Mikkeller Bourbon Barrel Aged Brian

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They say boxing is a dead sport… but Brian is leading a comeback.  This imperial porter soaked in bourbon barrels can deliver fierce right hooks paired with mandible crushing uppercuts that would knock even the most seasoned craft beer aficionados to the ropes.  Brewed by everybody’s favorite gypsy brewer, Mikkeller, I’m very curious to see how this will size up to other barrel aged porters/stouts.  Mikkeller does put into the ring a non BA version of Brian, which has its own acclaimed reviews, but I have never been able to get my gloves on it.  The only way to get an advnatave of this brew is to get in the first punch… time for them numbers.

IMG_3564Appearance:  Black with a dark tank head that actually laced as I drank.  I’ll get to the mouthfeel soon enough, but it was so think that it tinted the glass after I was done drinking.

Smell:  Dark and roasty – grains, chocolate and liquorish.  Surprisingly, very little bourbon is jumping out at me on the aroma – I get more oak than anything from the barrels, but sometimes it can be hidden in aroma and overt in taste.

Taste:  I realize that this is very viscus.  The mouthfeel on this brew is super thick which is the first thing I notice about the beer.  Once this liquid oil is on the palate, a bunch of flavors jump out, most prominently roasted grain.  This has a very toasty kick which is complemented by roasted almonds, cookie, chocolate, coffee, and mild raisin flavors.  I’m really surprised to see the bourbon taking a backseat in this brew, but all the flavors of a porter are the biggest stars of this teku.  I get most of the bourbon on the finish with hints of vanilla, figs, smoke, and oak.  That bourbon whiskey flavor lasts for a long time after I sip and is just warming enough, however, this beer is anything but hot.  The alcohol in here isn’t noticeable at all… maybe on the firsIMG_3560t few sips, but after that, this is so incredibly easy drinking.  for a 12.3% ABV beer, that’s a hard thing to do, hats off to Mikkeller for that.

With that bolstered ABV follows a thicker, full bodied mouthfeel, as I mentioned before.  That robust body lends itself to the very mild carbonation in this beer which is appropriate for the style, but something I would label as under carbonated for almost any other beer.  Again, its drinkability was great for the big beer that this was.

Overall:  This is a fantastic beer, and one that I enjoyed more as I drank more.  This beer also was great on the warmer side and really opened up – all of the components gelled well together.  I have to give Barrel Aged Brian an A-/A.  I personally could have used a bit more bourbon, but it still was a great beer any way you cut it.  And for Brian, Mick may be coming sooner than later.

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Alaskan Smoked Porter

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There’s nothing quite like a crackling campfire.  Nobody ever objects to lighting one and they are more versatile than baking soda.  Whether it’s a chilly summer night, a fall gathering that could use a little warmth, or a winter frost that needs thawing, the campfire is the only solution; even Einstein would agree.  Additionally, there’s something about a roaring campfire that is unassuming and nonprejudicial.  Rich or poor, black or white, republican or democrat – a campfire brings people together.  Nobody embraces wood fires like the 49th state.  The good people of Alaskan Brewing Co. channel the power of a smokey fire and transfer it to their award winning brew, Alaskan Smoked Porter.  In fact, this beer has been awarded the most metals of any brew at the Great American Beer Festival since its conception.  Using mainly Alderwood smoked malt, they whip up a creation that would pair well with a fire extinguisher.  I need to get into this… let’s run the numbers.

IMG_1133Appearance:  This is one of the darker porters I’ve drank.  Black with just barely a light tan head that vanished quicker than daylight in Alaska during the winter.  Not much lacing as I drank, however the liquid got a little lighter looking down to it when you raised it to your mouth.

Smell:  Imagine smoked salmon, hold the salmon.  This brew is smokey like an outdoor fire and makes you reminisce of those crazy bonfire parties you went to in high school.  I’d like to say that I got a little of the roasted grain in there, but this baby is a smoke bomb.

Taste:  Surprise, surprise… this brew is smoke filled.  The first sip is intensely smokey; this beer tastes as if the people at Alaskan Brewing just bottled smoke and shipped it off to the lower 48.  After your eyes stop to water after being exposed to that much smoke, the brew begins to open up a little.  The flavors are still dominated by fire, but you get more body from the beer as you sip.  The malts coat the tongue and impart a sweet, yet roasty flavor all across the palate, which gets used to the smIMG_1137oke assault in time.  Even the smell becomes less potent when you continue to drink.

This beer has some body, but could be a touch thicker to make it a little more robust.  I was also surprised to see that it was filled with 6.5% ABV – if feels like a bigger beer than that.  The ABV didn’t hit you, but the flavors in here would suggest that it’d be pushing 8/9%.

