Saturday, September 28, 2013

Notes From The Tasting Room: Captain Lawrence Brewing Company

So I just went down to Captain Lawrence's tasting room for the second time ever, and figured I'd share my experience with y'all here at ABA. For those that don't know, Captain Lawrence is basically New York's rising star brewing company. Sure, we have Saranac upstate and Brooklyn Brewery, which produces such monumental beers like their Black Chocolate Stout and their Monster Ale barley-wine style ale. But the brewery I care most about in New York is right in my backyard in Elmsford: Captain Lawrence.

A few of their standby beers include a German-style Kolsch, their Freshchester Pale Ale, and Liquid Gold - a Belgian-style ale. But they've been branching out since their start in Pleasantville, NY. Now they do six-packs, have a cozy tasting room, and do specialty beers that are nothing to sneer at.

The experience at their tasting room is great. The decor is very rustic: big ol' aging barrels sitting around for you to stand at and set your samples or 12-ounce glasses on, and a corner with a few bar tables with stools at them. The bar features two 12-tap towers: one for samples and one for filling growlers and 12-ounce glasses with their delicious ales. The process of getting samples has been upgraded since I last went. Instead of just paying $2 for a sample glass and having all the samples you want for that price, they give you 12 tokens for $10. 12 samples for $10 is not a bad deal, all things considered. The sample glasses are about 4-5 ounces, so you're getting a solid drink per token.

Today I sampled 4 brews of theirs. I skipped over their old faithfuls (sorry old faithfuls, I love you but I've had plenty of you) and went for some of their test batch beers and specialties.

First I sampled their Imperial IPA, which was grand. Imperial IPAs tend to be high in ABV and sometimes let that high amount of alcohol slip through into the taste. Not this one! The citrus hop taste was off the charts! It packed such a strong hoppy punch that I had to take a second to really let the flavor sink in. It was quite the intense experience.

Next I had their experimental King Zythos Saison, which was, oddly enough, a brown saison. Saisons are usually light in color and rather floral and citrusy, but light. This one, however, had a nice nutty tone to it which was complimented by earthy malts. It was still light, as a good saison should be, but it was different and I commend the Captain for his experimentation in saisons.

The third sample I had was another experimental batch: Young Wolfington. I liked this beer because it was very different. It was a brown ale, but it lacked hoppy character. Granted, it may end up having more of a hop presence if it's ever bottled, but it was all malt at this stage. To be honest, I thought that was cool. There were roasty, nutty, and light chocolatey notes to the beer and the body was nice and creamy. I didn't miss the hops at all.

I finished off my tasting session with their traditional IPA. It was nice and light, but floral with a touch of citrus. It was not overpoweringly citrusy like their Imperial, but it was still a solid IPA. If you're in New York and see it in a store, pick it up to get your first taste of this brewery. They're good at what they do.

To add a cherry to the top of my visit, I decided to check out the single pint-and-a-half bottles they had one sale. I spied one that tickled my fancy for barrel aged beer: Smoke From The Oak Barrel Aged. It's an imperial smoked porter that was aged in rum barrels. I've had stouts and porters and even ales aged in bourbon barrels or oak casks, but never one aged in a rum barrel. So for the steep price of $20 I treated myself to a bottle of the marvelous-sounding stuff.

And that was that. The brewery is damn good and since they've expanded to their new space a few years ago and ramped up production and distribution, they're easily one of New York's most notable breweries. If you ever happen to be in Westchester and have a spare $10, stop by Captain Lawrence and enjoy some damn good samples!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Flying Dog's "The Fear" Imperial Pumpkin Ale

This may come as a surprise to some, but this is the first time I have ever tried a brew from Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery. Some will guffaw and ask themselves, upon reading that statement, why I haven't tried their acclaimed IPAs, Raging Bitch and The Truth. To be honest, it does have a bit to do with their label designs. They're all blotchy and angsty-looking. I always see Flying Dog sixers in stores, but never venture into investing in one for fear that the label is all hype and the beer inside has no bite.

But I changed my mind when I recently overheard a sales clerk at the grocery store I work at suggesting pumpkin beers to two young women. He recommended Flying Dog's "The Fear", and gave a few notes on it. I decided that I'd pick up a six pack of the stuff after my shift. So I did, and now I sit with a snifter full of this imperial pumpkin ale, ready to give you my tasting notes.

