There are a few beers that are hyped more than others within the craft beer community including several stouts from Founders Brewing Company, the Dark Lord from Three Floyds, Russian River's Pliny the Younger and Elder, and this bad boy The ABYSS.
The Abyss is an Imperial Stout from Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, Oregon. Now, they make a hell of a lot of great beer (ie. Inversion IPA, Obsidian Stout, Jubelale, and several of their other yearly releases), but this one takes the cake as their crowning achievement. And well, I'm not going to beat around the bush, it simply beats the hell out of most other brews out there.
The Abyss is a massive 11% ABV and a decent 65 IBU's. It is brewed with black strap molasses and licorice. Vanilla and cherry bark are added partway through the process to help flavor the beer. 6% of this beer is aged in oak ex-bourbon barrels, 11% is aged in plain oak barrels, and another 11% is aged in an undisclosed varietal of ex-wine oak barrels before being blended together with the remaining 72% and bottled. The result is an incredibly complex, amazingly balanced beer.
It pours as black as the Devil's soul with a thick, light brown head. It smells of dark roasted, toasted malts and sweet vanilla. You take a sip and get smacked in the mouth with a creamy mouthful of bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, anise, dark roasted coffee, strong oak which reminds me of an aged Old Vine Zinfandel, dark sweet fruit in the mid-palette, and tobacco and a moderate bitterness (hops and licorice?) in the finish. After each sip there is a lingering toasty, oaky, almost grilled flavor. The 11% alcohol is completely hidden somewhere within this dark beast of a beer. Somehow this beer stays balanced amidst all of the strong flavors, while still being creamy, smooth, and lusciously dark.
Don't drink this brew ice-cold, let it warm up a bit to really let the deep, complex flavors shine. I wouldn't recommend this beer with food, as it would be a shame to have food cover up the wonderful flavors, although I could see having a dark, big ring cigar as suiting this bad boy quite well if the mood is right...
Drink This: if you want one of the best dark beers in production today. There's a reason why The Abyss is hyped like it is... because it's great.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like awesome, incredibly rich and dark brews. This is easily one of the best Imperial Stouts I've ever had.
Quadrium (Quadrupel) Ale
De Leyerth Brouwerijen
For some reason, I feel like I don't drink near enough Belgian beers despite the awesomeness they can have. The bulk of the beers I drink are from California or the Northwest/Rockies, which is kind of sad now that I think about it.
Anyway, enough whining and beverage introspection. Here we have an impressive Belgian Quadrupel Ale from De Leyerth Brouwerijen (Urthel), founded by the wife and husband team of Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden. The rumor is that they have been seeing many a small people around their area of Flanders (yes, like Ned Flanders of The Simpsons) who are called Erthels, and have been seen drinking copious amounts of brew. Well, it's likely this is just a marketing story by the husband/main brewer Bas. But hey, in both Ireland and Iceland people claim to see little people running around, too, so maybe it's just all the high quality booze in their bloodstreams. Hildegard, the other half of the relationship, used to teach brewing at a school and was a consultant to La Trappe, so the team's merits stand strong regardless.
This is the Urthel Samaranth Quadruple Ale, with a Quadrupel of course being the big daddy of the Belgian beer world with higher ABV and stronger flavors than Dubbels, Trippels, or the standard brews. This particular beer is bottle conditioned, which means that yeast is added after fermentation to naturally carbonate it, generally making it more flavorful in the process.
Urthel Samaranth Quadrium Ale pours a murky copper color. It has aromas of dark fruits (red wine, figs, plums), caramel, and the typical Belgian funky sweetness from the Belgian yeast. You take a swig and get a sweet, fruity, brown sugar malty mouthful of brew with notes of cherries, red grapes, bananas, toffee, and some earthy spiciness almost like clove. The finish is a little bitter and biting from the alcohol, but not overtly so.
