Enjoying the Estate ale by Sierra Nevada


It seems like every season Sierra Nevada has a release that’s interesting enough for one of us to check out. Jim’s earlier review peaked my interest in the fresh hop ales from Sierra. When I spotted this at my local craft beer store for 7.99 in a large format bottle, I had to pick it up. The Label, and wax dipped bottle are eye catching at a reasonable price point. While not as fresh as it could be, released in early October, but I don’t think this beer suffers for it. Beyond the label, and the fact it’s a fresh hop ale, the locavore in me is excited to note this beer is crafted from organic grains and hops grown on the Sierra Nevada Estate. This is Impressive, but not unheard of in this time of sustainability, and Sierra Nevada is known in the industry as one of the thought leaders in the sustainable brewing movement.

Light Golden orange, one of my favorite colors for a beer. There is lots of lacing, and a thin fine head that has persisted the entire time I’ve been drafting this review. This is a real easy beer to enjoy. It’s not hop forward, thin or watery. It has a slight grassy flavor, can be attributed to the use of fresh hops. The aroma of this beer is flowery, grassy, and midly grainy much like the flavor. As Derek pointed out fresh hop beers don’t generally have the same hop punch of traditional IPA’s or Pale ales, the roundness, and subtleness is more the calling card.

To summarize, this is another fine Sierra Nevada offering, if you find it fresh, it’s a worth while beer.

Vitals: Served at 45F in a Perfect Pint. 6.7% ABV. Organic, estate grown hops.

Taste: B+. Simple, enjoyable, neither fruity, or overly bitter.

Drinkability: A. No problem enjoying this large format bottle, looking for more.

Packaging: B. Elegant and beautiful, but missing what I’d consider the important details. No grain, hop varitals, or bottled / brewed date.

Value: B+ 7.99 a bottle bigger than a bomber is a reasonable price to pay for an organic fresh hop ale.



NEW REVIEW: Switchback Ale #craftbeer


I’ve been to Burlington, Vermont quite a bit, and I’d heard about Switchback Brewing, but had never gone to the brewery.  Most of the hype seems to be centered around the Alchemist and Hill Farmstead (deservedly so).  But it seemed to be quite a bit deal that Switchback recently began bottling their flagship beer, Switchback Ale.  I was fortunate enough to have a bottle find its way to me over the Thanksgiving holiday, so here we go!

It pours a cloudy amber color with a very foamy head which settles down into nice sticky lacing on the sides of the glass.  There are very clearly bits of yeast floating in it (Switchback states quite clearly on the label, “After aging, we simply move this beer to the keg or bottle, leaving it unfiltered for the freshest, fullest most natural flavor possible.  the remaining yeast will slowly settle to the bottom of the bottle.  We ENCOURAGE you to MIX THE YEAST back into the beer to experience it as ORIGINALLY bottled.”  Alrighty then.  As you get to the bottom of the bottle, there’s obviously considerably more yeast.  Given what they recommend, I’d suggest ensuring proper mixing by sharing with a friend (not the first time we’ve recommended this!).  Pour one glass half full, then the other.  Then complete the pours for both glasses ensuring you get a balanced amount of sediment in each.


Smell is nice, but not overpowering:  grass, hops, caramel.  Medium body and carbonation with a malt-forward flavor profile featuring caramel, grass and herbal hops.  Maybe a hint of brown sugar.  Very easy-drinking with a pretty clean finish.

Vitals:  Poured from a 22 oz bomber into a pint glass at about 42F.  5.0% ABV

Taste:  B  A very nice pale ale I’d be happy to have again, but I think it may have been a bit overhyped if I’m honest.  I’m hoping someone else on the CBS crew will have a chance to give this a try and see if I’m missing something.

Drinkability A+  Relatively low ABV and a very smooth-drinking ale.  

Packaging:  B  Nothing crazy here, but the label was informative.

Adventures in cellaring w/ @FoundersBrewing Backwoods Bastard


When I first tried Backwoods Bastard in December 2010, I wasn’t a huge fan. In fairness, I was still finding my way in craft beer and this style was a bit more adventurous than I was ready for at the time. What I didn’t mention at the time is that I actually had two bottles and decided to set one down for a “nap” to see what a year or two did for it. 

