Beers in Review: Hillman Beer's Beer Rundown, Part 2

I have two more Hillman Beer beers on tap to review today. Hillman is doing great things up in North Carolina, and you can check out their Brewvue and Part 1 of this BiR from earlier this month in the links provided. Let’s get to the beers!

First up is Family Tradition, which Hillman calls a “Belgian Hop Blond”. It comes in at 7.5% ABV and 24 IBU. The beer is fairly hazy, coming in at a straw color (or a hair darker). Grassy and resiny notes take the lead in this beer, backed up by passion fruit, mango, and other tropical fruits. Maybe just a bit of candy sweetness in there, too. This beer has a fairly unique flavor profile, but I enjoyed this different style.

Next is Hillman’s try at the New England IPA, which they call Hazy Half-Back. 5.9% ABV, 57 IBU. The beer pours a very cloudy yellow and sports an expectedly juicy and smooth mouthfeel. Plenty of tropical and citrus fruits present, and I even felt like I got something like iced tea. While not necessarily doing anything too outside of the box (maybe the icea tea spice bit), this is a solid execution of this highly in-demand style.

Beers in Review: Hillman Beer's Beer Rundown, Part 1

As a follow-up to the Brewvue of Hillman Beer from a couple of weeks back, I have several of their beers to discuss. Some of these beers I mentioned previously, some not. Let’s get started.

ESBs—Extra Special Bitters-are an English beer style that can be hard to come by in the American craft beer scene, and great ESBs even more so. Hillman’s award-winning (a Silver at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival) ESB is a beer I’ve been seeking out for a long time. Hillman’s ESB checks in at 6.1% ABV and 37 IBU. It pours a clear, deep gold color and the taste profile brings a nice malt/hop balance. There are plenty of pleasing caramel and toffee notes along with some mild toasty elements, as well. A bit of hop bite leads to a fairly clean finish.

As mentioned in the Brewvue, Hillman certainly likes to put a good bit of Belgian influence into its beer line-up, even trying things like a BPA, a Belgian Pale Ale. 6% ABV, 29 IBU, this beer pours a hazy gold color. I found the beer seemingly play in two parts: the Belgian front and the Pale Ale back. There is plenty of clove and spice aroma which also play in to the front part of the tasting experience. You will also find some bubble gum sweetness up front, but I found that tended to dissipate as my palate adjusted and “sweet” is not a word I would use in the overall flavor profile. The back end of the tasting experience brought a good bit of hop bite. Other flavor notes included some mild caramel maltiness.

We’ll have 2 more from Hillman in our next entry. See you then!

Brewvue: Hillman Beer

While I don’t expect a trip to Asheville, NC, aka the East Coast Mecca of Craft Beer, to necessarily become an annual occurrence—there are just too many other great places to visit—it was my chosen destination for several days last month. The visit was centered around a show by a favorite band of mine in Asheville that week, but I also checked out a handful of new breweries, checked out the Beer Geek tour at Sierra Nevada’s Mills River facility, and visited a few old favorites or places that didn’t get much attention last time around.

After the obligatory stop for a BBQ lunch, the first place on the agenda was Hillman Beer, located near the Biltmore Estate and Village just south of the city.

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The space is fairly industrial, with the production area easily viewable from the tasting room, though some nice woodwork in the bar and other areas set this tasting room apart from others. Where Hillman truly excels, aesthetically, is in their outdoor spaces, which includes a partially-shaded roadside picnic table area out front (shown below) and a small seating around in the back shaded by trees and sitting near a creek.

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Two notes to take away from their tap list: the Great American Beer Festival medals, and the fact that they tend to like pushing things in a decidedly Belgian direction, as a unique Belgian Pale Ale joins a number of more traditional Belgian styles. The ESB lives up to its Silver Medal status, and the previously-mentioned BPA and the Wampa Wit are also quite good.

Beers in Review: Not Too Warm to Review a Winter Warmer

First up is this year’s offering from Great Divide Brewing Company’s Hop Disciples series of IPAs utilizing a rotating selection of hops. The 2019 version features Callista hops, which “showcases floral and tropical notes with hints of citrus and pine.” The beer itself pours a clear pale gold and checks in at 6.2% ABV. I picked up some of the tropical and floral notes, along with a bit of pine. But none of it was particularly potent or notable. In fact, I hesitate to call it a bad beer, but it feels like it needs to do SOMETHING better than what it’s pulling off right now.

