#515: Heady Topper – The Alchemist, Waterbury, Vermont
Blogging can be a wonderful thing for many reasons, among them being that you’re inadvertently connected with people you never knew existed. One such person follows this blog on Tumblr and goes by the name icanhasflynnzie. She and her boyfriend live in Burlington, VT. and they took a trip my hood of New York City this weekend. She kindly offered to bring some Heady Topper down with her and I happily accepted. It’s rare that I go out of my way to find some White Whale of the beer world, but if they happen to find me, I’m happy to try it. So thank you and your boyfriend so very much, because today’s review would not be possible without your kindness.
Now, the beer; Heady Topper. It’s one I’m quite familiar with from the standpoint of name recognition. It comes from a brewer called The Alchemist, a brewer which, to my understanding, does not ship out of Vermont. Heady Topper, a double IPA, has achieved near-mythical status as a must-have hop bomb. So immediately my curmudgeon alert goes off. A beer of limited availability, and it’s a Double IPA, a style I rarely vibe with. Is Heady Topper’s high status a product of its limited availability or is it just that good? Let’s see. Checks in at 8% ABV, and the label asks you to drink it from the can, so that’s what I did.
Can’t speak about the appearance here for obvious reasons, so let’s just move right onto the aroma and liquid, shall we? Well, any concerns about not being able to appreciate the full range of scents went out the window immediately as I hovered my nose above the can. It is packed to the brim and bursting at the seams with big, pungent notes of juicy oranges, lemon peel, ripe granny smith apples, dry pineapple and certainly a kick of mango, to go along with an array of scents that are all at once herbal and floral. A beautiful mess, really. But what of the taste? Is my throat in for the lashing I feared? Shockingly, this beer is unbelievably quaffable. It’s a raw hop trip of the highest order, but somehow it manages to work brilliantly. Wall-to-wall, I’m treated to intense, heavy flavors of varying descriptions. Everything I mentioned in the nose is present; the juicy, succulent oranges, the bitter lemon peel, the mango, etc., but it adds a rustic component as well. I describe it as grassy, lemongrass, something to that effect, with just a touch of malt sweetness in the center to keep some semblance of order. From front to back it’s oily, resiny, fruity and sweet with the levels all at maximum. So given all that, I’m shocked at how easy this one goes down. There’s certainly bitterness present, but it’s a relatively subtle bitterness, doing what it needs to do to wipe your palate clean, though it can’t finish the job entirely; hoppy flavors will linger on the throat long after. But overall, I’m baffled by how sinkable this is.
The Verdict: So then, The Alchemist’s Heady Topper gets it. I’ve learned that the finest Double IPAs manage to deliver an unparalleled hop journey without recklessly trampling the palate with excessive bitterness and disregard for crafting a beer. Heady Topper, to me, joins Founders’ Double Trouble and Russian River’s Pliny the Elder as the few that do this better than anyone else can.
#514: Walker’s Reserve Porter – Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, California
This beer was going to be part of my Easter dinner, but I got a little carried away with a bottle of Weihenstephaner Dunkel. So it’s been camped out in the ‘fridge ever since, waiting its turn. Today’s the day. Brewed with Premium Two-Row, Maris Otter, Crystal 77, Crystal 120, DH Carafa, Chocolate, Wheat, Oat, and hopped with American Goldings, East Kent Goldings and Cascade. Checks in at 5.8% ABV.
Pours with a frothy, dense, creamy cola head, capping a body that falls just short of full-on opaque with its dark, ruby brown hue. On the nose, a dusting of cocoa powder and a whiff of milk chocolate to go along with burnt bread crust and caramel. On the palate, the beer punches with gusto at first, but after it wears itself out it settles into something quite delicious. The first few sips are a little disjointed. A jab of potent roast here, some bitterness there, but once cohesion takes hold it all becomes clear. A potent hit of burnt bread crust and roasted malt up front, yielding a center that has a lot going on; bittersweet chocolate, heavy espresso, and caramel, with prickly hop bitterness tickling the roof of the mouth. An exquisite mouthfeel here, weighted and borderline heavy, layers of malty flavor quite evident, but not too daunting. Finishes with a firm, moreish hop bitterness.