This is almost like a middle shelf brandy and a strong ale or barley wine had a baby and BOOM... Urthel Samaranth Quadrium Ale was born. It's a pleasant change from my typical California/West Coast/Rocky Mountain beers. It's considerably sweeter than many beers I drink, yet the impressive 11.0% alcohol balances it nicely. Plus, it's a Belgian beer, so sweetness is expected. Even though this isn't a dark, brooding Imperial Stout, it's strong and warm enough to suit the winter months. I may have to track down another bottle...
Drink This: if you want a strong and full-flavored Belgian Quadrupel Ale to keep you warm during the cold winter months.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like high alcohol brews or tons of in-your-face flavor. The alcohol is noticeable here and the flavors are strong (malty and sweet) so if you're used to typical American watery lagers, stay clear as this will catch your taste buds off guard...
The Immortal IPA
India Pale Ale
Elysian Brewing Company
Make no mistake, I love hops. The more hops the merrier. So naturally, I love IPAs (India Pale Ales). Especially double and triple IPAs, filled with gratuitous amounts of citrusy, piney, mouth puckering hops and a respectable amount of alcohol that makes you take small sips.
So, when I saw this brew, The Immortal IPA from Elysian Brewing I instantly wanted to try it. I mean, look at it, it looks badass with the hand strangling the lightning. I figured, hey this looks like a massive IPA worthy of my time.
Well, like so many other brews with cool names or labels, I bought it hoping the nectar inside would live up to the expectation. And again, like many others, it did not. Granted, this isn't as big of a let-down as IPAs like Rogue's Brutal IPA or Ninkasi's totally weak Total Domination IPA, but it was a let down nonetheless.
Elysian Brewing's The Immortal IPA pours a slightly hazy gold color with a decently thick head. It has aromas of toasty malt and some mildly citrus hops (much less hops than you would expect from an IPA, off to a bad start). You take a sip and get soft, sweet malts, some lemon and grapefruit notes, and a moderate dose of citrusy hops. The finish lingers moderately, but is still rather weak.
Now, this isn't a bad IPA, it's just lackluster. And with such a cool name and artwork, I (wrongly) expected more. This is an easy-drinking everyday type of IPA to drink with dinner, not something to sip outside while you stare at the stars.
Drink This: if you want a basic, rather common-tasting IPA.
7 Deadly Zins
Old Vine Zinfandel
For me, Zinfandels tend to be rather polarizing. They are either brilliantly delicious or overly oaky and harsh. Now, of course I'm not talking about the other Zinfandel wine. You know, White Zinfandel, the pinkish, sugar sweet wine that seems to be a favorite for girls of all ages. I drink that and I feel like a princess... which isn't exactly my style... at all. I'm talking about the standard red Zinfandel, the wine made using the grape skins. I find it interesting that the two styles can be made from exactly the same grape yet be so drastically different depending on the process.
This particular bottle is the 2009 vintage 7 Deadly Zins, a blend of seven different Old Vine Zinfandels. I've seen this bottle on many a store shelf, but for some reason have never tasted it until now. I'm usually a sucker for cheesy names like this.
7 Deadly Zins pours a deep, dark garnet color. It has a berry-filled nose with aromas of raspberries, cherries, blueberries, and some vanilla. On the palette I get a rather jammy blend of blackberry, raspberry, and figs, with a strong amount of spice and oak in the lingering, smoky finish. It is full-bodied, yet has pretty mild tannins all things considered.
I was actually surprised by this wine. It was considerably better and more complex than I was expecting, yet it remains easy-drinking enough that I can see why a lot of people enjoy it. It has berry and spice and everything nice...
Like I said at the beginning, Zinfandels tend to be either totally delicious or awful and harsh, with little in between. This one, of course, falls into the first category.
Drink This: if you want a flavorful Zinfandel that is easy-drinking enough that many will enjoy it. Plus at only around $10, it's hard to beat.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like dark red wines, but that's pretty much a given. This isn't White Zinfandel, people...
