What they say: Wonderfully robust and rich, Celebration Ale is dry-hopped for a lively, intense aroma. Brewed especially for the holidays, it is perfect for a festive gathering or for a quiet evening at home.
What The Thirsty Beagle says: I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but after several sips, the comparison I was searching for to explain the taste of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale hit me: Pine trees. That may not sound like a recipe for success, but trust me, the subtle hint of pine in this beer distinguishes it from many beers you’ll try. And not in a bad way. Actually, the pine is just one of many flavors you can distinguish in this beer from sip to sip. I thought it had a subtle citrus taste, as well. No surprise that it would be lively in flavor, since it goes through three rounds of hopping. As a result, the beer does have a certain dry bitterness to it, but again, I found it quite interesting to taste. Taking a step back, at first sniff, this seems like an aromatic and refreshing beer, and the taste and aftertaste back that up. I thought this beer was especially easy to drink and unheavy, if you will. The dark honey color is pleasing as well. Celebration Ale is a California beer brewed at 6.0 abv. I would recommend this for your holiday party — Sierra Nevada suggests you pair it with rich meats like prime rib or lamb.
Score: 4 out of 5 beagles.
What they say: The dark, handcrafted lager is brewed with notes of Grand Cru Sauvage chocolate from Swiss chocolatier Felchlin. The dark chocolate is derived from rare, wild cacao beans found in a rainforest in Bolivia. The beer is dark, decadent… with a big, malty character, complex full-body taste and velvety finish.
What The Thirsty Beagle says: This was a tough review for me because I really had high expectations for this beer. In the end, I came away with mixed feelings. Off the top, the lead-up to drinking this beer is nice. You’ve got the big bottle — 750 ml — with the embossed silver label. It all gives you the feeling you’re not sitting down for the same old thing. The beer pours smoothly and finishes with a nice, frothy head. The aroma is certainly intriguing; you can sense the maltiness and immediately know this is a dark chocolate beer. The beer also looks rich with a dark brown-to-black hue. Chocolate Bock feels very smooth in the mouth; not syrupy or thick and heavy like a stout of the same appearance might. As far as taste goes, if you’re not familiar with chocolate beers, you’ll find this will take a few sips to get used to. For me, I’m a big fan of the character of the hops in a beer, and that was hard for me to find here. On the front of the tongue, the beer had a very subtle malty chocolate taste; on the back of the tongue and lingering to the finish was the taste of a strong and slightly bitter dark chocolate. Sam Adams suggests this beer can be paired with any number of holiday food staples, including turkey, pork and chicken. I happened to have it with a steak, and I can’t help but wonder if my food choice was not best for the beer. They also suggest matching it with rich, chocolaty desserts, and I suspect it may just work there. Overall, there was just something about this beer that I found hard to put my finger on, other than to say that perhaps this ultimately was not for me.
Score: 2-1/2 out of 5 beagles.
What they say: BridgePort Black Strap Stout features a malty, caramel flavor up front with a distinctive dry-roasted bitterness in the finish. A generous dose of Northwest hops mingles with the sweetness of black strap molasses to yield a full-bodied ale that pours with beautiful cascade that settles to a rich, creamy head.
What The Thirsty Beagle says: I’m just going to come right out and say it — I’m a big fan of this beer. I had been sinking into a lull of lagers lately, and made a conscious effort to mix things up and go in a different direction. I’m glad I did. To start, this beer has a very appealing pour and appearance. You can almost feel how smooth it is as it flows into the glass. I mean, this beer just looks like a serious beer. It has a deep, dark brown color, almost black. Unfortunately, I messed up the pour a little bit, and didn’t get a true measure of the head, as you can see at right. Appearance aside, you can smell the maltiness of this beer right off the bat, and that’s the first thing that hits you in terms of taste. This one is a little sweeter than some other stouts, but I thought there was a fair measure of hoppy bitterness to balance off nicely against the caramel and molasses. I thought Black Strap left a subtle and pleasant aftertaste. Some random facts: Black Strap Stout Ale is 6.0% ABV; The beer won a gold medal at the World Beer Championships in 1997. Overall, The Thirsty Beagle tends to agree with that rating.
Score: 4 out of 5 beagles.
Found myself at Flip’s on Western last night. It was my first time there, and it’s a nice little place. I had the Italian calzone, which was great. Actually, really great. The marinara sauce didn’t do much for me, though, but the calzone was top-shelf. Also had the chance to sample a trio of beers I hadn’t had before. I wasn’t taking notes, so I’m not going to throw down full-fledged reviews with beagle-head scores, but I will provide mini-recaps.
