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: 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: Rulebreaker!

I am opening up this edition of BiR by breaking my own rule. Typically, I try to repeat beer reviews as rarely as possible. If I AM going to re-review a beer, my rule is to wait six months, to ensure that I am getting a new batch of that beer and not reviewing two beers made in the same lot. I am breaking that rule today by reviewing a beer I reviewed just two months ago, the 6th Anniversary Hazelnut Chocolate Imperial Stout from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina's excellent Westbrook Brewing Company.

After previously enjoying a bottle with my family at Christmas, and doing a video review of a 2nd bottle on January 7th, I had the opportunity to have it ON DRAFT recently. The differing format, along with the fact that it's just a freaking tasty beer, made me decide to break my reviewing rule. Anyway, enough background. Let's talk beer.

The 6th Anniversary Imperial Stout pours very dark to near black, as expected, and brings every bit of the 10% ABV on the nose, though it is a bit milder in the actual taste. The stout is brewed with the listed hazelnuts and cocoa nibs, along with vanilla beans. The flavor notes reflect these ingredients, with the vanilla coming in on the mild side, but a fairly powerful brownie batter feeling coming out of the cocoa and nuts. As I said, a mild but still quite present booze note is also there, as well as plenty of sweetness, both from the booze and from the brewing ingredients. I think I liked the 5th Anniversary Imperial Stout a hair better, but only because of the ingredients used (Chocolate Raspberry vs. Hazelnut Chocolate). Still, this is an excellent stout.

Next up is a beer that I struggled to describe a little bit, because I don't believe I've ever had one of the key ingredients. San Diego's Ballast Point Brewing Company is a brewery that has popped up time and again on this review blog, including some notable video reviews. Recently, I tried Red Velvet, which they call a "golden Oatmeal Stout with beets, chocolate, and natural flavors". It is also served in a bottle under nitrogen, similar to Guinness. Now, to my knowledge, I've never had beets before, so this affected my review of this beer. Coming in at 5.5% ABV and 35 IBU, the beer is very pretty, pouring ruby red with a light pink head. There is a powerful and enjoyable unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate aroma, which also comes through a bit in the taste. The stout is very smooth-drinking owing to the nitrogen, and has a medium-heavy body--surprising to me, given the beer's color. You get a bit of that nitrogenated beer flavor, along with a mild vegetable quality that I assume is the beets. Overall, this beer just fell flat for me. It's not undrinkable, but I would have liked the flavor notes, especially the semi-sweet chocolate, to be punched up a bit. It's also very much NOT a traditional stout, so just be prepared for that. Not bad, but I've had far better from Ballast Point.

Video Review: Westbrook 6th Anniversary (plus a programming note)

I'm bringing the weekend video review early-I find it tends to be on Sundays. We'll get to the "why" on that in a moment.

First, check out the excellent anniversary offering from Westbrook Brewing Company:

In terms of tomorrow, 1/8/17, I will be doing a livestream to do some audio and video testing of my long-ignored HD camera and my new microphone that I've been using for about a week now. To keep everyone involved, I plan on reviewing Stone Brewing's Xocoveza Stout, discussing some of my lackluster video reviews from earlier in the week, and what will be coming up on the overall review front here at PRB. That will all be tomorrow night, around 8pm Eastern. Maybe a tad later. Check out Twitter and/or Facebook for up-to-date information on this livestream. Hope to see you then!

Beers in Review: Dark Collaborations

A pair of big time collaborations are on tap for today's BiR. They are a couple of Imperial Stouts that truly blew me away.

First up is And I Shut My Mouth Imperial Stout, from Columbia's River Rat Brewery and Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL. Pouring a very hazy dark brown (though the place I was drinking at was a little low-lit to make a fully accurate determination), I got notes of chocolate and spice, but to me, the prevalent flavor notes were raisins, as well as a fruit cake note. With just the mild amount of booziness, the beer is 9.6% ABV, I could almost reclassify the last note as rum cake or something similar. Some other fruits, such as plums, joined the raisin note. This was a tremendous beer to drink, but was only part of Imperial Stout experience this weekend.