Overall:  Certainly not the most complex beer I’ve had, but it’s damn good for what it’s designed to do.  I’ve had smoked porters in the past (notably Stone’s) where I was left scratching my head wondering if they bottled the wrong beer.  Unlike that Californian beer, this brew screams Alaska.  The smoke flavor is so prominent, and when push comes to shove, it gets an A-.  I like this beer, wish it was a little bit more balanced.  Best enjoyed with good company around a campfire.

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Carlsberg Sverige Carnegie Stark-Porter (2006)

IMG_0708When I was a young lad, my brother and I shared a room.  Whenever we cleaned were forced to clean our room, it was like WWI… long, pointless, and took a lot of propaganda (aka our mother yelling at us) to finish.  My brother always started off strong, but would get so easily distracted less than 15 10 5 minutes into our task.  The source of the distraction?  Anything “newly” discovered really.  “Oh my God!… this is where my stash of Now & Laters went!”  “I was looking for this Goosebumps book!”  “Jeeze, I didn’t know I had all these Pogs…”  The phrases were endless as we cleaned our room a lot… and my brother always left me taking grenades.  Forced to do all the work myself, I had to find creative ways to finish the job: stuffing toys into our dresser, backpacks, and (the classic) underneath the futon trick.  My persistence to finish a task coupled with my brother’s curiosity reached its culminating achievement recently when hunting down my latest beer, a Swedish Porter sitting on the shelf of my local bottle shop.

IMG_0701The hidden gem was timidly hiding behind many monotonous import brews, and when found, 4 numbers instantly clued me off that this brew was left for dead: 2006.  Brewed 8 years ago, Carnegie Stark-Porter (brewed by Carlsberg Sverige) needed to come home with me that instant.  (I heard my brother’s voice in my head, “Jeepers!  I didn’t know they sold beers that old!”)  Would it age like George Clooney or Mick Jagger?  Time for them numbers…

Appearance:  Very dark, but you can tell it has a burgundy/brownish hue to it.  The head was a light tan and didn’t last all that much, kind of like Sisqó in the late 90s.

Smell:  Holy molasses… If I had a stack of pancakes, I’m reaching for this to pour on it.  I cannot oversell how much this smells like the thick black syrup.  I also get wafts of prunes and dates.  Smells like a Belgian Quad without the yeast.

IMG_0710Taste:  Just plain weird.  Like, really, really weird.  Prunes were the first thing to strike my palate as I took my first sip of this beer – it was like I was 5 years old again and my mom wanted to ensure  digestive heath… not the most pleasant taste from a beer.  Then I was hit with lightly roasted grain that opened up a chocolate milk taste.  I really liked this brew at just this point, but then came the finish of the beer.  The 2006 funk certainly comes through at the end as the chocolate milk flavor transitioned to a bitter dark olive vegetal taste.  Some souring is also going on towards the finish, which does not at all work with this style… in any capacity.  The alcohol (5.5% ABV) can’t break through the unorthodox taste, and the mouthfeel was rather enjoyable and what you would expect from a beer this old… perhaps the only saving grace.

Overall:  I’m just going to cut to the chase here.  I couldn’t even finish this beer.  While It had some positive elements (the thicker mouthfeel, the chocolate milk taste) the rest of the brew was rather wretched.  And in case you are thinking I’m a bit too harsh on an 8 year old beer that had likely expired, I actually drank this before “best by” date (which was January of 2016).  All said and done, this brew scores a D- and narrowly avoids an F because of the coolness factor a random 8 year old brew has.  This is one discovery I wish I hadn’t found.

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Allagash Fluxus (2013: Porter Brewed with Blood Oranges)

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Change.  Sometimes welcomed, sometimes feared, often written about by past-prime artists.  Take David Bowie for example.  He ever so poetically said, “Ch-ch-ch-ch changes… Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”  The late (…or maybe not?) Tupac (2Pac) Shakur said, “And I still see no changes!  Can’t a brother get a little peace? There’s war on the streets and war in the Middle East.”  Former Surreal Life star, Steve Harwell of Smash Mouth ironically said, “We could all use a little chaaaaaaaaannnnge.”  Some refuse to embrace the shared philosophies of these lyrical wizards, but for those who do, there’s Fluxus… for the rest of us. 

The scholarly Allagash brewing, from the fair city of Portland, ME, brings us their offering of change from 2013, Fluxus (the Latin word for change).  The cool thing about this brew, as the name suggests, is that every year Fluxus changes.  In 2012, it was a saison brewed with peppercorns (which was awesome), this year (or should I say last year) it is/was a traditional porter brewed with blood oranges.  The interesting thing here is that Allagash is known for making great Belgian style beers, however it’s not often that you see a porter coming from the land of chocolate.  More intriguing, it’s not often that you see citrus being coupled with a porter.  Will this beer bring change that we can believe in, or will it falter quicker than Rob Ford’s political career?  Time to find out.

