What I’m Drinking: Rodenbach Grand Cru

Rodenbach Grand Cru

Rodenbach Grand Cru

While I admittedly don’t drink nearly as many Belgian beers as the American crafts that clog my fridge and cellar, they’ll always maintain a special place in my heart after having spent a semester abroad in the capital city of Brussels.  Usually in the fall months, however, there’s nothing like the bold flavors and trademark yeast profile of a traditional dubbel or tripel to bring me back to the days where I’d meet friends for a beer and a croque madame at the cafe between classes or roam the streets (legally) with a beer in hand at night.  Among the many memories that come to mind is my first Rodenbach Grand Cru.  After staying on campus after classes had finished to work on a group assignment, my buddy Brendan and I decided to grab a beer and a bite to eat at the campus cafe, Time Square.  Typically, we’d meet up there to grab a draft pour and a sandwich before our Wednesday afternoon class, so seeing as we were fortunate enough to find ourselves with an extra encounter at the quaint cafe, we opted to go rogue.

Five years later, as I sat at the bar at the Belgian Beer Cafe in NoMad for my friend Ian’s birthday, I scoured the bottle list while sipping a Leffe Brune.  Seeing Rodenbach Grand Cru brought immediate nostalgia and before I knew it, the bartender had unfastened the cage, popped the cork, and divided the bottle evenly among three proper Rodenbach glasses.  The contents were just as I remembered, a crimson-mahogany with a thin layer of white head.  The aroma was full of tart cherries, sour raspberries, oak, and some residual fruity sweetness.  The mouth was lively and crisp, evincing notes of sour cherries, tannins, rich caramel, some sour funk, and the influence of wooden barrels.  A pristine beer full of complex flavors which blend perfectly to create a legendary experience.

Rodenbach Grand Cru is a true classic.  With some serious sour tartness and plenty of cherry and raspberry sweetness to balance it out, this is a beer that can appeal to the beginner and experienced beer drinker alike.  Not too funky, not too fruity, I realized how much I’ve missed this beer.  If there’s a beer that brings great nostalgia to your palate, I’d love to hear about it.  Be sure to leave your comments in the space below.

Overall Rating: 9.8/10

Cheers.

What I’m Drinking: Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing’s Morro Castle

Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing - Morro Castle

Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing – Morro Castle

Smoked porters are timeless.  When done right, they’re as easily enjoyable in the harsh winter chill as they are in the embrace of a breezy summer night.  One of my absolute favorite flavor profiles has to be the combination of milky sweetness mixed with that savory saltiness you get from a crispy piece of thick cut bacon, a distinction I found in my recent encounter with Forgotten Boardwalk’s Morro Castle.  The story behind Morro Castle is derived from the luxury liner of the same name whose 137 passengers tragically met their end once they ship succumbed to a fiery fate.  Going forward with this tale in mind, Forgotten Boardwalk clearly set out to craft a beer as dark and smoky as the demise of the ship that inspired it.

Poured from a can into a 13oz Belgian tulip, Morro Castle was black with a 1/4 inch of tan head lining the top of the glass.  From the glass I picked up notes of bitter chocolate, coal, tobacco, and fire.  The mouthfeel was rich but still pretty light considering it is only 5.7% ABV.  Within that first sip I found an enormous profile of cocoa nibs, tobacco, leather, smoke, and a pleasant dark coffee roast.  The smoke flavors are all pretty glaring, making this a rather savory beer balanced out by some of the bittersweet roast and creamy chocolate notes that make this porter wholesome without being too overbearing.

Smoke, fire, and the salty, shallow depths of the Jersey shore are all embodied in this smoked porter.  Given the fact that you can get this beer in a six pack of 12oz cans, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be on everyone’s fall drinking list if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself within Forgotten Boardwalk’s distribution range.

Overall Rating: 9.2/10

Cheers.

Homebrewing: Collaboration Series with The Brewed Abides

Looking at the calendar, it pains me to think that it’s been a year since I brewed my last homebrew.  In August of last year, I tried my luck with a new IPA recipe I had thought up.  After finding it carried a good balance with the hops used, I pushed onward, experimenting with a batch bottled with cranberry juice and yet another brewed with Carafa III for color and roast.  In the blink of an eye, I’ve graduated law school, sat for the bar, and begun to immerse myself once again into society via a full time job.  Intending on getting back to my brewing roots, I owe it to my good buddy Jon from Big Alice Brewing, better known as @TheBrewedAbides, for finally helping me get back in the swing of things.  After he proposed the idea of collaborating on some new brews, we’ve got some ambitious ideas, a new mash tun, and a couple of fresh beers under our belts already to boot.

John Water-Mellencamp

John Water-Mellencamp

John Water-Mellencamp
The most challenging part about brewing on a new system is the fact that you’re brewing on a new system.  Jon and I invested in a new 10 gallon cooler mash tun, rigging together a three tier system complete with a cooler up top for sparging, our mash tun in the middle, and our stockpot boil kettle nestled atop a banjo burner at the lowest point.  Coming up with a simple Kölsch recipe with the intentions of blending our beer with fresh watermelon juice in the primary, we took a guess on efficiency and let it rip.  Ultimately, our numbers miraculously ended about where we wanted and the final product passed muster; it had a great pink color, had a significant watermelon flavor, and was still light and crisp true to Kölsch style.  Still, John Water-Mellencamp was slightly under-carbonated and exhibited noticeable esters in the back, which Jon attributed as a byproduct of forgetting to vorlauf after mashing.  Growing pains.  This was my first stab at a Kölsch and Jon and I were generally happy with the final result.  As the days get shorter, the likelihood that we’ll rebrew JWM this year gets fainter.  Still, we’re both eager to try our hand at it again next spring.

