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Making My Case Again

March 1st, 2011 Bill Zavorskas 2 comments

My idea of 2020 hindsight

This Saturday marks the second anniversary of Billy’s Beer Blog. To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to do an updated version of my Ultimate Case.

While I’m keeping two of my three rules from a year ago – no retired beers and a limit of one beer per brewery – I’m dropping the ban on extreme beers of 20% or more. I’m also expanding my Ultimate Case from 24 beers to 30, thus eliminating the need for an Honorable Mention 6-Pack.

And so, without further adieu, is my Ultimate Case The Sequel. It’s been a fun filled and exhaustive journey to put together a list of 30 beers from the countless number of brews that I have enjoyed. I hope that you enjoy reading this post as much as I have enjoyed preparing it.

AleSmith Speedway Stout; AleSmith Brewing Co.; San Diego, CA; Imperial Stout; ABV: 12.0; This DIPA is nothing less than superlative. It’s a full-bodied beer that pours a jet black color, with big notes of coffee in the nose and taste. The latter is balanced by milk chocolate, dark fruit, and roasted malt with a hint of caramel at the finish. Speedway is quite smooth from start to finish, and amazingly the alcohol content of 12% isn’t that noticeable. This stout will definitely send your taste buds racing!

Bell’s HopSlam Ale; Bell’s Brewery, Inc.; Kalamazoo, MI; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 10.0. An absolute hop bomb! The uber hoppy presence is well balanced by sweet malt and a taste of honey. Truly one of the best IPAs out there.

Blue Point Old Howling Bastard; Blue Point Brewing Co.; Patchogue, NY; Barley Wine; ABV: 10.0. This superb barley wine is amber in color and well balanced. Big notes of sweet caramel are complimented by bready malt, citrusy fruit, and piny hops. Old Howling Bastard goes down smoothly, and the 10% alcohol content is well hidden. In many ways, it reminds me of a classic West Coast barley wine.

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace; Brooklyn Brewery; Brooklyn, NY; Saison / Farmhouse Ale; ABV: 7.6. A superb saison from the acclaimed brewery. Golden in color, with the Japanese Sorachi hops balanced by notes of citrusy fruit, sweet malt, and peppery spices. Refreshing from start to finish.

Captain Lawrence Cuvee De Castleton; Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.; Pleasantville, NY; American Wild Ale; ABV: 8.0. Pours a golden orange color, with considerable notes of Brettanomyces yeast and Muscat grapes complimented by malted barley. Cuvee De Castleton has a buttery Chardonnay like character from being aged in French oak barrels.

Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Brandy Barrel Aged; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 11.5. Created from their Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, it’s jet black in color, with big notes of expresso and dark chocolate balanced by roasted malt, vanilla beans, and peppery spices. There’s a nice brandy backbone from the barrel aging. One of the best imperial stouts on the planet.

Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge; Brouwerij Bockor N.V.; Bellegem-Kortrijk, Belgium; Flanders Red Ale; ABV: 9.0. A truly outstanding Belgium sour ale, and one of my new favorites. If ever there was a 9% ABV beer that could be considered a session beer, then this is the closest thing to it! A beautiful crimson color with an array of tart cherries in both the nose and taste. The latter is complimented by a nice oaky finish.

Deschutes Mirror Mirror Barleywine Vintage 2009; Deschutes Brewery; Bend, OR; Barley Wine; ABV: 11.0. Quite simply an outstanding barley wine and part of Deschutes Reserve Series. Aged in oak barrels, Mirror Mirror is actually a doubled up version of their Mirror Pond Pale Ale. It pours a dark amber color and there’s notes of sweet caramel and vanilla in the nose. There’s a lot going on in the taste, as the sweet caramel and vanilla are complimented by dark fruit and Cascade hops, with a bourbon like backbone from the oak barrels. Mirror Mirror has a warming, almost candy like feel to it as well, and goes down quite smoothly for a beer with an 11% alcohol content.

Dogfish Bitches Brew; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Milton, DE; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 9.0. Named to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’ jazz fusion album Bitches Brew. It’s as smooth as the late jazz legend, and pours a jet black color. There’s notes of honey and dark chocolate complimented by dark fruit, roasted malt, and gesho root with a hint of smokiness at the finish. While I liked it on tap, I found that drinking Bitches Brew from the bottle, slightly chilled, captured the true essence of this stout.

