This content was originally published by The Hop Review, a digital magazine that joined the Hop Culture family in March 2020.
This piece was written by Jack Muldowney.
Each month, we share a handful of beers that we think you should know a little more about, through the perspective of our collective palate.
We tasted through the following 16 beers for March–a select few in partnership with Lakeshore Beverage–and rated them according to our very own interpretation of the BJCP scoring guidelines, on a scale of 100, listed in alphabetical order. We considered aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, overall impression and trueness to style. It’s not an exact science–we know this. We just don’t like to pass on the opportunity to drink more beer.
This month, we explore a hearty offering from the Midwest and West Coast, some impressive barrel-aged options linger, and a few hoppy pales get mixed in.
SHEBOYGAN, WI – 13.2% ABV
Sheboygan’s brewery by the lake hits a home run with this quad, ‘Veneration’–the name being an homage to the Trappist Brewers of Belgium. It’s a creamy, pillowy smooth pour that makes the presence of added molasses known. And immediately you get notes of caramel and vanilla on the nose. The addition of figs add an oh-so-subtle stone fruit sweetness, that is far more welcome than the often expected raisin-y barrel aged notes. A handful of months in rye barrels make for a dangerously smooth 13% beer that’s chewy and warming. Maybe 3 Sheeps’ best recipe to date, we wonder, which is saying something…
High West BA Victory at Sea
SAN DIEGO, CA – 12.0% ABV
Just when you thought you might not need to see or sample any more Ballast Point beers for a while, their BBA version of their popular vanilla-forward imperial porter rears its head. Aged in a mix of High West bourbon and rye whiskey barrels, this decadent porter is chewy and sweet–and the notes of vanilla and coffee are ever present. It’s more sweet than oaky/charred, and even has a bit of a nutty finish. You might even say it drinks a bit like a cookie. If that’s your thing, and we often tend to say it is, then this one fits the bill. It certainly acts as a nice BA option at 12 ounces and a friendly price point…
COMSTOCK, MI – 8.0% ABV
Upon seeing the traditional Doppelbock goat on a label, one might prepare themselves for a lager that doesn’t go down quite as effortlessly as its younger bock siblings. But that’s what we must trade for the rich full-bodied nature of the style. A deep amber color gives way to complex raisin, and molasses. A toasty backbone stops the big caramel sweetness from being overbearing. The most pleasant surprise was the mild esters on the finish, no doubt due to a carefully cultivated yeast strain. Rarely does a Doppelbock leave you desiring another pint, but these goats aren’t so aggressive — I’ll have another!
Rye on Rye*
KANSAS CITY, MO – 12.0% ABV
The name and ABV suggest a big boozey bruiser, but in fact, Rye on Rye is surprisingly more mellow than expected. Aged on Templeton Rye barrels, the characteristics of a spiced rye ale are there, but its sweetness balances it out overall. The slight charred oakiness gives way to notes of vanilla, brown sugar and minimal hop bitterness, before easing into a smooth, dry finish. At 12%, this one is sneaky, and isn’t as obvious as some of its fellow BA bretheren.
Nitro Irish Stout
breckenridge, co – 4.8% ABV
Breckenridge’s take on the Irish stout is as impressive as it is familiar. The obvious comparison, given it’s nitro status, is to compare it to that familiar pint of the ‘black stuff.’ One notable difference, however, is the chocolate and light coffee roast aroma you get after pouring this. Otherwise, it cascades into the glass in a familiar way, and finishes with a pillowy tan head. And of course, it’s incredibly dry. ‘NIS’ is smooth and welcoming–perfect for March’s transition to warmer days.
WINCHESTER, OH – 6.5% ABV
Having been fans of plenty of BrewDog offerings in the UK, we’ve been excited to sample some of their new Columbus outpost’s beers. This time around with Elvis Juice, however, the IPA presented far sweeter than recalled. It’s fairly carbonated and certainly tangy, leaving one to make obvious comparisons to grapefruit soda. It in no way hides its citrus intentions. The fruit–plus a slight crackeriness–make for a pale that’ll satisfy your sweet tooth, for better or worse.
TAMPA, FL – 6.0% ABV
Hitting the Chicago market just a week ago, Cigar City enters our crowded market with much hype and anticipation. Among the mostly run-of-the-mill core launch lineup is Invasion, their tropical pale ale. As the name suggests, “Tropical” is an apt descriptor here as you immediately get a big grapefruit and orange peel aroma that carries right through to the tongue. It reminds us of other pale ale favorites like Toppling Goliath’s Pseudo Sue — certainly high praise.
