Archive for beer review

Tasting Notes: Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB

Posted in beer tasting with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2014 by cueball

Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB

7.5% ABV

How was it tasted:  Growler from Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop

Extra Special Bittters are a somewhat misunderstood beer style.  I often get the question when we have one on tap, “What is an ESB?”  I usually describe it as a malty ale without a lot of hoppy flavors.

Winter Storm is dialed up as an imperial ESB and becomes a winter warmer beer.  This works great because the style is naturally un-hoppy (in the American hoppy sense) and lends itself carrying the spices and alcohol favored for winter warmer beers.

It pours a nice dark copper, tawny color and you get a lot of malt, alcohol, and the earthy herbal hops aroma.  It has a full bodied mouth feel and good carbonation.

To the important part, the taste.  At first taste the carbonation makes it light on the tongue at the front end with the hop bitterness.  On the back end you get the earthy herbal hop taste and the malty/bready taste and a nice alcohol warmth. This is a very good beer to curl up with on a cold winter night in front of the fire while reading Ernest Hemingway’s First Forty-Nine Stories.

I have decided if I’m going to be doing more beer reviews I need a way to rate the beers. I have chosen tap handles.  Zero to one tap handle means don’t drink.  Two to three tap handles means it is drinkable, but try to find something else.  Three and a half means it is a good beer.  Four to four and a half means it’s a damn good beer.  Five (which will happen very rarely) is beer nirvana.

Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB come in at a nice four.


Sierra Nevada Flipside (2014) Red IPA with Bush’s Black Bean Tortilla Chili

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2014 by cueball

The recipe


Black Bean Chili

This is a simple chili recipe from Bush’s Beans.  It takes about an hour with prep to cook and serve.  It can be a bit spicy with the 2 tablespoons of chili powder and ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  You can take some of the heat off just by cutting the cayenne or cutting back on the chili powder, but that’s why you serve it with sour cream.  Here is the link to the complete recipe.

The beer

I look forward to the Fall and Winter because they are my favorite seasonal beer times of the year.  All three of the seasonals I look forward to every year from Sierra Nevada, Celebration, Ruthless Rye, and Flipside, are Fall and Winter beers.  This is the Flipside time of year, so I decided to see how this would pair with the chili. First, a little about Flipside. 

As with every beer that Sierra Nevada puts out, it is very well done.  Flipside pours a nice clear dark copper color.  Piney and grassy hops aroma are evident immediately with a bit of a biscuity malt aroma in the background.  The taste starts off with the grassy and citrusy notes of the hops with very little alcohol heat and little to no evidence of the caramel or chocolate malts included in the recipe. It is pretty light on the tongue and actually provides a kind of refreshing taste.  It would be a pretty good sessionable beer if not for the 6.2% ABV. 

The pairing

I have learned through strenuous testing that I prefer brown and amber ales with spicy food, especially Mexican and Mexican inspired food.  I had hoped with the use of the darker malts, Flipside would go well with a chili.  It went OK.  My goal was for the caramel and chocolate malts would bring out the caramelized taste of the browned onions (I browned the onions longer than recipe instructs.  Going for depths of flavor.).  With little to no taste of the malts I was targeting, this did not work out as well as I had hoped.  However, if your pallet does not lean towards the darker malts and caramelization tastes as mine does it, you will probably enjoy it a bit more.

An idea to make this recipe a little more beer friendly is simply to add beer to the recipe. I would probably use a more floral/citrusy hoppy pale ale to bring out more of the cumin flavors.   If you look at the recipe the only liquid included in the ingredients comes from the liquid the canned corn comes with.  You could drain the corn and instead use about a half to a full cup of room temperature beer in its stead.  That would probably improve the flavor as well as eliminate some of the salt from the recipe. 

The conclusion

In the end this is a good simple and quick recipe and a good high quality beer that just did not work together (Sounds like most of my dating relationships).  This is a recipe that I would recommend pairing with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Lonerider Peacemaker Pale Ale, or Foothills Brewing Pilot Mountain Pale Ale

Too Big To Drink Alone: Victory Brewing, V Twelve

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2014 by cueball

V Twelve, Victory Brewing Company, Downington, PA

Style: Belgian Quadruple or Belgian Strong Dark Ale

ABV: 12%

Served: 750ml corked bottle

Purchased: Dragonfly Wine Market

The V Twelve is a big Belgian Quadruple/Strong Dark Ale.  It isn’t trying to be some hybrid with a bunch of American hops drowning out the fruity esters from the yeast and the sweetness from the malt.  It is a straight forward tribute to the Abbey Style.

In the glass V Twelve has a nice deep golden amber almost pale copper color.  On the first whiff you get tons of raisin, plums, and figs.  This is a more malt forward beer with hints of malt sweetness on the nose.  The thing I liked most about this beer is its feel.

The dark fruit and sweet malt theme continues when you taste it.  The plums, figs, and even a touch of grape sit on the foreground of your taste buds with the bready malt taste hovering in the background.  There isn’t much hop presence, but what there is, is earthy and grounding.

As I said the reason that I like this beer is how light it feels for all the alcohol packed into it.  It is well carbonated and fruity which masks the 12% ABV and makes it dangerously easy to drink.  It is quite crisp and stimulating for something with so much warming alcohol.  It actually gives the impression of a fruity slightly carbonated drink you may have on a beach in the middle of the summer.  In the V Twelve’s case it provides you with both the summer heat with the warming alcohol and the refreshing flavor of the fruit with the lightness of the carbonation.