IMG_8063Appearance: Jet black with a dark tan head.  At the bottom of the glass though, you can see a dark amber/brownish color, but that’s really it.  No lacing on the glass as I drank.

Smell: Roasted gain is the star here, but I was suprised that I actually found a lot of the citrus too.  I also get a little metalic notes coming from the head, but overall a really good grain base.  It’s smells similar to spent grain after a mash but with a little orange citrus kick.

Taste: Wow… what a fantastic brew.  First sip, my mouth is engulfed with dark malts, roasted grain, and angels singing from heaven.  The grainy, malt flavor in the brew is unbelievable, but the body isn’t nearly as thick or robust as the flavor.  The blood oranges are really hidden in this guy, however towards the finish of the beer, you get the slightest tang of citrus, inviting you back into the glass for another sip.  The biggest flavor coming from the brew is definitely the spent grain smell one would achieve after doing a batch of all grain home-brew.  It’s very roasty (hovering on the line of burnt) and is more bready and biscuity than other porters that I have had, and tastes somewhat smokey too with a tobacco taste hanging around.  If I had to taste this blindly, I might have said it’s a smoked porter.  At first taste, the smokiness is not as pronounced, but as you empty your pint glass, it’s more noticeable.

As mentioned before, the body on here is not as thick and creamy as they typically are on stouts or even other big porters (which in my opinion makes it perfect for a mild winter day).  The one big flaw that I see with this beer is it’s carbonation.  For my liking, its a bit too bubbly for a porter – if it was toned down, I think the flavors would last longer on your tongue than they do.

Overall: The subtleties of this beer make is so nice.  The blood oranges are very inconspicuous in this brew allowing the true star to be the tobacco, roasty, and smokey tastes of the grain used in here.  The 6.4% ABV is virtually undetectable in it’s taste, but does creep up on you after you finish the bottle.  Overall, I’d give this beer an B+.  The flavor is great, and I’m OK with the lack of blood orange flavor in the beer, but its carbonation brings it down slightly.  If you’re expecting an over exaggeration of orange flavor, stay away from this beer and if you don’t like really roasty porters, you may find this too assertive for your liking.  The 2013 version Fluxus is wonderful, but get it before it’s gone – drinking this makes change seem cruel.

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Stone Smoked Porter with Chipolte Peppers

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Growing up, I was always amazed by my cousin Steve.  My brother, Steve, and I usually spent our Sundays together growing up “shooting” each other with our cap guns, burying ants in a sandbox and using wood chips as grave stones, and sometimes I found myself fending off swirlies as I was the runt of the litter.  But what I remember about my cousin growing up was his fascination with hot stuff.  Hot sauce on potato chips?  Yup.  Pepper on fruit?  Uh huh.  Eating jalapenos as a snack?  Why not. 

I regressed to my childhood when I saw that the good people at California’s Stone Brewing decided to amp up their smoked porter by putting Chipolte Peppers in the brew.  Peppers in a porter?  I barely even know her!  It’s a pretty big leap to do something that bold.  Damn hippies.  Although it seems a little far fetched, when you think about it many pints are consumed while engulfing wings, jalapeno poppers, or spicy chili.  I think Stone’s philosophy on this one was that people don’t need any chicken standing in the way of beer and hotness.  With that type of Wall Street efficiency, we have a beer that Steve would be proud of.  But would it really pepper in some flavor?  Let’s do the numbers…

IMG_3478Appearance:  The peppery goodness cascaded into the pint glass leaving behind a captivating tan head with pretty good retention.  The beer was jet black, similar to John Travolta’s awful looking head of hair – good for beer, bad for humans.  The beer left a nice lacing as I drank and was as pretty as the garland on a holiday tree.

Smell:  Dark chocolate was the most dominant first smell of this brew.  Kind of surprising seeing that chipolte tends to be a pretty aggressive ingredient.  I also got some great roasted dark malt, cherry, and even oak too.  A lot going in in the nose, and of course I found the hot pepper, but I’m not so sure that if the label didn’t say it, I’d be looking for it.  I was a little disappointed with this as I have had Rogue’s Chipotle Ale before and that was the first thing I noticed, however an ale compared to a porter is night and day.  On second thought, I should have probably been happy that it wasn’t over the top because a porter should have an aggressive scent.  I couldn’t wait to dive into the brew.