Flying Dog Raging Bitch; Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD; Belgian India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.3. Another excellent ale from the former Colorado, and now Maryland based, brewery. As mentioned in previous posts, Belgian IPAs have become a trend in the last year or two, and Raging Bitch takes its place among the better ones. It pours a light amber color, with notes of citrusy fruit such as bananas and grapefruit in the nose and taste. The latter is complimented by honey, sweet malt, and piny hops with a slight bitterness at the finish. Raging Bitch is as smooth as it is complex, so the 8.3% alcohol content isn’t very noticeable.

Founders Breakfast Stout; Founders Brewing Co.; Grand Rapids, MI; Imperial Stout; ABV: 8.3. FBS pours a deep chocolate color, with humongous notes of chocolate and expresso coffee balanced by oatmeal and sweet malt. If you’re a fan of all things chocolate and/or java, this is the stout for you. The alcohol presence is definitely noticeable, so FBS won’t sneak up on you. It’s certainly a beer to be savored.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2009; Fuller Smith & Turner PLC; London, England (UK); Old Ale; ABV: 8.5. A classic English old ale, brewed annually in limited batches. Amber in color, Vintage Ale 2009 has well balanced notes of caramel, dark fruit, brown sugar, and spicy hops with a brandy like feel in the backbone. This ale is full-bodied, yet silky smooth from start to finish.

Goose Island Juliet; Goose Island Beer Co.; Chicago, IL; American Wild Ale; ABV: 6.7. Truly deserves its world class ranking. Aged in cabernet barrels with blackberries, Juliet is ruby in color and hits you right off the bat with a big vinegar nose. The rosé wine like quality is prevalent throughout this ale, with the blackberry notes complimented by sour cherries and sweet caramel malt with a dry woody finish. The silky smooth Juliet pays homage to the classic Belgian sour ales, and “parting is such sweet sorrow” once the last sip has been taken.

Green Flash Le Freak; Green Flash Brewing Co.; Vista, CA; Belgian India Pale Ale; ABV: 9.2. A blend of the brewery’s excellent Trippel and Imperial IPA into a silky smooth full-bodied ale. The color is burnt orange, and the nose is very floral with hints of citrusy fruit and yeast. The taste has a definite presence of banana, as well as other citrusy fruit, complimented by honey, spices, and big piny hops with a slightly bitter finish.

Hair of the Dog Adam; Hair of the Dog Brewing Co.; Portland, OR; Old Ale; ABV: 10.0. Brewed in the historic Adambier style of Germany, Adam is a superb full-bodied old ale. The first beer brewed by Hair of the Dog, it’s jet black in color and has rich notes of chocolate and tart fruit in the nose and taste, with the latter complimented by caramel malt, spices, and light hops, with a woody feeling in the backbone. Adam is velvety smooth, but also quite robust, so the 10% ABV isn’t going to sneak up on you.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40; Harviestoun Brewery Ltd.; Alva Clackmannanshire, Scotland (UK); Old Ale; ABV: 8.0. Yet another outstanding offering from the brewery’s Special Reserve series. Ola Dubh means “Black Oil” and this old ale, aged in Highland Park 40 Year whiskey casks, is based on Harviestoun Old Engine Oil. Jet black in color, 40 has big Scotch whiskey notes in the nose and initial taste, complimented by hints of dark chocolate and sweet malt with a vanilla oakiness at the finish. An extremely well balanced beer, 40 is as rich and smooth as it is complex, and I believe that it’s the best offering in the series.

Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA; Ninkasi Brewing Co.; Eugene, OR; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.8. Like its namesake, this ale really packs a punch! Tricerahops pours a rich amber color, and there’s big notes of hops in the nose. The full-bodied taste is an array of piny and citrusy hops, complimented by sweet caramel malt and honey with a nice dry finish. Tricerahops is smooth from start to finish, and the alcohol content of nearly 9% is well hidden.

Russian River Consecration; Russian River Brewing Co.; Santa Rosa, CA; American Wild Ale; ABV: 10.0. One sip of this superb ale was enough to make me believe brother! Consecration is aged in American Oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. The wine presence comes across quite clearly in the initial taste, complimented by an array of notes such as Brettanomyces yeast, currants, sweet malt, and tart fruit with a crisp clean finish. It more than holds its own with the classic Belgian farmhouse ales, and the alcohol content of 10% isn’t that noticeable. Needless to say, Consecration is a wonderfully complex and eclectic ale.

Samuel Adams Utopias (2009); Boston Beer Company; Boston, MA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 27.0. The 2009 edition is definitely something special. Caramel in color with big notes of sweet caramel, vanilla spices, and an oaky cognac like backbone. Utopias has a nice candy like feel to it and is very warming.

