Samuel Smith 'Winter Welcome' Ale 2017-2018

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale 2017 2018 1
Samuel Smith 'Winter Welcome' Ale 2017-2018. 6% abv. Dark honey color with a finger of foamy, ivory head. Outstanding retention and superb lace. Head gradually falls to a thick sustaining collar and scattered surface, with lacing that clings throughout without fade. Nose of caramel, bright spice, sweet bread, with notes of allspice emerging as the temp rises to room.

First taste is malt, herbal hops, treacle, white bread, floral back end. Aftertaste is slight pepper, bitter herbal hops, molasses, botanical semi-sweet finish. Medium-full body. Mouthfeel is warm, round, silky, carby.

This is an excellent winter brew, a modern classic from the old world. It's rich and malty, but balanced well with bouquets of spice and hops. The ratio of bitter to sweet is a perfect note, with the sweet malt refraining from being dominant, making way for the bitter herbal hops to poke through on the back of each sip. 

It's been four years since I last reviewed this annual beer, and it's just as expertly crafted now as it was then, and no doubt like all their beers have been crafted since 1758. One of the original winter beers, a benchmark in its category, this is a wonderful beer that I look forward to each holiday season. Highly recommended.

From the brewery:

"This seasonal beer is a limited edition brewed for the short days and long nights of winter. The full body resulting from fermentation in stone Yorkshire squares and the luxurious malt character, which will appeal to a broad range of drinkers, is balanced against whole-dried Fuggle and Golding hops with nuances and complexities that should be contemplated before an open fire."
[source: bottle]

"Throughout history, beer of somewhat higher alcohol and richness has been enjoyed for the winter holidays, when old friends get together to enjoy the season. Wassail, a festival to celebrate winter and the beer that goes with it, predates the Christian era. Winter Welcome is vintage-dated with a special label each year, and was first shipped to the US in 1990 - it was the first imported winter seasonal beer. Serve in a traditional Sam Smith tulip or nonik glass for the holidays... Honey-amber colored, creamy head of small bubbles, floral aroma and delicious caramel malt flavor with great finesse. Fine hop aroma finish and a fruity note from fermentation in open-topped stone "Yorkshire Squares."
[source: merchantduvin.com]



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Founders 'Doom' Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial IPA

Founders Doom Imperial IPA  1
Founders 'Doom' Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial IPA. 12.4% abv. Hazy honey-copper color. Two fingers of foamy white head that gradually falls to a sustaining thick surface. Outstanding retention and superb lacing. Nose of bourbon, vanilla, herbal hops, with whiskey and oak emerging as the temp rises. 

Front taste of rich malt, bourbon, sweet bread, toffee. Aftertaste is caramel, sweet fruit, tall hops, whiskey expression rises at the end. Medium body. Mouthfeel is warm-hot, boozy, astringent, carby, round.

This is an outstanding little BBA, one that delivers on the usual promises of bourbon and wood, merging well with the malty backbone of a DIPA, but also plays well with the ample hop bundle of its base IPA. The everlasting head powerfully brings the aroma forth, especially once the temp rises to room, with lacing that clings without fade. The craftsmanship is clear and forward. Wonderful brew. Highly recommended.

From the brewery:

"Doom may be impending but that doesn’t mean you have to fear it. A collision of worlds, the intense hop character of our imperial IPA mingles with the warm vanilla and oak notes imparted from time spent in our favorite bourbon barrels. Like all good things, Doom comes to those who wait."
[source: foundersbrewing.com]



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Evil Twin Brewing 'The Only Thing I Know is That I Know Nothing' N.E. IPA

Evil Twin Brewing New England IPA 1
Evil Twin Brewing 'The Only Thing I Know is That I Know Nothing' New England IPA. 6.5% abv. 68 IBU. Pale yellow color, like egg yolk. Dense hazy. Finger of white soapy head. Moderate retention, superb lacing. Nose of light fruit pastry, juicy grapefruit, floral and citrus hops. 

Front taste is bright citrus rind, notes of pepper and cloves, wide spice expression on the back end. Spice builds as the temp rises to room. Aftertaste is abundant bitter fruity hops, grapefruit pulp, white bread. Medium body. Mouthfeel is warm, round, foamy, clingy.