Straight Up Rainbows I

Straight Up Rainbows I

Straight Up Rainbows I
When we sat down to spitball homebrew ideas with each other, the late summer heat was pummeling the east coast.  Fastforward a short month and a half and it seems as though we’ve skipped fall altogether.  Jon and I were hoping to sneak in a couple of easy-drinking summer session beers before the mercury dropped, but by the time these two beers were bottled, they were seemingly already out of season.  Then again, when it comes to bright sessionable IPAs that might not be possible.  Going into this brew day, I was much more excited to see how JWM came out, but it was Straight Up Rainbows which stole the show from this inaugural collab brewing session.  Incorporating a laundry list of hops Jon had accumulated over time, including El Dorado, Galaxy, Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, Calypso, and Huell Melon, SUR was bursting with juicy tropical fruit notes.  We kept the grain bill rather simple, finishing at 4.6% ABV, making for the ideal beer to base future IPA recipes off of.  Expect a sequel in the very near future, featuring some minor tweaks and a new cast of hops.

With a couple of beers already in the books and some new creations on the docket, I look forward to the exciting new prospects to come.  In the meantime, if you’ve tried your hand at any interesting beers or if there’s something you’re looking forward to brewing, comments are always encouraged in the section below.

Cheers.

What I’m Drinking: A Tart Trilogy from Paradox Beer Company

Paradox Beer Company

Tart trilogy

When I first undertook the venture to compile my notes and impressions on craft beers into posts and pictures, my ambitions were largely untamed.  I was already drinking the beers, recording my thoughts, and chatting with anyone who was willing to listen, so sharing my experiences just seemed to follow logically.  Over the past year and a half, I’ve come across so many incredible beers and breweries that have both sculpted my knowledge of beer and my appreciation for the brewers behind them.  This is exactly why I’m so eager to get out there and explore.  But, sometimes, when you’re fortunate enough, great beer finds you.

Several months back, I received an email from Heather from Paradox Beer Company.  Admittedly, I had to scratch my head at first as Paradox was a new one to me.  Fresh off a trip to Colorado at the time, Paradox had unfortunately slipped through the cracks like too many other unsung brewing heroes from the Centennial State.  A quick internet search and it was apparent I had missed out on a true maverick.  Whereas the barrel aging trend has begun to set the benchmark for special release beers across the continent, Paradox makes every release special.  That’s because all of Paradox’s beers are barrel aged and bottled conditioned, ensuring complexity, maturity, and diversity of flavor profiles.  With an arsenal full of both newly advanced and historical brewing techniques, including a proprietary strain of Brettanomyces, Paradox ferments its beers in their subterranean cellar anywhere from four months to several years.  Paradox’s marriage of controlled and spontaneous fermentation lends itself to a collection of beers amongst which I challenge you to find mediocrity.  Yet, as I learned a long time ago, it’s always best to let the beers do the talking, so I let my buddy Jon (The Brewed Abides) know I needed some help interviewing these beers.  Three bottles from Paradox.  Three uniquely formulated beers.  Three eternally enduring encounters.

Skully Barrel No 23

Skully Barrel No 23

Skully Barrel No. 23
The first bottle up was Skully Barrel No. 23, which the brewers pin as a “Sour Grapefruit Brûlée.”  No. 23 is a sour ale brewed with grapefruit and citrus peel before being aged in oak wine barrels.  While I happened to read this on the bottle, the aroma reiterated every bit of that from the instant it was poured into my Belgian tulip glass.  No. 23 had a radiating amber body with a balding white ring of head.  I found it to be pretty viscous as I swirled it around my glass, unable to find an residual lacing.  Though mostly clear, I spotted a bit of haze most likely attributable to my heavy handed pour which dumped in some yeast.  The aroma was a stale, pungent sour funk emanating the likes of tart grapefruit and juicy citrus.  Towards the end were some discernable biscuity grain and oak.  Within the glass I found an addictingly drinkable and refreshing beer.  Bitter grapefruit juice and lemon zest predominated amongst a thin, puckeringly tart beer.  The finish harkens to white wine, acrid and oaky with more grapefruit juice.  Like many, I’ve been finding myself exceedingly interested in barrel aged sours, and this one is on point.  Lots of juice and impressions from the barrel on top of just enough turbulent tartness, Skully Barrel No. 23 was a delight for my first Paradox experience.
Overall Rating: 9.8/10

