I tried this beer after grilling on the first relatively warm day in March in the DC area after a long Polar Vortex Winter. This is a surprising beer for a Barleywine. Of course, I would expect no less from Stone. Firstly, it poured with a large white head, which I might not have expected from a Barleywine. It had the bread, malty aroma I expected, but it was pleasantly mixed with a floral hops aroma. It was not as syrupy as some Barleywines I've tried in the past. In fact, I would say it was not truly sweet at all. It did have a malty flavor with some notes of yeast and alcohol, some bread and molasses as well. However, the distinct floral notes from the hops created a pleasantly refreshing and drinkable beer. You did not notice the strength of it at all. I would definitely have this one again. I give it four out of five proper pints.
Hardywood is a small brewery in Richmond, VA, a newly burgeoning craft beer center. I have never seen their beer other than at Virginia beer festivals before. However, I happened to see this one at Trader Joe's and jumped at the chance to try it. I like coffee, I like stout and I figured, how can I go wrong? Well, this one was decent, but a tiny bit disappointing. I was looking forward to the coffee flavor and found it was not as evident as I would have hoped. The beer was a good stout. It poured a dark brown with an off-white head. The aroma was of roasted malt and a teeny bit of coffee. The taste was slightly roasty with a little hint of chocolate and some coffee. It was medium bodied with a creamy feel to it. It was an "imperial" stout and had a 9.3% ABV, but hid the alcohol well. I would say the flavor was balanced and no one thing overpowered it. I was slightly disappointed because I was expecting a big coffee flavor. If I had not been, I probably would have thought this was better. I give it three out of five proper pints.
In prior years it seems I always missed this one, but read about how awesome it is. Bell's doesn't seem to make enough to keep up with the demand and it always sells out quickly wherever you can find it. I would definitely recommend grabbing it if you can. I happened to be in Fort Lauderdale fortuitously at a time when Tap42, my favorite local beer spot there, was introducing it on tap. I also managed to grab a six pack of it at Norm's Beer and Wine in Vienna, VA, thanks to following them on their Facebook page. Both places sold out quickly. Norm's sold out of their six packs within a couple of hours of receiving the shipment and the Manager at Tap42 told me they were 2/3 done with the keg they tapped within the first hour of tapping it. Anyway, on the beer itself. It pours a dark-ish gold color and has aromas of pine and a little citrus. The taste is very balanced considering Bell's really almost goes over the top with the hops. It is 10% ABV, meaning they've added a lot of malt to balance the hop bite. I would say they've done a great job. The beer is not heavy, but medium bodied with a refreshing piney, herby flavor. The hop bite is not too strong. If you were looking for a punishing hop bite, you might be disappointed. Also, considering the strength of the beer, it drinks easily. Of course, that means it is best enjoyed in moderation. Some people who a devotees of Great Divide Brewery in Denver might disagree with me, but I say this beer tastes a lot like their Fresh Hop Pale Ale or Hercules IPA. For me that's saying a lot because I really like Fresh Hop. This beer is really, really good and I wish it was more easy to get. I give it five out of five proper pints.