This is an excellent beer, a more aggressive version of a New England IPA. It's a cloudy, pungent, bitter fruity beer that blasts you with hops and tall spice throughout. The notes of pepper, cloves, and citrus rind build as the beer warms, resulting in an almost over-the-cliff flavor profile, giving you much more of what you sampled at first sip. Aroma follows suit, growing in intensity with time.


The relatively new category of N.E. IPA is growing exponentially in popularity, and I admit that I have not had many as of this writing. I'm still developing a palate for them, as well as sours, seemingly their second-cousins. However, I'm quickly learning to love them, and this is one of the first to truly grab my attention and make me remember it. Well recommended, particularly if you love bitter hop bite in your brew.

(No brewing description found)



Evil Twin Brewing New England IPA 2


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Ballast Point 'Mocha Marlin' Porter

Ballast Point Mocha Marlin Porter 1
Ballast Point 'Mocha Marlin' Porter. 6% abv. 42 IBU. Black in color with two fingers of thick foamy tan head. Outstanding retention and superb lace. Nose of ground coffee, vanilla, cocoa powder, herbal notes. 

Front taste is roasted malt, bittersweet dark chocolate, black coffee, bitter dark fruit on the back end. Aftertaste is bitter cocoa, vanilla, herbal hops, black coffee underneath, dry finish. Medium-full body. Mouthfeel is thick, creamy, carby, clingy, resin.

This is an excellent chocolate porter. The chocolate tastes fresh-shaved off a high-cacao dark chocolate brick, complemented well by a strong black coffee expression. Contrary to what the label says, I would describe it as a chocolate porter with coffee rather than a coffee porter with chocolate. 

The dark cocoa flavors are dominant throughout, with the black coffee taste faintly underneath, emerging fully only in the aftertaste. A ribbon of vanilla underlines the entire beer from nose to finish, with herbal hops merging as the temperature rises. An excellent chocolate beer that is supported by coffee. I suspect the coffee bean count is not as high as most would expect, including the brewers, but it's a fine brew regardless. Well recommended.

From the brewery:

"Coffee and chocolate come together in this brew. Our Black Marlin Porter is the perfect beer for a mocha mashup. The addition of coffee and cocoa plays perfectly off the roasty, chocolaty flavors of this English porter, while a hint of vanilla smooths it all out. It’s full-bodied, but not too sweet; try it for breakfast…or dessert."
[source: ballastpoint.com]


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Esteban Carreras '211' Sixty

Esteban Carreras 211 Sixty cigar 1
Esteban Carreras '211' Sixty. 6x60. Medium brown wrap. Good build with straight lines and well smoothed veins and edges. Cut and lit well. Punch cut today. Medium-easy draw pre- and post-light.  

First third tastes of bright herbal spice, white pepper, mild tobacco. Second third is raw almond, botanical, slightly bitter herbal on the exhale. Final third is walnut, cured leaf, allspice. Ash is marbled well, chunky, flaky, denoting a cut leaf fill. Ash held over an inch well. Burn was uneven at the foot, evened out in the first third, wandered slightly off-course again passing the midpoint.

This is a fine smoke, middle of the road between its brethren, the 5150 (a mild, balanced smoke that I loved) and the 187 (nearly too harsh for me). It's a mild cigar with bright spice notes, a flat white pepper expression, and nutty tones going into the second half. I smoked it at a leisurely pace and the pepper was present throughout without becoming too bitter or otherwise harsh. It was enjoyable all across while still maintaining that spice bouquet, a balance many mild spice cigars fail to achieve. Good stuff. Well recommended.

From the company:

“211. A light to medium cigar with hints of toasted almond and a touch of white pepper spice. The De Florado wrapper keeps the flavor consistent from start to finish.”
[source: estebancarreras.com]


Esteban Carreras 211 Sixty cigar 2


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Eel River 'Twenty' Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Triple

Eel River Twenty Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Triple Ale 1
Eel River Brewing 'Twenty' 20th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Triple Exultation Old Ale. Vintage 2015. 11% abv. 80 IBU. Dark ruby color. Hazy. Fine sediment. Finger of foamy beige head that falls fast to a sustaining collar. Fair retention, excellent lacing. 

