Beers in Review: Westbrook Pair

In today's review, we check out a pair from Mt. Pleasant, SC's excellent Westbrook Brewing Company.

Each Spring, Westbrook releases what is arguably their most popular and hard-to-get beer. To me, this falls under what I call the "bucket list" category, the best of the best of craft beer that can be somewhat difficult to damn near impossible to acquire. Westbrook's Mexican Cake Imperial Stout does have a May release window, but it goes fast, and rarely can be found too far past that release point. Fortunately, the fine folks at the Craft and Draft shop here in Columbia are totally awesome, and saved a kega for a brewery head-to-head event a couple of months ago. Cake was originally brewed for Westbrook's 1st Anniversary, and it gets aged on cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon, and habanero peppers. The stout comes in at a powerful 10.5% ABV and is quite smooth-drinking. Drinking this beer, I got notes of semi-sweet to unsweetened chocolate--it's likely a good amount of sweetness was coming from the booze level--with a mild kick from the peppers, though I'm glad they don't take over the beer like peppers tend to do. There were also some slight hints of dark fruit and berries to me, but that could also be just my interpretation of the boozy sweetness. I had already scratched this particular beer off my personal bucket list a couple of years back, but social media was my friend in discovering C&D's spare keg of this, and I couldn't say no to a second try.

Citrus Redacted appears to be a modern version of a previous collaboration beer from Westbrook and a local bottle shop. Redacted is an Imperial IPA, 8.5% ABV, that plays a little bit like the recent New England IPAs. Redacted is a moderately hazy gold color with plenty of observable particulate matter in the glass. It bears a delightful and potent orange aroma, and the flavors of EVERY PART of a piece of citrus fruit came through: fleshy fruit (which was most prevalent) along with the rind and even the connective strands in between the fruit slices. Again, orange was most notable of the citrus present, though I also detected some grapefruit in there, as well. The beer overall was not too bitter, despite the presence of rind flavor notes. I found this to be a delightful IPA.

Beer News: Tax Bill Passed in U.S. Senate Includes Good News for Craft Brewers

The tax bill passed Friday night in the United States Senate may be subject to a deep partisan divide, but it does include tax relief for smaller craft brewers in the United States. The Senate passed an amended version of House Resolution 1, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by a vote of 51-49, with all affirmative votes coming from the majority Republican Party, which holds 52 out of the 100 seats in the Senate (outgoing Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker joined the Democrats in opposition to the bill).

Included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA), a piece of legislation that has been backed by industry trade and advocacy groups for years but has languished in the Congress. The CBMTRA will slash taxes by half on the first 60,000 barrels produced by brewers who make fewer than 2 million barrels a year. Other tax reductions are included on up to the first 6 million barrels produced by other brewers. Brewbound has more details, including quotes from the President of the United States and members of various trade groups.

Due to Senate amendments to the bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act now goes to a House/Senate reconciliation committee, where members of the two chambers will work to create a bill that can be passed by the entire Congress. The bill may also still be in danger should opponents of the bill effectively work to change the minds of some Senators or Congressmen. It should be noted that while the Republicans have roughly a 40-seat majority in the House of Representatives, they only control the Senate 52-48. Assuming no Democrats will support this bill, Republicans can only afford two "Nay" votes to pass this legislation (in the event of a 50-50 tie, Republican Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the bill). Constituent advocacy in the coming days may convince a few key swing Republican Senators to change their stance in backing this bill.

Beers in Review: Let's Get Back To It

Leading off Beers in Review is an offering from Goose Island Beer Company's Cooper Project, their experimental bourbon barrel-aging series which had 3 offerings in 2017. Cooper Project #2 is listed as a blonde Doppelbock; this was discovered later during beer research, and explained the relatively light golden color that I was not expecting during the actual drinking experience, when it was merely described as a Doppelbock. While this beer had some nice notes, most notably some vanilla and caramel, I found the bourbon barrel characteristics to be too much for my enjoyment. I got a good amount of oak and plenty of boozy heat (9.2% ABV) that just took me out of the beer too much. Frankly, I don't drink many of the bourbon barrel beers, so I expect I would enjoy this more if I were more used to the experience.