If you are really into hard to get beer, you've probably heard about the Firestone Walker 17th Anniversary Ale. If you're not a rare beer follower, you have no idea what I'm talking about. However, this is a really special beer. It happens to be Firestone Walker's 17th Anniversary. You also need to know that Firestone Walker is a brewery in California in the middle of the Central Coast wine country. A lot of what they do with their special beers takes advantage of the nearby wineries and winemaking expertise. What they did with this is one is to combine 7 of their beers (all high gravity specialty beers) into one and age it in oak barrels. The oak barrels came from Kentucky and were used to make bourbon, but each barrel is a little different and the results can be slightly different. The beers they used were "Bravo," an imperial brown ale already aged in bourbon and brandy barrels, "Stickee Monkey," an English barley wine already aged in bourbon and whiskey barrels, "Velvet Merkin," an oatmeal stout already aged in bourbon barrels, "Parabola," a Russian imperial stout already aged in bourbon barrels, "Double Double Barrel Ale," a pale ale aged in Firestone Union barrels, "Helldorado," a blonde barley wine aged in bourbon and brandy barrels, and finally "Wookey Jack," a black rye IPA. The average ABV of the bunch is probably around 11%, but in the combination they are in the final ABV is 13.3% because some of the higher gravity beers make up more of the mix. The beer pours a dark brown with almost no head. It has a big body to it and is almost thick. You might think such a beer would be sweet, but it's not, probably because of the addition of the IPA and pale ale that have the hops to cut against the sweetness. The most pronounced flavors are the bourbon along with caramel from the malt. The carbonation is low. The alcohol taste is noticeable. It almost doesn't taste like a beer, but more like a bourbon cocktail, maybe even a bourbon and coke, but not quite as sweet. It drinks very smoothly and pleasantly. I would say it is better to enjoy it slowly. The alcohol does catch up with you, but it also gives it a nice warming effect. I like this beer a lot, but it is hard to get and I found it for $22.99 for a 22 ounce bottle at Norm's Beer & Wine in Vienna, but I have heard of it costing around $30. If you see it, grab it. When I got it the whole case sold out within 10 minutes of being unloaded from the truck. I give it 5 out of 5 proper pints.
I met up with a couple of friends of World of Beer in Arlington for some midweek suds. I happened to see this one on the menu and remembered a lovely Italian craft beer I had in New York a few months ago that I haven't seen anywhere since called Baladin Birra Luricia Dieci. I really liked that one and read up a little on the Italian craft beer scene. It is surprising given the country's obsession with wine, but they really do have a burgeoning craft beer scene there and they are doing interesting things. This one was styled as a winter warmer and carried a hefty 9.5% ABV. It struck me like a dark strong Belgian or an British Old Ale. However, it doesn't neatly fit into either category. It pours a nice chestnut color. Not too much head. In fact, it is only lightly carbonated. It doesn't have the characteristic Belgian yeast aroma, but it does have some fruitiness to it. Not overwhelming. I would say some fig, raisins and cherry. There is also a little nuttiness to it. It has a medium body and drinks pretty easily. It is a very pleasant beer. I would give it four out of five proper pints.
Well this is like Christmas in a bottle. The Bruery has never failed to make a great beer, at least among those I've tried and this one is no exception. I wasn't sure what to expect because it is brewed with "Cape Gooseberries" and I have no idea what those are. Turns out I didn't have to. This was just plain good. It poured a dark brown with a small off white head. The aroma was of brown sugar, cinnamon and yeast with a little cranberry-ish tint that I suspect was the gooseberries. The flavor was of molasses, vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, cherry, caramel and a little plum. It was nicely balanced, though strong at 11.5% ABV. It does pack a punch that catches up with you after a little while, but this is a great tasting beer. It may have displaced Mad Elf by Troegs as my favorite Christmas beer. The only problem is The Bruery may not make it again. It is the sixth beer in a series that will culminate with 12 Drummers Drumming. I hope they will continue to make it in the future. I give it five out of five proper pints.
I thought I might continue my unplanned roundup of Belgian Christmas beers when I found a four pack of this at the Whole Foods in Clarendon. I had never tried this one before, but I was pleasantly surprised. One thing I will note is that while I've noticed in American craft beer, Christmas ales can be a lot of different things depending on what the brewer has decided to make of it, Belgian Christmas beers are often similar. They often are dark strong Belgian ales, not necessarily with any spices. However, while this one fundamentally falls into that category, it is slightly distinct. It has the familiar aroma and flavor of Belgian yeast and is strong, yet slightly fruity. The most distinguishing thing about it, though, is a distinct licorice flavor. There may also have been a light flavor of cinnamon and allspice. I like licorice, but it's not something I look for in beer. Still, it made for an interesting flavor. it was not overpowering, but it was clearly distinguishable. I liked this one, but I wouldn't say it was my favorite. I give it three out of five proper pints.