Next is 9 3/4, the Winter Warmer from Frothy Beard Brewing Company. Appropriate as we start flirting with 90 degrees here in Columbia. 9% ABV, and it pours a dark cola color. I got a little bit of a harsh start to the tasting experience, but it quickly gave way to dark fruits and a good amount of booze from that 9%. This was a decent Warmer, but I found the sweetness level to be pushing my personal limit of enjoyment. Still, some good things happening here.

Beers in Review: A Pair of Pale Ales

Opening up today’s BiR is a highly-regarded offering that comes out every February from NoDa Brewing Company in Charlotte. Hop Cakes Imperial IPA comes out of their bi-monthly Specialty IPA series, and stays true to the name, with loads of Vermont maple syrup included in this recipe. The numbers on this beer are massive: 10.2% ABV, somewhere in the neighborhood of 110+ IBU. It pours a clear solid gold color, and the maple syrup first comes through in a powerfully sweet aroma. In the beer itself, I found plenty of booy sweetness and maple syrup notes, but they surprisingly didn’t overwhelm me (and I’m one that can be overwhelmed by that sweetness fairly easily). Other flavor notes include just a hint of pine and a mild hop bite, and the booziness ramps up as it warms.

Second up today is COAST Brewing Company and their Dead Arm American Pale Ale. 6% ABV, this beer pours a pale gold color with a very slight haze. I found the beer to be fairly light in flavors and body, with citrus and other fruit notes. A mild hop bite with some nice grassy and crackery notes are also present—that hop bite tended to really come through in the finish.

Beers in Review: River Rat Edition

Last week, I wrote about Columbia-based River Rat Brewery’s 5th Anniversary. As promised, here are a few of beers that I enjoyed at that event.

We start with their IPA collaboration with Munkle Brewing Company, a Charleston, SC-based brewery that brews in the German and Belgian styles and typically does not produce IPAs. River Rat and Munkle put their heads together, and the result is an American-style IPA that checks in at 5.8% ABV and 75 IBU. I found the beer to be nicely balanced with distinct malt notes and a moderate hop bite. Flavor notes included plenty of pine and just a hint of citrus. A basic but solid IPA.

Next up is Kerry’s Peanut Butter Porter. It pours a deep chocolate brown and has an ABV of 6%. I found this porter to be straight forward. It’s a light and smooth beer with plenty of roasted peanuts and just a hint of sweetness. Not a lot to say on this one. Again, solid but straight forward. Find your favorite fruit beer and do PB&J!

Finally, for one of their newest core beers, River Rat jumped on the New England IPA train with Astronaut Sauce. 5.4% ABV and 35 IBU, the Sauce pours an expectedly hazy apricot-ish color. Powerful citrus notes open the drinking experience, along with some fruit rind and just a hint of tropical fruit sweetness. Both of the latter notes push through the rest of the drinking experience, with the tropical notes occupying the back part of the sip while the bitterness of the rind, fueled with hop bitterness, really tend to come through in the finish and aftertaste. Pleasant overall.

Beers in Review: I'm Drinking It Right Now!

Way back when, I used to do the occasional “live to print” beer review, and I have one sitting in front of me. So, let’s going ahead an check out this offering from Westbrook Brewing Company. The Low and Slow Helles looks to be a new/limited offering (this is the first I’ve seen it, anyway) and their version of the classic German-style lager. Highly sessionable at 4.8% ABV, the beer pours a crystal clear pale yellow color with a white, pillowy head. Flavors are light, with cereal notes and a grainy sweetness that comes fairly standard in the style. Basically, think of your “preferred” mass-produced pale macrolager, but with quality ingredients and the flavors turned up to about 15. THAT is this beer. Tasty, crisp, perfect for the upcoming South Carolina summer.

