Sierra Nevada Torpedo

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This is a beer you can find in most liquor stores (I found this in a grocery store in the Northeast Kingdom of VT) and you may just brush it off and look for something more exotic. That, in my humble opinion, is a mistake. 

Sierra Nevad's Torpedo is a classic IPA. It smells of pine and grapefruit and packs a whallop on first sip. Theres's enough malt to stand up to the hops, leaves you looking for that next sip. It has none of the metallic aftertaste that beleaguers lesser IPAs and comes across as a drinkable, well-rounded IPA. Very balanced. I like this one. 

Give it a try the next time you have a brain freeze in front of the beer chest and can't make up your mind.   

Vital Stats: Served at 45F from a 12oz bottle into a glass that you can clearly see in the picture. ABV clocks in at 7.2%. 
Taste: A- (I need to try this next to Racer 5)
Drinkability: B+ (the only knock on this one is the ABV, which will knock you down if you have too many)
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Bell’s Oberon

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After trying Hopslam and Two Hearted Ale, I've become a huge fan of Bell's Brewery. Unfortunately, they don't distribute to MA so it's a bit of a fine art trying to get a bottle (or mini keg) into the state. Imagine my surprise when I perused the beer case at a package store in FL (on vacation) and saw a six pack of Bell's Oberon sitting there, waiting for me. 

It's a wheat ale brewed with Bell's signature ale yeast. It pours with a nice head that dissipates relatively quickly. It smells fruity with a hint of honey. The first sip is sweet, with honey and pear coming through. This is a really enjoyable, light ale that I could drink all summer long. There's a bit of hops, but not much. The finish is very fruity. Mild carbonation that suggests this could be a distant cousin of a hard cider. At 5.8% ABV, this one could sneak up on you given how drinkable it is. 

Vital Stats: Served at 45F from a 12oz bottle in a plastic Tervis Tumbler with a chili pepper on it. When in FL… 
Taste: B+
Drinkability: B+

Hill Farmstead Ephraim

I was really worried about this beer. It’s a growler of Hill Farmstead Ephraim (a triple/double IPA) that’s been in my fridge for over a month. I was told it would be good for two weeks, but beyond that was questionable. So I had questions.

We opened it tonight and it was juuuuuuust fine. Here’s our review (Shannon, Aaron, Jim):

Huge citrus on the nose. We were struck by how much grapefruit there was. We actually enjoyed smelling the empty growler after we polished it off. 

First sip is is full of malt, hops and sweetness. The depth on this beer is amazing, with hints of mango and honey finding there way into the mix. The 10.5 ABV is sneaky, hidden beneath layers and layers of malt & hops.

It’s hard to judge this kind of beer. It’s so good that its hard to describe. Color me a fanboy. 

Taste: A+ (I mean, if you like a hop bomb, this is your beer).
Drinkability: A- (Scary drinkable)
Vital Stats: Served from a growler at 50F in a pint glass. 10.5 ABV. IBU is off the charts.

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We Dare You To Find a Worse Beer Than This One

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It’s not all wine and roses in the world of craft beer. Or in this case I should say “craft” beer.

I was recently in Target (owing to a lack of options in the vicinity), confronted with a wall of macro brews searching for something, anything interesting to blog about. This beer, Blue Dawg (how did I not see through that name? I mean, who names their brewery that?!) Wild Blue, purports to be a blueberry lager. On the strength of enjoying Dark Horse’s “Tres” Blueberry Stout recently (Jim’s review here and mine here), I was feeling charitable towards the much-maligned fruit beers.

Big mistake.

Not much point in beating around the bush: this beer is absolutely vile.

 

Cloyingly sweet blueberry syrup mixed with the most forgettable lager you can imagine. The (after you try one of these palette-grenades) hilarious Anheuser-Busch press release (yes, it’s a Budweiser product masquerading as a craft beer presumably to undermine the good name of micro-breweries) trumpeting the arrival into the world of this affront to fruit and grain even includes a recipe for Wild Blue Vinaigrette Dressing (presumably to serve to house guests who’ve overstayed their welcome).

Taste: F
Drinkability: Can’t even be charted. Half a glass and I couldn’t choke any more down. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Notch Session Ale

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I REALLY wanted to like this beer. I’ve been following the Notch “project” for almost a year, wondering what it tasted like, wondering if it could be good. When I saw six packs in my local store I just had to give it a try. 

It pours a very nice copper color with a small head that disappears pretty quickly. There’s not a whole lot I can smell, even if I beat it up a bit. Just not a whole lot on the nose. 

The first taste is… thin. Just not much to it. And not all that pleasant. There’s a metallic flavor in the mid-palate that I just can’t get past. I’m surprised by the lack of body given the beautiful color. Can you sense my disappointment? 

I wanted this to be the gateway beer for all those Bud drinkers out there… the way for them to get into craft beer without even knowing it. At 4.5 ABV it’d be a great alternative to the mass-produced beers most Americans are still drinking. But Sam Adams Boston Lager is only 4.9 ABV and it’s so much better than Notch. Sam Adams Light is 4.07 ABV and side-by-side it’s a better than Notch, IMHO. 

I’m left to wonder if Notch is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t really exist. Are there plenty of flavorful, relatively low ABV beers that give craft beer drinkers an alternative to high ABV brews, without sacrificing taste? Is there room for Notch in that league? I ask you taste it for yourself and let me know what you think. 

Jim Storer
@jimstorer on Twitter

Taste: C-
Drinkability: C
Vital Stats: Served at 45F from a 12oz bottle in a pint glass. 4.5 ABV. 

Belhaven Wee Heavy Scotch Ale

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I came across this bottle on a recent trip to Redstone Liquors. I’m a sucker for a good label, and this is one featuring a red lion rampant and the name of one of my favorite breweries.  I’m a big fan of Belhaven’s flagship offering, their Scottish Ale, so I made a leap of faith in trying this,  their Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, a type of beer I’m not that familiar with. 

It pours a dense caramel color with a moderate head that disappeared fairly quickly.  Not much lacing on the glass.  The beer smells of molasses, malts and a slight campfire smokiness.  The smokiness is far more subtle than the Rauchbier I tried recently (that was smokey!), but it’s definitely there.  

This is a far sweeter beer than I’m accustomed to drinking.  Taste is one of rum raisins, roasted malts, and I think I’m picking up some candied sugar and vanilla in there (though these last two are very faint). Not a lot of hops are evident.  A creamy medium mouth feel, with light to moderate carbonation. Very smooth drinking but a bit sweeter than I generally prefer.

A quick word on temperature: One thing I’ve learned over the past couple of years of paying closer attention to craft beer is that temperature can really affect the taste of beers, and this one is definitely subject to that rule of thumb. The Wee Heavy definitely benefits from warming up a bit out of the fridge. I started drinking it at about 45 degrees, but allowed it to warm to closer to 50 and it really opened up nicely. In my opinion though, you won’t want this at room temperature; I think there’s a very narrow temperature range at which this beer will be best.  It can’t be too cold, but it definitely benefits from having a chill. 48-50F is probably optimal.

I don’t have a great deal of experience with Scotch ales, but this is pretty good, best suited for a cold night as an after-dinner beer. You’re probably not going to want more than one of these in a sitting, but it’d be a nice beer to cellar for next Christmas, enjoyed sitting around the fire after dinner.

Taste:  B (but again, this is not an everyday beer)

Drinkability: B (you probably wouldn’t want more than one and only under the right circumstances). This is a sipping beer.

Vitals:  6.50% ABV, 1 Pint, 0.9 oz bottle served at about 49 degrees F for optimal taste.