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Monday, June 24, 2013

Pipeworks Brewing's Ninja Vs. Unicorn

  • Style: IIPA/DIPA (Imperial Indian Pale Ale aka Double IPA)
  • ABV: 8.5%
  • Season: Rotating.  My batch number was unreadable, but according to their website the latest batch was #138 and bottled on 5/23/13.  
  • Ease to locate: Pipeworks still only delivers to Chicago area locations (and some suburbs)  So plan a road trip or make a friend 
  • Color: Hazy, straw yellow with hints of orange
  • Head: A half a finger of white foam that settles immediately.  Light lacing.
  • Aroma: Like a grove of fruit trees.  Lots of orange and grapefruit, with a bit of tropical fruit and malt sweetness. A hit of lemon and pine as well.  
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with lots of carbonation.
  • Finish: Long.  Citrus merges smoothly into a little malt sweetness that glides to a bit of resin on the end.  Not over powering at all.
  • Food friendly: Yes.  Barbeque, grilled meats and poultry. Even a mild white fish comes to mind.  Serve it with peppery cheese such as pepper-jack.  

Unicorns and ninjas are elusive mythical creatures that I will likely never get to encounter in real life. Much like fairies, leprechauns and Portsmouth Brewery's Kate the Great.  Pipeworks Brewery has always struck me as a bit of a fabled Brigadoon sort of brewery so it's understandable that they should name their double IPA after such mysterious beings.  Now exactly why a ninja would want to take on a unicorn in a fair fight is beyond me ( and I think we all know that unicorns rarely ever fight fair.  Plus, they're notorious sore losers.)

                                                                              I'm pretty sure that this is not how the Pipeworks guys make Ninja Vs Unicorn.  But I could be wrong.  This dude does seem to have a lot of fruit,

Imperial or Double IPAs are becoming more and more popular as beer enthusiast seek out bolder flavors and higher ABVs.  A DIPA takes the basic profile of an Indian Pale Ale, a hop forward yet still malty pale ale, and knocks it up a notch or twelve.  Most IPAs clock in an ABV of 7.0% and under, while DIPAs start at 7.5% and can go up to at least 10.5%.  Ninja Vs Unicorn comes in at an ABV of 8.5%, which still makes it stronger than an average IPA, but accessible to a vast majority of drinkers who aren't looking to fall off of their chairs after having a pint or two.  In order to balance out the stronger hop content, a bolder malt content  must also be used.  The trick is keeping the ale dry and crisp while elevating the hop and malt notes.  Honestly, I'm not the type to think that bigger equals better.  If you are going to go big, do it right or else just go home and let me drink a stout.  Pipeworks got it right, so I guess that they can stay.

Like a misty morning on the battle fields of Aragon, both ninjas and unicorns ready for a hazy skirmish.

My Ninja Vs. Unicorn poured an almost saison looking hazy straw yellow color.  This was an unfiltered DIPA and it showed.  I loved that it almost announced it's bold flavor profile through it's cloudy, solid appearance.  You could see a hint of orange in the light.  The head was nothing special, maybe a half a finger of white foam that immediately settled. There also wasn't much lacing to speak of, but what was there was shallow and loose.  The aroma was amazing.  If I had closed my eyes it would have been easy enough to imagine that I was sitting in a citrus grove, chocked full of orange, grapefruit and lemon trees.  OK, with a lone pine lurking around somewhere (like a ninja?)  There was a sweetness from the malts that mingled perfectly with the bitterness.  The taste didn't let down the nose at all.  Lots of grapefruit and orange flavors up front, with a bit of tropical notes underneath.  The sweetness from the malt accomplished the tricky balancing act of counteracting the heavy bitterness.  A slight profile of pine sneaked in on the tail.  The mouthfeel was just lovely, a bit slick and solid with a dryness to it that made it very easy to drink.  The carbonation, while not huge, worked it's bubbly magic creating the needed effervesce to deal with such a large beer.  The finish was long and dry, with the pine flavor riding off into the sunset on the tail end. 