The Verdict: A potent, highly flavorful and complex beer, all packed into what is a relatively low ABV. I especially appreciate that this tastes like what I would think a porter from a prominent West Coast brewer would taste like. Roasty, chocolatey and all that, but not without a firm statement from the hops.
#513: #9 – Magic Hat Brewing Company, South Burlington, Vermont
My last review was the delicious Heart of Darkness by way of Magic Hat, so I’m following that review up with this one as a way of showing that Magic Hat giveth and Magic Hat taketh away. Knowing that I call the Northeast my home, you might be surprised to learn that up until last Thursday I had never tried Magic Hat’s #9. Ever. The reason for this is that I’m pretty sure “Something Chris Would Hate” is written on it. I’ve managed to avoid it for this long, but time finally ran out. It checks in at 5.1% ABV, brewed with pale and crystal malts, and hopped with Apollo and Cascade. And apparently it’s brewed with apricots, or something like them.
Pours with an unsuspecting clear amber shade, a fluffy and quite sturdy bright white head parked on top. Gazing upon this one, it’s one of those beers that I’m sure is about to give my tongue an unwanted scrubbing. Fizzy enough to tickle the nostrils and provoke a sneeze or awkward giggling. On the nose, a very artificial array of scents in the form of orange Creamsicle and bootleg apricots. And then the scrubbing happened. This beer is so dense with carbonation it gives a powdery impression on the palate, and any discernible flavor is swept away under wave after wave of unmerciful bubbles. The flavors I do notice taste like a Jolly Rancher reduction. Unpleasant burping soon ensued.
The Verdict: The sad thing here is that this beer has some potential. If it could be given a sturdy base to stand on, it might at least be interesting and perhaps even enjoyable. But as it stands, it’s fizzy apricot water.
Another stout today. What can I say, I’ve been in the mood for them and my ‘fridge has been stocked with them via happenstance. I’ve got to drink them sooner or later, and they’re often the perfect companion after working a 10-hour shift and getting home at 3:00 AM. This one was kindly donated to me by Scotches. It’s brewed with brewed with Pale, Crystal, Roasted Barley, Chocolate, and Munich malts, and hopped with Apollo and Goldings. Checks in at 5.7% ABV.
Pours with a towering, massive, creamy mocha-colored head, capping an opaque, inky black body. On the nose, chocolate. Chocolate in every which way. Milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, it’s all there and accounted for. A bit one-dimensional on the nose, but hey, it’s hard for me to criticize a beer for smelling of chocolate. On the palate, I’d say the aroma’s promise is kept pretty well, as it’s indeed wall-to-wall chocolate, but the winner here is the mouthfeel. Creamy, rich, nourishing, it absolutely enrobes the tongue and provides the perfect pedestal for the rich chocolatey malt flavors. Bit of a caramelly butterscotch thing there, too. Finishes mostly sweet, with a fleeting bitterness.
The Verdict: The curmudgeon in me would say that this beer would benefit from more of burnt, roasted edge to take off a bit of that sweetness, but ah, whatever. This beer is an irresistible sweet treat. Get over it.
#511: 72 Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout – Breckenridge Brewery, Denver, Colorado
So today we’ve got an “Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout.” There’s a lot of information stuffed within those four words. I dug up the specs on this one and I wasn’t able to find any mentions of lactose or chocolate, so I’m not sure where the cream and chocolate are coming from exactly. Maybe they just called it a Chocolate Cream Stout because it sounds appetizing. It certainly got my attention. It’s brewed with Pale, Munich, Caramel, and Victory malts, and hopped with Fuggles. Checks in at 7.2% ABV.