Nose of molasses, bourbon, vanilla, sweet bread. Front taste is molasses, bourbon, roasted oak, pungent plum. Aftertaste is bourbon, raisin, plum, black coffee, pecans. Dry finish. Full body. Mouthfeel is hot, boozy, astringent, thick, syrupy, sticky, clingy.

This is an extraordinary BBA brew, a decadent offering that demands moderate enjoyment. You don't chug this one. Rich, thick, tall, strong. Starts sweet, ends dry. Plenty of bourbon and oak as promised, bound by dark malty and fruity depths. Wonderful. This is what a BBA should be. Strongly recommended.

From the brewery:

"Our Triple Exultation Old Ale aged 6 months in single pass, white oak bourbon barrels. Rich notes of bourbon, toffee, toasted malt and ripe fruit balanced by an aroma reminiscent of vanilla, oak, molasses, and caramel."

[source: bottle]

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Alpine Beer Company 'Pure Hoppiness' DIPA

Alpine Pure Hoppiness Double IPA  1
Alpine Beer Company 'Pure Hoppiness' Double IPA. 8% abv. Golden honey color, hazy, some sediment. Two fingers of foamy ivory head. Excellent retention, nice lace. Nose of pine, bright herbal hops. Front taste of light malt, bitter herbal hops, botanical, resin on the back end. Aftertaste is tall bitter herb, vegetal, citrus rind, dry finish. Medium body. Mouthfeel is somewhat thin, sticky, slightly astringent.

This is a good DIPA that should be recategorized. It's an IPA. I don't care what the malt bill is. It could be a great brew if it were balanced better. Instead, we get a bitter hoppy standard IPA. 

When I have a DIPA, I look for a tall malt presence that complements an abundant hop expression. Perhaps a sweet finish. Perhaps a rich mouthfeel. Feel free to blame Pliny The Elder and Hop Stoopid for setting the bar in terms of that balance of flavor. Regardless, it's simply not here. In addition, the hop bundle is front and center, bright and forward, but not quite fresh in taste despite the dry hopping. The malt is nearly absent, evident in both its thin body and bitter-hoppy dominant taste. Citrus notes arise only in the tail of the aftertaste.

To be clear, I enjoyed this brew. However, I hesitate to recommend it, if only because it betrays its category, and because there is a sea of DIPAs that I would choose before having this again. If you love bitter hoppy brews, you will likely enjoy this beer. If you are looking for a big, bold, complex DIPA, seek elsewhere. Mildly recommended.

From the brewery:

"A West Coast Double IPA so mega-hopped it will take you to hop heaven. We’ve used hops in the boil, more hops in the giant hopback, and added to that, an incredible amount of dry-hopping for that cutting-edge 'hop bite.' Once you’ve tasted this unique beer, all others pale in comparison."
[source: alpinebeerco.com]



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Firestone Walker 'Bravo' Barrel-Aged Imperial Brown Ale

Firestone Walker Bravo Barrel Aged Imperial Brown Ale 1
Firestone Walker 'Bravo' Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Brown Ale 2017 Vintage. 13.2% abv. 28 IBU. Red-brown in color with thin tan head that quickly recedes to a five-minute collar before losing nearly all carb. Moderate retention, excellent lacing. Nose of roasted malt, chocolate, bourbon, dark fruit. Intense wood notes and a tall aroma of toffee rise with the temperature.

Front taste of caramel, vanilla, bourbon, oak. Rich dark chocolate emerges as the temp approaches room. Aftertaste is boozy, warm brown sugar, strong bourbon, some bitter fruity hops on the back of the tongue, sweet finish. Full body. Mouthfeel is thick, sticky, round, astringent.

This is an extraordinary beer, a perfect example of what I look for in a BBA. Fans of brown ales may be put off by this big beer which crosses category past the point of recognition. Few will feel this is a brown ale at all. 

That being said, judging it strictly as a BBA, the promised bourbon is up front, beginning in the aroma and continuing in every sip. The wood expression is ever present once the temperature rises. The overall flavor profile includes dark chocolate, plum, vanilla, all of which mingles with the bourbon and oak in a perfect balance. 