Ninjas and unicorns are known for their stealthiness.  Apparently so is this beer's head.

I would serve Ninja Vs. Unicorn with a lot of summer meals.  When it's warm out and you need something stronger than a typical pale ale, an IIPA like this beer could enhance a run of the mill pulled pork sandwich ( although, if you want a really good one, try this one from Alton Brown.)  It would also elevate a boring old grilled fish dinner into something special (try a simple grilled halibut marinated with garlic, lemon and fresh parsley.) Basically, this isn't the type of beer that you want to serve with a complex and labored dish.  Like all legendary feuds (think Hatfield & McCoys, Al Capone & Elliot Ness, Amanda Byrnes & Reality) inserting anything complicated into the picture just upsets the delicate eccosytem.  .  It's always best to let the ninjas and unicorns duke it out while you sit back and sip something tasty.  My money's on the unicorn, in case you're wondering. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

North Coast Brewing Co's Pranqster Belgian

  • Style: Belgian Style Golden Ale
  • ABV: 7.6%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to Locate: Distributed through most of the US.   Easy enough to find in most liquor stores (even some grocery stores.)  Click here for their beer finder.
  • Color:  Soft, hazy, golden yellow.  A hint of orange when held to the light.
  • Head: A half finger off white head that dissipates very quickly.  Little lacing to speak of.
  • Aroma: Bready yeast with slight floral notes.   Fruity scents with orange zest and a little sweet honey.
  • Mouthfeel: Light but not watery.  Nice amount of carbonation.
  • Finish: Short, but crisp. 
  • Food friendly:  Like most Belgian Ales, yes.  This one is sweeter than many, so it does limit things.  Try it with a grilled oily fish, such as salmon.  Or with tricked out turkey burgers.  I'd pair it with a salty cheese, such as Romano to cut the ale's sweetness a bit. 

There's something rather right with the world when I can honestly say that my favorite beer garden is the one located just beyond by own back porch.  Yes, I have predatory hibiscus plants and ragweed is a total bitch.  But on a mild late Spring evening, the kind when the air is slightly crisp with a lingering memory of snow, yet the late setting sun is still doing ins what it can to warm the blood, a reasonable person (and contrary to popular opinion, I do mean me) couldn't really ask for a better location.  Opening a few bottles to share there with the family is a luxury that I look forward too all winter long.
                                                                             This is exactly like my backyard.  Minus the stage.  And the Germans.  And with only the occasional lederhosen.

A recent selection at the Down The Hatch Beer Garden was a bomber of North Coast Brewing's Pranqster Belgian Golden Ale.  I've tasted various brews from this brewery (click here for my post on Brother Thelonious) before and haven't been disappointed by one yet.  As far as an easily accessible bomber goes, North Coast is a wonderful option.  And I do have a soft spot in my heart for Belgian ales (it's the right ventricle, if you're overly curious.)  The first real craft beer that I loved was a Belgian. And while North Coast might be a Belgian via Northern California, bro, it's still in the same wheelhouse.

Nothing funny about the hazy goodness here.  You can see the bits of yeast floating.