Double Bastard Ale
American Strong Ale
Stone Brewing Co.
IBU's: "Classified" (100+?)
"Ye shall know the Bastard,
and the Bastard shall set you free."
It's crazy to think, but 101 reviews ago I reviewed the original Arrogant Bastard Ale, a perfectly balanced hoppy and malty, strong amber ale. The original Arrogant Bastard maintains itself as one of my all-time favorite beers and I've probably gone through more bottles of it than any other single beer. Stone Brewing make several variations on the Arrogant Bastard, with the oaked version being one of my favs, as well. But, the big daddy of them all is this one, the Double Bastard.
Now, any reader of the beers reviews on this blog knows that I have a love for Stone Brewing Company out of California. And even though I've only formally reviewed a handful of their beers, I've sampled over a dozen different brews and haven't had a bad tasting one from them yet.
So here we have the Double Bastard, a 10.5% ABV beast of a beer. It pours a slightly darker amber than the standard Arrogant Bastard. It has strong aromas of malty caramel, figs, and a massive amount of hops on par with a good India Pale Ale. You take a sip and get thick, sweet toffee malts, dark raisins, pine, a touch of the high-proof alcohol, and a pleasantly long-lasting bitter hop finish that rivals just about any IPA out there.
This is everything I love about the original Arrogant Bastard Ale stepped up a couple notches. It has pretty much the same flavor profile, but everything is stronger here. Stronger malt, stronger hops, stronger alcohol.
This. beer. is. badass.
Drink This: if you want a malty, hoppy, beast of a sipping beer. If you enjoy the standard Arrogant Bastard or like hoppy beers, give this is a try. This is easily Stone's best beer and in my top 5 favorite beers, perhaps even top 3, of all-time...
Don't Drink This: if you are not worthy.
85% Cabernet Sauvignon
85% Cabernet Sauvignon
Origin: Colchagua Valley, Chile
Well, here we have another of the big reds, a Cabernet Sauvignon. This particular bottle is the 2009 vintage Cab from Root: 1, which is made by the Viña Ventisquero winery out of Chile. The grapes in this were grown high in the Colchagua Valley where the landscape is steep and rocky. It is reported that it didn't rain a single time during the growing season for this vintage, which some believe makes the grapes more full-flavored due to them compensating for the harsher conditions. And yes, that makes sense, but I don't know if it necessarily makes a better wine in the end.
Anyway, this 2009 Root: 1 Cabernet blend is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah, with Syrah of course being the lighter, spicier version of Shiraz (they are the same grape, after all). This wine pours a dark ruby and has aromas of black cherry, plum, and mocha. On the palette, it has more notes of cherry, blackberry, and a touch of oak. It is full-bodied, with medium tannins and acidity.
While this is a decent Cabernet Sauvignon, there's nothing that really stands out here. It is easy-drinking, relatively smooth, and pretty straightforward. There's nothing remarkable or all that interesting about it. Well, except the bottle art. The artwork is pretty cool.
Drink This: if you want a straightforward, easy-drinking, typical Cabernet Sauvignon with a cool looking bottle.
Don't Drink This: if you want a complex or challenging Cabernet. This is about as straightforward as they come. It's not bad, but just kind of plain at the $10-12 price point. Interestingly enough though, this is one of the best-selling Chilean wines. I guess because it's entirely unoffensive and easy-drinking.
68% Napa County
32% Sonoma County
For some reason, I hardly ever formally review Cabernet Sauvignon. That's not to say I don't drink it, but for some reason I don't feel compelled to review them. Which is odd considering that when many people think of red wine, they think Cabernet. Well, now you're in luck. I have a whole lot of Cabernet Sauvignons (and other random reds, not just Malbecs like I tend to prefer) that I've tasted/sampled recently that are in the works for formal reviews.