The aroma is superb from the start, only to get better as the beer warms. I found myself smelling this beer almost as much as I was sipping it. And make no mistake, this is a sipping beer. Frat boys looking to chug-a-lug need look elsewhere. At 13.2%, this big bold brew is meant for casual enjoyment over the course of a conversation. Alas, I was alone on my patio when I popped this bottle, but I normally share such treats with others, not only to spread the wealth but to prevent myself from getting too drunk.

I first had Bravo at the Firestone Walker brewery two years ago. At the time, it was not available in bottles with no plans as such. It was brewed exclusively to be blended in their annual Anniversary Ale. Enjoying it on its own was reserved for visitors to the brewery. I remember my friends and I marveling at how  amazing it was, and how it was easily the biggest and best brown ale we'd ever had. We wished they would bottle it. Finally, our wish has been granted. Seek out this limited release beer, especially if you love browns and BBA's. Strongly recommended.

From the brewery:

"February 4, 2017 Release. We proudly present the 2017 Vintage of Bravo, our Imperial Brown Ale aged in retired American oak bourbon barrels. Although Bravo was the first strong ale brewed for our Anniversary Ale blending program over ten years ago, it has yet to see its own bottled release, until now. Balancing rich toasty and chocolate malt flavors with a gentle balance of noble hops, Bravo is brewed to showcase barrel flavors with massive bourbon barrel notes that morph as the beer warms in the glass."
[source: firestonebeer.com]

“Since founding our brewery in 1996, we have specialized in the rare art of fermenting beer in oak barrels. In the Fall of 2006, we embarked on a program to barrel age a series of vintage strong ales that would later be used as components of a blended beer. That blend would become our first Anniversary Ale, ’10’. After the release of ’10’, we released limited amounts of the components beers on draft only. Many of these beers gained a cult following that craft beer fans raved about and begged for us to put in bottle. Bravo was one of these beers.We proudly present the 2017 vintage of Bravo, our Imperial Brown Ale aged in retired American oak bourbon barrels. Although Bravo was the first strong ale brewed for our Anniversary Ale blending program over ten years ago, it has yet to see its own bottled release, until now. Balancing rich toasty and chocolate malt flavors with a gentle balance of noble hops, Bravo is brewed to showcase barrel flavors with massive bourbon barrel notes that morph as the beer warms in the glass."

[source: box]


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Black Diamond 'Peak XV' Bourbon Barrel Imperial Porter

Black Diamond Peak XV Bourbon Imperial Porter 1
Black Diamond 'Peak XV' Bourbon Barrel Imperial Porter. 8.5% abv. 30 IBU. Black in color with a finger of tan foamy head. Superb retention and lacing. Nose of bourbon, caramel, vanilla, plum. Toasty bread notes as the temp rises. 

Front taste of bitter dark chocolate, dark fruit, red wine, toast and jam. Aftertaste is vanilla cream, dried fruit, bourbon, vanilla on the back end, slight wood expression all across. Medium body. Mouthfeel is hot, creamy, tangy, sticky, boozy.

This is an excellent BBA brew, a blend that is 25% BBA. You can tell from the overall taste that this beer is not completely from a barrel. Still, the promised bourbon taste is there, especially on the onset, while the wood flavor is faint and only detectable behind the aftertaste. Tons of dried dark fruit - almost sour fruit - tie together the notes of caramel, vanilla, and bready malt. For my taste, this is a little light in body for a BBA - even a blend - and the fruit is a touch pungent, walking close to sour territory. However, my overall impression is positive. I enjoyed this beer and would surely have another. Highly recommended.

From the brewery:

"Wherein we take our rich, luscious Peak XV Imperial Porter and set it down in Bourbon barrels for a little happy time (sometimes when you are waiting, time does not fly).. Bourbon and vanilla are a natural combo and the wood ageing smoothes the chocolate, further blending it with the malt flavors and adding wonderful depth. A true fireside winter warmer this one, we remain amazed at how great this beer is in an ice-cream/porter float."
[source: blackdiamondbrew.com]

"Subtle undertones of vanilla are brought forth using multiple sources of whole vanilla beans, followed by a stupendous nose of dark chocolate - provided by locally sourced cocoa nibs. The flavor is massive chocolate, creamy vanilla, toasty and malty. The finish is epic."
[source: bottle]


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