Schneider Aventinus; Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn; Kelheim, Germany; Weizenbock; ABV: 8.2. A robust yet smooth, full-bodied bock that truly deserves its reputation as one of the world’s best beers. Named after Johannes Aventinus, a noted Bavarian historian and writer from the late Middle Ages, it pours a dark ruby brown color and there are notes of sweet malt and spices in the nose. The sweet malt and spices jump out in the taste as well, complimented by hints of banana, dark chocolate, vanilla, and wheat with light floral hops at the finish. There’s a lot going on in Aventinus, and the sweet candy backbone makes it a truly enjoyable bock.

Sierra Nevada Grand Cru; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; Chico, CA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 9.2. Brewed as part of Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary Series, Grand Cru is a blend of their Oak Aged Bigfoot, Celebration Ale, and Pale Ale. Amber in color with notes of citrus and piny hops complimented by caramel malt with a nice bourbon kick from the barrel aging.

Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly; Southern Tier Brewing Co.; Lakewood, NY; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 11.0). As great as the original Unearthly is, this DIPA takes it to the next level. It pours a deep amber color and the nose has big notes of piny hops and oakiness. Both are reflected in the taste as well, balanced by sweet caramel and a woody bourbon backbone. Oak Aged Unearthly is silky smooth for an beer of its potency, and you’ll want to savor it slowly to truly appreciate this ale.

St. Bernardus Abt 12; Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV; Watou, Belgium; Quadrupel; ABV: 10.5. A wonderfully complex balance of spices, ripe fruit, & sweet malt. The definitive gold standard of Belgium quads, and one of the world’s best beers period.

St. Feuillien Cuvée de Noël; Brasserie St. Feuillien; Le Roeulx, Belgium; Belgian Strong Dark Ale; ABV: 9.0. Mahogany in color, Cuvée de Noël has rich notes of caramel and roasted malt balanced by an array of spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. This velvety winter ale has a nutty feel to it, and is quite spicy as well.

Terrapin Side Project #9 The Dark Side ; Terrapin Beer Co.; Athens, GA; Belgium Style Imperial Stout; ABV: 8.5. An exceptional imperial stout. It pours a jet black color and has notes of chocolate and roasted malt balanced by dark fruit, molasses, and a spicy smokiness at the finish. The Dark Side is fermented with Trappist ale yeast, which actually gives it the feeling of a Belgian strong ale. The taste is as rich as it is smooth, and the 8.5% alcohol content is well concealed.

The Bruery Coton; The Bruery; Placentia, CA; Old Ale; ABV: 14.5. As smooth as it is complex, Coton takes its place alongside among the world’s best old ales. This chocolate colored ale has notes of dark fruit such as cherries and raisins complimented by caramel, vanilla spices, and a bourbon feel in the backbone. Coton reminds me of the now retired DuClaw Repent, one of my favorite all-time Belgiums, in that the alcohol content isn’t too noticeable for a beer in the 14-15% range. It’s easy to order a second pint of this deliciously eclectic ale.

Town Hall Masala Mama IPA; Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery; Minneapolis, MN; India Pale Ale; ABV: 5.9. This world class IPA pours a deep mahogany color, with big notes of Cascade hops in the nose and taste. The latter is complimented by citrusy fruit and toffee, with the sweet malt backbone apparent at the end. This IPA is silky smooth from start to finish, and with an alcohol content of just under 6%, is quite easy to drink. Masala Mama would make an excellent session beer for hop-heads, and non hop-heads, alike.

Traquair 2020; Traquair House Brewery Lld; Peeblesshire, Scotland (UK); Barley Wine; ABV: 10.0. This sublime barley wine was brewed in a limited release of 9600 bottles to honor the first decade of the 21st century, and to be consumed before the end of the second decade. This ale is nothing short of outstanding, and takes its place among my favorite all-time barley wines. Deep chestnut in color, 2020 has pronounced notes of sweet caramel and dark fruit in the nose and initial taste, followed by hints of brown sugar, honey, and vanilla spices with a smooth creamy finish. 2020 is a very well balanced beer, and the alcohol content of 10% is extremely well hidden.

Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne (Brouwerij Verhaeghe; Vichte, Belgium; Flanders Red Ale; ABV: 6.2). This may very well be the best sour ale I have ever had. Named for medieval duchess Mary of Burgundy, it pours a deep chestnut brown color with notes of tart fruit, notably cherries, and dark malt. Since this ale is aged in oak conditioned casks, Duchesse has a red wine like feeling to it. The array of sweet and sour flavors are perfectly balanced throughout this ale, and it’s velvety smooth from start to finish.