So for now, we are looking at the 2008 Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend from Napa and Sonoma Counties in California. The thing I notice first is of course the label art. Ghost Pines sticks out not only on the store shelf, but also amongst my other bottles. I have to say, I love this label. The trees in the fog, the colors, all of it matching the name of the vineyard. I love it. This wine pours an inky purple and has rather subtle aromas of blackberries, plums, and oak. The tastes on the palette confirm the nose, with frontal notes of dark fruit, blackberries, strong oak, and a touch of coffee in the finish. This wine is full-bodied for sure, but the tannins are merely moderate, despite my assumptions that they would be quite strong.
Ghost Pines Cab is full of dark fruit, but has enough drier oak and coffee notes to keep it from being too jammy and fruity. This is a good Cabernet Sauvignon that verges on great for the price, $12-15.
Drink This: if you want a solid Cabernet Sauvignon. If you can find it for $10 or under, BUY IT, you won't be disappointed at that price. Plus the label art looks awesome...
Don't Drink This: if you are looking for a dry Cabernet Sauvignon. This is definitely fruity, but not overtly sweet and jammy like others I've had.
90 Shilling Ale
Odell Brewing Co.
Once upon a time there was a guy named Bob.
Bob loved beer.
Bob's voice of reason (aka his wife) was out of town.
Bob subsequently decided it would be a great idea to attend the 17th Annual (2011) Mountain Brewers' Beer Fest anyway.
Bob made a poor decision.
The Mountain Brewers' Beer Fest is an annually held event with 140 breweries, 1200 types of beer, and around 6700 people in attendance. While that's not huge by the German Beer Fest standards, it's a pretty damn massive event for us people here out West.
And it wasn't like I was trying to taste every single beer there, but I may have gotten close... Too bad my wife wasn't there to tell me to slow down and pace myself.
For a frame of reference, here are some shots I took with my cellphone. This first pic was right after I got to the Beer Fest. (There were many huge tents such as this FYI)
See any difference? That's right. I got wasted.
Getting drunk wasn't my goal at all for the Beer Fest, but more a natural result of me wanting to try as many delicious craft beers as I could shove into my pie hole. After all, you only pay the entrance fee and it's as many beers as you want after that for no additional charge. It's a pretty sweet deal.
Naturally, I went from brewery to brewery, lap after lap, around through the tents. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) the lines for the really awesome beers were spectacularly short since most people like shitty, watery beer, even at a beer festival. The first lap I tried as many porters, stouts, and barley wines as I could. Very good stuff. The second lap was all IPA's. Still good, good stuff. The third lap, well that's pretty much a blur.
Then we tried to eat at TGIF's, which was stupid. There's a picture I saw of my goofy drunk face chomping on a bread stick with one eye open. Guess that's just how I roll. Next thing I know, I'm laying next to a toilet puking on the tile floor. Apparently I was confused about where my projectile vomit was supposed to go. Why, oh why, did my wife have to be out of town?! She's really the only person who reigns me in from being a complete idiot at times.
Anyway one thing is for sure, in my drunken, craft beer guzzling delirium on a sunny, 90+ degree day, one beer stood out for whatever reason: 90 Shilling Ale. I remember going back over and over again for the 90 Shilling Ale and it tasted awesome. So naturally, a couple weeks later I start looking for Odell Brewing's 90 Shilling Ale... and guess what, I found it.
Now, Odell makes some freaking delicious IPA's, especially their Myrcenary Double IPA. I assumed that 90 Shilling Ale, their flagship beer, would be just as good as their IPA's especially with my fond memory of it standing out at Beer Fest. Well, guess what? It's not.
90 Shilling Ale pours a caramel-amber color and has malty, nutty aromas. You take a sip and get subdued toffee, light malts, and a finish that's reminiscent of mineral water. There are no hops that I can taste. This is supposed to be a Scottish-style ale, but guess what? It's like a mass-marketed Americanized version of one. You know what I call that? BORING. This is watery and marginally better than Bud Light. Maybe this really was better out of a keg at Beer Fest, but from my memory this bottled version tastes totally different.