Moving to the non-live portion of the post, we’re gonna stick with a German style in Brooklyn Brewery’s Unfiltered Pilsner. This beer checks in at 4.3% ABV (I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed 2 sub-5% beers in one review before) and pours a yellow straw or hay color with just a little bit of haze—really, it wasn’t as hazy as I expected it to be, given the name. Floral (early in the tasting experience) and grainy (late) notes make up most of the flavor profile, along with some peppery notes in the back side, as well. Solid, but not spectacular, and a little bit different offering out of the Pilsner category.

Finally, I didn’t intend on doing 3 different German styles, but here we are.

We recently passed the celebration of Mardi Gras, so no better beer to review than Louisiana-based Abita Brewing Company’s Mardi Gras Bock. 6.5% ABV, has a fairly light body, pours a clear light caramel color. Plenty of malt, floral notes, and sweetness present at the front, though the sweetness level was not too much for me. The back of the drinking experience was more grainy and bready, and there was something a tad wonky towards the very end and into the aftertaste. Not a bad beer, at all. Just a little bitter thing that stops it from being terrific.

Beers in Review: From Opposite Ends of South Carolina

So, since I got a new computer, I had to archive my review tracker. I don’t know off-hand whether or not I’ve reviewed this first beer yet. I’m guessing yes, but my rule is six months, and it’s DEFINITELY been longer than that…I can tell by how little writing I’ve done in that time. Moving on.

We begin in the Charleston area with Washout Wheat from Holy City Brewing Company, one of my favorites from the lower part of the state (at least, amongst beers that make it up here). The beer checks in the low 5s in ABV (I’ve seen different numbers from different sources; the HC site says 5.3) and pours a fairly hazy dark straw color—pretty much on point for style. Holy City says they let the base ingredients (namely wheat and yeast) generate this beer’s flavor profile without added ingredients. Resulting flavors include cloves, and a hint of banana that comes through more at the end of the drinking experience and in to the aftertaste. Light flavors and a refreshing, effervescent mouthfeel make this a solid summer wheat beer.

Next is Birds Fly South Ale Project and Apologize Less #6. The sixth in their series of double dry-hopped IPA, it is, essentially, a New England IPA that checks in at 6.3% ABV. It pours quite hazy, and reminded me of orange juice, frankly. I got grassy notes, along with orange/citrus and just a hint of pine tree; the pine really came through in the finish. There was also a mild hop bite that passed through the entire drinking experience. In the end, I found this to be a really tasty NE IPA.

Beers in Review: A Red of a Different Color

Leading things off is Charleston’s Revelry Brewing Company and their American Amber Ale, which is simply called Red. Now, I’m presuming this is a Revelry limited release—the website doesn’t even acknowledge the beer’s existence, and the only web presence I could find of Red was through Untappd, the beer-logging app/website. Even there, there was no ABV or IBU data to be had, so let’s just forge ahead. The beer pours just like an Amber Ale: a clear orange-gold color, and it had a pretty heavy mouthfeel. The flavor profile was as expected, with malty caramel and dark sugar notes, and maybe even some dark chocolate, as well. I was not a fan of the finish. I found it surprisingly bitter, which is fairly out-of-style and put me off on the beer, a bit.

If you’ve read this blog with any regularity, you are well aware of my love for Highland Brewing Company. One of their newer year-round offerings is the sessionable Daycation IPA. Coming in at just 4.9% ABV and 40 IBU, Highland brought a varied malt profile, including rye and oats, to create a balanced, quaffable Session IPA. It pours a cloudy, golden straw color, and I felt floral notes were really at the forefront of the tasting experience. Other flavors included moderate citrus and mild spicy and herbal notes. The finish featured a slight hop bite, but was otherwise fairly clean.

Six-Pack of News, Volume 32: New Comp, Who Dis?

As the title insinuates, I recently got a new computer, which means I need to revisit all the beer news websites & get them set-up in my web browser bookmarks again. What better opportunity to do a news rundown?

I think it’s fair to say that 2017’s creation of the Independent Craft Beer seal from the craft beer trade group Brewers Association was a rousing success, as the Association points to higher spending and more frequent visits to craft breweries sporting the seal. Now, the Association is taking the campaign a step further with the Independent Craft Beer Supporter seal. The seal can be used by any business, organization, or website that supports the craft beer industry. Seems simple enough. Anyone wanting to use the seal simply needs to sign a licensing agreement (which can be found at the second link).