My Pranqster poured a soft, golden yellow color with hints of orange along the edges.  It was hazy with bits of yeast particles floating through it (more apparent as we neared the bottom of the bomber, of course.) There was a slight half a finger head that dissipated very quickly. The lacing wasn't much to speak of and yes, I was sort of disappointed by this.  Belgians are known for their gorgeous lacing effects (for the waffles too, but I digress.). However, I've been informed by fans of this beer that they have experienced wonderfully soft lacing before, so I'm willing to concede that I may have had an off bottle or an issue with my glass.  And as much as I love my lacing, spotty webbing on a glass does not make or break a good beer. And Pranqster is definitely a great beer.  The smell was that of bready yeast and fruity notes, such as apples and citrus.  A floral hop note was present too, but lingered around in the background like a wallflower at a high school dance.  There  was a sweetness, such as a fresh honey comb, on the nose as well.  The taste followed the scent nicely.  Strong bread yeast followed by the fruit flavors of apple, pineapple and a bit of orange zest.  A bit of honey and possibly carmel flavors emerged as well.  I tend to prefer my Belgians a bit drier, but if you are looking for a well done sweeter style, this is a great example for you.  The mouthfeel was light, yet not at all watery.  A decent amount of carbonation helped to balance out the sweetness for me and made it that much easier to drink.  The finish was short, yet crisp thanks to the fizziness from the carbonation.
I do miss the lacing, but the color still looks pretty from above at least.
Over all, for a Belgian brewed in California, North Coast's Pranqster was a pretty good example of the typical Belgian style.  For a beer that I can find at my local grocery store. It's down right amazing.  I'd serve this beer with an oily fish, such as salmon. Try a brown sugar and mustard glazed salmon.  Alternatively, I think that the sweetness and fruitiness of this brew would also benefit a drier meat, such as turkey burgers seasoned with a bit of soy sauce.  Add a few grilled onions and an interesting German mustard and you've got yourself a meal.  Find a gorgeously sunny day, clean off that picnic table and enjoy a glass or two in your own homestyle beer garden.  And while I'm not exactly sure if Dorothy Gale was a beer sort of girl (but if she was,  I think she might be a wheat beer fan), I do know that she got at least one thing right.  There's no place like home.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Revolution Brewing Co.'s Rosa Hibiscus Ale

  • Style: Herbed/Spice Ale
  • ABV: 5.80%
  • Season: Summer
  • Color: Rosy pink (don't judge.)  Reminded me of a gorgeous looking Rose` wine in appearance 
  • Head: 1 finger slightly tinted pink head with good retention and nice lacing
  • Aroma:  Fruity and slightly floral (hibiscus.)  Sweet and tart.  Soft pale malt notes as well. 
  • Mouthfeel: Light and fizzy.  Slightly dry with a good amount of carbonation
  • Finish: Short and slightly dry.  Easy to drink and especially so on a warm summer's day
  •  Food friendly: Light summer meals would work best.  Try with salads with a fruit component (like pomegranate seeds or strawberries) or lightly marinated grilled chicken or pork.  Serve it with a goat cheese with light floral notes.

Is pink the new amber?  There was a time where I wouldn't touch pink wine.  I associated it with white zinfandel (which, let's face it, is just rose colored sugar water.  Do us all a favor and drink a Fresca instead.)  But then I took a trip to Italy and discovered the pleasures of a well done Rose`.  Dry.  Crisp.  And, yes, pink.  So when I learned about Revolution Brewing's  summer seasonal, Rosa Hibiscus Ale I was kind of excited to give it a try.  Not that I was a huge fan of Hibiscus.  Or had known what a Hibiscus smelled like.   Or had one iota of what a Hibscius even looked like.  Let's face it.  I was so Hibiscus ignorant that I didn't even realize that as I was sipping a pint of Rosa in my backyard, I was doing it under a hanging pot of Hibiscus flowers  (where did it come from?  And just how long has it been hanging there anyway?)  The female version of Mr. Green Jeans I am not.  Heck, I'm not even Luke Skywalker and all he had to farm was moisture.

                                                                                               Unnecessary prequels and Ewoks make him angry.  Very angry.  He's not a fan of Jar Jar either.

Summer seasonal beers are usually low in ABV and lighter in mouthfeel,  When it's 98 degrees in the shade and it's only early afternoon, who wants a heavy stout weighting them down?  Well, I suppose there are some people who happily guzzle their snifters of  Bourbon County or Yeti while the rest of us slowly shrivel into sun dried fruit.  There are also people who feel the need to read jokes from the comic section of the newspaper out loud.  You know who you are.   We all know who you are.   Personally, I prefer a lighter in feel beer, something that helps to cool me down and refresh my sweat stained soul (yes, central air also works, but it's not as tasty.)  But like all seasonal beers, it's nice to try something a bit different once in a while.  A pink hued beer that is brewed with something spontaneously found hanging in my own backyard seemed to fit the bill.