Appearance: 4/5
I must say that I was surprised by how this beer looked. I understood that it might be a bit darker than the average light orange/amber pumpkin brew because it is an imperial pumpkin ale, but it is dark and opaque! The color can be said to be a deep, deep amber, almost like worn out, brownish copper. The tan head pours a rich, creamy finger's worth and settles to a nice cap that sits atop the beer and doesn't entirely dissipate. There isn't a ton of carbonation, but I think its color and head make up for it.

Nose: 5/5
Upon first smelling The Fear, I picked up on the traditional pumpkin ale spices. They're strong, and very pleasant. Deeper in the aroma is the smell of a dark, nutty malt. I picked up traces of chocolate as well, which surprised me. Chocolate in a pumpkin beer? Could this brewery be so bold? Overall, this beer has a deep, malty, and spicy aroma which is delightful.

Taste: 3.5/5
It opens up with delicious cinnamon and nutmeg spices, then gives way to some of the deeper elements in the brew. Roasty, nutty malts tantalized my tastebuds. There is a bit of a bready malt in there too. To balance out the brew, there are traces of sweet caramel. All of these malts are great, but I do kind of miss the actual taste of pumpkin. I have come to the conclusion that many brewers tend to use the combination of spices used in pumpkin pie - cinnamon and nutmeg, primarily - to create the flavor of pumpkin, but I just get tickled pink when I can actually taste pumpkin malt in a pumpkin beer. For all the flavor of this beer, I didn't sense any pumpkin. And for that, I have to dock points. Don't take it the wrong way, though; this beer still has great flavor!

Mouthfeel: 4/5
This brew has a nice body to it: rich and creamy, yet roasty and dark. The wheat malt helps fuel the body of this beer to make it thoroughly present on the palate.

Finish: 2/5
The Fear doesn't have much of a finish. It leaves behind traces of spice, which is good given the lack of pumpkin malt I picked up, and some nuttiness. But its presence upon the finish doesn't stretch much beyond the spices.

Total Score: 76/100

Flying Dog has definitely caught my attention with this beer. Although it lacked the full seasonal taste I was looking for, The Fear is still a rich dark pumpkin ale with huge malty flavor and a very nice appearance. I'd definitely suggest putting a couple bottles in your next mixed six-pack, or even picking up a whole six pack of it alone. I should get out and try more Flying Dog...

Until next time, cheers!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: Dogfish Head's 75 Minute IPA

If there's one thing that stands at the very heart of what Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales stands for, it's their collection of IPAs. Everyone with some experience in the craft brew world knows them by name: the 60 Minute IPA, the 90 Minute IPA, the new Sixty-One, and the top-of-the-line-but-not-quite-as-good-as-90-Minute-IPA 120 Minute IPA. But there's yet another new addition that has been made to this family of IPAs, and that's the 75 Minute IPA.

The idea for this came about when the brewery decided to see what would happen if they made an interesting fusion of their 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs. The result was the middle-of-the-road 75 Minute IPA. So they decided to start brewing it as its own bottle-conditioned entity and selling it in 750 mL bottles.

This tasty beverage is hopped with whole leaf Cascade hops (my absolute favorite in the IPA world) and spiked with something unusual: maple syrup. But one doesn't look at the words "maple syrup" on the label and walk away immediately because they're so weirded out because, well, this is Dogfish Head we're talking about. Y'know, the brewery putting ancient ingredients from long-dead cultures in their beer. How could a bit of maple syrup hurt?

Let's find out!

Appearance: 5/5
75 Minute IPA looks like a very clean, yet slightly dark IPA. It's a rich golden amber color, much like the color of honey, and is about 75% (ha) opaque. There is a good amount of carbonation, and I'm led to believe, based on various descriptions of this ale, that this retention of carbonation has to do with the infusion of maple syrup. So there's one bonus the syrup gives this ale. The head is great! It pours a frothy one and a half to two fingers thick and leaves really nice lacing.

Nose: 4/5
The familiar scent of citrus hops graces your nose with a wallop. But the smell is not so much earthy citrus, but rather sweet orangey citrus. The maple syrup is coming through in the nose as well, making the hops smell sweet and fresh. In fact, one may even smell traces of fresh pine coming on from combination of maple and caramel malts.

Taste: 4/5
I get notes of a bunch of different things from this IPA. The maple syrup is kind of like a sweet backbone tying all the other flavors together, which is nice; it's just there as a sort of frame for this beer. There are notes of orange citrus balanced with nutty, earthy malts. The hoppy bitterness you'd come to expect from a DFH IPA is there, but it's very well balanced by the maple and nut malt notes. I'd say DFH has done something special with this beer, having such nice flavor combinations. And because this is bottle conditioned, it means the flavor is always changing within the bottle. I'm very tempted to get another bottle of this and have it sit at room temperature for a month to do a follow-up comparison.