Westvleteren 12; Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus; Westvleteren, Belgium; Quadrupel; ABV: 10.2. This is the ale that Beer Advocate, BeerPal, Rate Beer, and many others consider The World’s Best Beer. In addition to ranking at or near the top of most beer lists, Westvleteren 12 is also one of the rarest beers in the world and not that easy to find. This Belgian quad is quite possibly the most complex beer that I have ever had. Westvleteren 12 pours a rich chestnut color, and there are light notes of caramel and dark fruit in the nose. The flavors are a delicious array of caramel malt, dark fruit, and spices with a hint of sweet fruit in the very smooth finish. Everything about this beer is in perfect balance, and there’s a nice warming sensation with each sip. Westvleteren 12, in fact, actually gets better as it’s allowed to sit and be savored.

Epic Beer Night

December 9th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas 2 comments

The creme del a creme were on hand for Beer Nerd Night

Something was in the air this past Tuesday night. Maybe it carried over from the Infinium Release Party, but Beer Nerd Show & Tell was something special. Epic was the theme for this evening’s lineup.

Samuel Adams Utopias (2009); Boston Beer Company; Boston, MA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 27.0. The first beer presented by Mark. The 2009 edition is definitely something special. Caramel in color with big notes of sweet caramel, vanilla spices, and an oaky cognac like backbone. Utopias has a nice candy like feel to it and is very warming.

Keegan Ales Super Kitty; Keegan Ales; Kingston, NY; American Strong Ale; ABV: 12.0. The second beer presented by Mark. Pours a deep amber color with notes of sweet caramel and honey balanced by a smokiness from the oak chips used in the brewing process. Super Kitty is comparable to a barley wine in taste and feel.

Captain Lawrence Cuvee De Castleton; Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.; Pleasantville, NY; American Wild Ale; ABV: 8.0. Presented by Dan. Pours a golden orange color, with considerable notes of Brettanomyces yeast and Muscat grapes complimented by malted barley. Cuvee De Castleton has a buttery Chardonnay like character from being aged in French oak barrels.

Dogfish Three Floyds Poppaskull (Dogfish Head Brewery; Milton, DE; Belgian Strong Ale; ABV: 9.5. Presented by Bret. The collaboration ale between DFH and the Munster, Indiana brewery. Poppaskull is golden in color, with notes of cardomom spices and sweet malt balanced by floral hops and a warm brandy like presence from the barrel aging process.

Northern Brewery Twisted Ankle; Northern Brewery; Sarasota, FL; American Blonde Ale; ABV: 5-6%?. Home brewers Stu and Jemma presented their ale. Nice citrusy notes and very easy to drink with a crisp clean aftertaste. Twisted Ankle reminded me of a saison such as Ommegang Hennepin.

Old Flannagan Brewery 9-9-9; Old Flannagan Brewery; Sarasota, FL; Flanders Red Ale; ABV: 6-7%?. Homebrewed and presented by Chris. Aged in Hungarian oak barrels, this sour ale has subtle notes of tart fruit and vanilla spices with an earthy wood backbone. 9-9-9 reminded me of Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne.

Cigar City Or; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Black India Pale Ale; ABV: 11.2. Presented by yours truly. Brewed in the trendy Cascadian dark ale style, these ale is part of the Either/Or collaboration with Danish brewery Grassroots and Vermont brewery Hill Farmstead. Or is chocolate in color, with substantial notes of piny hops complimented by roasted malt and chocolate with a woody feel from the cedar barrel aging.

Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout – Brandy Barrel Aged; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 11.5. The first limited edition CCB beer presented by Meat. It pours a deep black color, with considerable notes of caramel and dark chocolate complimented by dark fruit, roasted malt, and vanilla spices. The brandy presence is brought out by the barrel aging. Takes its place among my favorite imperial stouts.

Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Brandy Barrel Aged; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 11.5. The second limited edition CCB beer presented by Meat. Created from their Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, it’s jet black in color, with big notes of expresso and dark chocolate balanced by roasted malt, vanilla beans, and peppery spices. There’s a nice brandy backbone from the barrel aging. One of the best imperial stouts on the planet.

My thanks to everyone who participated in the Beer Nerd Show & Tell, and for their generosity in sharing some truly exceptional beers. It made for an Epic Beer Night!

This Is The End

July 30th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas No comments

This Squirrel and Stoat are hopefully The End of History

The race for the World’s Strongest Beer has gotten carried away, and it looks like at least one brewery in the competition finally gets it. BrewDog has once again put out the latest pacesetter, but has stated that this will be their final foray into pushing the limits of alcohol content.

