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: Triple Play

With my seemingly endless blog posts about Wicked Weed and AB-InBev, I seem to have pushed nearly everything else aside. But now, the big news has passed, and we can start getting back to normal. My BiR list is so backed-up that today I will bring you not two, but THREE entries! Let's dive in!

First up is a collaboration between Charlotte's Unknown Brewing Company and Greenville, SC's Birds Fly South Ale Project. 10-Minute Vacation is a lager (4.3% ABV) flavored with Muscadine grapes and dry-hopped with Mosaic and Equinox hops. The pale yellow lager with a light-to-medium body brings a mild sweetness coming from the grapes that ramps up as the lager warms. The grapes and the sweetness from them really serve to smooth out a great deal of what would be pretty considerable grainy notes and hop bite. Both of these things do still exist, but are knocked down in intensity, with the grains being found earlier in the drinking experience, while the hop bite comes through at the very end.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is famous for its 60-, 90-, and 120-minute IPAs, and makes a number of other quality brews, but Raison D'Extra is something else. A ramped-up version of their Raison D'Etre Belgian-style Dark Ale, D'Extra comes in at a massive 16-18% ABV! I had the opportunity to try the 2014 version recently, and the booze notes, while present, are surprisingly downplayed in a mid-teens ABV beer. Pouring a cloudy icea tea color, D'Extra is dominated by raisins, cherries, plums, and other dark fruits. There is a fair amount of sweetness, along with some tobacco notes, and some other spiciness (perhaps cinnamon?). I got a small sample (4 oz.) of this beer, and it was really good, but I wouldn't want too much more than that sample glass. I could see it becoming overwhelming.

Finally, I went back to one of my old favorites, Highland Brewing Company, and St. Terese's Pale Ale. It pours a clear golden color, has a medium-to-heavy body, and comes in at 5.1% ABV. Lots of different hop flavor notes are present in this Pale Ale, including lots of citrus, some grassy or leafy notes, and a bit of pine. There is also a slight sweetness and some bready malt notes, along with the slightest hop bite. I found this to be a really enjoyable pale ale, as I've come to expect from Highland.

Beers in Review: Latest Quartet

It's halftime in the South Carolina/Florida game, and I want to finish this post I started last night, so there's no time for dilly-dallying. Let's get to it!

Boulevard Brewing Company opens up this edition of BiR with their Tropical Pale Ale. Pouring an orange-to-gold color, with a ton of carbonation, this beer features massive tropical fruit aromas, including mango and papaya, along with some citrus fruit hints, as well. These major fruit notes continue into the flavor profile, which also features a mild hop bit at the very end of the drinking experience and almost pushing into the aftertaste. The mouthfeel of this beer is remarkable. The fruits used create a bright and slightly juicy feeling the mouth that is very enjoyable. Along with the carbonation, these notes from the mouthfeel give a powerful and refreshing liveliness to the beer.

Next up is Sweet Josie Brown from Lonerider Brewing Company. I find Lowrider to be a generally very solid, if unspectacular, beer producer, and the brown falls into this category quite well. It pours a deep brown color with some copper highlights, while the flavor profile brings plenty of caramel malts and some mild biscuity notes. Caramel and toffee also lead into a hint of smokiness, or some sort of burnt note. For me all of these flavors came together into a mild but noticeable French (very dark) roast coffee note for me--while I generally enjoy such coffee notes, this one went a little too far in the overroast/burnt direction. Again, very solid for the style, though I wouldn't mind a hair less of that burnt note.

Next up is Brown Ryed Girl from Unknown Brewing Company. It also pours a very dark brown color, and features nice roast (not as dark or burnt as the Lonerider) and cocoa and burnt sugar notes that bring an almost perfect level of sweetness. A slight spicy rye note is also present, and the beer has a nice malt backbone and just a bit of creaminess in the mouthfeel. This brown seemed to hit near-bullseyes for certain parts of my palate--not overly roasty, not overly sweet, nice mild spice note.

Finally, Southern Tier Brewing Company's Cherry Gose, which is officially an Imperial Gose (8.3% ABV) brewed with tart cherry juice. Beer is a pretty lightish red, but not pink, color, and I found the flavor notes to generally be on the mild side. Of course, there are cherry and berry notes throughout, though the gose has barely any sweetness, and there is a sour bite that pushes up at the end of the drinking experience. I found this gose to be straight forward. The beer hits its notes (mild sourness, very slight sweetness, cherry notes) well, and it all works out fine. I've had better goses in the past, though.

Beers in Review: 4 from the weekend

It was a holiday weekend, which of course led to numerous drinking opportunities, and a fresh set of beers to review. Let's dive in!

We start with the Coulter IPA from Cismontane Brewing Company, which pours a deep gold color and has very little head when poured. Strong citrus and pine hops notes are the first things to hit my palate when I take a sip, along with a strong but overpowering bitterness. It's fruity with, to me, a juicy mouthfeel. There is a slight bit of booziness (the beer checks in at 7.2% ABV), and the beer finishes quite clean, given how powerful all the flavors are.

Next up is Unknown Brewing Company's Bound for Carolina Imperial Brown Ale. The ale had a light cola color, and amazing powerful flavors, including tons of cocoa and chocolate, dark fruits, and cola. I also got some brownie or chocolate cake notes and a toasted note that crossed with the brownie to taste like the burnt or better-done edges of the brownie pan. Despite a fairly high ABV of 8.7%, there was no booziness to detect--it likely blended well into the numerous sweeter flavor notes. I also want to say that despite these numerous sweet flavors, it wasn't too sweet. It was close, but Unknown did a really nice job hitting the apex of tolerance, at least for my palate.