Paradox Beer Company - Maduro Robusto

Maduro Robusto

Maduro Robusto
When I first received these three bottles, as I scrutinized their labels, one intriguing characteristic I noticed was Paradox’s inclusion of their own thorough tasting notes as well as pairing recommendations.  While this isn’t an attention to detail unique to Paradox’s beers, it was their suggestions which intrigued me the most.  Skully Barrel No. 23 recommended pairing it with the likes of “Maple Bacon, French Toast, Green Chili Hashbrowns, Eggs Over-Easy, and Honey Ham” in addition to some fresh cheeses.   On the other hand, Maduro Robusto succinctly stated that it paired well with “Your favorite cigar!”  They were spot on.  Poured into a Belgian tulip glass, Maduro Robusto was a gloomy crimson-brown with a touch of offwhite head up top.  Giving a quick whirl to activate some of the aroma, Maduro Robusto fit neatly within Paradox’s “Smoked Wild and Sour Dark Ale Aged in Scotch Barrels” monicker.  Jon and I were faced with a real challenge pinpointing all of the elements contained in the nose.  Jon so keenly pointed out leather before we started tossing out everything that came to mind: nail polish remover, charcoal, habanero peppers, horseblanket, and cilantro to name a few.  It was like nothing we had ever experienced before, and we both agreed that the taste was just the same.  Up front were those same dry, roasty notes of leather, charcoal, and tobacco likely drawn from the roasted malts and scotch barrel aging.  Behind that, Maduro Robusto yielded some habanero spice and bitter grapefruit before closing out with a residual sweetness.  The finish was full of tart cherries and figs as the scotch really set in.  When I say that this beer encompassed so many different flavor profiles, I fail to truly express how unique it was.  I knew that we were in for something special, yet I still managed to underestimate how much I’d love this beer.  A perfect pairing for a cigar, but too unique to risk dulling the flavor.
Overall Rating: 10/10

In the Spirit of Skully Barrel No 2

In the Spirit of Skully Barrel No 2

In The Spirit Of Skully Barrel No. 2
On the heels of Maduro Robusto, my palate was both taxed and longing for something to finish up the session.  Jon and I had chatted briefly about the order in which we would enjoy these beers, and after tussling between whether this should go second or third, he correctly recommended closing with In the Spirit of Skully Barrel No. 2.  Served from the bottle into a Belgian tulip glass, No. 2, a bourbon barrel aged sour ale, exhibited a crimson-mahogany body without any head.  I picked up a great degree of buttery malt, bourbon and vanilla before noticing the abundance of stone fruit, honey, and flora.  I was too hung up on the bourbon barrel part to prepare myself for the brighter flavors contained within.  As it turned out, No. 2 was far fruitier than I had anticipated, displaying a lot of stone fruit and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.  It had that puckering quality to it despite the abundant influence of the bourbon barrel aging.  To that effect, it was heavy on the bourbon spice, vanilla, and honey.  No. 2 finished sweet and malty with lingering impressions of the barrel.  I’ve had a lot of great bourbon barrel aged sours of late and I’d say this one can stand its own in terms of balance and complexity.
Overall Rating: 9.6/10

Being so partial to sours and bourbon barrel beers in general these days, there are a lot of key elements I find myself enjoying and seeking out as I try new ones.  Since every strain of yeast is different, each exhibiting their own personal intricacies and personalities, trying beers brewed with wild strains of yeast is always a learning experience.  Here, Jon and I were met with three completely different examples of how versatile sour ales can be depending on their context.  For a style of beer that’s been around for centuries, it will be interesting to see the impact that recent innovations in brewing and technology will have on their legacy.

Cheers.

What I’m Drinking: Other Half Brewing Company’s All Green Everything and Hop Showers

Brick haul

Double feature

As recently mentioned in my “2015 Summer Canned IPA Guide,” Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Company is killing it in the can game right now.  Their recent run of can releases every other Saturday has drawn in hoards of IPA fiends, some lining up for hours before doors even open.  With the well-deserved hype and increasing demand, especially across internet trade forums, the guys from Other Half find themselves in a very respected yet precarious situation.  How do you respond when the pressure and scrutiny are constantly on you to meet the demand of hordes of critical craft consumers?  Simple: by continuing to do your thing and giving the people what they want.

With that, we turn to their most recent release (as of this writing) of All Green Everything and Hop Showers.  Strategically released on the Thursday preceding Memorial Day Weekend, customers were entitled to purchase two four-packs ($20 each) of All Green Everything and four four-packs ($16 each) of Hop Showers.  For a Thursday, the showing was impressive.  Doors opened at 5PM and I arrived around 5:15PM to find what I misjudged as a rather modest line.  After waiting for nearly three-quarters of an hour, I finally made it inside where I found a packed tasting room.  Over the next ten minutes, I snaked my way through, meeting up with a few friends in the process, and successfully maxed out my order while making an impromptu purchase of their handsome Green Diamonds glass.  The tap menu in the tasting room was stacked with a variety of treasures like their Brett Saison, Superfun!, and In Absentia Luci (Red Wine Barrel Aged), making it easy for those in attendance to forget their purpose that afternoon.