Bottom line, this beer tastes better when you're hammered and it's out of a keg.
Sorry Odell, I will stick to your tasty IPA's.
Drink This: only from a keg when you're drunk at Beer Fest on a burning hot day.
Don't Drink This: if you dislike watery beers. I don't understand how Odell's IPA's can be so delicious, yet their flagship beer is so... boring.
Lagunitas Imperial Stout
Like I said when I reviewed Lagunitas Brewing's Hop Stoopid Ale, not all of Lagunitas regular beers are anything special. They make several average brews (at least as far as craft beer is concerned), but fortunately they have a couple stand-out gems. Hop Stoopid Ale is one, as is this one, the Imperial Stout.
Now, I've said it before and I will say it again here, I love Imperial Stouts. Granted, since I've been on a quest to try as many as I can, I have had a couple not so great ones (many of which I still need to write up a formal review for), but for the most part, they continue to be my favorite style of beer.
So, here we have the California-based Lagunitas and their Imperial Stout. This puppy is 9.9% alcohol and a moderate 72.45 IBU's (bitterness). Neither the alcohol nor the bitterness rating is all that exceptional for an Imperial Stout, but hey, high numbers don't necessarily make it any better.
The Lagunitas Imperial Stout pours pitch black with a moderately thick, tan head. It's not as thick and creamy as something like Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, but it's decent. It smells of sweet, dark roasted malts, with hints of maple. You take a sip and get notes of sweet raisins, licorice, and bittersweet chocolate. The hops are virtually hidden here, but could just be playing into the bittersweet chocolate notes. While the flavors here are good, they are a bit different than most Imperial Stouts in that any coffee/espresso notes are subdued, although the licorice/anise taste is unique. Granted beers like Stone's Belgo Anise Russian Imperial Stout or Uinta's Labyrinth have anise is spades, whereas it's more subtle here. Regardless, this is a good beer, but for an Imperial Stout it's bordering on boring to mediocre (even though it's one of Lagunitas' better brews). Maybe I'm getting jaded and snobbish after tasting so many drinks, but sorry Lagunitas, I prefer your Hop Stoopid Ale...
Drink This: if you want a middle-of-the-road Imperial Stout. Is it better than many beers out there? Hell yes... and I wouldn't pass this up if offered one. But, in the realm of all Imperial Stouts, this remains mediocre.
Don't Drink This: if you want an in-your-face, hardcore Imperial Stout like one from Stone Brewing or Beer Valley's Black Flag. Conversely, don't drink this if your drink of choice is Natural Light or something equally as vapid.
Yes, you are seeing correctly... I poured neon blue malt liquor into a stemless wine glass. I'm fancy like that.
Speaking of which, a visitor to the blog a couple of weeks ago called me a "yuppie." Well, technically he said "worst review ever. die yuppie scum!" (See for yourself). This didn't bother me because his asinine comment was in defense of Olde English 800, the bastardly red-headed step-child of real beer. And, yes, I expect some of that same heat for reviewing this God awful malt liquor called Tilt, although I don't think it garners quite the same cult following that Olde English 800 does. I figure, in order to appreciate the good stuff, I need to remind myself how nasty some alcoholic beverages really can be.
Tilt along with several other malt liquors used to have caffeine and other stimulants in them, but the FDA deemed the alcohol/caffeine combination as "too dangerous." Well, what about Irish Coffee or cola mixed with just about any mixer? You never hear about the dangers of those combinations. I figure it's just the result of politics and paranoid, hyper-protective parents. Not that I care about caffeinated malt liquor, itself, but rather the principle of the argument. Anyway, I'm off-topic now...