Ready excuses to use when caught drinking a pink beer in public:  "I think I saw Daryl Dixon drinking on on TWD.  Are you going to call Daryl MF Dixon a wuss?"

My Rosa Hibiscus Ale poured a hazy, rosy pink color.  Yes, pink.  Deal with it. A one finger, mostly white, slightly rose tinted head formed and then settled into a thin film on the surface of the drink.  Spotty, fluffy  lacing stuck to the sides of the pint glass.  I could see the carbonation racing to the top like a bunch of bearded beer geeks learning that someone was pouring unlimited free pints of Bourbon County there.   All in all, it looked refreshing before I even tasted it.  It smelled fruity with just a bit of floral on the back end.  I'm assuming that the floral was the hibiscus note.  There was a bit of citrus and pale malts as well.  The aroma was not heavy or cloying, but instead light.  I think this was a good choice on Revolution's part.  With so many breweries competing for the bigger is better medal of honor, finding a lighter summer beer is almost a treat.  I could taste the sweetness of the malts mixed with the tartness of the citrus (orange I believe, although there could be some lemon notes in there as well.)  The hibiscus element was a lot less prominent on the tongue than I expected.  The floral note was there, but it took a backseat to the fizzy sweet/tart notes.  The mouthfeel was light and crisp, thanks mostly to the abundance of the carbonation (it reminded me of the feel of flavored seltzer water.)  The finish was slightly dry and shortish. 

Excuse # 2: "My girlfriend asked me to hold her purse or her beer.  I made my choice."
Excuse #4: "Beer?  What beer?"

I found that Revolution Brewing Co.'s Rosa Hibiscus Ale was a refreshing and clean Summer beer.  Is it a beer for everyone?  Probably not.   In an informal tasting that I conducted (OK, I poured a few cans for my family in my backyard.  Yes, the one with the mystery hibiscus plant that may or may not be stalking me)  the approval was split 50/50.  I've been lucky enough to try this beer both on tap and from a can.  And I plan on drinking it quite a bit this summer.   It's light and crisp with a fruity sweet tartness to it.  With an AVB of only 5.8%, it's also very easy to drink more than one on a warm Summer afternoon.  I would serve this beer with a simple salad that usues a fruit component, such as a grilled chicken salad with strawberries.   I could also see the crispness of this brew working well with a spicy, yet still fruity, meal like a jerk pork tenderloin with blackberry sauce.  And if the pinkness of the beer still offends your delicate beer geek senses, well that's the very reason that they invented beer koozies after all. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pipeworks Brewery's End of Days

  • Style: Milk Stout
  • ABV: 8.20%
  • Season: Rotating.  But it's Pipeworks, what did you expect?  My batch number was #128 which according to Pipeworks  was bottled on 5/2/13
  • Color: Dark chocolate brown with no light even around the edges
  • Head: Not quite 1 finger beige head that settled almost immediately.  Miniscule lacing
  • Aroma: Strong chocolate notes, a bit of vanilla, cinnamon and coffee as well.  Sort of like a Mexican hot chocolate that will get you buzzed
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with lots of carbonation.  Not as lush or creamy as I was expecting, but still worked with the flavor profile.
  • Finish: Short-ish.  The beer flavor fades very quickly on the tongue, but the spice note lingers like the last guy at a party who wants to go home, but feels like he should stay to repair the damage
  • Food friendly:  Eh?  Like many milk stouts, not particularly.  The spice note in the flavor profile doesn't help with main dish pairing, but would make an interesting addition to a summer desert.  I'd serve it with a dish of creamy ice cream (try Dulce De Leche or Raspberry), with a a plate of strawberry shortcake or even a simple bowl of fresh berries. 