Next is a tropical IPA from North Carolina's Catawba Brewing Company. Friki Tiki comes in at 6.5% ABV and 60 IBU, and will vary from batch-to-batch as they use a different tropical fruit and supporting hop bill. As an example, the Friki batch I tasted was a Pineapple IPA, while it is now listed on the Catawba site as a Guava IPA. The beer pours a hazy gold color, and as I tend to find in these tropical fruit-based beers, there was a whole lot going on in the mouthfeel. Fruity juiciness leads the way, but I also found a freshness working its way into the mouthfeel, supported by the pineapple fronds that I found in the flavor profile. Additional flavors included pineapple and plenty of other tropical fruits, along with a bit of orangy citrus. A moderate hop bite was also present within the beer, but it didn't overwhelm the other excellent flavors.

Beers in Review: Beers From Long Ago...

First up in today's BiR is Slow Your Roll from Bronx Brewery in New York City, of course. Slow Your Roll is a session IPA, just 4.6% ABV and fairly light in body and flavor intensity. The beer pours a lemon yellow color and is completely hazy. Citrus hop notes are the most prominent flavors present, along with tropical fruit and tropical greens and leaves. I also felt like I was getting a little bit of funkiness, but that may have been coming from the tropical sources.

Next is River Rat Brewery's offering created for August's Solar Eclipse, Moonraker. Coming in at 6% ABV and pouring a bold gold color, Moonraker is an India Pale Lager (IPL), a hybrid of the lager and IPA styles. To me, this hybrid style was interpreted as a sort of two-step beer. In the front half, I picked up the hoppy notes. This included citrus, especially candied orange, and perhaps a little bit of pine hoppiness. The back half of this beer brought more lager characteristics. There was a caramelly sweetness along with some cereal notes and a malty finish.

Finally, just my second-ever offering from Legal Remedy Brewing Company, the first being their excellent World Court Mocha Blonde Stout. Gorilla Law is a cherry Hefeweizen, and it looks like it may have been specially-produced for the brewery's 3rd birthday. The beer pours reddish copper, and measures at 5.8% ABV. I found it almost played like a farmhouse ale. There were mild cherry notes--far less than I expected--along with a little bit of a white wine taste and feel. There was a little bit of funkiness in there, as well, that really brought that farmhouse feel. Gorilla Law had a fairly light body, and I found it to be pretty refreshing. This beer maybe wasn't quite on style, but it was enjoyable.

BrewVue: 7 Mile Brewery

By sheer luck, I had the chance to stop by the 5th and (right now) final brewery in Cape May County, New Jersey.

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7 Mile Brewery isn't much to look at from the outside, occupying your standard chunk of strip mall beside an escape room, a food market, and an insurance office. Indeed, before going to the brewery, one of the criticisms I heard about the location was a "lack of ambiance". Now, as we learned from Cold Spring, atmosphere and ambiance are far from everything. But even beyond that, I'm no decor expert, but I found this to be a perfectly fine space.

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I like the deep blue wall color. I think these narrow tables are nice. Sure, there's a some stainless steel around, and the stools and chairs are pretty industrial, but industrial tends to be a recurring theme at breweries. It's a good-sized space, too, so any inherently lacking atmosphere can be generated by a boisterous crowd. Long story short, I think the atmosphere of this place is perfectly fine. There's even a small outdoor space that is reached by walking through/past the production/tour area.

Let's get to what matters: the beer. They seem to have a 10-12 tap selection at any typical time, with two sets of taps so it's easier on the bartenders. I had the cherry Saison at another bar earlier on vacation, so here I largely stuck to core styles. Beach Bubbles is a solid traditional Witbier, while El Heffe was a really tasty Hefeweizen--though I found it to be more Belgiany despite the German-named style. I also tried the Shorty Stout, quite good, and the Black Rye Pea Aay, which I found to be a little unusual. After being open for just over a year, 7 Mile has quickly developed a reputation for high-quality beers, and most of what I drank supported that. At this point, it seems to be the top challenger to Cape May Brewing's status as the area's King of the Hill.

BrewVue: Cape May Brewing Company

Cape May Brewing Company, located in multiple buildings on the grounds of the Cape May Airport, is certainly seen as the big brother of the craft beer boom hitting that particular part of the Jersey Shore.

Cape May Brewing Company recently underwent a rebranding, including all new logos and designs.

Cape May Brewing Company recently underwent a rebranding, including all new logos and designs.

This is the third time I've been to CMBC, and while still a solid visit, it was a bit underwhelming. For starters, Cape May County is performing extensive renovations and upgrades to the grounds of the airport. At the particular time I visited, this included extensive road renovations and closures, resulting in a less-than ideal parking situation that included trudging through a muddy field around the industrial building to get to Cape May Brewing Company's main entrance.

Cape May easily has the most impressive factory/production floor tour of any in the area, with an extended walkthrough area with videos and interactive exhibits with an opportunity to pick up a beer list or flight selection card before heading into the tasting room and outdoor beer garden.