BrewDog The End of History (BrewDog Ltd.; Fraserburgh, Scotland; Belgian Strong Ale; ABV: 55.0), a blonde Belgian strong ale, was released in bottles stored in stuffed animals; about a dozen apiece for the Stoat and Gray Squirrel. At £500 and £700 apiece, they retailed for roughly $800 and $1100 at current exchange rates, and were the most expensive beers ever produced as well. Despite the expense, all of the bottles sold out as soon as they became available.

Hopefully this will truly be the end of history. Maybe Schorschbräu, which had recently been on top with their 43% eisbock, will produce a 56% or even 60% and that will end the madness.

With an alcohol content of 55%, The End of History more than doubled the potency of Samuel Adams Utopias, which at 27% was the benchmark less than two years ago.

Update: No sooner had I wrote this post, that Dutch brewery Het Koelschip returned to the top of the heap with a beer called Start The Future. Start The Future is reported to have an ABV of 60%, and like The End Of History, to be a Belgian strong ale.

Here We Go Again

May 6th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas No comments

Schorschbräu fires back...the race to 50% is on

No sooner had BrewDog recaptured the World’s Strongest Beer title with their BrewDog Sink The Bismarck, a 41% ABV quadruple IPA, that brewery Kleinbrauerei Schorschbräu countered with Schorschbräu Schorschbock 43%. Like 31% and 40%, this beer is an eisbock, and Schorschbräu is even toying with the idea of brewing a 50% bock! 43% will have a limited release of 100 bottles, although it may not be available to U.S. or Canadian markets.

It’ll be interesting to see if and when BrewDog answers this latest challenge from Schorschbräu. The German brewery took a mild swipe at them with the Pussian helmet, a favorite of Bismarck, as well as issuing the line “cause Frankonian Men don’t dress like girls”, an obvious reference to Scottish kilts.

And finally, it’s worth noting that Samuel Adams Utopias, once the strongest beer in the world and still America’s pacesetter at 27% ABV, now ranks a “mere” 10th worldwide.

Making My Case

February 20th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas No comments

Green Flash Imperial IPA makes a strong case

Another year, another Best Beers list. I decided to do a new slant on this year’s All-Time Favorites post, and create my dream case. The criteria is as follows:

a. Retired beers have been omitted. Ales such as DuClaw Repent, Blue Point No Apologies Imperial IPA, and Thomas Hardy’s Ale were among my favorites, but I want to list beers that are currently available to everyone.

b. Extreme beers, e.g. ABV of 20% or more, have been omitted as well. Samuel Adams Utopias and BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin have more in common with a liquor than a conventional beer.

c. I’ve limited the list to one beer per brewery. This not only prevents the list from getting too top heavy with certain breweries, e.g. St. Bernardus, DFH, Stone, etc., but also allows me to feature some excellent regional brews as well. Although one beer on this list, Life & Limb, is a collaboration between DFH & Sierra Nevada, it’s technically considered to be brewed from the latter and will be listed under that brewery.

And now, without further adieu, is my Ultimate Case, 2010 Edition:

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen; Brauerei Heller-Trum / Schlenkerla; Bamberg, Germany; Rauchbier; ABV: 5.4. Brewed in the classic rauchbier tradition, this marzen has an incredible smoky nose and taste to match. The big hickory smoke bite reminds me of smoked bacon, sausage, etc., and there’s a hint of malt and light hops as well.

Anchor Old Foghorn; Anchor Brewing Co.; San Francisco, CA; Barley Wine; ABV: 8.8. An exceptional barley wine from Anchor Brewing. The toffee and sweet caramel malt is balanced by dark fruit, citrusy hops, & spices. This ale has the taste and feel of a classic English barley wine.

Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock; Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG / Brauerei Aying; Aying, Germany; Doppelbock; ABV: 6.7. This is an absolutely superb doppelbock. The rich malty taste is complimented by hints of sweet chocolate & spicy hops. Wunderbar!

Bell’s HopSlam Ale; Bell’s Brewery, Inc.; Kalamazoo, MI; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 10.0. An absolute hop bomb! The uber hoppy presence is well balanced by sweet malt and a taste of honey. Truly one of the best IPAs out there.

Brewer’s Art Ozzy Ale; Brewer’s Art; Baltimore, MD; Belgian Strong Pale Ale; ABV: 7.3. A smooth & crisp tasting Belgian style ale. There’s a nice array of floral hops and Belgian spices, with a slight peppery finish at the end.