Other Half Brewing Company - All Green Everything

Other Half Brewing Company – All Green Everything

All Green Everything
Already having acquainted both beers in the past on tap, I was excited to see how these new batches held up in cans.  All Green Everything is notorious amongst New York’s craft drinking faithful.  A titan triple IPA that ranks in at 10.5% ABV, All Green Everything was poured from the can into a tumbler provided by my DC hotel during Memorial Day Weekend.  It exhibited a rich amber hue with a thin ring of white head.  The body was clear, making all of its effervescence easily perceivable.  The nose was bold and boozy, dominated by a potent blend of fresh citrus and tropical fruit notes.  The malt appeared pretty clean without any signs of detracting from the hop profile.  As expected, All Green Everything drinks pretty big.  The 10.5% ABV isn’t exactly hidden despite the conspicuous bouquet of hop flavors.  That being said, my palate was met with the likes of mango, pineapple, and lemon.  The finish isn’t overly bitter, tending to remain more on the juicy side before leaving a dry aftertaste.  The lingering effect is most notably the warming alcohol sensation.  You can’t say you weren’t warned as this is a “triple IPA,” so heed their warning and enjoy this brew responsibly.  Or don’t and live on the edge, who am I to tell you how to live.
Overall Rating: 9.4/10

Other Half Brewing Company - Hop Showers

Other Half Brewing Company – Hop Showers

Hop Showers
On the heels of Other Half’s single hopped IPAs (by which I refer to their Nelson IPA, Citra IPA, and Mosaic IPA – all of which are reviewed here), I was most excited at the prospect of having my fridge stocked with another crushable canned IPA.  Namely, Hop Showers.  A modest-by-comparison 7.4% ABV, Hop Showers was enjoyed out of my newly-acquired Green Diamonds glass.  It had a cloudy, deep amber body topped off by white head.  A vigorous swirl left a layer of lacing along the inner wall of the glass.  The aroma was full of melon, peach, and dried apricot which culminated in a candy sweetness most akin to gummy peach rings.  Beyond that were juicy and floral hop notes.  The taste was extremely well balanced.  Hop Showers was a little heartier than their single hopped IPAs, hallmarked by a thicker malt and a denser sweetness.  Whereas Other Half’s single hopped IPAs were clean and crisp, this is a bit creamier and more rounded.  The hop profile was hallmarked by grapefruit, mango, and apricot juice in addition to plenty of floral notes.  An enjoyable experience throughout, this is another versatile go-to IPA from the Other Half guys.
Overall Rating: 9.2/10

Other Half’s ability to churn out a lengthy rap sheet of stellar IPAs is what makes them so appealing.  The fact that they can so finely tailor them to not overlap in terms of experience, especially the single hopped IPAs, is what both fuels and satiates the demand for their beers.  You don’t need me to tell you to be on the lookout for future releases, as their beers do a swell enough job in that task themselves.

Cheers.

What I’m Drinking: Westbrook Brewing Company’s Gozu

Westbrook Brewing Company - Gozu

Westbrook Brewing Company – Gozu

Over the past several years, Westbrook Brewing Company’s Gose has solidified itself as a staple summer beer in my fridge.  It’s light, it’s refreshing, it’s full on flavor, and it comes in a can (you can read my review of it here).  For me, Westbrook’s Gose provides an easily crushable alternative to a market that has become overwhelmingly saturated by the Session IPA trend.  While the American craft movement was  seemingly built on beers containing juicy, in-your-face hoppy profiles, it’s humbling to see the trend in summer beer fare turning towards the light and crisp German beers of yesteryear like Gose, Berliner Weisse, and Kölsch.  So could American craft brewers possibly enhance one of these tried-and-true classics?  The answer is by juicing it up.

Westbrook, already having perfected its Gose, took on the task by incorporating the bright, citrusy flavors of yuzu.  Yuzu is a small, yellow citrus fruit originating in Eastern Asia.  Its properties fall somewhere between a grapefruit and a mandarin orange.  It’s juicy and sour, typically reserved for garnishes and zesting much like its cousin, the lemon.  It also has the unique quality of taking beers to the next level, like Evil Twin Brewing’s Femme Fatale Yuzu Pale (which I reviewed here).  Needless to say, when I caught wind that Astoria Bier and Cheese had this amalgamation of session and sour, I was sold.

Packed into a pretty hazy and translucent body was a beer bursting with aromas of fruit and wheat.  The nose was clean and tart, hinting at some slight sourness and loads of citrus juice.  The taste was summer in a glass; the yuzu was incredibly bright and lively.  Gozu’s mouthfeel was effervescent and complimented with a clean, tart finish.  It’s best described as a Gose on steroids.  All the flavors were cleaner, stronger, and more distinct.  Outside of the lemony tartness were some grapefruit, melon, salt, and a bit of sour funk.

At 4.0% ABV, I could drink these all day.  In fact, I probably would have gone for a few more had this not been the same visit in which Astoria Bier and Cheese dusted off its keg of Mexican Cake (which I reviewed here).  If you haven’t had Westbrook’s Gose, then I’d suggest grabbing a six pack though and starting there.  The Gose is timeless and the ultimate summer session beer.  Then again, if you’re fortunate enough to find a bottle or pour of Gozu, just go straight in for the kill.  Packed with juicy citrus, wheat, and sourness, yuzu’ll be glad you did.

Overall Rating: 9.6/10

Cheers

What I’m Drinking: Westbrook Brewing Company’s Mexican Cake

Westbrook Brewing Company - Mexican Cake

Westbrook Brewing Company – Mexican Cake

Like all great alcohol-infused holidays celebrating hyperbolic portrayals of cultural caricatures, craft brewing’s ascension to the heights of Cinco De Mayo lore was inevitable.  With the freedom to brew beers actually inspired by the cuisine and culture of the nation from whence this day of celebration originated, it makes complete sense for observers (who are most likely now people who don’t so much as know what the holiday means as they do what “Cinco De Mayo” means) to scoff at the sight of a tasteless, mass produced American adjunct lager brewed in Mexico (?) that derives its only true distinction from the addition of a green lemon and reach for something that, while not made in Mexico, has the opportunity to represent something more symbolic and taste even better.  I know I’m not alone because this past 5th of May, Astoria Bier and Cheese (Broadway) reached into their sombreros and performed a real magic trick: Westbrook Brewing Company’s Mexican Cake.