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The production tour (top) and the brewery's outdoor seating area (bottom). Courtesy the Cape May Brewing Company Facebook page.

The production tour (top) and the brewery's outdoor seating area (bottom). Courtesy the Cape May Brewing Company Facebook page.

At this particular visit, Cape May had 10 different beers on tap. While a fine number, and the most of any brewery visit so far, this is actually a low number for Cape May. There have been prior visits where they've had nearly double that number of beers on tap. To their credit, they continue to have their in-house non-alcoholic sodas on tap, as well. The root beer is excellent, and tastes similar to commercially-produced root beers, but with the flavor intensity turned up to 11 or 12. They also make a ginger ale which is very good if you can stand the intense taste coming from the ginger root used. It can be overwhelming to some people.

Really, you can't go wrong with anything in their line-up. Truly, one of the things that impressed me about this brewery in the past was the ability to have such an extensive tap line-up of 15-20 beers and have every one be of decent quality at minimum. Some of the more notable beers include the namesake IPA, the Honey Porter (which can be found on Nitro), and Apple Bomb, a fruit beer that'll knock you on your butt if you aren't careful--it's 8% ABV, but doesn't taste it. Arguably their greatest offering is The Bog, which is a super-tasty cranberry shandy. It's highly accessible for just about anyone to drink and absolutely perfect for being near several beach towns. Cape May calls The Bog a seasonal, but it seems to have a wide length of availability.

Cape May is still tops in the area's craft beer scene. But it is quickly being caught up to by a few breweries, especially one I'll be telling you all about next week.

Beers in Review: Jersey Drinking

The latter entry in today's BiR includes beers I drank while on vacation and will feature a preview of a brewery I will be reviewing soon as an entry in the Brewery Review (now called "BrewVue") series. But first, a seasonal from one of the craft beer giants.

My dad, a big Sierra Nevada Brewing Company fan overall, has been going crazy about Summerfest Czech-style lager. Right on the borderline of sessionable at 5% ABV, Summerfest pours a clear pale gold color. The malty sweetness, courtesy of Munich malts, blends with plenty of prominent grain notes to resolve into something like sweet corn. There is a slight bitterness (not a surprise at just 28 IBU) at the end of the drinking experience that leads into the aftertaste, which is the only possible indication of the presence of hops. Otherwise, this beer is simply as advertised: light body with a crisp mouthfeel and finish. An excellent selection for warm summer days.

Next, we turn once again to the Jersey shore, and 7 Mile Brewery, whose full review will be week? Maybe?

Red, White, and Bru is a cherry-flavored Saison/farmhouse ale that is a summer release (presumably around the Fourth of July, based on its ABV number-play of 7.417%). I really feel like the fruit helps make this Saison more palatable to the more mainstream beer drinkers, as I had this separate from my family's brewery visit, but one of my relatives had this at the brewery and really enjoyed it. Red, White, and Bru pours a hazy gold color. It's light in body and mouthfeel, though I didn't necessarily find it refreshing. Despite helping the flavor, the fruit does serve as a second fiddle to a fairly strong funky note that then leads into a very mild sourness towards the end of the drinking experience. The beer's not really sweet, but I think the cherries bring a level of familiarity that make this a pretty accessible offering (and one of many excellent beers overall) from 7 Mile Brewery.

Video Review: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp, Part 5

This week, I will wrap up the final 4 beers from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's Beer Camp Across the World collaboration pack. Today, I check out collaborations with Duvel in Belgium and Surly Brewing Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Also, I'm pretty rusty at these reviews!

Brewery Review: Slack Tide Brewing Company

Among the newcomers to the South Jersey craft beer scene in the last year and change, Slack Tide Brewing Company in Clermont, New Jersey may have the most upward momentum.

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Occupying the back chunk of a warehouse that also houses a security firm and a damage restoration company, Slack Tide has the usual set-up, but their warehouse space looks to have a ton of room for expansion, which they had already started during my visit (despite just opening in early 2016). The tasting room is currently a bit on the small side (though, again, they seem to have expansion potential by just moving a wall) but warmly designed and decorated. Normally having as many as 12 beers on tap (which includes nitro capability), their ongoing expansion limited their offerings to just a handful from their core line-up as they were primarily focusing on production for area bars and restaurants until the expansion is completed. All the more reason to go back.