Nearly two years later I decided to take this one out for a spin. It poured a deep, hazy, burnt orange and still smell of bourbon. The bouquet was subtle, with mollases and dark cherries in there. It definitely doesn’t have the carbonation of the ‘young’ version, what head I was able to coax out of it with a high pour, quickly disappeared. 


The first taste still has a heavy bourbon flavor right up front, but it’s mellowed a LOT. The boozy profile is completely gone. There’s still plenty of carbonation to spread the flavors all over your mouth and the finish is very subtle… almost a burnt caramel and taste like fresh leather smells (if that’s possible). 

I’d still say this beer is not for everyone, but it’s more my style these days. I’m not sure if that’s me or the beer maturing, but I enjoyed it very much tonight. As Chad said in a comment after my initial review, “the Backwoods Bastard is like the guy everyone knew in college who was fun to hang out with in small doses. I like having him over to watch a game once or twice a year, but I wouldn’t invite him every weekend.” 

Well said!

Vitals: Served at 45F into my trusty tulip. 10.2% ABV. Bottled 12/2010. 

Taste: B+. It’s an intersesting departure from your standard beers types. Worth trying. 

Drinkability: D+. Put the car keyes away and prepare to sip. 

Packaging: B+. I like Founders bottles. The images tell the story and the vitals are there. 

Value: D. I can’t remember what I paid for this, but I recently picked up a couple recent bottles of BB and I think they were $8-9 for 12oz. No matter how you slice it, that’s expensive. 

Good Nature Brewing’s CNY Harvest Ale


I’d heard about Good Nature Brewing before they’d even opened in the small town of Hamilton, in New York’s Central Leatherstocking Region.  They are a tiny 7 BBL operation run by two young newlyweds.  Their ingredients are locally-sourced and they are now beginning to become available in restaurants and taverns in Central New York.  I picked up a few bottles and growlers to review during a recent trip up there, and this time, it’s their Wet Hop IPA, CNY Harvest Ale.


It pours a beautiful reddish caramel color with a foamy head that laces very nicely on the tulip glass. It features a slightly pungent and minerally bouquet, and I thought I even picked out some notes of cheese almost like a cheddar as well, but nothing overpowering at first (I really had to stick my nose down in there an concentrate to identify the different profiles), but it became stronger as it warmed.  I was intrigued.  


Lots of tiny bubbles coated my tongue on the first sip and the mouthfeel is on the thinner side of medium.  It starts out a little oily (but offset by those tiny prickly bubbles) with some dryness and bite at the back end.  Not alcohol bite, mind you, but a dry hoppy bite.  The wet hop IPA’s are not as floral, citrusy or aggressively-hopped as their regular palate-thrashing cousins, but are a nice change of pace.  


Everything I’ve tried of theirs all have a very distinctive personality.  Drier, and with a minerally quality which I haven’t found in many other beers (Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale would be the closest one I can think of).  Might be that the local water is quite hard, or a brewing method or ingredient they use.  This takes us into the realms of brewing techniques I’m not qualified to speak on.  


What I can say is that I really love what this husband and wife team are doing and I wish them much success as they continue to grow and refine their craft.  


Vitals:  Poured from a 1L growler into a tulip glass and sampled between 48 and 55F.  6.5% ABV


Taste:  B+  Excellent, well-balanced beer with a unique character to it.  This wouldn’t be my top style of choice, but I’m glad I branched out to try it.  


Drinkability A  All day long with this one.  Smooth as silk.


Packaging  Well, it’s a growler, so not much to say.  I like the logo well enough, but no label art to review here.


Value:  B+  $8.00 for a little over two glasses of hand-crafted beer seems pretty good in my book.  Not including the cost of gas and lodging to acquire it of course.



Craft Beer Threesome! Sierra Nevada Narwhal #stoutday


When I mentioned I had a bottle of Sierra Nevada Narwhal to review for #stoutday, Chad and Matt quickly suggested we do a 3-in-1 review. So get your heads out of the gutter. This review is strictly PG. 

I’ll offer my pics/insights and then pass the baton to Chad. Matt will wrap up the post and hopefully this post hits before the end of the day. 

This beer wasn’t even on my radar until my local beer guy pointed it out and suggested I give it a try. Who am I to say no? 