Pours with a modestly sized, creamy head of tan foam, though it showed no interest in sticking around for a while. After a few minutes it was reduced to foamy remnants hugging the sides of the glass. The body appears dark brown on pouring, but once it was all settled out it was a shiny, opaque black shade. On the nose, a mixture of vanilla frosting and pungent dark chocolate, with some subtle roasted malt underneath. So I was expecting something relatively sweet on the palate, and that wasn’t exactly so. It turns out to be quite a challenging beer. Heavy, potent flavors of rich dark chocolate coat the palate up front, but once the center arrives things get a little muddled. There’s certainly a lot of body to the beer in terms of the feel. Heavy and weighted on the palate, but the rather high carbonation is a bit of a detriment as far as picking up flavors goes. It’s very bitter in a dark, grainy way, as if the bitterness is being provided by the generously roasted malt as opposed to anything hop-derived, and it finishes rather bitter as well. After a while my palate adjusted and I was able to notice a little more chocolate on the edges, but that wall-to-wall bitterness is ever present.
The Verdict: A bit of a bruiser of a beer. I did manage to enjoy it overall, but it isn’t exactly of the friendliest breed. It has grown-up, big kid flavors and textures. That’s a good thing, as it makes for an interesting, complex beer. Just don’t expect it to be giving out free hugs and kisses.
#510: Green Can – O’Connor Brewing Company, Norfolk, Virginia
A special thank you goes out to my uncle for giving me this one. He’s the one that tipped me off to the delicious and quenching Carolina Blonde, so he knows what’s up. This golden ale comes from Norfolk, VA’s O’Connor Brewing Company, which is a name new to me. Always exciting. It checks in at 5% ABV.
This one pours with a big, bright, fluffy white head, though it wasn’t too interested in sticking around for the party. Receded to a modest rim of foam after a few sips. The color’s a mixture of burnt orange and yellow, and the transparency allowed me to notice the gratuitous carbonation whipping throughout the body. On the nose, a mellow aroma of dough and toast, with a subtle citrusy character lying underneath. On the palate, I really do enjoy the flavors here. Mostly clean up front, but a surprising punch from the malt in the center, which fills things out nicely. Bready, doughy, biscuity, all of that, and with a nice subtle bitterness in the finish to mop it all up. What I don’t like is the gassy characteristic that the appearance tipped me off to. I had one too many burps throughout my consumption of this one.
The Verdict: A nicely flavored beer, but when looking for a quencher I would opt for a less gassy alternative. It weighs on the belly after a while.
#509: Heyday – Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, Colorado
Baseball is well underway. The NHL and NBA playoffs are moving right along. And the temperature is now sitting comfortably around 70 degrees here in the Northeast. Yes, I’d say it’s time for a witbier. This one is brewed with barley, oats and raw wheat, and checks in at 5.2% ABV.
A creamy, fluffy bright white head sitting on top of this one, and very eager to stick to the sides of the glass. An interesting look for the body; at times it had a yellow/green appearance, but at other times it resembled the purer pale gold that I’m accustomed to with witbiers. In any event, quite nice, with a touch of haze and steady streams of carbonation feeding the head. On the nose, I get a big punch of spice before anything else. I’d call it a smoky pepper type of note, and underneath that there’s some ripe citrus in the form of orange peel. So I was braced for something potent, but the beer goes somewhere else on the palate. Before mention of any flavors, I have to mention the mouthfeel, which is wonderfully creamy and rich. Ample carbonation keeps it from feeling heavy, and provides the perfect platform for a blend of spicy and fruity flavors. Ripe, tough-skinned gala apples, orange and bitter lemon peel join the party, leading to a finish that has a very grainy note in the form of cereal or baked bread.
The Verdict: For a beer that has a lot going on, it’s wonderfully approachable. Distinct, flavorful and quite unique, but not overdone in any way.
#508: Joe Mama’s Milk Stout – Keegan Ales, Kingston, New York
The first time I had this beer, I was in Portrait Recording Studios in Pompton Plains, NJ, working on a song. That’s right. My band made an obligatory stop at the liquor store, and it was the first time my eyes ever met this particular brew. I’d had the milk stout before, but never this one. And I’m a sucker for coffee beers. I loved it, but never gave it a proper review. Now’s the time. It’s brewed with brown sugar and, you guessed it, coffee. Checks in at 8% ABV.