SAN LEANDRO, CA – 9.3%
Piney, sticky, dank, citrus… all the words that describe Drake’s hop bomb of a Double IPA. At 9.3%, it’s low enough ABV for the style to consider keeping this to yourself. It’s becoming less and less common to find a solid “old school” DIPA nowadays, what with everything going hazy, so it’s refreshing to try something that reminds us of why we started drinking hop-forward beers in the first place.
Grand Rapids, MI – 4.4% ABV
We anticipate Solid Gold setting a trend among larger craft brewers–can a solid, wallet-friendly lager that can provide a welcome fill-in for the macro multi-packs. This does the trick, no doubt. It’s crackery, and a clean straw golden yellow lager that doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s ultra clean and carries a more impressive maltiness and hop spice than it’s more vast produced cousins. It’s not gonna wow ya, but we’re guessing that’s not the intent.
CHICAGO, IL – 11.3% ABV
There’s an incredible depth to this beer that’s entirely unique. The nose is more than a little reminiscent of Bourbon County, with a big sweet chocolate aroma right up front. Aged in cabernet barrels, we were expecting a much more forward red grape taste, but it’s surprisingly subdued. Sweet dried fruit, chocolate, and a touch of acidity from the wine barrel make for a fascinating drink from beginning to end.
Wood Werks No. 1
DENVER, CO – 9.3% ABV
A Belgian style sour, eh? That’s welcomed by us–and makes even more sense once you take your first sip. A higher carbonation and yeast driven esters make for a really unique take on a sour. The acidity is on the lower end meaning the sour pucker that’s often too much for some in these barrel-aged sours is dialed back. This could be a great intro to BA sours for those getting into the style but we enjoyed it just fine. We’ll be looking for more from this series.
MONDAY NIGHT BREWING
ATLANTA, GA – 7.0% ABV
Our first experience with this brewery from Georgia is a solid one as their Archipelago jumps firmly onto the New England IPA bandwagon with great effect. Tropical, almost lemon-like notes hit you right when you pop open the can. Unlike some of this style, the sweetness is dialed back making for a soft and surprisingly easy drinking beer.
Tartastic: Raspberry Lime Ale
FORT COLLINS, CO – 4.2% ABV
A crystal clear pink lemonade highlights the champagne like bubbles dancing to the top. Lemon was the overpowering aroma with some seeded fruit in the mix, almost completely void of tart or sour notes. The biggest surprise was the low carbonation for the style; the missing bite usually provided by this left everything feeling a bit muted and soapy. The low carbonation combined with the lacking tart/sour character made for an underwhelming experience.
COOPERSTOWN, NY – 6.7% ABV
What an odd one Candi Stout is. Blindfold us and ask the style and we’d never guess this was intended to be a stout. Ommegang does here what they’re best at — showcasing yeast and delicate ingredients. Banana yeast aroma on the nose, followed by candied sugar and a noticable but pleasant roast malt backbone make for a really unique drink. It’s difficult to score this one to style because it’s so different to what we expected. We’d still drink it again, though perhaps as a food pairing.
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – 7.6% ABV
Speciation has made quite the name for themselves in the sour and fruited beer world since their inception last year. Hopeful Monster features big black currant notes that we’d expected to find cloyingly sweet. That’s not the case here, however, as a mild sourness creates a surprisingly dry finish. People will draw comparisons to the fruited efforts of New Glarus, but we always struggle to work our way through their large format bottles. There were no struggles with this one.
Astronaut Status 2017*
MEMPHIS, TN – 12.5% ABV
With big barrel aged stout season coming to a close, it’s admittedly tough to get excited about even the best renditions of the style. But that was no issue here. Deep vanilla, bittersweet chocolate, and faint peppermint all jump out in the aroma after pouring fudge-like black. The body is huge and creamy, the mouthfeel and dominant flavors are reminiscent of vanilla ice cream and brownies. The finish includes just enough barrel heat to remind you this isn’t just a dessert. As it warmed, all the flavors described above traded positions for center stage, but never overpowered each other. One of those beers that keeps you both interested and satisfied sip after sip.
MARCH’S HOP REVIEWS
SPONSORED BY LAKESHORE BEVERAGE
The Hop Review’s monthly beer reviews are collected from beers gathered at the discretion of our team. They include beers collected from travels, local brewers, as well as shared samples. Some of March’s beers (*where noted) were provided in partnership with Lakeshore Beverage.