The folks at Vinepair sure love their lists—right now, apparently, they think you need to know 13 things about Coors Light—but this time, we’re checking out a piece of beer history. Vinepair recently posted what would seem to be the first ever photograph of people drinking beer. The photo was seemingly taken in Scotland in 1844, just 18 years after the first photo was taken.

I was far from entering the craft beer internet community in 2008—in fact, I was barely a craft beer drinker at all! One of the “craft beers” I DID often drink was Newcastle Brown. Only in researching this Six-Pack did I learn that in 2008 Newcastle was acquired by…Heineken. Oh, well. Anyway, after moving the Newcastle brewing operations from the United Kingdom to Holland in 2017, a more drastic step is being taken. Lagunitas Brewing, based in California but also part of the Heineken family, will now be responsible for “reimagining” and brewing Newcastle. The new Newcastle will make its debut new March. As a long-time Newcastle drinker, expect a detailed review! (credit: Food & Wine)

The Harry Potter book and movie series both continue to be freakishly popular, and seeing as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was originally published in the U.K. in 1997 (and in ‘98 as Sorcerer’s Stone), all those original Potter fans HAD to grow up! But they probably STILL love Harry Potter! What to do? The Wizards and Witches Beer Festival, coming to a city near you! (Food & Wine)

It seems like this should have happened years ago, but Stone Brewing has collaborated with legendary metal band Metallica on Enter Night Pilsner. Beer Street Journal has more.

It’s a little bit old-news now, but Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, recently purchased their first-ever brewing, San Francisco-based Sufferfest Beer Company. Details from the Brew Studs website.

Beers in Review: A Pair from a York, PA Newbie

Old Forge Brewing Company has been in existence in the town of Danville in the upstate of Pennsylvania (about halfway between Harrisburg and Scranton) for over a decade. Recently, they expanded their footprint by establishing a tap room and restaurant in downtown York, PA, where I was staying for the holidays. While all the beer is still being made in Danville, the York taproom typically has a dozen or more offerings from their core and seasonal brew line-ups.

While my parents and I tried a number of beers, I focused on a couple of darker offerings, starting with Shermanator, which is their doppelbock. It pours a deep mahogany color, and checks in at a hefty 9.0% ABV. The alcohol is fairly prevalent overall, but I found it really popped up in the beer’s finish. Dark, sweet malt flavors combine with roasty sweetness along with raisins and other dark fruits. Despite such sweet ingredients, I found the sweetness level to be just right for my personal taste—not overpowering or sickly sweet.

Next was the Plowshare Porter, which they call “a cutting edge American Porter with plenty of chocolate malt and a shovel full of hops”. The beer has an ABV of 6.5% with an IBU count of 40, and pours a fairly clear brown color. Now, I think the “shovel full of hops” was probably some kind of citrusy hop, because this porter had a solid citrus aroma and orange notes in the finish and aftertaste. In addition to the citrus, this beer also featured some more traditional roasty and nutty notes, resulting in a quite different overall profile. Still enjoyable, though.

Beer News: So...the Buddies had themselves a week...

Our friends at Anheuser-Busch InBev have been busy lately. It started on Super Bowl Sunday. As usual, the A-B InBev group made a big ad buy during the Big Game, and continued it’s attempts to convince people that their beer is worthwhile. Instead of insulting craft beer (including maligning styles that some of their own High End breweries make), or making Bud and Bud Light to worthy of everyman, they went after corn syrup this time, obviously trying to get the public confused with HIGH FRUCTOSE corn syrup, which is considered NOT ideal for the average American diet.

The obvious play here is the claim that Bud Light is superior to Coors Light and Miller Lite because they, Bud, do not use corn syrup. Needless to say, the people at MillerCoors struck back:

But they weren’t the only ones. The Buddies also drew the ire of the corn industry:





Much more from MillerCoors here, courtesy of AdAge.

ABI has tried to stir up a complete nothingburger of a scandal, only to get egg on its own face thanks to its less-than-ideal manipulation of facts. So, the only logical next step is the piss off the craft beer world, too!