Mexican Cake is a style that is rather frequently referred to as a “Mexican Chocolate Stout.”  A big advocate of the rich roast and peppery heat dichotomy in food and in beer, I wrote a post about my impressions of the style in which I reviewed Copper Kettle Brewing Company’s Mexican Chocolate Stout and Chris Banker / Stone / Insurgente’s Xocoveza Mocha Stout (which can be found here).  Having reviewed these two in addition to the likes of other great interpretations of the style, including Cigar City Brewing’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout (read my review here), Prairie Artisan Ales’ Prairie Bomb!, and Prairie’s collaboration with Evil Twin Brewing, Bible Belt (read my review of both here), Mexican Cake had become one of the beers I had sought the most (as well as Perennial Artisan Ales’ Abraxas, another take on the style).

An 8oz pour served in what is most accurately described as a half-pint glass, Mexican Cake was a deep, dense crimson that appeared purely black.  Filled to the brim of the glass, there was absolutely no head, just a heavy looking stout.  From the glass I discovered a distinct aroma filled with smoke, cinnamon, dark fruity sweetness, some alcohol, and the suggestion of heat.  My general impression of previous iterations in this style is that the heat is not as potent in the taste as it is in the nose; needless to say, I was pleased to find that this was not the case with Mexican Cake.  Up front I was met with hearty cinnamon, vanilla, and cocoa.  The mouthfeel was decadent and full of this rich medley of flavors before finishing with a bitter sweetness and a habanero burn.  The residual heat lingers at the end for a moment before fleeting, yet it’s still substantial enough to appease that masochistic need for burning spice.

For a beer that has garnered a considerable amount of hype, I’d say that it did not disappoint.  I’m not quite sure what I was looking for beyond the notes I found in Mexican Cake, but this beer comes exactly as advertised: cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa nibs, and habanero peppers.  At the moment, I’d say my favorite of the style has to be Prairie’s Bomb!, but if you’re drinking either that, Mexican Cake, Cigar City’s Hunahpu, or Perennial’s Abraxas, you’re guaranteed to be in for a real fiesta.

Overall Rating: 9.7/10

Cheers.

What I’m Drinking: Learning from the Young Master

Young Master Ales

Young Master Ales

Hong Kong draws in visitors for a variety of reasons: its rich business culture, its western-friendly demeanor, its lax visa requirements (in comparison to mainland China), and its dim sum.  While I was there for many of the reasons above, all came second to my motivation to try its beer, in particular, Young Master Ales.  I finally had the honor of meeting Young Master’s founder, Rohit Dugar, in October of 2014 (read about our rendezvous here), and I was sure to let him know when I would be in town.  Unfortunately unable to meet up, my girlfriend and I were at least able to set aside some time to drop in on his brewery and experience his beer from its birthplace (you can read about my experience at the brewery here).  It was my first true immersion into Hong Kong’s domestic craft beer scene (outside of an Island 1842 Imperial IPA I had at TAP: The Ale Project, another craft-focused venture from Rohit).  Here were my impressions:

In the Mood for Spring from Young Master Ales

In the Mood for Spring

In the Mood for Spring
First up was In the Mood for Spring, a delicate and floral saison which encapsulates the delicacy and chilling refreshment of the birth of spring.  Largely devoid of the rustic esters found in classic saisons, In the Mood for Spring showcased the versatility of the jasmine, osmanthus, and chrysanthemum leaves it’s brewed with – a nod to traditional Chinese tea varieties.  The thin body and clean, floral aftertaste posed a refreshing and sophisticated blend.  I’ve had green tea IPA’s, but the message in those is really lost amongst the grit of the hops; here, the floral notes were front and center, allowing a much more vivid and enjoyable experience.  This beer really resonated with my girlfriend, Kerry, who’s a chronic tea drinker.
Overall Rating: 9.0/10

The Young Master Classic from Young Master Ales

The Young Master Classic

The Young Master Classic
Rohit doesn’t like the idea of a flagship beer, a sentiment which I share.  On one hand, brand recognition is key to a successful business, but if you’re good at what you do, why bother getting yourself tied down to a single beer for your breweries entire existence?  That being said, don’t call The Young Master Classic a flagship beer despite its name and that it’s one of the few perennially brewed Young Master options.  The appearance of this beer alone justified the name; it exhibited a flawlessly clear, golden-amber body and a pure white head.  It was the epitome of what beer looks like.  The aroma was full of rounded malt, citrus tea, and the suggestion of refreshment.  The Classic drank like your standard, well-executed pale ale.  I found plenty of lemon citrus, grass, and pine which coupled perfectly with the malt presence.  Your standard pale ale made brewed with Galaxy and Citra hops, this beer is the common ground between beer enthusiasts and the casual drinker.
Overall Rating: 8.8/10

