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!

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.

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 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.

Beers in Review: Going Back to Christmas!

Let's see how my writing is after all this time...

Nothing like doing a Christmas beer in May, right? In December, I got to check out the 2017 version of Mad Elf from Troegs Independent Brewing, but my parents were also kind enough to grab me a bottle of their barrel-fermented, bottle-conditioned variant, Wild Elf. Pouring a highly carbonated reddish-amber, cherries are the big player in the Elf beers, as I got both the cherries as well as some cranberries. There is also a significant funky note in the beer. The beer is 11% ABV, but the booziness is hidden by the fruit tartness. Honestly, I feel like I probably liked the straight-up Mad Elf better, but I highly appreciated having an opportunity to check out the variant. Thanks for both, Mom and Dad!

Finally moving on from Christmas, I jump to a similarly-styled beer called Pleroma from Sweden's Omnipollo Beer. Officially an American Wild Ale, Omnipollo calls Pleroma a "raspberry creme brulee sour ale with lactose sugar, raspberries, and vanilla". A hazy, ruddy pink-red color that checks in at 6% ABV, I got lots of tart raspberries and some red wine notes. The beer is zesty and effervescent, but it goes away quickly.

Finally, let me write about the beer I just had. Edmund's Oast Brewing Company looks to be fairly new to Charleston, SC, and very recently made their way to Columbia. Hush That Fuss is their American Pale Ale. I found it to be surprisingly pale in color and while playing like a session pale (5.5% ABV), I found this beer very different from just about any pale ale of any style. It has a wheat component to it (I'm not entirely sure it works) along with some citrus notes, most notably orange. Mildly hoppy overall, I feel like I need to track down another one of these to really get a good feel for it.

Beers in Review: With a Special Brown Ale

Before we get to the brown ale mentioned above, we turn to Baltimore's Duclaw Brewing Company and Fast, Faster and Disaster. A limited release IPA at 6.5% ABV and 62 IBU, I found this yellow-gold beer to be fairly light in both flavor and body. Almost playing like a sessionable IPA, though the alcohol level doesn't support that. Flavors found include assorted citrus notes (mostly orange and a bit of lemon), as well as passion fruit and maybe a bit of pine. Disaster has a moderate hop bite and a fairly clean finish. I found this to be a fairly straight-forward IPA.

Next up, I checked out this beer on Beer Advocate, and saw this beer rated just average (less than 3.5 out of 5). Now, of course a review website is FAR from scientific, and perhaps BA needs to revise their ratings descriptors, as a mere 0.51 score difference could mean the difference between an "okay" and an "exceptional" beer. There may also be some bias in that score, as many craft beer nerds tend to not think highly of brown ales, red ales, and similar styles. I mention all this because I think this may have been the best brown ale I've ever had. I can't speak much to the beer's color beyond "dark brown"--the local watering hole where I had this beer was pretty dimly lit. It checks in at 5.7% ABV, 32 IBU, and I found it to be REALLY tasty! There are plenty of caramel malt and burnt or toasted malt notes along with dark sugars and toffee, some grassy hemp notes and maybe some nuttiness, as well. I found it to be smooth and sweet, but not so high a sweetness that I couldn't enjoy 2 or 3 of these in a sitting.

Beers in Review: A Pair of New England IPAs

The first BiR of 2018 brings a brand new brewery to the site. Green Bench Brewing Company prides themselves on being the first microbrewery in St. Petersburg, Florida. Turbid is their New England IPA series in which they rotate hop and yeast varieties with each batch. This one in particular was Turbid 6, which checked in at 6.5% ABV and used Galaxy, Simcoe, and Azacca hops. It pours a solid gold color, and mine wasn't hazy, which is unusual for the NE IPA style. Flavor-wise, I found it to be very balanced, with a fair amount of malt combined with a juicy mouthfeel and flavor notes, notes which also included a hint of pine and a very mild bitterness. This beer also brings a medium-full body. While I've certainly developed an appreciation for the typical IPA over the years, I'm not really a hop bomb lover. I tend to prefer some of the IPA variants (American IPAs, English IPAs, New England) to the straight up IPA style. As a result, I found this beer to be quite enjoyable.

Next up is Lancaster, SC's Benford Brewing Company and Mama's Mango Milkshake. Also a New England IPA, this one brewed with mango. Coming in at 8% ABV, it plays pretty much as you would expect for style, including the hazy copper/burnt orange color with plenty of particulate in the glass. I don't have a great sense of smell, but the namesake mango was prevalent in the aroma, which also included a bit of orange, as well. Flavor notes included the expected mango, along with overall tropical greens, and maybe a bit of pine (though, that may have just been some of my interpretation of the greens). I was expecting a bit of a sweeter beer, but the low sweetness didn't bother me, personally. It's quite hoppy and brings a lot of hop bite that hangs around the back of the throat. The flavors and clean and intense, which tends to make it a little more of a sipper than a full-throated drinker.

Beers in Review: A Collaboration and a Blend

Without a doubt, regardless of the style, if I see a brand-new/never-before-seen brewery cross my local beer aisles, I am undoubtedly going to pounce on that beer. Collaborations are likely the easiest way to find such breweries, and Collaboration 7: Oak-Aged Lager is no exception. While Boulevard Brewing Company frequently shows up in my area, my only exposure to Creature Comforts Brewing Company was, I believe, from one of Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp series beers. Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company? Never seen 'em. This collaboration checks in at 6% ABV and 16 IBU with a fairly light body, and is a hazy orange lager that tends to come out pretty fruity. In addition to many wine notes, especially the white wine side of the spectrum via Riesling grape juice, the flavor profile includes some citrus notes that bring a little bit of tartness to the lager. I also found some grain and corn notes in there, as well. The three breweries put a good amount of complexity into what is typically a fairly simple style. A very dynamic lager.

Next is a blending of words and beers from Rogue Ales. Hazelutely Choctabulous combines Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Chocolate Stout. The result is very dark brown to near-black stout that is 5.7% ABV and 51 IBU. Both beers play well with each other but also shine through in the flavor profile, which primarily features the two key players: nuttiness and chocolate. It's plenty tasty, though nowhere near as sweet as I expected, given the brewery's comparing of the beer to a "chocolate candy bar". Still, a really neat and excellent offering.

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.

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.