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.
To close out 2018, we tasted through the following21 beers for December 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.
This month, stouts ran the show, fruit additions were prominent, IPAs were few, and we even got some beers from both north and south of the border. Enjoy!
Russian Imperial Stout
ST. PETERSBURG, RUS – 10.0% ABV
This is an odd one; it pours thick and at 10%, you’ll expect big flavor. It just isn’t there though, and the body and mouthfeel are light enough to be off-putting. Combined with a bitter, acidic taste and a perplexing bubblegum aroma, there are far better options out there at this time of year.
HEALDSBURG, CA – 8.0% ABV
This is a hazy DIPA from a West Coast brewery renowned for their hop bombs. We expected something a little more subtle but this still showcases their west coast roots, albeit slightly easier on the back end. Bitter orange pith is the dominant aroma and taste, resulting in a beer you’ll want to sip.
PORTLAND, OR – 8.5% ABV
Cascade’s sours tend to be a showcase of exactly what it says on the label — in this case apricot. The aroma hits you right in the nose with a huge, very tart fruit acidity that is absolutely palate crushing in all the right ways. Definitely one you’ll want to split with a friend or two, but you won’t regret this purchase.
Honey Blonde Ale
AMHERST, WI – 4.6% ABV
We’ll be honest, of the lineup this month, the ‘honey blonde’ wasn’t getting us revved up. However, this was a pleasant surprise for a style oft overlooked. It was a beautiful straw yellow with full, lacy head–and, despite the honey addition, wasn’t as sweet as you would expect. It was perfectly balanced, and a true example of the style.
São Francisco, BRA – 11.0% ABV
Our curiosity with this Brazilian stout was met with near immediate perplexion. While it certainly poured an obsidian, crude oil pitch black, the aroma was off-putting. It smelled plasticy almost. On the tongue, the cocoa did produce a dry, dark chocolate profile, but not enough to make up for its other downfalls, sadly.
BEND, OR – 6.7% ABV
Spiced winter beers tend to be a love it or hate it thing for most people. Jubelale certainly features those flavors, though does prevent them from being overwhelming with a nice roast malt backbone. If this cold weather gets you hankering for this style, this is always a solid option.
FORT COLLINS, CO – 6.8% ABV
In a current beer climate where nearly everything is style + something else, this is a nice change of pace. The name really does tell all here, as we get a perfectly executed saison with absolutely no bells and whistles. Incredibly balanced, with just a hint of apple-like fruit character. A perfect change of pace in this lineup.
Bourbon County Brand
Coffee Barleywine (2018)
CHICAGO, IL – 15.1% ABV
This year’s melding of Bourbon County crowd favorites Barleywine and Coffee Stout divided opinions among our group. The Guatemalan Intelligentsia coffee is bitter, sharp, and green, something that some may love, and others will detest. In the end though, it’s Bourbon County, and that’s rarely a bad thing.
TIJUANA, MEX – 5.5% ABV
This AIPA from Mexico was a pleasant and approachable citrus sipper. With some prominent tangerine and some melon characteristics, it was fruity enough to refresh but not in a too-sweet manner. While it was a little light overall, it was an easily enjoyable version of the style.
MEXICO CITY, MEX – 8.0% ABV
Another from our recent trip south of the border, this imperial stout paired cacao nibs and chiles for a contradiction in flavors. It’s bone dry and one or fans of molé or spiced chocolate, however the most surprising characteristic was its lingering metallic mouthfeel.
CHICAGO, IL – 8.2% ABV
This is a polarizing beer and complete contradiction of styles. It initially reminded us of schwarzbier, but first sip smacked us with a hoppy bitter profile. Then, it got weirder. It was reminiscent of burnt popcorn…even a bit meaty like a grodziskie or rauchbier. This was all over the place, but it certainly grabbed our attention, albeit not for the right reasons.
A Winner is You!