It pours a deep, dark black. I was able to coax a nice, tight head in the pour and it lingers nicely, leaving nice lacing on the glass. 


It honestly doesn’t give me a lot in the bouquet. Very slight coffee, a little bit of charcoal, but not a whole lot, so we’re going straight to the taste. 

Nice carbonation, tight flavor profile, but a bit underwhelming. It doesn’t have the depth I’ve come to expect in big imperial stout (ahem, Founders Breakfast Stout). There’s some coffee and bitter chocolate in there, but there’s not the richness or smooth finish I like in this type of beer. It’s actually a little bitter on the finish, but not in a good way. 

I really wanted to like this beer and while it’s not bad, there better examples of the style readily available (Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, FBS). 

Vitals: Served at 45F in my trusty tulip. I let it warm a bit before doing my review. 10.2% ABV.

Taste: B-. Not memorable. 

Drinkability: C+. Too hot to drink more than one. 

Packaging: C. Basic info, but not keeping pace with the market. 

Value: B+. $10 for a 4-pack. Reasonable if you enjoy it. 

p.s. I dug out an FBS to see how it compared to Narwhal and it wasn’t even close. The FBS is a different beast altogether, justifying it’s spot in the Craft Beer Social Hall of Fame. Now I will go take a nap and give Chad the floor….


When Jim asked me to be part of this Sierra Nevada Narwhal review I thought to myself “Good heavens, man! I already wrote one review this year! Do I look like some sort of machine to you??.” Fortunately I was able to summon the stamina to give this one a go, all in the spirit of National Stout Day.

I purchased this beer with high hopes. The description on the label appealed to all the things I love about a delicious imperial stout: the roasty malt flavors, hints of coffee, the cocoa and richness. I actually found myself hoping for a spontaneous snowstorm when I cracked this one open (sort of like the Coors Light commercials**, only this time with good beer).
** p.s. anyone who can accurately interpret what the hell that commercial has to do with beer wins a lifetime membership to Craft Beer Social, free of charge.
I took this Narwhal out of my beer fridge and set it on the counter for a while while I fiddled with my camera taking photos. Stout aficionados will tell you it pays to let an imperial warm up a bit, since too much coldness can prevent you from experiencing the more subtle flavors. I thought I was doing everything right. The pour was silky smooth darkness with barely a hint of foam. The aroma was exactly what I’d hoped for: roasty deliciousness with the hint of coffee bean. I even bought a deep dark chocolate bar to go with it, hoping it would coax out even more of the flavors on my palate.
Founders Breakfast Stout – was this going to be your new competitor?! My hopes were high. I tipped it back for that first sip, shunning the chocolate bar so as not to be corrupted in any way. And then…
Booze. That was the first word that came into my mind. This one weighs in at 10.2% ABV, and I could taste every single one of those percentage points. Founders Breakfast Stout & Great Divide Oak Aged Imperial Yeti wrap me up in their delicious flavors to the point where I almost forget I’m drinking a relatively high alcohol craft beer. I’m sorry Sierra Nevada, but this was not the same experience. I could sip this one and appreciate what they were trying to accomplish with it, but the alcohol overwhelmed my enjoyment. I can’t see myself buying this one again.
Vitals: 10.2% ABV, served at around 50 degrees in my favorite “Look at me, I’m a sophisticated stout drinker” glass.
Taste: C+ It tasted like rich, boozy adult beverage. I did get a hint of bitter coffee, but it wasn’t enough for me to put this in the class of other great imperial stouts.
Drinkability: C I won’t say the “b–zy” word again because I’ve already beaten it into the ground. I can’t imagine drinking more than one of these in a session.
Value: Let’s see… paying $10+ for a 4-pack of a beer I wasn’t that fond of after 2 sips? Not what I’d consider “high value”.
Label Design: A I actually thought they nailed the label design for this type of beer. It’s too bad I’d want the beer itself to go down with the ship that mutant unicorn whale is apparently crushing.
Ok, so Chad’s not buying this one again. What about Matt? 
After seeing that both Jim and Chad were going to review Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal, I decided to grab a bottle and give it a go myself. It has been a while since I have had a beer from Sierra, but their small bottle offerings typically do not disappoint. The beer poured very dark, mostly black with some brown highlights on top with a small tan colored head on top.