My next collaboration was between Westbrook Brewing Company in Mt. Pleasant, SC and Denmark's eccentric Evil Twin Brewing. They essentially brought their own Imperial Stouts together to form a new Imperial Stout. Evil Twin combined their Imperial Biscotti Break with Westbrook's amazing Mexican Cake, slammed all the words together, and created Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break, and I'm about 95% sure I got all those words in the right order. As expected, this Imperial Stout pours near pitch black, and had a pretty tan head. This beer is 10.5% ABV, but that alcohol blends into the flavor profile very well. Flavor notes include lots of chocolate and vanilla, as well as cinnamon and perhaps some brown sugar (perhaps I am detecting this from another type of spice). There was also a bit of coffee on the back end of the drinking experience. Just like the beer above, this was another excellent drinking experience.

Beers in Review: Westbrook Pair and More

Before I can get into THIS weekend, I have some beers from LAST weekend burning a hole in my iPhone. Let's do it.

We start with a unique twist on Westbrook Brewing Company's Gose, their Key Lime Pie Gose. Now, I am a fan of the standard Gose, but this Key Lime Pie variation was not for me. It pours a hazy lemon color, and as expected, is very sour and moderately salty with very little sweetness. Now, all of this is pretty well in line with the standard Gose--perhaps I was just expecting a little more sweetness from a variant like this. Admittedly, Key Lime Pie is usually not sweet, per se, but there is a sweetness to be found in the pie. This Key Lime Pie Gose has no such sweetness. Instead, the Key Lime Pie factor brings a ton of citrusy, puckering bite, and an incredibly dry finish. Both of these factors were overwhelming for me, and greatly harmed my potential enjoyment of the beer.  I have no doubt this profile is exactly what Westbrook was shooting for. I think this is just a situation where the standard Westbrook Gose is an acquired taste, and the Key Lime Pie Gose is even more so.

Also from Westbrook is a sessionable variant of their insanely popular Mexican Cake Imperial Stout--a beer that disappears almost as soon as it hits the shelves across the state. Mexican Cupcake comes in at a MUCH more manageable alcohol level (4.2% ABV vs. 10.5% for Mexican Cake). The stout pours a very dark brown, as expected, and is quite mild overall. The flavor profile leads with an unsweetened cocoa note, along with some spices (like cinnamon) and roastiness. But I think, considering this is an off-shoot of the bold Mexican Cake, I expected a more potent drinking experience. Nothing about this beer was bad, but it left me wanting more out of it. The beer even utilizes multiple varieties of hot peppers, yet there is almost no heat initially, and it only comes out a tiny bit as the beer warms. But again, it was another mild note.

Next up, from Stone Brewing, is a re-release of their 6th Anniversary Porter. The official beer type varies a bit, but this is, without a doubt, a smoked porter. Pouring nearly pitch black, this beer took me on quite a journey. There are very nice sweet notes of dark fruit, including berries, chocolate, and just a hint each of coffee and booze. Then there is the smoky note, which took me on quite the roller coaster. My initial impressions of the beer were very positive, then, for a while, the smoke became overpowering to me--to the point that I ALMOST dumped the beer. Just as I was about the dump it, the smoke backed off again, giving all the delightfully sweet notes I first enjoyed. Then, the last few ounces were again taxing to drink due to the smokiness. This is an impressive beer, but I don't know if it's one I want to have again.

Finally, a Scotch ale from Granite Falls Brewing Company, called 1716 Castle Stormer. I had this immediately after the Stone 6th Anniversary, and this was a much...smoother ride. It pours a dark brown to cola-ish color, and was very sweet, almost sickly sweet, but just barely stayed on the good side of that line. Flavors included toffee and dark fruit notes, along with some nice maltiness on the back end. It was also very smooth overall. I don't normally go for super-sweet beers, but I think after the smoky experience of the Stone, I found this beer delightful.

Video Review: Westbrook One Claw

I have a new video review from one of my favorite breweries: Westbrook Brewing Company, and their One Claw Rye Pale Ale.


I'll go ahead an say I tried my new camera set-up today for the first time. I'm not crazy about it. The audio is less than ideal, and I need to find a way to move it forward. Or just switch to the old camera, which was perfectly fine. Point is, I'm working on it. For now, enjoy the video.

Beers in Review: Two favorites

We've reached the month of May, which means summer is approaching (or here, as in Columbia, SC). That makes it the perfect time to write about two of my favorite beers. One is a summer seasonal wheat ale, while the other is a year-round wheat beer crossed with some interesting global flavors. Frankly, I'm stunned I hadn't written about these beers yet, especially the year-round offering (considering I've only been writing since the fall).