On the whole, I found everything to be fairly solid, though I would have liked a little bolder flavors from most everything. Their award-winning (including Best New Beer from the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper's 2016 Brew-vitational) Bell Buoy Belgian blonde ale was easily the best thing on the wall at the time. This was a tasty blonde that hit a lot of standard notes (bananas, cloves, all spice) REALLY well. Their American IPA, called Angry Osprey, was also a very solid offering with a nice malt/hop balance and a little more diverse and different hop flavor profile (pine, but also something grassy or green) than you get in most IPAs. Other beers I tried, including a seasonal pale wheat and a fairly standard stout, ranged from okay to good, but I felt would have really benefited from a little more intensity. There are some really good options here, though, and I expect to make it back next summer post-expansion to try some of their seasonal and rotating offerings.

Brewery Review (name pending): Ludlam Island Brewery

Greetings, all!

I’m back from vacation, where I checked out no less than FOUR new breweries in Cape May County of New Jersey. I’ll be covering all five breweries I checked out with my family last week, starting with Ludlam Island Brewery, officially located in Ocean View, New Jersey. Having opened in June 2016, Ludlam Island occupies a small part of a multi-tenant industrial space about 10 minutes away from the nearest shore town, Sea Isle City. The state-mandated self-guided tour is about standard, offering a wide view of their production space, with what looked like 4-10 bbl fermenters up close and personal.

The tasting room is small with a fairly rustic look—the wood-paneled walls do actually make a nice difference from most breweries’ fairly sterile and industrial looks—featuring 8 standard taps, along with an additional two taps set aside for cask-conditioned ales. This particular day, they were serving one of their IPAs in a tropical style with coconut and tropical fruit. They seem to cask-condition their year-round New England-style IPA, Fish Alley Ale, fairly regularly with various fruits, but will also do things like chocolate candy-infused stouts and more.

Their core line-up is fairly pale ale-heavy, including a collaboration with the coffee roasters next door to create a coffee version of their Foundation Rye Pale Ale. Notables from the visit included an excellent core stout called 547, and a Nitro version of their very good Bay Muck Brown Ale. You’ll also find a Kolsch among their standard line-up, and might even see a Gose there right now. Thanks to the magic of flights tried virtually everything they had in-house (I had just a sip of that cask-conditioned ale, as I am no fan of coconut, and this ale had PLENTY), and found all of it to be very solid. I also appreciated their desire to go beyond the standard with the Nitro and cask offerings—even if that particular one wasn’t my thing, I could absolutely appreciate the quality put into it.

Beers in Review: Clearing the Slate (plus Programming Notes)

I'm clearing out the Notes app of all of my beers to be reviewed, so let's get to it!

Leading off is Unknown Brewing Company's latest in their traditional not-quite-anniversary releases, 3.5ish, celebrating 3 1/2 years of beer-making by Unknown. This time around, the Charlotte-based brewers made what is called a "gueze-inspired lambic". This beer comes in at 6.1% ABV, and pours a slightly hazy golden color. While the flavor profile is generally mild in potency, it leads with considerable pungent notes, including a whole lot of funk and perhaps some leather and even a bit of B.O. (yes...THAT B.O.). Other notes include a little bit of salt (expected for the style) and a moderate lemony sweetness that sits towards the back of the drinking experience. These Unknown "anniversary" beers are always a little bit out there, and this one is no different.

Immediately after the 3.5ish, I had 'Round the Riverbend from The Hourglass Brewery in Longwood, Florida. Riverbend was what was referred to as a "mixed-fermentation rye saison", and had enough similarities to the 3.5ish that I feel that something resembling palate fatigue may have affected my overall interpretation of this beer. This beer pours a crystal-clear straw gold, and like the 3.5ish is quite funky and pungent, also bringing tobacco and a musty note to the beer. Some hints of pepper and fruit (cherry or sour cherry?) are also present. I found this beer to be a bit overwhelming, but I am completely willing to chalk it up to the back-to-back drinking experiences.

For something completely different, we turn to Asheville's Highland Brewing Company and their limited release Hawaiian Lounge Juice Extra IPA. Highland was aiming for an IPA that was "deceptively drinkable" despite being 8% ABV. They did this by overloading it with tropical qualities, even to the point that I was picking up citrus rind and fruit leaves or greens in the aroma. These all carried through into the flavor profile and combined with the tropical hops to generate a moderate bite. The flavor profile also features plenty of fruits, including pineapple, mango, passion fruit, and even some sweet or candied orange. The tropicality extends into a juicy mouthfeel, as well.

Closing out this edition of BiR are two Hefeweizens.