IMG_3495Taste:  Roasted malt, dark chocolate, the slightest hint of pepper.  The chipolte in the taste is similar to the chipolte in the smell as it really is the backseat driver in the brew.  The pepper sort of  scratches the back of your throat as you swallow and was most noticed after you had a sip; there was also no bitterness (besides that of the chocolate).  Again, I feel that the taste is replicated by the nose.  Nothing too complex, nothing too crazy.  Pepper is so light that you begin to think that devil sneering at you on the bottle is probably overcompensating for something.  The light flavor of the pepper balances nicely with the dark malts in the brew, so I would say it’s well balanced.  It’s certainly not as crazy as it sounds.  However, the pepper flavor is pretty understated beyond the scratchiness at the bottom of your throat.  It’s actually quite annoying how that creeps up because the beer tastes pretty good, but you yearn for a Halls cough drop after every swallow.

IMG_3473As I drank the brew, I actually felt the pepper lingering on my lips.  The pepper’s role in this beer is comparable to when you take a big wiff of a hot pepper and begin to cough just because of the scent of it.  There is absolutely no heat on your tongue when you drink, but you do find it wondering around and cutting your throat, lips, and after a while your stomach too.  Again, cunningly annoying.  Mouthfeel is pretty rich and comforting, but I don’t know if I’d want to drink more than 1 of these in a sitting due to the Halls factor.  (More than one will make you reach for the Prilosec.)  I think it’s perfectly carbonated for a porter – that is it’s not over bubbly at all and the beer speaks for itself.  The 5.9% ABV is satisfying but won’t knock you of your seat either.

Overall: B.  It tasted great, but truthfully, I think the pepper is a novelty.  It adds a little to the taste of the beer, but it’s presence really shines after you’re finished (which may or may not have been the intended affect of the brewery.)  To see if I was off about this review, I cracked open another [imperial] porter from Hooker to compare, and you can definitely make out the difference, but I still think that it’s understated in the taste.  I can see people reaching for this beer though even with the scratchy factor.  If people are willing to torture themselves with wings they have to sign a waiver for, I can see people coming back for this guy.  It’s worth a try as it’s a very unique sensation.

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Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter

We’ll, we can’t ever use this barrel for bourbon again, what should we do with it? I know! Let’s put beer in here and see what happens!

And thank God somebody came up with that idea. Bourbon aged brews are becoming more and more popular in the market, but will you get what you’re expecting out of one? I’ve had some that have been masterful, and some that have, “taste[d] like cig-are-etttes” (read that line with you’re best Forrest Gump impression). When I saw Top Sail being offered from the good people at letspour.com, I had to take advantage of it. Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter (a name as long as Ron Jer… well, it’s a long name) comes from the Full Sail Brewing Company out of Hood River, Oregon (I’m guessing where all of the wet gangsters hangout). I had this one sitting in my fridge for awhile, until I finally decided to pry the top off. How was it? Let’s do the numbers.

Appearance: Horrible and wretched to the most inner being – this brew poured jet black and had no regard for human life. The head was as thick as Helvetica at 220 point, and it had the color of a dirt stained shirt. It was rough and ragged. The head submitted to the body of the brew quicker than expected as it hopelessly cascaded into the abyss. Could not wait to try this beer.

Smell: Vanilla and caramel are the things you notice first. Reminds you of that gothic loaner – dark and intimidating on the outside with a soft, approaching interior. The smell was not as intimidating as the color of the brew. I also get some oak in there, but surprisingly the bourbon smell is buried towards the end. My initial impression is that it’ll taste refined and more like a porter than Blanton’s on the rocks. Only one way to find out…

Taste: Interesting. I am blown back by the oak taste of the brew more so than the bourbon. You certainly taste the bourbon in this, but it’s the second thing I noticed. I actually tasted more oak in this beer than I did whey I popped open Jefferson’s 18. It is also surprisingly drinkable for a brew with 9.5% ABV… it almost goes down too easy. You do get that burny lingering feeling in the back of your throat after you’re done. What else do you get in here? Some of that caramel from the smell makes an appearance into your mouth and really a dark chocolate taste – 70% coco I’m talking about. Bitter enough where you notice it. The porter, in my mind, gets lost. And for being such a “dark” beer, the body isn’t as developed as I like. I feel that it’s a little on the watery side for a porter. With a little to be desired, let’s see what this gets overall.

When you tally up all the markings you have to give this brew a B-. It was tasty and I’d order it at a bar, but the lack of a big bourbon punch was missing from this beer (especially as it’s centered around being “bourbon barrel aged.”) To be fair, my taste for bourbon in the past year has been quite high and I had a good share of glasses either neat or on the rocks. That being said, when you try this guy, you might lose all faith in these reviews, but I can speak for bourbon/scotch/rye drinkers when I say this wasn’t as big with the flavor as I would have hoped. The watery and sweeter character of the porter also is a cause for deductions leading it to a B-. If you’re looking for that bigger bourbon flavor, check out Allagash Curieux – but find a bottle that has been produced recently, as the more you age it, the sweeter the beer gets. Cheers!