First up, the seasonal from Bell's Brewery, Oberon Ale, which for me is pretty much THE example of what a wheat ale should be. The ale pours a hazy, orange peel color and has a light body. The "orange peel" concept continues into the taste for me, as I detected both citrus like orange and lemon as well as citrus peel flavors. There are also some grain or wheat notes, along with some mild spices and a very mild hint of bitterness. Oberon tends to be available for a longer period of time than most summer seasonals; it is reportedly available from April to August. As one of the ideal summer wheats, it's one I'll enjoy that entire time. This is a true go-to beer.

Next is one of the first truly unique beers I ever tasted, Westbrook Brewing Company's White Thai witbier. A little lighter than the Oberon, more a straw color, but also pretty hazy and light in body. This beer has a crisp, tart opening with some sweet orange and lemon citrus notes. Very quickly, the "Thai" portion of "White Thai" asserts itself, as notes of ginger and lemongrass become prominent, with some other spices in the background. The ginger and spices carry through the rest of the sip and even into the aftertaste. A wonderfully complex and very different type of witbier.

Beers in Review: Sextet

With the upcoming series of Irish beers this week, I don't want to leave any kind of backlog of pending beer reviews. So, I'll be knocking out six different beers in today's review. Let's get to it!

Leading off is Goose Island Beer Company's Green Line Pale Ale. It pours a crystal clear gold or honey color. Generally mild and well-balanced, initial impressions are of piney and citrusy hops and a hint of fruitiness. This all leads to a mild maltiness in the finish, along with some herbal flavors. The ABV is slightly high to fit into this category, but this pale ale otherwise falls into the "sessionable" category.

Next up is Brewery 85's Quittin' Time. Pouring a pale gold with a moderate amount of body and a notable amount of carbonation (with a white, pillowy head), this beer had some grassy and biscuit or grainy notes, but the most notable flavors were that of banana, and some kind of spice, something in the clove/all-spice vein (though, that may just be me interpreting the banana flavor).

Westbrook Brewing Company's Bearded Farmer #5 (also called "Thornhill") is a combination of sour and non-sour ales. Westbrook's Bearded Farmer series is a series of Saisons, which makes this all add up to quite a complex beer. A pale-yellow color, the first thing that hits are the citrusy notes from the sour side. The sour kick is noticeable but pretty mild, not overwhelming like some sours (this is helped by the "hybridness" of the ale). Eventually, the flavors transform into some very light grains as well as some funky Belgian notes along with some fruity Belgian sweetness. I would have called this one of the most complex beers I've had recently, if not for what came after this last night...

Evil Twin Brewing always makes stuff that's out there. It's not a surprise--they're from Denmark. Their collaboration with Connecticut's Two Roads Brewing Company resulted in Two Evil Geyser Goze. Now, because I don't think you'll believe my impressions, I feel the need to quote the Two Roads website's description of this beer, where they used "Icelandic moss, rye, herbs, sea kelp, skyr (Icelandic yogurt) and birch-smoked sea salt" in creating this beer. The Geyser Goze pours a light lemon color, and has very little body. Flavor notes? Smoky. Vegetal. Seaweed, of course. Peas (like, the vegetable). Once my palate started to adapt a little bit, I got some sweet hints, most notably of strawberries, but it was very faint. It wasn't sour, and only barely sweet. I can appreciate what Evil Twin and Two Roads were going for, but at the end of the day, it wasn't a beer for me.

Alpine Beer Company's Duet IPA brought me back down to earth a bit. Maybe it was just my palate recovering, but I found this beer to be quite straight-forward. A nice golden color with some body, I got a strong grassy aroma. Flavors of piney hops and sweet fruitiness. Pretty light overall. I enjoyed this beer, but I probably need to give it a second chance considering how extreme its predecessor was.

Finally, Southern Tier Brewing Company's 2X Smash, a Double IPA. Again, this is a beer I may need to revisit at a later date, but my local watering hole seemed to be excited about it, and had it in very short supply. I found the color beautiful, a rose gold (reddish-gold) hue. The DIPA led off with mild dank hops that leads to lots of nice tropical fruit notes--things like passion fruit, mango, and maybe some citrus. The hops were present but there was no bite; a bit of hop sweetness blended well with these tropical notes. The result was pleasantly sweet without being overwhelming.

Beer in Review LIVE: In which I jump on board the "Star Wars" train.