Fussy Peachkin Man

Fussy Peachkin Man

Fussy Peachkin Man
The infamous Budweiser “Brewed The Hard Way” commercial from this year’s Super Bowl left a lot of craft brewers outraged.  The commercial, which mocked the craft beer community’s tendency to “fuss” over their beer and claimed that Budweiser brewed their beer “the hard way,” achieved their goal of creating a stir, but initial reactions of frustration turned into motivation.  This marked the birth of the “pumpkin peach ale” movement (though AB InBev’s most recent acquisition, Elysian Brewing Company, brewed such a beer – Gourdgia On My Mind – when they were acquired so the ad was rather hypocritical).  Young Master’s incarnation of the style, Fussy Peachkin Man, incorporated a little Hong Kong influence through the use of a local Chinese 5 spice medley.  The result was a deep orange amber body that was clear towards the bottom.  One surprising detail our tasting guide, Hong, pointed out to us was that none of Young Master’s beers are filtered despite the flawless clarity in most of them.  The aroma delivered on point with a blend of pumpkin and corresponding spices like cinnamon on top of peach and stone fruit.  In the actual flavor, the pumpkin was apparent though hardly the focal point.  The onus was on the peach and fruit flavors as well as the cinnamon.  More peach cobbler than pumpkin pie which is what made this so much more enjoyable than your regular pumpkin beer.
Overall Rating: 8.9/10

Ashes of Time

Ashes of Time

Ashes of Time
As we were sitting at the table in the tasting room, I couldn’t help but notice (and subsequently sniff) the giant American oak spiral laid across the table.  I took in a deep breath full of that pure oaky sweetness and dryness as Hong placed the next beer on our tasting tour, Ashes of Time.  Ashes of Time is a smoked ale aged on the same American oak spirals.  The body was a clear, deep mahogany color with a layer of off-white head on top.  I got a little bit of metal on the nose before hearty spice and smoke.  What followed is most easily identified as a BBQ beer.  Not just some canned macro Pilsner you hold in a koozy in one hand while flipping burgers with the other; this was an ale whose properties harkened mental images of salty, thick-cut double smoked bacon.  Ashes of Time was as savory as they come, full of smoked wheat up front before finishing off sweet and oaky.  The residual taste was a sweet and salty mix.  Needless to say, this one was an immediate winner for me.  Quite fond of salty smoked meats as well as salty and sweet flavor pairings, I was hooked on this one.  So much so that when we went out for dinner that evening to The Roundhouse, I made sure I got myself a full pour of Ashes of Time to compliment the brisket I ordered.  I know they’re around, but this world needs more savory beers like Ashes of Time.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10

1842 Island

1842 Island

1842 Island
The end of our tasting was bittersweet, both in the sense that we had run out of new beers to try and the final beer was Young Master’s double IPA, 1842 Island.  Having the opportunity to have one several days before, I already knew going into this final act what I was in for.  1842 Island is an 8.0% ABV double IPA hallmarked by the properties of Galaxy, Citra, Amarillo, Cascade, and Zeus hops.  The color was a hearty amber with an off-white head, rather similar to Ashes of Time.  As might be expected, the nose on this one exploded with suggestions of dank, resinous hops as well as a medley of pine and floral aromas.  The mouthfeel was substantive as bitter black tea, passionfruit, citrus, and pine invaded my palate just like the British invaded Hong Kong in 1842.  1842 Island is a cool and refreshing pick-me-up with a bit of teeth for those humid Hong Kong days.
Overall Rating: 9.2/10

My trip to Hong Kong was both enjoyable and inspiring.  Having bought into the craft beer movement well into its genesis, it was amazing to immerse myself into a much more basic market.  Hong Kong’s beer scene is both promising and quickly evolving.  Already, visitors can find a multitude of craft-centric bars and restaurants which boast menus full of American and European offerings.  Slowly but surely, Hong Kong’s own domestic brewers are taking back menu space and no one is doing it better than Young Master Ales.  You owe it to yourself to get over to Hong Kong to take in the culture, the food, and the beer.

Cheers.

What’s Brewing at Young Master Ales

Pictured: Island 1842 from Young Master Ales (front) and Sevens Stout from Hong Kong Beer Company (rear)

Island 1842 from Young Master Ales (front) and Sevens Stout from Hong Kong Beer Company (rear)

Exactly a year ago, my girlfriend, Kerry, forwarded me an article from the Wall Street Journal about the budding beer culture being cultivated in Hong Kong.  I read about the efforts of breweries like Hong Kong Beer Company, New Empire Brewery, and Nine Dragons Brewery, as well as game-changing local beer bars like The Roundhouse and The Globe.  I also read about a man named Rohit Dugar.  At the center of Hong Kong’s gastro-gentrification is Rohit, the man singlehandedly changing the way the former British territory thinks about beer.  Over the past year, Rohit’s brewery, Young Master Ales, has greatly expanded Hong Kong’s local beer options, incorporating traditionally inspired flavors and spices into the unique and fresh creations one might expect from any American craft brewer.

FVs in HK

FVs in HK

I had the distinct honor of meeting up with Rohit for a few beers at Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn this past October (which I encourage you to read about here first).  I learned about Rohit’s personal background, found out how he gains inspiration for his beers, discovered the challenges of owning a brewery in Hong Kong, and gained an inside perspective on the future of Hong Kong’s neophyte beer culture.  So when I learned that Kerry and I would be taking the trip over to Hong Kong in March of 2015, I quickly focused my attention on making it over to Young Master to pay homage.