Next is Red Banshee by Fort Collins Brewery. Pouring a reddish-copper color, Red Banshee has straight forward flavors, including chocolate malts and hints of cola and possibly sweet caramel or some other sugary substance. Very malty, which is right up my alley.

Finally, from Founders Brewing Company, I had the Mango Magnifico con Calor, a part of Founders' experimental Backstage Series. A fruit beer (mango, obviously) brewed with habanero peppers, the result is a beer that is quite sweet, and can push that edge into overpowering. Fortunately, the mangoes have a cozy relationship with the peppers, each tempering the other just enough that neither the sweetness nor the spiciness kills the beer. There is a spice note that starts out as slight and grows perfectly, never going overboard, as so many pepper-infused beers do. Clocking in at 10%, there is also a slight booziness, especially as it warms, but most of that booziness blends into the sweet mango notes. This is a fantastic offering from Founders.

Beers in Review: Near and far

A quartet of beers ranging from local to international are on tap tonight. Let's start with the international, shall we?

From Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Belgium I had the Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Belgian-style Flemish red ale. It pours a matching reddish-brown color, and not much body, but this ale was loaded with fruit flavors. This is a result of maturation in oak casks prior to bottling. The fruit experiences were quite diverse: pear or apple, maybe cherry, with a massive sweetness. It was almost too sweet for my taste. In addition, Flemish reds typically have some sour attributes to them, and here they were more a complementary feature--not overly strong like I find in most sours. I expect this might be a result of having a legit Belgian Flemish as opposed to American attempts at the sour style.

Next up is the closest-made beer, American Kolsch Story by River Rat Brewery. It pours a pale straw color, and serves as a solid hot summer day beer. Initial impressions had bready and crackery notes early on in the sip. This gradually lead to hints of traditional German beer sweetness. It also led to a bit of a bitter finish, which was a bit surprising.

Next up is Oasis Brewing Company and their Scarab Red Ale. A pretty solid ale overall, I first got notes of graininess and even possibly corn. There was also a whole bunch of initial malty sweetness that dissipated pretty quickly after drinking. Again, solid, pretty tasty, but nothing spectacular.

Finally, what was supposed to be an Anniversary beer for Unknown Brewing Company, but it wasn't quite done on time. The result is 1.5-ish, an ale aged in Cabernet barrels with strawberries and vanilla beans. We'll get to all that shortly. The ale pours a cloudy bronze color and has a lot of body. As you might guess from the brief description above, the flavor profile has a whole lot going on. The Cabernet barrels shine through with strong initial red wine notes, leading to a kind of strawberry sundae thing going on from the strawberry and vanilla bean infusion. There was lots of sweetness (but not overpoweringly so, like the Duchesse above nearly was--note these were enjoyed on different nights) and even a little bit of funkiness. A hint of sourness rounded out this wonderful flavor experience of this ale. I had sat on 1.5-ish for a while before drinking it for no particular reason. Truly, I wish I'd drank it sooner and bought 4 more bottles. A really great drinking experience.

Beers in Review: An Additional Trio

Intros are hard, so let's just dive right in, shall we?

Rounding out the collection of Savannah/Georgia beers I recently tried is Service Brewing Company's Teufel Hunden, a beer brewed in the true Oktoberfest spirit. An unfiltered Marzen, the Tuefel features some mild "pumpkin pie spice" flavors, but nothing too overpowering, which I like. Also featuring some nice maltiness and a medium body. Another fall seasonal which I can enjoy, though their distribution doesn't make it to Columbia yet, to my knowledge. (EDIT: My knowledge is poor. Per Service, they are available throughout the Carolinas. -J.S.)

Next is Green Man Brewery and their ESB. Overall, this ESB is rock solid in style, and very good overall. Lots of toastiness and malts, with the signature ESB flavor--maybe a hint of bitterness. Also had some body, and finished with hints of grains and some sweetness.

The final Beer in Review had a whole lot going on. Unknown's Brown-Ryed Girl officially lists as a India Brown Ale. A super smooth beer, it starts with a light hop flavor before giving way to some roasty sweetness, and to me some darkly sweet flavors, such as caramel and the like. This may be a result of the rye spiciness. That spicyness especially shines through at the end of the drink. A really fun beer to drink.

Beers in Review: A trio of beers from the Carolinas

Today's review features beers from 2 North Carolina breweries and one from Charleston, SC.

The first offering comes from Palmetto Brewing Company's 843 limited-release series, named for the Charleston area code. The Ghost Rider IPA features citrusy hops spiced with ghost peppers and maraschino cherries. Now, to me, the peppers and hops combined for a fairly bitter hop taste. Also evident is a mild burn from the ghost peppers, but it is not overpowering like I've tasted in some other pepper-infused beers. The ghost pepper use should not cause people to shy away from this beer. The front end also had a bit of fruity sweetness from the cherries.

Carolina Brewery's award-winning Oatmeal Porter is a very solid offering style. The beer is hearty, but not super-thick, as some darker beers can be. It also sports a nice creamy head. The aroma and taste tend to feature cocoa/chocolate notes. Despite it being only 5.9% ABV, I found it to have a bit of a boozy aftertaste. But overall, I found this beer to be a strong contribution to its style.

American Pales have arguably become my style of choice. While I can appreciate, and even want, the heavy-hopped IPAs often, I appreciate the better balance of flavors that tend to come from APAs, and Unknown's Over The Edge was no different. It definitely shows its Paleness, with piney hops being a strong part of the flavor, especially early on. The hops give way to sweetness, and I what I identified as cherries, in the middle, before resolving to a pretty clean finish. Another enjoyable example of style, and my first time experiencing Unknown Brewing Company. I may need to seek out some more of their collection.