#550: Sweet Baby Jesus – DuClaw Brewing Company, Baltimore, Maryland
A peanut butter porter? This plays right into my hands. Pours with a modest, but sturdy mocha-colored crown of foam, topping a body that’s keeping the light off limits for the most part. There’s a bit of chestnut brown on the perimeter, but black conquers all here. The aroma? A Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, but with more of a dark chocolate edge. Do they make dark chocolate peanut butter cups? If so, they probably smell like this. On the palate, the beer follows the aroma’s example, but adds refinement to make it work. There’s plenty of peanut butter, dark chocolate and burnt malt to go around, but the subtle crispness of the texture stitches it all together, and there’s a slight bitterness at the back to help clean things up.
The Verdict: If you like either peanut butter or chocolate and don’t mind the taste of either in your beer, you’d have to be a real stickler not to like this. I enjoyed every last decadent drop.
#549: Harpoon Winter Warmer – Harpoon Brewery, Boston, Massachusetts
The head on this one was a modest rim of off-white foam, but it’s the body that I found alluring. A beautiful, transparent blend of ruby red and deep amber, with a various streams of carbonation keeping the head in place. It’s brewed with cinnamon and nutmeg, and as far as the aroma is concerned, the former has a louder say. Both get their say on the palate, however, as cinnamon and nutmeg hit the palate hard on the first sip. After the acclimation sets in, though, the beer opens up nicely. The spices are well supported by a deep, cakey layer of heart malt, sweetening things up and giving the beer legs to stand on. I’d bet the yeast is producing some fruity components as well, as there’s a faint hit of orange marmalade.
The Verdict: Not a lot of respect on the advocate for this one, but I’m not really sure why. It’s a beer that isn’t all that beery, yes, but I had a nice time drinking it and I didn’t find it in any way unpleasant. Maybe my palate has been calibrated as such after drinking so much pumpkin ale this fall, but I found this fun and festive.
#548: Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale – Harvey & Son Ltd., Lewes, England
Pours with a thin, quickly dissipating off-white head that left patches of foamy remains atop the beer. Expected of a beer with this strength. A muddled, murky plum brown color makes up the body, allowing little light to pass through. On the nose, heavy notes of caramel join an array of dark fruits; blackberries, plums, raisins, and certainly some discernible heat coming from the alcohol. I had to muscle my way through the alcohol with the first few sips, but after that it was smooth and lovely sailing. There’s a cakey, almost doughy maltiness to this one, bringing caramel flavors along for the ride, joined by some woody and spicy characteristics as well. Dark fruit has a say as well, with the aforementioned plums and blackberries, though more muted here than they were in the nose. Heat from the alcohol enlivens all of this beautifully, not scorching the palate, but doing just enough to bring out the flavors. The texture is borderline syrupy but there’s enough bitterness and carbonation to prevent that awful feeling in the stomach.
The Verdict: A beautiful beer, wonderful for thoughtful sipping and contemplating. Many layers of flavor guided by spot-on texture.
Last year I began a tradition of drinking strong British ale on my birthday as a way of toasting the occasion. Some people dread their birthdays and fear getting older. I’ve only ever seen my birthday as a celebratory reminder that I’m here. It was another year to play guitar, create music and art. Another year to travel, read good literature and appreciate fine ales such as this one. Another year I was able to spend with all of you. Cheers to that. Cheers to the miracle that is being alive on Earth.
#547: Harpoon Chocolate Stout – Harpoon Brewery, Boston, Massachusetts
Today marks three years of writing this blog. 547 beers and I’m still at it. It’s been quite a bit of fun and my interest in the beverage is as keen as ever. To followers and readers old and new, thank you for sticking around. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.
Pours with a towering, dense, creamy mocha-colored head, sitting atop an opaque, inky black body. On the nose, the beer is certainly as advertised. Pungent notes of strong milk chocolate are eager to greet the nostrils. Enticing if you’ve got a sweet tooth (I do). On the palate, the aroma’s promised is certainly delivered. A velvety, creamy mouthfeel guides flavors of rich, potent milk chocolate across the tongue. Delicious indeed. This is aided quite well by subtle touches of burnt malt flavor, adding a degree of hearty bitterness and leveling the playing field. Finishes gently bitter, doing the best it can to cleanse the richness of the chocolate flavor.
The Verdict: I’m a huge sucker for beers that taste heavily of chocolate, so naturally I think this is wonderful. Rich and layered, but not cloying. Much respect. My sweet tooth is satisfied.
#546: Hop Hazard – River Horse Brewing Company, Ewing, New Jersey
Pours with a towering tan head of fluffy foam, parked on top of a reddish amber body. Though the beer is unfiltered, there’s still a decent amount of clarity in the body; enough to see the gentle streams of carbonation. With a name such as “Hop Hazard” I was expecting a full-on citric attack, but there’s actually quite a bit of caramel and toast coming off the top. The palate is a slightly different story. Prickly is how I’d describe the mouthfeel. It’s fairly bitter the whole way through, and there’s a subtle biting crispness as well. Other than that, a heaping helping of toffee malt flavors and flickers of citrus polish it off.
The Verdict: I enjoyed this. The flavors are deep and substantial, but the crisp mouthfeel and prickly hop presence keeps this one from getting too sticky or heavy.
#545: Big Wave Golden Ale – Kona Brewing Company, Kailua Kona, Hawaii
Pours with a fluffy head of ivory white, capping a golden orange body, which has a touch of gentle haze dispersed throughout. Quite aromatic, but reserved; there’s a bit of the citric American hopping here that many of us are likely used to, but it’s a bit spicy as well. It all comes together beautifully on the palate. A slightly biting, crisp mouthfeel carries a body that boasts soft, biscuity malts matched with prickly mandarin orange and perhaps even a bit of black tea. Finishes with a gentle bitterness
The Verdict: Delicious, moreish and balanced. Fun to drink and awfully hard to put down. And the fact that it’s all at a friendly ABV makes it even better.
#544: Newcastle Werewolf – Caledonian Brewing Company, Edinburgh, Scotland
Pours with a towering, fluffy off-white head, sitting on top of a amber brown body. An aroma of caramel and brown sugar jumps out of the glass, not all that much unlike regular Newcastle, but with more of a burnt edge. On the palate, hot brown sugar and smoky burnt caramel come across, carried by a body that’s well-carbonated, but not powdery or overly crisp. Like all Newcastle beers, this has a bit of that metallic tang, but it’s much less pronounced here.
The Verdict: Not bad. Best of the Newcastle variants.
#543: Head Hunter IPA – Fat Head’s Brewery, North Olmstead, Ohio
Pours with a generous cap of off-white foam, eager to cling to the sides of the glass as it was swirled about. The color’s a near-transparent golden orange, a nice-looking beer indeed. Nothing but punchy hops on the nose; fleshy peaches, pineapple and clementines, and lots of them. The palate reveals a much more elegant affair. Hops are front and center, of course, but the malt is quick to join the party and level the playing field. Biscuit mostly, with a touch of sweet toffee, but nothing too sugary. Juicy orange and peach spaced in between. Finishes with a firm, but palatable bitterness, readying the palate for more.
The Verdict: Splendid. If you’re able to track it down, waste no time in doing so.