Brooklyn Black OPS; Brooklyn Brewery; Brooklyn, NY; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 11.0. A truly outstanding Russian Imperial stout from Brooklyn. A wonderfully complex mix of chocolate, roasted malt, and spices. Like a chocolate milkshake with a kick!

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Old Ale; ABV: 10.0. An excellent old ale from the outstanding brewery Cigar City. There’s a hint of tobacco up front, followed by an array of chocolate, caramel malt, sweet fruit, and cinnamon spices with a slightly bitter finish.

Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA; Deschutes Brewery; Bend, OR; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.8. A big, bold hop bomb. The citrusy hops hit you up front, and are balanced by sweet caramel & a piney finish.

Dogfish Squall IPA; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Milton, DE; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 9.0. An unfiltered, bottle conditioned, and dry-hopped version of their 90 Minute IPA. The taste is bold and complex. There’s a gust of citrusy, piney, and spicy hops up front, complimented by sweet caramel and a malty presence at the end.

Green Flash Imperial IPA; Green Flash Brewing Co.; Vista, CA; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 9.0. Smooth, nutty, & spicy. A crisp citrusy burst up front, complimented by sweet malt and a piney hops finish. Another of the classic West Coast IPAs.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 16 Reserve; Harviestoun Brewery Ltd.; Alva Clackmannanshire, Scotland (UK); Old Ale; ABV: 8.0. A superior ale aged in a 16 year old whiskey cask. The hint of whiskey is complimented by chocolate, dark malt, and vanilla spices. Similar to an Imperial Porter, it’s very smooth and robust with an exceptional finish.

La Caracole Saxo; Brasserie Caracole; Farmignoul, Belgium; Belgian Strong Pale Ale; ABV: 8.0. An incredibly smooth Belgian strong pale ale. The 8% ABV isn’t noticeable, and the sweet malt taste is complimented by citrusy hops, light fruit, and spices. Saxo finishes crisp and clean, and I could drink this ale all day.

New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale; New Belgium Brewing Inc.; Fort Collins, CO; Belgian Dark Ale; ABV: 5.5. While their excellent Fat Tire is better known, this is actually the best beer crafted by New Belgium. This would easily be my session beer if I could get it here in Florida. The nutty taste is well balanced by subtle hints of sweet caramel, roasted coffee, & cocoa chocolate.

Ommegang Ommegeddon; Brewery Ommegang; Cooperstown, NY; Saison / Farmhouse Ale; ABV: 8.0. Another outstanding Belgian style ale from Ommegang. This saison is very crisp and refreshing. There’s a nice bite of tart and citrusy fruit up front, balanced by Brettanomyces yeast, sweet malt, and grassy hops with a clean dry finish.

Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale; Rogue Ales Brewery; Newport, OR; American Strong Ale; ABV: 9.5. While the alcohol is a bit more noticeable than their original Dead Guy Ale, it still compliments the sweet malt, caramel, & cascade hops to deliver a rich & smooth tasting beer. In short, as enjoyable as the original maibock, but more complex & certainly with more of a kick.

Russian River Pliny The Elder; Russian River Brewing Co.; Santa Rosa, CA; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.0. Another big & bold IPA with a surprisingly smooth taste. The grapefruit flavor up front highlights the array of citrusy hops, and is complimented by roasted malt & caramel. The finish is crisp & clean.

Samuel Smith’s The Famous Taddy Porter; Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery; Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom; English Porter; ABV: 5.0. The quintessential English porter. A creamy, coffee tasting beer balanced by hints of chocolate & malt.

Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Life & Limb; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; Chico, CA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 10.2. A collaboration between Dogfish and Sierra Nevada, it took a lot of effort to find this beer, but the hunt was definitely worth it! This is a very complex beer to say the least. I noticed a smoky, almost tobacco like taste up front, followed by chocolate, sweet molasses, dark fruit, and possibly a little vanilla as well. There’s even a woody feel to Life & Limb that reminds me of Dogfish’s own Palo Santo Marron, albeit a slightly lighter version.

Southern Tier Pumking; Southern Tier Brewing Co.; Lakewood, NY; Pumpkin Ale; ABV: 9.0. This pick surprised me, as I’m always singing the praises of their Southern Tier Unearthly (Southern Tier Brewing Company; Lakewood, NY; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 11.0). Pumking, however, is quite simply the best of the pumpkin ales and deserves to be on this list. It’s bold & spicy with a wonderful pumpkin taste from start to finish. There’s even a hint of pie crust in the flavor! For my hop-head moments, I would substitute this choice for Unearthly, which is quite possibly the best IPA around. A wonderful full bodied ale, the citrusy hops taste is well balanced by sweet malt. It’s very smooth for a hop bomb!