So, here we have Tilt. This is the blue one, which as any candy eater knows, the flavor of blue is "blue raspberry." As you can see from the photo, it's a crazy neon blue. The can says "Certified Color." What the Hell does that mean? Why is it soooooo blue? It's all a bit disturbing if you ask me. You smell Tilt and get hints of underage drinking and pregnant prom queens... I mean, fake raspberry and sugar. You take a sip and get hit in the palette with full frontal corn syrupy sweetness, artificial raspberry and blueberry, and a finish that I can only describe as fluoride. Seriously, it finishes like mouthwash. I figure all of this sweetness is an attempt to mask the poor quality of the alcohol contained in this and at 12% alcohol, they're needing a lot of sweetness to do that.
Tilt is easily one of the most disgusting things I've put in my mouth lately and you don't want to know what else has been in there. Only joking. But honestly, Tilt is vile. I drank half the can which pissed off my stomach and gave me heartburn, then I poured out the rest. And I never get an upset stomach from any booze. This just isn't for me. Maybe I am a "yuppie" after all.
On a more positive note, the cost-to-alcohol ratio is decent being that this is 12%. Granted, there are cheap wines and bottom shelf vodkas in plastic jugs that cost about the same. But, if you don't want those and you don't give a shit about flavor and quality, here you go! Drink up!
Drink This: No. Don't.
Don't Drink This: if anything else is available. Personally, I'd rather drink water.
Original Gangster (OG) XO
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)
You may know him from the 90's rap group Body Count (rapping "F*** the police!"), from his solo rap career, from seeing him in the tabloids with his badonkalicious wife Coco, or perhaps from the hit show Law & Order: SVU, but wherever you know him from, there's no doubt that Ice-T knows how to make an impression. So, when I heard that Ice-T had his own line of brandy, I was intrigued. Granted, my expectations were varied considering the nature of any celebrity-endorsed alcohol. Fortunately, those expectations were easily met and then some.
Now Original Gangster XO isn't just a cheap American brandy, this is real French brandy aged a minimum of 10 years. I'm not sure exactly where it's distilled or by who, but Ice-T apparently got somebody who knows what they are doing to make it. I've heard some people say that the bottle is tacky, but honestly I kind of think it's cool. I tend to either like the modest, humble bottles (ie. Van Winkle Lot B boubon) or the wild, over-the-top crazy bottles of booze. Sure, this fits the latter, but it just plain looks cool in my liquor cabinet amongst all the boring, similar looking bottles.
The Original Gangster (OG) XO brandy pours a wonderful golden hue just as it should. It has fairly mellow typical brandy aromas, distilled wine and hints of caramel. On the palette, you get fruity, semi-sweet brandy, some raspberry, and a slight touch of oak. The finish is smooth and gentle and easy enough to drink neat or on the rocks.
This is not the sweetest brandy I've had, nor is it the smoothest. Yet it really is superbly smooth and easy to drink in its own way especially considering its youth (in brandy terms) and relatively low price. It seems to strike a great balance between all of its elements and for the price, it's really a great value.
Even though some may be turned off by it's name or the bottle, they should look past that because this is a high quality, tasty, smooth brandy. It's as good as many brandies I've had that cost twice this much. It's not quite as good as the pricey Germain-Robin brandies, but honestly I would say I would drink this before Courvoisier any day of the week, which is saying something!!! Truly, I was surprised with how good this brandy was. Go find some and try it. It's cheap and the bottle will stand out on the rest of your liquor cabinet if nothing else, so why not!
Drink This: if you want a cheaper brandy that can stand up with stuff that costs twice as much.
Don't Drink This: if you're looking for a delicate, rare extra-aged brandy. Stick with the crazy expensive stuff if that's what you want. However, this seems to strike the perfect balance between cost and quality as far as brandy goes. It's hard to find a bottle of 10 year-old French brandy this cheap ($25-$30 or so a fifth) that is this smooth and tasty. Ice-T seems to have struck gold here... and I'm not just saying that because he's a gangster...
|Ice-T and Coco|