Lonerider Brewery in Raleigh, NC seems to come and go from the Columbia, SC market, but I always find them to be a solid contribution when they're here. Their award-winning Shotgun Betty does an excellent of nailing the textbook modern Hefeweizen style. It brings a bit of banana, plenty of clove (along with lighter amounts of other spices like All Spice), and plenty of grain with a fairly light body. The bubblegum sweetness is also very much present but not overpowering with this beer. The review shows it: there's not a lot of flourish to Shotgun Betty, frankly, but there are few American offerings that better exemplify the style.

Finally, we turn to Charlotte's Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and their Hornet's Nest Hefeweizen. As expected, Hornet's Nest pours a completely cloudy straw color. The flavor profile leads with bubble gum and clove which are supported by banana, black pepper, and a few other spices. Just like Betty above, OMB nails the standard Hefe flavor notes, though I felt like I also detected a small amount of malty sweetness in their offering. Hornet's Nest also tends to be a bit more powerful, with bolder flavors (especially for the style) and a fairly heavy body. Still a really good Hefeweizen, though.

As a programming note, I leave for vacation on Friday, so posting will be minimal/sporadic. I'm heading to the Jersey shore again, and there are a couple of new breweries to check out. So, I'll have plenty of content for when I return Labor Day Weekend, and if WiFi allows, I might try to livestream something from a brewery or two. No promises on that last part, though. The best way to keep up with what's going on will be through the PRB Twitter and PRB Instagram accounts.

Thanks, everyone, and see you next week!

Beers in Review: PRB Goes Hypocrite???

So, needless to say, I spent a lot of time back in May talking about Wicked Weed Brewing and their assimilation by A-B InBev. Based on my comments, posts, and whatnot, one might think I was against this whole merger thing. And they'd be right! That said, I picked up a couple of bottles of Wicked Weed beers shortly after the merger. Because hypocrisy is how I roll! Really, though, I figured it was best to pick up a few bottles that I knew were made pre-merger, before the whole thing goes to crap. So, let's get to it!

Leading off is Napoleon Complex Hoppy Pale Ale (which, if considered broadly, is a very interesting name for a beer now). It's fairly sessionable at 5% ABV, and brings a nice balance to the table. Pouring a clear pale yellow to straw color, Napoleon's plenty of floral and aromatic hop notes, along with some mild pine. Reflecting the balance, malt notes are also present, with perhaps just a hint of caramel. There is also possibly a bit of citrus present, which may be pushing through more via a slightly juicy mouthfeel.

Next up is Pernicious, Wicked Weed's year-round IPA. Coming in at 7.3% ABV, Pernicious pours a hazy pale gold color. Leading the flavor profile are tropical fruits like mango and papaya. I also detected a small amount of grapefruit in there, as well. The back end has more resinous pine notes. Wicked Weed doesn't list IBU numbers on their website, but there was just a very mild amount of bitterness--typically I expect more bitterness from these flagship-type IPAs, but I'm not complaining. I also noted a highly carbonated and frothy mouthfeel in this particular bottle. Overall, Pernicious continues to be an excellent IPA. I hope it maintains that high level in the future.

Beer News/Self-Promotion 2-fer! Beers Brewed for the Solar Eclipse!

In case you haven't been paying attention to celestial current events--and that can be understandable, given the volume of terrestrial current events--the United States will get to experience a solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. A solar eclipse is a phenomenon where the earth, moon, and sun align in such a way that the moon blocks light coming from the sun. While all of North America will experience the eclipse in some form, there will be a path from Oregon to South Carolina that will experience 100% blockage of light from the sun, called "Totality". For the path of Totality to cross the entire continental United States is a very rare, once-in-a-lifetime event. Obviously, lots of people are very excited to experience this phenomenon--local tourism groups are expecting 600k-1M or more tourists here in the Columbia, SC area alone!

Some craft brewers, never ones to ignore a great marketing opportunity, have joined in the eclipse craze with, surprise surprise, eclipse-themed beers! Draft Magazine posted a list of six beers brewed specially for the eclipse, and I mention this because one such beer is Carolina Blackout by Lancaster, SC's Benford Brewing Company! On a totally related note, stop back around midday Monday for my video review of Benford Brewing Company's Carolina Blackout! I promise it will be up and posted before the eclipse hits the Carolinas/East Coast (roughly 2pm, Eastern)!

Video Review: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp, Part 4

I'll be honest, guys--sometimes I live up to the "Pourly Reviewed" moniker. This is one of those times.

In today's video, I check out 2 more entries from Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Across the World series. This pair of beers features collaborations with Houston's St. Arnold Brewing Company and Japan's Kiuchi Brewery!