A year ago Mayans were the new Nostradamus (I know that the Mayans predated some bearded Euro dude by almost thirteen hundred years.  Don't get technical on me.)  Everyone was speculating/ scaring themselves silly like a midnight screening of Paranormal Activity.  You couldn't go any where (and by anywhere I mean Facebook) without hearing about the coming End of Days that was supposedly predicted on the Mayan calendar for December 2012.  Personally, I felt that if the umpteenth renewal for Two and a Half Men wasn't enough of an indicator that the end was coming, nothing could be.   Some people actually believed that we might fall into a black hole at the center of the galaxy (I suspect that Walmart might have been in on this scheme.)   Or that Earth would collide with a  planet named Nibiru  (which I sort of support because it would at least definitely put an end to Two and a Half Men for once and for all.  I understand that they don't have Neilson boxes on Nibiru.)

                                                                                                         Joel always speaks the truth.  Even when it hurts.

Pipeworks brewed a version of a classic milk stout with a bit of a Mayan twist in honor of our new neighbors/overlords  on planet Nibiru.  Imagine a typical milk stout with the expected flavors of chocolate, vanilla and coffee, but kicked up a notch by the addition of cinnamon and cayenne pepper.  Mexican hot chocolate beer.  Genius.
Very little head.  A similar look to what the radioactive mutants will sport after the world ends.  Although they may have two.
My End of Days poured a dark, almost murky, chocolate brown brew.  There was no light shine through, even when held up to the sun (as I expect a Mayan might have done when presented with a  pint.)  A beige, filmy, one finger head rose and almost immediately settled out of existence (hmmm...sort of apocalyptic, right?)  There really wasn't any lacing to speak of, maybe tiny patches on the glass just above the surface of the drink.  The aroma more than made up for the lack of foam, however. Right away I could smell the chocolatey wonder of coco nibs on the nose.  A subtle bit of vanilla helped to round out the sweetness and transitioned nicely into the light coffee aroma.  Since this was definitely a milk stout and not a coffee or breakfast stout, the coffee took a backseat to the lactose note.  A hint of cinnamon and heat brought up the rear of the nose, reminding me that this was not your ordinary milk stout.  The taste was very similar to the nose.  The first and dominate flavor was that of a milk chocolate, slightly bittered by the taste of coffee (I'd make an educated guess of around 20-25 IBUs.)  The vanilla that was present on the nose comes across as the lactose sweetness that you'd expect from a traditional milk stout.  A bit of cinnamon danced around the flavor profile too.  What really made me sit up and take notice was on the back end of the swallow.  The promised heat from a hit of red pepper spice emerged (and became more prominent as the beer warmed.)  It wasn't overpowering by any means. I kind of thought of it as one might of a large honking nose on an otherwise nondescript face.  It gave the ordinary some welcomed character.  The mouthfeel was moderate, not overly creamy or lush but still stout-like.  A good amount of carbonation helped to cut the sweetness as well.  The finish was less than I expected, but since the back of the swallow had a bit the heat from the peppers on it, I understand why they choose to make it short.  As it was, the hit of heat made the finish interesting instead of overwhelming.   

Minute 1

Minute 1:20.  When it's over, it's over.

 Milk stouts aren't easy to pair with most main meal foods.  They do, however, go wonderfully with  many deserts.  I would serve Pipeworks End of Days alongside a bittersweet chocolate cherry sorbet with fresh cherry compote .  The tartness of the cherries, the sweetness of the milk stout and the heat from the chili peppers would just make your mouth sing (most likely something like this.  Maybe not.)   You could also serve it with a simple desert such as grilled pound cake with mixed berry hobo packs.  Sliced pound cake, fresh berries and tinfoil.  What could be easier?   The end of the world may still be coming (someday.  Everything ends eventually.  My best guess is it'll happen the same time as the Simpsons goes off the air.) But until it does, at least we have some tasty beers to wile away our days with.   Well played, Mayans.