's Sweet Baby 
One of my biggest trades
One of my biggest trades
Jesus (chocolate peanut butter porter) and DC Brau's On the Wings of Armageddon ( double IPA). Thanks to these beers, I was really able to get my trading legs under me.  Thanks to trading, I've been able to procure all of the following different beers since the beginning of the summer.
Three Floyds - Dark Lord, The Bruery - White Chocolate, New Glarus - Raspberry Tart, Serendipity, and Strawberry Rhubarb, Westbrook - Mexican Cake, Pipeworks - Orange Truffle Abduction, and Prairie Artisan Ales - Prairie Bomb, Surly - Darkness, and Barrel Aged Speedway Stout. 
Would I recommend beer trading to someone who wants to expand their craft beer horizon?  Of course I would!  Understand, however, you need to start small.  I remember I managed to get a beer I thought was good and tried to use it to spear some of the biggest whales I've been dying to catch.  That is a big mistake.  Others will only ridicule you for shooting too high.  Also, know what you want when you go in there.  You will get shut right down if your post appears to be an auction.  People don't want to guess at what you want.  If nothing else, just put some styles down you would like to get.  Finally, don't try and win a trade.  This isn't like trading baseball cards.  You shouldn't be able to brag about how you practically stole someone else's Babe Ruth card.  It requires some give and take.  You may have to add on your end, or they might on their end.  Regardless, you'll be really happy when a package shows up on your front steps with those elusive beers inside.

I managed to get some 3 Floyds in the end 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Rebirth

Perhaps some of you are coming across this blog for the first time.  It certainly would appear to be a new blog.  However, for someone who has just happened to find my ramblings here, I can tell you that I blogged for a couple years previously at this site.  It's been a while since I've posted, and with a new year comes a new site.  Really it's more because wordpress was trying to charge me $106 to continue to have my domain name with them, but I'm more happy to say this is a new site with new possibilities.

I decided to keep my old blog name, Lyrics, Libations, and Life, because personally I really like it and that's exactly what I blog about.  I talk a little bit about my life, I do an occasional music review, and I love to talk about craft beer.  Anyone who has ever flipped through the images on my phone know I have two things on there: babies and beer.  

This past year we celebrated the birth of our baby girl.  Perhaps that's why I haven't done a lot of blogging recently, or maybe I just fell out of love with it, but I'm rededicating myself to this process in the new year.  

So, here's to new beginnings and a great new year in blogging.

(Oh and as you can see from the picture, I have plenty of stuff stockpiled to review and talk about)