Stone 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale; Stone Brewing Co.; Escondido, CA; Belgian Strong Dark Ale; ABV: 8.6. An absolutely outstanding Belgian strong ale. Brewed on a limited basis annually, Epic is both smooth and complex. The rich chocolate taste is complimented by roasted malt, vanilla, orange peel, and spices.

St. Bernardus Abt 12; Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV; Watou, Belgium; Quadrupel; ABV: 10.5. A wonderfully complex balance of spices, ripe fruit, & sweet malt. The gold standard of Belgium quads, and one of the world’s best beers period.

Terminal Gravity IPA; Terminal Gravity Brewing Co.; Enterprise, OR; India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.9. This IPA has a big reputation in the Northwest, and it’s well deserved. The big citrusy hops up front are complimented by hints of caramel & a sweet malt finish.

Three Floyds Behemoth Barleywine; Three Floyds Brewing Co.; Munster, ID; Barley Wine; ABV: 12.5. An superb offering from the acclaimed Three Floyds Brewery. Behemoth has a sweet caramel taste up front, which is complimented by hints of tart fruit, raisins, roasted malt, and piny hops with a slightly bitter finish.

Tripel Karmeliet; Brouwerij Bosteels; Buggenhout, Belgium; Tripel; ABV: 8.4. An absolutely outstanding abbey ale. The taste is quite smooth, with a nice array of citrus fruit up front complimented by sweet malt. flowery hops, and spices.

Honorable Mention 6-Pack:

Boundary Bay Imperial IPA; Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro; Bellingham, WA; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.5. This IPA is an absolute hop bomb, with the big Cascade hops taste well balanced by roasted malt & a piney finish.

BrewDog Dogma; BrewDog Ltd.; Fraserburgh, Scotland (UK); Herbed / Spiced Beer; ABV: 7.8. A very crisp and drinkable beer. The taste is well balanced between the sweet malt, honey, kola nut, poppy seed, guarana, and spices with a nice clean finish. Its alcohol content of nearly 8% isn’t noticeable, so Dogma has the feel of a session beer.

DuClaw Devil’s Milk; DuClaw Brewing Co.; Bel Air, MD; Barley Wine; ABV: 11.0. A very potent barley wine. The sweet caramel malt is well balanced by dark fruit and citrusy hops.

Ellicott Mills Bock of the Bat; Ellicott Mills Brewing Co.; Ellicott Mills, MD; Maibock; ABV: 7.0. Brewed in the classic Alpenhof style of beer. An excellent bock with a roasted, malty taste balanced with dark fruit.

Ninkasi Total Domination IPA; Ninkasi Brewing Co.; Eugene, OR; India Pale Ale; India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.7. This is a crisp, smooth tasting IPA. The citrusy hops, particularly grapefruit, is noticable up front, and is well balanced by biscuity malt & a dry finish.

Oskar Blues Ten FIDY; Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery; Lyons, CO; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 10.0. This is an excellent Russian imperial stout, with the rich milk chocolate taste complimented by coffee, dark fruit, and roasted malt. Ten FIDY packs a punch at 10% ABV, so it’s definitely a beer to be savored!

Nuclear Fallout

January 21st, 2010 Bill Zavorskas 5 comments

Penguin may cause you to duck and cover

At a certain point, you begin to wonder what constitutes a beer. The strongest beer that I’ve had, that still tasted like a beer, was Dogfish 120 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Milton, DE; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 21.0). Albeit it was like their 90 Minute IPA on steroids. Prior to ordering Tactical Nuclear Penguin (BrewDog Ltd.; Fraserburgh, Scotland (UK); Imperial Stout; ABV: 32.0), the strongest beer that I’d sampled was Samuel Adams Utopias (Boston Beer Co.; Boston, MA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 27.0). This ale, which is still the strongest beer brewed in the U.S., tasted more like a brandy or cognac.

So I was really curious about Penguin. I tried it initially in a 2 oz. sniffer at home, then shared a bottle with my friends and bartenders at World of Beer last Sunday during the Cowboys-Vikings game. Their opinions ran the gauntlet, from “wonderfully complex” to “it tasted like paint thinner”!