ABI did just that by having its venture capital group, ZX Ventures, buy up the entirety of the beer review website ratebeer.com. ZX Ventures originally purchased a stake in the site in 2016. Brewbound has lots more detail on the acquisition, including some breweries’ loss of faith in RateBeer’s independence and how site traffic has fared since the partial and full acquisitions went down.

Six-Pack of News, Volume 31: Why is 3.2 Beer Still a Thing?

I need to give a shout-out to good, ol’ Rod J. for posting a couple of these on the Twitter (check out his BeerVentures here).

First off is a big legislative change in the state of Colorado, where on January 1st a law took effect permitting “full strength” beer to be purchased in the state’s grocery stores. Previously, grocery stores were limited to selling malt beverages that were 3.2% alcohol or less. Wine and hard liquor must still be purchased in separate liquor stores. There are still a few states with the alcohol limit—Utah, Kansas (law will permit full strength come April)—begging the question: why the hell is 3.2% beer still a thing in 2019? (Post Independent and Citizen Telegram)

File this next one under “missing the mark”: Keeping in line with the ever-growing number of corporate sponsorships surrounding various sports leagues and sporting events (does the NFL really need an official car?), the Kentucky Derby has selected its official craft beer. Yes, the official “craft beer” of the Kentucky Derby and the exclusive beer of Churchill Downs is…Blue Moon. Blue Moon. The one owned by MillerCoors. Is the official craft beer of the Kentucky Derby. Got it. (Beer Street Journal)

In deference to the wishes of it’s namesake creator, Disneyland park in Anaheim, CA has been and continues to be a dry theme park (a tradition partially broken some years back at the Magic Kingdom in Florida’s Walt Disney World). The REST of the Disneyland Resort is a different story, and starting next week the numerous restaurants and shops of the Downtown Disney district will be joined by a Ballast Point Brewing Company brewhouse and taproom. The brewery will sport a full menu along with dozens of Ballast Point’s beers, including some produced in and exclusively available at the Downtown Disney location. The brewery opens January 16 (Food and Wine website)

It would be an understatement to say that inclusion and diversity are key pillars for virtually any business, and the craft beer industry is no different. To that end, the Brewers’ Association, craft beer’s trade association, has released a 5-part series to serve as a guide to help brewers and breweries embrace diversity in all aspects of their business.

The folks at Vinepair sure like their lists, and their Top 10 Beer Destination list for 2019 is no exception. The list isn’t as esoteric as last year, when they were sending you to Madison, Wisconsin and Richmond, Virginia. But some lesser-known cities like Rochester, New York and Raleigh, North Carolina join locations like Paris, Berlin, and New Orleans.

Related: We had Vinepair’s 2018 list AND originally discussed the Downtown Disney/Ballast Point story in Volume 29 of the Six-Pack!

Finally, the state of California spent a lot of 2018 being devastated by wildfires. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is doing their share to help the state get back on its feet, and has enlisted many of its craft beer friends to add their support. Late last year, Sierra Nevada released Resilience Butte County Proud IPA, with proceeds from the beer going to the Camp Fire Relief Fund (the Camp Fire being the later wildfire that burned over 150,000 acres, destroyed 13,000 homes, and impacted many of Sierra Nevada’s employees). SN then took things a step further by releasing the Resilience recipe and having their suppliers provide ingredients at no charge to ANY brewery that signed up and committed to making the beer for free and sending any proceeds from the beer’s sales to the Camp Fire Fund. Over 1,400 breweries (SN has the full list in the link above) signed up. You may have already started seeing the beer at your local brewery, or it may be coming very soon.

BrewVue: #CBBCity

This was not my first visit to Crystal Ball Brewing Company. I first checked out their home base in a small warehouse in West York, PA—a space that practically put its roughly dozen-seat bar virtually IN the production area. Between limited space and relatively few hours, the CBB team knew they needed something better. The result has been stylized as #CBBCity, a taproom in downtown York City, an area trying to undergo a major revitalization.