TAP: The Ale Project

TAP: The Ale Project

Our trip to Hong Kong was made possible by participation in a law school arbitration competition.  No doubt one of the nerdier things I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of, I fortunately found myself with some extra time on my hands to explore the landscape and soak up some local suds.  The first night we arrived, struggling to persevere through the jet lag and yearning for a local brew, Kerry and I made it over to TAP: The Ale Project, a recently established gastropub offering a range of local and imported craft beers alike.  TAP, another venture by Rohit to ignite the passion for local crafts into the livers of Hong Kong’s beer enthusiasts, offers virtually the entire current Young Master lineup as well as selections from other HK brewers.  It was here that I finally had my first foray with Young Master.  The beer was Island 1842, an imperial IPA whose exuberant spicy hop profile is matched punch for punch by its sizable malt body.  After spending my day sweating through the humid streets of Kowloon, this was just what the (juris) doctor ordered.

Young Master's dojo

Young Master’s dojo

Fast forward a few days and my competition and all responsibilities had come to an end.  We caught the MTR (Hong Kong’s subway system) down before catching a cab to Hong Kong Island’s nether region, Ap Lei Chau, where Young Master Ales sits humbly in a tall industrial building along the coast.  Overlooking the channel between Hong Kong Island and Lamma Island, the brewery is in a curious location based on my own experiences.  While an industrial building is no doubt the universal brewer’s norm, I’ve never seen a brewery anywhere above the ground floor (I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I just personally haven’t seen it).  Blessed with one of the few fog-free days we had during that week, Young Master’s facility, brewing equipment included, is all housed on the building’s fourth floor, offering quite a beautiful sight along the row of windows lining the tasting room.

Getting a handle on Young Master's beers

Getting a handle on Young Master’s beers

Unfortunately unable to synchronize my schedule with Rohit’s, we were greeted by his associate, Hong.  Hong, the lone native on Young Master’s staff, is the posterchild for Hong Kong’s growing beer culture.  After spending time studying in Dublin, Hong returned to his homeland with a degree in food science and nutrition as well as with a penchant for craft beer.  Fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin, Hong has become Young Master’s customer relations contact, a role he fits masterfully.  Like many of the individuals I met throughout my stay, Hong was warm and inviting.  From the moment Kerry and I arrived, he was eager to chat about beer with us and offer some local insight.  As we sat there picking Hong’s brain with a tiring amount of questions, two other American nationals came in, Paul and Aaron, opening up the floor for further discussions about beer and its emerging influence on the region.

The Young Master Glassic

The Young Master Glassic

From here, though, the focus shifted back to the reason we were all there in the first place: the beer.  Like any server worth their weight in wort, Hong lead us on our expedition from lightest to heaviest, starting us off with their dainty spring seasonal before finishing the session off with its hop-obsessed imperial IPA.  Along the way, we treated our palates with the likes of a sessionable pale ale, a pumpkin peach ale (fuss over that, AB InBev), and a smoked oak amber ale (which I’m still thinking about).  To keep it brief, we found a great degree of diversity and consistency with Young Master’s beers; they were all easily approachable yet exhibited complex enough flavor profiles to appease even the most distinguished drinker.  For a deeper understanding, I encourage you to read about my review of each here (review coming very soon).

After leaving the brewery and meeting up with our friend Angela to take in a match of beach rugby, Kerry and I found ourselves at The Roundhouse that evening to rest our tired feet and treat ourselves to some Texas style BBQ and another taste of Young Master.  Kerry found herself reverting back to In the Mood for Spring while I couldn’t escape the thought of the salty, smoked allure of Ashes of Time.

Ashes of Time (front) and In the Mood for Spring (rear) from Young Master Ales

Ashes of Time (front) and In the Mood for Spring (rear) from Young Master Ales

Beyond the excitement of travelling to a new region, I was really psyched about the prospect of exploring a new place with such a promising future for craft beer.  The foreign influence in both the culture and the beer is apparent; I found a lot of beers from the larger micro breweries that really got me into the beer scene from the beginning.  And, honestly, that would have been enough, but beyond that I came across the likes of Evil Twin Brewing, Mikkeller, Brouwerij de Molen, and Jack’s Abby Brewing to name a few.  It is apparent that Hong Kong is well on its way to craft beer stardom.  The wide array of craft-focused beer bars and the emergence of notable domestic breweries promises to nurture the very atmosphere needed to make the small group of islands a must-see destination.  For those, like Rohit, who are investing all of their time and energy now into generating the acclaim needed to take the craft scene to the next level, it is evident that their efforts will yield untold rewards.

Cheers.

What I’m Drinking: Summer 2015 Canned IPA Guide

Nothing stifles the sweltering summer heat quite like a juicy IPA, and no vessel more perfectly preserves delicate hop compounds like an aluminum can.  This match made in heaven is currently being produced in breweries across the continent, giving rise to a surge in demand for canned IPAs and DIPAs.  Look around the country and you’ll find that each region has its own highly coveted clan of cans.  Some are local mainstays while others might fetch a true relic from your beer cellar.  At the end of the day, though, if you’re looking for refreshment and ease of enjoyment, then look no further.  Here are a few options no lupulin-lover should go without:

Evil Twin Brewing - Citra Sunshine Slacker

Evil Twin Brewing – Citra Sunshine Slacker

1. Evil Twin BrewingCitra Sunshine Slacker
Enjoyed straight from the can, this beer comes as advertised.  It’s a blinding ray of sunshine harnessed in a can – sort of like Sunny D.  Bright grapefruit and orange citrus flavors abound with an inkling of pine at the end.  The malt is really light and clean, yet not without rendering a touch of sweetness.  At just 4.5% ABV, this 16oz tall boy is a no-brainer for yard work, beachside excursions, or even just brown bagging around town.
Overall Rating: 9.3/10

Night Shift Brewing - Morph (4/23/15)

Night Shift Brewing – Morph (4/23/15)

2. Night Shift BrewingMorph (4/23/15)
Only my second dance with Night Shift, this was the first IPA – and likewise first Morph incarnation – of which I had the privilege of drinking from the Massachusetts-based brewery.  Poured from the can into a mini tulip, the April 23, 2015 batch had a plush white head and a slightly hazy amber body.  From the outset, the hop notes are right up front, foreshadowing the orange and tropical notes housed within.  Morph is a pretty lively beer, displaying ample carbonation.  Beyond that, it’s full of orange zest and some more subdued tropical flavors.  The malt is pretty reserved here, finishing rather neatly.  While still perfectly crushable at 6.0% ABV, this one falls on the outskirts of Session Town, though I doubt anyone would have much trouble putting a few of these away at a weekend BBQ.
Overall Rating: 9.1/10

Lawsons Finest Liquids - Sip of Sunshine

Lawsons Finest Liquids – Sip of Sunshine

3. Lawson’s Finest LiquidsSip of Sunshine
The Vermont IPA game is no stranger to legendary canned IPAs (see: Alchemist, TheHeady Topper).  One of the more recent cans to make a splash across the craft industry is Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Sip of Sunshine.  Previously a strictly bottled offering (read my review of the bottle here), Sean Lawson piqued the interest of many when it was announced that he would be brewing and canning Sip of Sunshine at Two Roads Brewing Company in Connecticut.  Poured into a Teku glass, Sip of Sunshine was a translucent amber with an orange-copper glow beneath a mound of beady white head.  I picked up a good deal of sticky tropical fruit juice, fresh pine, lemon zest, and grapefruit.  The notes are all really vivid with this one.  Grapefruit bitterness, mango, and papaya abound.  Sip of Sunshine drank incredibly clean and light considering the 8.0% ABV tag.  Super addicting and easily a must-try.
Overall Rating: 10/10

Other Half Brewing - Nelson IPA and Citra IPA

Other Half Brewing – Nelson IPA and Citra IPA

4. Other Half Brewing CompanyNelson IPA/Citra IPA/Mosaic IPA
Ever since brewing duo Matt Monahan and Sam Richardson opened the doors to Other Half Brewing Company, the greater New York area has become infatuated with the wide array of IPAs being fabricated by the Brooklyn brewery.  By no means is Other Half a one-trick pony, but Monahan and Richardson have proven time and time again that they can brew IPAs that compete with the likes of Vermont and the West Coast.  Illustrating this point is the recent run of cans that have sold out just as soon as they’ve been available for retail.  Cans include their behemoth triple IPA, All Green Everything, as well as their variety of single hopped IPAs.  Whether it’s the Nelson IPA, Citra IPA, or Mosaic IPA, you can’t go wrong.  If I could describe each in one word, it’d have to be “balanced.”  Even at 7.0% ABV, the malt neatly takes a back seat to colorful portrayals of the hop being used in each.  Nelson is extra juicy, exhibiting lots of pineapple, passionfruit, and mango.  Citra is super resiny and zesty with a bitter finish.  Mosaic is grassy and piney with hints of peach and pineapple.  If you’re fortunate enough to score a few cans either on or following one of Other Half’s Saturday releases, consider yourself fortunate.
Overall Rating: 9.8/10

Tree House Brewing Company - Julius

Tree House Brewing Company – Julius

5. Tree House Brewing CompanyJulius
Over the past year, Massachusetts’ Tree House Brewing Company has done an impeccable job of making a name for itself, particularly off of the reputation garnered nationwide by their hit IPA, Julius.  I had been on a quest to get my mitts on some after hearing rave reviews from friends and beer review sites alike.  Finally, my good buddy Jon (The Brewed Abides) was kind enough to share a can with me recently of this highly lauded ale.  I can say that the hype is well deserved.  Julius is practically O.J. in a can, bursting with fresh squeezed orange and tangerine flavors.  The body is pretty gruesome, falling within the murky/cloudy realm, but don’t let that scare you.  The citrus and juice notes are so vivid in front of more mild mango, pine, and bready malts.  Needless to say, a fresh can of Julius can hold its own with the best of them, and at 6.5% ABV, you’re bound to drink through your stash of these before you’ve had your fill.
Overall Rating: 10/10

Kane Brewing Company - Head High (picture courtesy of Kane Brewing Company)

Kane Brewing Company – Head High (picture courtesy of Kane Brewing Company)

Bonus: Kane Brewing CompanyHead High
Over the course of finalizing this post, Kane Brewing Company surprised its followers by dropping the long-awaited news that it will finally be canning its easy to enjoy IPA, Head High.  Unfortunately, however, 16oz Head High cans won’t hit retail until Fall 2015, so be sure to keep your ear to the ground as Head High (which I reviewed here) is balanced, refreshing, and simply timeless.

Cheers.