Pours with a moderately sized, thick, creamy tan head, capping off an opaque black body. If my nose is any indication, they certainly didn’t forget the coffee. Huge, pungent notes of espresso and dark roasted coffee beans spring out of the glass, and in fact my kitchen smelled of coffee well after I finished the beer. Certainly some dark malty chocolate in there as well. On the palate, a lovely texture, maintaining a medium presence on the palate, but with a level of carbonation that appears to be just right; not too much, not too little. I get the coffee from front to back, that’s for sure. Bold notes of highly roasted coffee beans, along with dark, rich espresso, make up the bulk of the flavor, with some chocolatey notes and enough caramelly, burnt sweetness to balance it out. Just like a cup of coffee! How ’bout that. Strong finish, leaving a subtle chocolate aftertaste, and no sign of the weight brought forth by the 8% ABV.
The Verdict: Excellent. You know, if you’re going to make a beer with coffee added, go big or go home is what I say. That’s certainly the case here.
#507: Silver Anniversary Lager – Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, New York
Splurging on big bottles is not my game. No one in my family is much of a beer drinker, and I’m sure as hell not going to drink a massive bottle of beer by myself. So I allow myself only a few splurges a year and I hope the ones I choose are winners. You don’t see too many strong lagers ’round these parts, so this one seemed like an interesting bet. It’s brewed with German Two-row Pilsner, American Two-row Pilsner, Munich and Caramel malt, and hopped with Hallertauer Mittelfrueh, Saphir, Cascade and Willamette. Checks in at 8.6% ABV.
Pours with a towering, foamy off-white head, sitting atop a mostly clear body of coppery amber. Before my nose even made it to the glass I was getting whiffs of grapefruit, but that’s not all. There’s also a dried fruit component there, more along the lines of apricots or golden raisins, and certainly some malty hints underneath. On the palate, quite hoppy up front, with a prickly feel on the medium body, and plenty of citric, slightly tart fruit flavors coming along; grapefruit, apricot, and a more flowery/herbal hop note buried underneath. That all gets washed away in the middle by the big, punchy caramel malt flavor. Burnt bread crust aplenty. Finishes surprisingly clean, with a faint cleansing hop bitterness and a warming alcoholic effect.
The Verdict: Quite nice indeed. This beer masks its ABV like a pro, but not to the extent that it doesn’t deliver flavors worthy of its weight. Big flavors on the hoppy and malty end of the spectrum, but balanced appropriately, and surprisingly clean.
#506: Commodore Perry – Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland, Ohio
I lived in Ohio for three years. Three glorious years, I should say. Each of Ohio’s three major cities (Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland) has a unique brewing identity, and they all have outstanding beer to offer. But the brewery that really enhanced my understanding of good beer was Great Lakes. Edmund Fitzgerald, Eliot Ness and Dortmunder Gold were always parked in my ‘fridge, ready at all times. But when I moved back to New Jersey, that luxury was taken away from me, sadly. That is, until this past month, when Great Lakes (finally) began shipping to central New Jersey. Life is sweet once more, my friends. So let’s take a look at the only year-round beer of theirs I’ve not yet reviewed, Commodore Perry, an IPA brewed with Harrington Two-Row malt and Caramel 30, and hopped with Simcoe, Willamette and Cascade. Checks in at 7.5% ABV.
Pours with a coppery gold color, with just a touch of subtle haze dispersed throughout the body, camped below a fluffy bright white head. On the nose, a great deal of pine, accompanied by those grapefruity/lemony American hops and a hint of biscuity malt. Pungent, but not intimidating. On the palate, I’m absolutely won over by this beer’s wonderful balance. Any American good beer admirer wouldn’t need me to tell them that these beers can trend towards the extreme. This, though, has a lovely transition. Prickly and biting up front, with lemony citric touches, yielding a center that’s filled with toasty, biscuity, juicy malt flavor, aided by the light carbonation. On the medium body, it’s substantial and punchy, and adds a great deal of balance. On the back end, though, the hops re-assert themselves, leaving a long, moreish hoppy bitterness on the throat.
The Verdict: Just a terrific beer, really. It avoids the common American IPA pitfalls of turning itself into bitter water or something, opting instead for a balanced, substantial beer that carries its weight and packs a malty punch, while providing a platform for the lovely hop flavor. Great stuff.