So, I first saw it in this week's Free Times, Columbia's outstanding weekly alternative newspaper, and I'm sure they're not the only ones, given tonight's/tomorrow's release of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". One of Westbrook's fall releases is Dark Helmet, a Schwarzbier/German-style black lager. This beer utilizes the very funny Mel Brooks "Star Wars" spoof, "Spaceballs", as is obvious in the beer name and the fact that it is a SCHWARZbier. The description on the label adds to the punniness.

Dark Helmet.jpg

So let's get to it. It pours pitch black, or damn close to it. Aroma came through as very roasty, almost to the point to burnt, and some hints of chocolate. The sip is much more generous. It has a medium body, and the chocolate comes through much more in the taste than in the smell. The taste also has strong roasty malt notes that provide some bite, but does not push too far like in the aroma. Coffee is also a notable player in the taste. Goes down fairly clean, and you're left wanting to take another sip.

I'd had Dark Helmet once before a couple of years ago, and wasn't super-impressed. This was a far better drinking experience than the last time.

Beers in Review: Goze Duo

Before we start, a brief description of gozes, for the beer novices. Gozes, or gueuzes, are sour wheat beers that are very crisp and dominantly sour, often even venturing from sour to salty. They typically have very little body, fairly low alcohol content, and little to no hop presence. They can be quite the acquired taste, as you may imagine very sour/not heavily sugared lemonade.

First up is Anderson Valley Brewing Company's The Kimmie, The Yink, and the Holy Goze. Yep, that's the name. This goze has tons of lemony tartness, along with a hint of saltiness that comes through in the second half. The second half also has hints of earthiness as well, leading into a finish that is very clean. As expected, the whole thing is very effervescent and lively on the tongue the whole way through.

The second beer of our Goze pair is simply called Goze from Charleston's Westbrook Brewing Company. Westbrook's Goze is incredibly intense in every way. There is a hint of initial sweetness that quickly gives way to a strong citrusy bite--and I feel I'm getting assorted citrus in that flavor, not just lemon. The bite is powerful, and takes some getting used to. It does level out some in the back half of the sip, though a fair amount of saltiness is also added to the flavor near the finish. In a style of beer that tends to be pretty strong, flavor-wise, Westbrook's Goze would be among the strongest.

Beers in Review: Finally caught up!

So, this review includes beers from the last two weekends, meaning I'm all caught up on my beers I've drank while out and about in Columbia. This means I need to start drinking more beer--what a torturous life to lead.

Before starting one comment on a beer from a couple of weeks ago. I had Stone's Go To IPA at a local establishment. Now, I don't really have a frame of reference for how this beer should taste, but this beer seemed very obviously off. A colleague of mine with a better idea for Go To's flavor confirmed the same thing, describing it with a pretty unsavory descriptor. This leads me to believe it was a single bad keg or something bad in the bar's set-up. I want to give both the beer and bar the benefit of the doubt, so I am declining to say much about the beer itself, other than I will give it another try at some point, if for no other reason than Stone's quality reputation.

Onto the reviews.

Westbrook Brewing Company has certainly established a reputation as arguably THE top brewery in South Carolina, and one of the best in the country. Beers like their Goze and Mexican Cake are held in the highest regard, and White Thai is a personal favorite. Their seasonal collaboration with The Charleston Beer Exchange, called Citrus Ninja Exchange, is a Double IPA that is pretty light in color. Grapefruit is one of prime ingredients of this beer, resulting citrusy hops and a fruity taste with a pretty clean finish. At 9% ABV, I felt the booze came through more and more as the beer warmed up.

Another Charleston, SC brewery, Revelry Brewing Company, is new to me. They seem to finally be making their way inland from the SC coast. I got to try one of their IPAs, Funkmaster Brett and the Furious Hops. Officially listed as a "Belgian IPA", this beer didn't have a huge hop flavor. I detected some citrusy sourness. I also got a bit of a red wine-like aftertaste. Perhaps this is a result of some blending of styles. Overall, a pretty quaffable beer.

Redhook's Longhammer IPA is a pretty commonly available craft IPA among the Columbia watering holes. Longhammer brought a balanced hop flavor with some mild bitterness. There was also a hint of caramelly sweetness early in the mouthful that resolved to some more piney hop flavors pretty quickly. However, I found that sweetness mixed with some maltiness to hang around longer as the beer warmed up.

This was a trio of varying-style IPAs that were all quite enjoyable.