The thing I want from reviews is not a rating.  This isn’t a BJCP sanctioned event where I will be awarding medals.  The most important way to rate a beer for me is, would I recommend it to a friend.  In this case, yes.  Any general craft beer drinker should love this beer.  It isn’t too hoppy, but still has a lot of complex flavors to it and yet it still feels light on the tongue inviting more than one sip.  With all that alcohol this is a beer I would politely suggest me and said friend should share together.

Ideas On How To Review Stuff, Part 2

Posted in art, beer, books with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2014 by cueball

Here is Part 1.  I didn’t know it was going to be a part 1 until I started writing this morning.  Sometimes I think I really should come up with a plan for what I write.

“Whose there?”

This is a great way to start a story about a young man finding himself.  (It’s from this little play by this guy here.)

That has always been the hardest part of writing fiction for me.  How do you start?  What are the first evocative words to pique the interest of the reader and get them to read on to the next sentence?

You are staring at a blank page with all these ideas running around in your mind and now you have to put something down and get it started.

When I’m reading a short story or a novel, I am fascinated first by the opening then everything else the author tries to do.  When I’m reading something, especially something new, I read it on two levels.  The first is just to enjoy it.  I’m reading and letting myself become part of the world the author created.

On the second level, I’m analyzing and deconstructing the different parts of the story as I encounter them.  I’ll encounter a new character or parse the details introduced because these details are there for a reason and I am trying to understand the reason and figure out what the author is trying to make me feel or see.

I can still enjoy what I’m reading on the first level, but I am completely engaged by the second level.  My enjoyment on that first level has no bearing on my intellectual assessment on that second level.

I actual enjoy almost everything I read, as long as it conforms to the internal logic it has set up and written truthfully.  I have the ability to allow myself to believe completely in the world that I am reading about.   Then, I try to step back and outside that world and look at whether the work does what it thinks it is doing.  I’ve found I do this with every creative art I enjoy.

In any creative endeavor, the creator has an idea of what he/she is attempting.  They have a plan and an idea and they try to make it really.  That is a truly brave thing, taking a part of who and what you are and placing it out in the world for everyone to judge.  I think it is incumbent on those who presume to review those creative endeavors to take it as seriously as the people who create.

Craft beer is a creative endeavor for the brewer.  I have been reading a lot of beer reviews recently, and I find much of what are labeled reviews are severely lacking in treating beer seriously.  That does not mean you can’t have fun and be interesting, but you have to believe that craft beer is an endeavor worthy of your time and intellect.  Someone took the time to come up with this recipe, brew this beer, ferment this beer, package this beer, and sell it.  The least someone can do is come up with a little more than, “This beer sucks” as a review.  A simplistic review does not help you as a drinker of beer nor does it help the brewer to figure out what they did right or wrong.  At the end of the day, do you like is all that really matters, but you should really try to think about why or why you do not like it.

I am discovering that reviewing is an important part of the creative process when done right.  Good criticism helps everyone raise their level.  When that happens we all benefit by getting better product.  For this to happen, the reviewer has to give considered criticism and the creator has to be willing to take criticism.

I promise there are beer reviews coming.

Ideas On How To Review Stuff

Posted in beer, writing with tags , , on December 22, 2013 by cueball

One of the things I want to do on this blog is post beer reviews.  As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to review beer and make it interesting to the reader and to me the writer.  I began to think, “What is the point of a review?”  Basically, it is whether or not to recommend something to another person.  This goes for any discipline:  television, movies, books, music, theatre, visual arts, food, beer.

There are three things a review must do:  1)What is the thing being reviewed trying to be; 2)Is the thing being reviewed successful at what it is trying to be; 3)Do you as a reviewer like it, why or why not and do you recommend it.

What is the thing being reviewed trying to be?

What genre or style is this work trying to be?  Is it trying to adhere to only one genre or style or trying to be a hybrid?  Genres and styles the reviewer to orient his/herself.  It makes it easier to discern what parameters the person who created this object is obeying or trying to cross.  Is it an India Pale Ale or is it a Belgian-style Golden Ale or is it trying to be some combination?

Is the thing being reviewed successful at what it is trying to be?

One of Roger Ebert’s rules of reviewing was, only review the movie you were seeing.  Don’t allow your preconceived notions to affect the movie you are actually seeing.  If the movie is only trying to be a big silly comedy, review its success at being a big silly comedy not as an existential family drama.  The great thing about beer is that the brewers will usually tell you what they are trying to do either on the bottle or on their website.  If a West Coast brewer is trying to make a malt forward English-style pale ale with West Coast hops, he will let you know.  Then the reviewer must decide was a he successful at creating a English pale ale or in blending two styles, not whether this is as good as his last hop forward West Coast pale ale.

Do you like it, why or why not?  Would you recommend it?

This is the core of what the reviewer is trying to do, explain whether this was a waste of his/her time and should you try it.  This is where beer and art objects are a little different.  If a movie tries to be a big silly comedy and is successful at it, it is usually worth watching.  If a beer tries to be a big barley wine and is successful at being a big barley wine, the reviewer could still not like it but still recommend it.  There are many beers I’ve had that I think were successful at what they are trying to be that didn’t fit my pallet, but I would still recommend it because they might fit someone else’s pallet.  In this part of the review the reviewer is also trying to capture whatever feeling experienced in the first moments with the object being reviewed.  It is the attempt to make the reader feel and understand the joy, disappointment, or outrage of the first blush.

The first reviews should go up over the next two days.