The York taproom, while a major upgrade from their production space, is a bit on the small side (maybe a dozen bar stools and 20-30 seats, tops). And it’s maybe a bit dark, with grey walls and dark furnishings doing little to help what light is provided in the room. Still, it’s a very nice space where they are serving up a half-dozen or more of their brews, along with a couple of other options for those that aren’t adventurous enough for craft beer. Without a doubt, it is far better than their brewery-based tasting area. They served their well-liked Coconut Porter there (I’m not a coconut guy, but I’ve heard great things) and might even have it on nitro. Other notables include the Opal IPA and the Jamaican-Style Wheat (which is fruitier than your average wheat beer), though I’ve yet to have anything bad from these guys between a few cans and a couple of visits to their tasting rooms.

Beer in Reviews: Mad Elf Back-to-Back-to-Back AND Naked!

I promise you, no typo in the post title above.

In anticipating my visit to Troegs Independent Brewing earlier this week, I was looking forward to checking out their Christmas seasonal, Mad Elf Ale. I was happy to see that the Troegs taproom not only had this year’s version of Mad Elf on tap, but the 2017 AND 2016 editions, as well! 3 types of Mad Elf, and 3-beer flights offered by Troegs? Easy choice!

Mad Elf pours a pretty Ruby Red color and is a massive beer, clocking in at a whopping 11% ABV and 15 IBU. Despite that high ABV, the beer is not super-boozy. Or at least, the booziness blends well into the fruit profile of the cherries and the overall sweetness coming from the honey, two of the key brewing additions in this beer. Some mild chocolate notes are also present coming from the chocolate malts.

On to the varietals. To be frank, I could tell very little difference between the 2018 and 2017 editions. The 2016 Mad Elf showed definite changes, starting with a slight lightening of that ruby red color compared to the other two. Overall, the beer was a little smoother with a little more coming from the sweet honey and fruity cherry ingredients.

In addition to the Mad Elves, Troegs also had a variation called Naked Elf. Far lower ABV (6.9%), similar IBU (17) compared to Mad Elf, this is a stripped-down beer, where the cherries, honey and chocolate malts are never added. The result is a fairly straight-up Belgian dark style ale. Several wintery spices are present—cinnamon, cloves, and others—along with a hint of bubblegum sweetness. It’s a neat little beer, but the Mad’s additional brewing ingredients, especially the cherries, really help kick Mad Elf up a notch. Fun little experiment, but I like my Belgians in fairly small doses, so I don’t feel the need to check this out again once my crowler runs dry.

We’re not done with Mad Elf, either! Coming up later this week: Mad Elf Grand Cru.

BrewVue: Troegs Independent Brewery

I am in Pennsylvania for the holiday, and already got started on the local beer scene. I’ll be writing about some of the newbies soon, but started off with an old standard.

I got fresh off the plane in Harrisburg, PA, picked up by my parents, grabbed some lunch, and then headed to Hershey for our third ever trip to Troegs. This marked our first time going on their well-regarded brewery tour. It opened with a pre-tour choice of beers, roughly 10 ounces of their core Amber Ale, seasonal IPA, or small-batch Cranberry Porter. This was followed by a perusal of their art gallery, featuring winners and notable entrants from their annual art contest. Starting at the bottom of the hour, the tour began in earnest. Our tour was led by a lovely young woman whose name I forget, because I am a lousy person. She had a Zooey Deschanel thing going on, if that helps.

The tour covered the four principal ingredients of beer (water, malt, hops, yeast) and the brewing process in-depth, with a walk-through of the production floor. Highlights included tasting malted barley at various stages of roast, smelling fresh and pelleted hops, and sampling “green”/unhopped beer. The tour concludes with further sampling, including our being able to sample their Perpetual IPA fresh off the bottling line. We closed out with a taste of their excellent Jovial Dubbel Ale. Troegs puts together a high-quality tour with some unique experiences. Even if one doesn’t want to do a guided tour (which costs $10—quite a bargain—and takes about an hour), the self-guided tour allows you see some of the processing equipment and contains a ton of information itself, written on glass windows and walls along the couple hundred square-foot tour. Even more of the process equipment, including the boil kettle and hopping tanks, are visible from the main taproom, easily the cornerstone of the brewery overall.