Mouthfeel: 3.5/5
75 Minute is lightly carbonated and very smooth. It has a medium body which doesn't overpower the palate. It's nice, and not too overwhelming, which you kind of come to expect when diving in to a DFH IPA.

Finish: 4/5
This ale goes down smooth with a dry hoppy finish. Bits of nutty sweetness linger behind on your palate, as well as notes of citrus. It finishes rather clean.

Total Score: 80/100

This is a very welcome, interesting, and not quite ordinary addition to the Dogfish Head IPA collection. I believe it's tied for second place in the hierarchy with Sixty-One, their grape-infused big brother to 60 Minute IPA. Of course 90 Minute IPA is still on top, but that's a hard hurtle to get over. Still, 75 Minute is awesome: sweet, tangy, nutty, and smartly crafted. Go pick yourself up two bottles, one for now and later.

Until next time, cheers!


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: Uinta Brewing Co.'s "Punk'n" Harvest Pumpkin Ale

In Utah, there resides a brewery with an interesting, fresh perspective on brewing and a healthy collection of good beers to offer. I'm speaking of Salt Lake City's own Uinta Brewing Co. And I must say, I've taken a bit of a shine to this brewery. I've sampled their Hop Notch IPA and their Dubhe Imperial Black IPA (yeah, it's as mouth-watering as it sounds), which is named after the Dubhe star in the big dipper.

And can I also take a moment to say I love Uinta's bottles? They're a little shorter than average, and they curve down gracefully from the top to the base, rather than having a neck which simply ends when the body begins. Also, they have a compass embossed on the bottle just above the label. How nifty is that?

Anyway, the beer I'm focusing on today is one of their fall seasonals: "Punk'n" Harvest Pumpkin Ale. I've had quite a few pumpkin ales, so I'm rather picky. You can't really de-throne Southern Tier's Pumking (see the review for this brew here), and there are some more fully enjoyable pumpkin beers out there than most. It's a tough market. But I think Uinta has produced a beer which really shines in this category. Let's take a look at it, shall we?

Appearance: 4/5
I have to give credit where credit is due. While Pumking tastes like a king, it doesn't actually look like a king. Punk'n looks much more like an autumn pumpkin beer. It's a deep amber color, much like the color of late October foliage. There is a good amount of carbonation in this beer, which tapers a bit as it sits in the glass, but is still present enough to note. The head is very slight, probably only half a finger maximum. Still, the color is what draws me in.

Nose: 5/5
Spices galore! Get ready for an aromatic treat when nosing Punk'n. The forefront of the spicy barrage upon your nostrils is cinnamon and nutmeg, two spices which work in perfect harmony in any pumpkin beer. But it smells warm, almost like the aroma of a pumpkin pie. It's a full, very powerful scent which will leave you dying to try it.

Taste: 5/5
The malts in this beer are fully present, balancing out the spices you're almost sure are going to be the main feature of the brew upon nosing it. But no! There's a bready, earthy malt flavor to this ale, enough so that it almost tastes like a brown ale brewed with pumpkin. And yes, there's a good jolt of pumpkin malt in there, too. And there's even a hint of bitterness as an added bonus. It's a very fulfilling taste.

Mouthfeel: 2.5/5
Now here's where this beer falls short of a great pumpkin beer. It's a very tasty and aromatic brew, but it lacks in body, I feel. Punk'n has a light-to-medium body because of the pumpkin and earthy malts. However, it's nothing that fills your palette and makes your eyes widen.

Finish: 2/5
Some spice and hints of pumpkin linger upon the finish. However, these flavors quickly fade. Perhaps this is because Punk'n isn't particularly strong, clocking in at a very sessionable 4% ABV. But the finish just felt lackluster to me.

Total Score: 88/100

This pumpkin ale tastes great, smells great, and looks quite appetizing. However, it's not a full experience. The mouthfeel and finish are weak. But that doesn't mean it's not a very tasty pumpkin beer. I think there are a lot of great flavors to be had in this brew and Uinta really nailed that on the head. They really know what they're doing when it comes to making a good-tasting brew that are good for you, too. Yeah, Punk'n sports 3% organic ingredients. So I wouldn't knock this beer until you've tried it this fall.

Until next time, cheers!