1. La Fin Du Monde. A Belgian-style ale brewed in Quebec, Canada. This is a triple-fermented beer in the mold of Chimay, but La Fin Du Monde (which translates in English to “the end of the world,” which is what early European explorers thought they had found when the reached North America) is a little sweeter than Chimay. The tastes are fairly similar, though. One warning: This beer is of the 9 percent a.b.v. variety, so it’s a strong one. Overall, I’d give this one a thumbs up. It was a nice beer.
2. Samuel Smith’s Organic Ale. A pale ale from England. Samuel Smith brewery also produces an organic lager. Both beers are certified as organically made by the British Soil Association, described as the U.K.’s leading organization for organic food and farming. Speaking specifically about the ale, it’s a golden brew that for me was a little too fruity. I’ll probably steer clear of this one for a while.
3. Point Classic Amber. An amber lager from Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin. This was the featured tap beer at Flip’s, and they’ve picked a good one. A smooth beer with a distinctive hoppy kick. Very high on the drinkability list. Plus I’ve been favoring lager’s lately, so this really fit the bill. I enjoyed this one a lot and would recommend it to anyone.
Today’s review is the Belgian wheat beer Hoegaarden.
What they say: “A delicious and surprising refreshing taste, naturally cloudy and brewed using a unique recipe of wheat, malted barley and a subtle hint of coriander and orange peel.”
What The Thirsty Beagle says: Hoegaarden is referred to as a witbier, or white beer, because of it’s cloudy appearance. Historically, witbiers are a staple of Belgian brewing tradition. This beer is cloudy indeed, and much sweeter than your standard larger or even ale. I would argue that the “subtle hint” of spices is a bit understated. This beer has a definite spiciness that hits you right off the bat. If you’re not used to drinking unfiltered beers, especially one this spicy/sweet, the taste and consistency may seem peculiar at first. I find it a nice balance to the bitter undercurrent in many mainstream beers. Hoegaarden is best enjoyed poured into a wide-mouth glass — the bottle even has directions for proper pouring technique, including a gentle swirling of the drink to spread it’s ingredients. Like other unfiltered beers, Hoegaarden can settle in the bottle and to drink it without disturbing the contents throws the taste out of line. Hoegaarden leaves a sweet aftertaste, but it’s one that is not overwhelming. A little Hoegaarden history: The beer originated in the Belgian town of — you guessed it — Hoegaarden. Overall, a solid choice to enjoy on a warm summer day when you’re looking for something a little more complex for your palette.
Score: 3 1/2 out of 5 beagles.
Like judging and evaluating a fine wine, deciphering what makes a beer good is a complex process. In beer competitions, there is a standardized beer judging system — the Beer Judge Certification Program, or BJCP — used by judges. The process of becoming a judge at the highest levels of beer competition can take years, or even decades. Passing BJCP tests merely get you in the door. The most highly regarded beer judges have to earn their reputation through years of study, beer tasting practice and judging experience. Weighing all this, where does that leave The Thirsty Beagle as I prepare for my first beer review? Let’s see:
Passing BJCP tests? Nope. Having years of judging experience? Nope. Having years of practice tasting beer? Wait a minute, I think we’re on to something here! I may not be able to discern the slight difference between once- or twice-roasted barley, but I’m pretty sure I can convey in my own unorthodox way if you — the average beer-enjoying chap — should partake in a few sips. That said, on with the review:
Sam Adams OctoberFest
What they say: “This hearty lager is rich with a blend of five malts, carefully balanced with hand-selected Noble hops,” and “…the largest selling Octoberfest brew in the world is not German, but the delicious brew in your hand.”
What The Thirsty Beagle says: OctoberFest is a medium-to-dark-amber-colored lager. On looks alone, this beer has got it going. The amber hue really lures you in. As far as flavor goes, the hops give it a slight bitterness, but nothing that would make you grimace. Those hops work to balance the sweetness of the caramel flavor added to the beer. As with most lagers, it has a cleanness that makes it quite easy to drink, but the flavor is definitely more rich than a standard domestic lager. In fact, Sam Adams describes the beer as a good transition from summer’s light brew’s to the heartier varieties offered in the winter, and that’s a very apt description. To me, the beer had an ever-so-slight heaviness in the mouth and left more than a hint of a lingering aftertaste. Overall, a very enjoyable seasonal beer that goes great with a steak and even better with a grilled smoked sausage.
Score: 4 out of 5 beagles.