Courtesy, the Troegs website

Courtesy, the Troegs website

The taproom bar presents upwards of two-dozen beers from their core, seasonal, and small batch line-ups, with all but a few rarer offerings available on tap and able to be carried out in growlers or crowlers (in addition to an extensive group of single bottles, six- and twelve-packs available in their main store. With such a long line-up at the bar, it’s easy to find something you’ll like, but among their notables are the previously-mentioned Jovial along with the current seasonals, Blizzard of Hops, a Winter IPA, and Mad Elf (more on this one at a later date). Among the year-round group, the Perpetual IPA, HopBack Amber, and JavaHead Stout stand out.

Beers in Review: Holiday Rapid Fire

Christmas is fast-approaching, with the official start of Winter approaching even faster. With that in mind, I thought I’d throw down some quick thoughts on a handful of recent seasonal beers that I’ve had.

Highland Cold Mountain Spiced Ale-Highly enjoyable. As someone who does not necessarily care for many of this season’s beers, which can be overly sweet, I find Cold Mountain had a terrific balance of sweetness, spice, and other usual notes (like vanilla and dark fruits).

River Rat Winter Warmer-Not bad overall, though I felt like I was drinking the can a little bit in the one I had. Nice sweet and spice levels, though.

Abita Office Party-Abita’s limited-release Holiday Stout—they also have. Again, not bad overall (better than my River Rat experience). Quite mild overall. Not a lot of sweetness, and spices are present but not overpowering. That puts it right in my wheelhouse, hypothetically. It just needs…something…to be great.

I also had the Sweetwater Festive Ale, but that was a while ago, and it made so little impression that I can’t really recall anything, other than I wasn’t overly impressed. Take that for what you will.

Beers in Review: Dark and Light

For this first review, we go back to one of my hometown’s standard bearers, River Rat Brewery. My Morning Stout is their primary stout with an ABV of 6%. The beer pours a dark cola brown to near-black, and I found it to be fairly light-bodied. There is plenty of coffee present—a unique blend made by a Georgia-based independent coffee roaster. Burnt sugar, cocoa, and vanilla notes are all present, and I feel like the beer had a bit of a cold brew coffee-style thing going on: a little sweet and maybe a little milky, at least to me. Another solid effort by River Rat.

Next up, we go about as far in the opposite style direction as possible with this offering from Charleston’s Frothy Beard Brewing Company. They seem to like their fruity Blonde Ales (currently featuring a Blueberry Blonde), and got to enjoy their Strawberry Blonde Ale earlier this year. 5.2% ABV, the beer pours a fairly clear nice straw gold color. As expected, strawberries make up darn near everything in this beer. The sweetness level on this beer is pretty high, almost pushing to the point of being too much for me, but staying JUUUUUUST on the right side of my line. Overall, I found this to be a light and tasty Blonde Ale.

Beers in Review: A Pair from Cottontown

Cottontown Brew Lab has been a member of the Columbia beer scene for a couple of years now. Originally a production-only facility, they opened up an outdoor Beer Garden over the summer at their location in one of Columbia’s historic downtown neighborhoods, the eponymous Cottontown. Their goal is to embrace the “Famously Hot” nature of Columbia, South Carolina, and present a core line-up of beers that are enjoyable even on those unbearable high humidity, near-100 degree days that dominate the area for most of the summer. I’ve had the opportunity recently to try a couple of offerings from their core line-up.

Their Blue Zip Tie IPA comes in at 7.6% ABV and 80 IBU, and strikes a remarkable balance of flavors and aromas. I got plenty of maltiness (I believe caramel malts) and dark sweetness to go a mild hop bite and notes of pine and plenty of aromatics. Again, generally light in nature, and pouring a fairly clear golden color, I found this to be a nice IPA whose balance makes it different from many of the others.

Second up is the Carolina Crush Session IPA. It pours a hazy yellow-gold color, and clocks in at 4.5% ABV and 25 IBU. Also fairly light and fairly straight forward in flavor, with hoppy pine and dank notes. They also nailed the “trick”, as I felt like I was getting citrus zest notes throughout, but the brewers claim that no fruit is used in the production of this beer. A solid session beer.