The aroma has lots of roasted malt, some cocoa, dark chocolate, and a little bit of espresso. There is a hint of pine and grapefruit right at the end. The flavor profile is quite similar to the aroma with more roasty malt, almost charred, with some dark chocolate and licorice. I picked up a little bit of mint in the middle as well.

Vitals: 10.2% abv poured into a tulip glass after sitting out a few minutes. Consumed over the course of 45 minutes.

Taste: B, A solid stout with most of the characteristics I am looking for in the style

Drinkability: B+, not a beer I am going to drink a lot of, but found this 12oz bottle pretty easy to drink and tasted none of the 10.2% abv.

Value: A-, Picked up a single bottle for $2.99 which was not marked up from the 4 pack for $12. A pretty good deal for a beer this big.

Label Design: A-, Yes, it still sort of looks like every other Sierra Nevada bottle, but I am digging the black label and the narwhal image.

So there you have it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While it sounds like Matt is in love and I wouldn’t kick Narwhal out of bed, Chad’s not so sure… he’s looking for another lover. I hope you enjoy our first “threesome” here at Craft Beer Social. 🙂 


Mikkeller Beer Hop Breakfast – Hoppy #StoutDay

I probably didn’t need to head to Denmark to enjoy a good American Stout, but my local beer guy recommended it and the description “Oatmeal stout brewed with coffee” seemed harmless enough. I was definitely curious what Scandinavians would do with the American style hops.


Pours a dark black with very little head. I was surprised at the combination of smells – woodsy hops and coffee aren’t smells I would imagine together and it was actually less poignant than I would have expected.  A little touch of fresh cut grass and bitter chocolate.


First taste was more piney hops with a mix of coffee grinds. I tasted more coffee than I smelled and the big hops flavor turned into a dry burnt caramel aftertaste. That bitter sting stays to remind you that, oh yes, there are a lot of hops in here. Despite the darkness and even a little oily feel to the taste, this is a medium body stout that doesn’t feel too heavy. Not a hint of sweet at all either and that bitterness lingers a longggg time. It feels like the Frankenstein love child of a Cascadian IPA and a true oatmeal stout.  This is a very good beer, just not sure it’s a style I’d seek out again.


Given the wide varieties of stouts I’ve been reading about for International Stout Day today, I think there are more things to try.  Gotta get me some of that Lawson’s

Vital Stats:  Served at 45F in a small tulip (thanks Derek).  7.5% ABV.

Taste: A-.  I love the hops, coffee and baker’s chocolate combo, but leans a little too much on the bitter side and could be more balanced.  Curious what the IBUs are. 

Drinkability: B.  ABV isn’t too high and it’s not a “knife and fork” stout, but I had to muscle through a growler and wouldn’t opt for more than one in a session.

Packaging: C.  The artwork has some subtle dark green hops pictured on the otherwise all-black label, and is all Nordic mystical on us.  No story or information and very modern art. 

Value: D.  $10.99? Really? There are lots of better options out there for the price.  


Haverhill Brewery Joshua Norton Imperial Stout #stoutday


Celebrating Stout day with local imperial stout. This is he first beer I’ve had from Haverhill Brewery, but it won’t be the last, this is a really tasty stout. This happens to be a 2011 bottle, but often stouts of this potency, generally hold up well and can even get better with age. 

Haverhill brewery has reciently changed their branding to ‘the tap’, I have to say I like the old branding better, more character, more unique. Also their new website is a little slim on details.

It poured pitch black, with very little carbonation. It smells of coffee and smoke, and tastes of the same. It has a thick, slightly slick mouthfeel, with a slight high alcohol taste.

Sipping this over the course of the evening has been quite enjoyable.


Vitals:  9.3 ABV served in a sam Adams perfect pint from a 22 oz bottle at slightly colder than cellar temp.
Taste:  B  This is good, but there are better less acrid imperial stouts out there.
Drinkability:  B-  Can’t finsh a bomber at this abv.
Value:  B+ this is a very affordable imperial stout. I don’t recall exact price, but more than Berkshire, but less than clown shoes.
Label Design:  B  It’s a pretty plain label, but decent looking. I have no idea what the current branding looks like. It does have ingrediant details, and bottle on date, but lacks abv, and IBU.