Penguin is definitely an acquired taste, with a megaton of alcohol right from the start. It reminds me a lot of a Scotch whiskey, with underlying notes of caramel, licorice, and roasted malt with a smoky tobacco chaser. This is definitely the beer for scotch drinkers! I was somewhat overpowered by the initial tasting, but have tried it in 1 or 2 oz. samplings since opening the original bottle. Its complexity has started to grow on me.

No sooner had Penguin laid claim to being the World’s Strongest Beer, that a new contender to the throne has appeared. Kleinbrauerei Schorschbräu, the brewer that dethroned Utopias last year with their Schorschbräu Schorschbock 31% (Kleinbrauerei Schorschbräu; Gunsenhausen, Germany; Eisbock; ABV: 31.0), has reportedly put out another heavyweight called appropriately enough Schorschbräu Schorschbock 40% (Kleinbrauerei Schorschbräu; Gunsenhausen, Germany; Eisbock; ABV: 40.0). And there was a rumor floating around on the web that an unnamed Belgian brewer was toying with the idea of brewing the world’s first 50% ABV beer. The art of brewing has turned into an arms race!

The Nuclear Option

December 27th, 2009 Bill Zavorskas No comments

This penguin packs quite a punch

This penguin packs quite a punch

You’ve got to hand it to the Scots. The land that brought us bagpipes, golf, Scotch whiskey, and 007 can now lay claim to brewing the world’s strongest beer. Tactical Nuclear Penguin (BrewDog Ltd.; Fraserburgh, Scotland (UK); Imperial Stout; ABV: 32.0) is the latest creation from BrewDog, and at 32% ABV, it has surpassed Germany’s Schorschbräu Schorschbock (31% ABV) and that perennial pacesetter, Samuel Adams Utopias (27% ABV).

BrewDog has put out a limited release of Penguin for {35 ($56.70 at the latest $1.62 currency exchange rate), and I ordered a couple of 330ml bottles. Once I receive my order, I’ll be doing a review of Penguin in a future post.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

September 13th, 2009 Bill Zavorskas No comments

Utopias is truly made to order

Utopias is truly made to order

The Internet is truly a wonderful thing. The world is literally at your fingertips, and there are lots of interesting things to see…and buy. Like beer, especially when they’re hard to find or not distributed in your area.

I decided to take advantage of this option when I ordered a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias (Boston Beer Co.; Boston, MA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 27.0) from LaBodegaWine.com out of California. No longer the world’s strongest beer (Schorschbräu Schorschbock 31% from Germany now holds that honor), it is, nonetheless, the strongest offering available here in the USA.

Utopias has been classified as either an American Strong Ale or Barley Wine, but it feels more like a fine liquor such as cognac. The brewing process for this beer is extensive, and it shows in the look, smell, and complexity of its taste. The taste is extremely sweet, with cinnamon, vanilla, & maple flavors balanced by dark fruit, sweet caramel, chocolate, & nuts. It was everything that I’d hoped for and more.

There is also a noticeable difference between Utopias and other high ABV beers. Although I can drink a 12 ounce bottle of Dogfish 120 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Milton, DE; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 21.0) without breaking a sweat, Utopias is an entirely different animal. Anne & I were perfectly content to drink it in our 2 ounce snifters, as this is a beer that’s meant to be savored…slowly.

Boston Beer Co. puts out Utopias every 2 years, with the next edition due out this November. Rumor has it that the 2009 offering will exceed 30%; we will have to see.

LaBodegaWine.com offers a lot of excellent craft beers from West Coast breweries, such as Green Flash, Russian River, & Stone, in addition to fine wine & spirits. Additionally, there are several other sites worth noting:

BeerGeek.biz offers beer from such acclaimed breweries as New Belgium & Three Floyds. I tried my first beer from the latter, the interesting & complex Robert The Bruce Scottish Ale (Three Floyds Brewing Co.; Munster, IN; Scottish Ale; ABV: 7.0). While I enjoyed the array of chocolate, dark fruit, & roasted malt, I expected a wee bit more, considering that RateBeer ranked Three Floyds as the best brewery in the world!

Sam’s Wine & Spirits (samswine.com), based out of Chicago, offers craft beer from such breweries as Goose Island, Southern Tier, & Three Floyds.

The Wine Country (thewinecountry.com), based out of the LA area, offers craft beer from a wide variety of breweries nationwide, such as Jolly Pumpkin, in addition to West Coast brewers such as Green Flash & Mad River.

It’s important to note that while most states, such as Florida, allow the shipping of alcohol, others like Maryland do not. Please check the shipping policy of the online merchant that you’re ordering from.