NEW YORK, NY – 4.5% ABV
This is a pale lager said to be made for gamers and we can see why. It’s about as inoffensive and unremarkable of a beer as we’ve ever had from the Mikkeller name (this one from the new Queens outpost) and we could easily see ourselves throwing back a few during long sessions of RDR2. In the end though, that low ABV and lack of any real hop punch make it easy to forget.
ATLANTA, GA – 12.0% ABV
Monday Night’s barrel-aged beers continue to impress with this Wee Heavy Scotch Ale aged in maple bourbon barrels. The barrel character is pretty light here and the sweetness from the maple syrup is thankfully toned down to match the easier going base. Overall, a very nicely balanced and easy drinking twelve-percenter.
fort collins, co – 6.2% ABV
Accumulation pours a wintery white and doesn’t beat around the bush; it is exactly what it says it is, a white IPA. And, that’s alright, even if not terribly exciting. If a simple, mellow, milky soft ale is what you are in search of this winter, here you are. It’s a simple beer, that you might want to help break up all that stout drinking.
DALLAS, TX – 6.5% ABV
For whatever reason, we don’t see too much beer out of Texas, so this was a fun opportunity from Dallas. And what a pleasant surprise. Mother Night is a dark saison with just the right amount of funk, paired with plum and stone fruit notes. It drinks dry as you might expect, and finishes with that classic peppery tinge you want from a saison. This was a nice one that’ll surely have us keeping an eye on more from Noble Rey.
STOCKHOLM/BUXTON – 11.0% ABV
The packaging alone is enough to put one off of this beer from Omnipollo and UK’s Buxton Brewery; but they insist it is meant to poke fun at the Klan… In any case, this beer is a winner. It’s peanutty, biscuity and coffee-forward, giving it a distinct dryness, but it’s rounded out by enough chocolate character to maintain its decadence. Sadly, this beer will be harder to find after a recent cease & desist. But if you get the chance…drink this.
The Big O
PLOVER, WI – 4.6% ABV
This won wheat beer GABF gold in 2015, something the brewery really wants you to know about. The orange zest adds a little character to a tried a true recipe, but honestly it’s about as easy going as it gets in the craft world. One you’ll drink a sixer of and then immediately forget.
Deth by Currants (2018)
CHICAGO, IL – 13.6% ABV
We’re always wary of flavorful fruits in big stouts but thankfully Deth By Currants toes the line incredibly well. There’s a little tart sweetness to add to the incredible vanilla bourbon backend we always enjoy in Rev’s barrel-aged releases. A pleasure to drink, though you’ll likely just want the one.
The Variant II
ST. LOUIS, MO – 9.4% ABV
As part of The Saint Louis Brewery’s most limited release series, Ibex Rare, The Variant II is a follow up to their 2017 The Variant. While The Variant was an 9.4% imperial stout aged in port barrels with cocoa nibs, The Variant II is aged in brandy barrels for 6 mo. then with tart cherries for 4 weeks. It’s decadent, creamy and rich–like drinking a dessert–perhaps black forest cake? The only thing working against this beer is it’s slightly sweet lingering syrupy-ness. Still, not enough to contradict its better qualities.
TRANSIENT ARTISAN ALES
Only I Didn’t Say Fudge
BRIDGMAN, MI – 10.0% ABV
Don’t be fooled by this one from West Michigan. It’s an ‘imperial sweet stout’ with plenty of chocolate…just not fudgy, as the name implies. Rather, it’s got plenty of candy sweetness, like sugar coated chocolates (Snowcaps, anyone?). At 10%, we were hoping for something a bit more full-bodied, but were still left with a decent drinker fit for post holiday meals.
Ale Gâteau Forêt-Noire
CHAMBLY, CAN – 10.5% ABV
Not unlike The Variant II’s dessert-like qualities, this Belgian-style ale from Unibroue is sweet and full-bodied, almost aperitif-esque. It’s surprisingly yeasty and prickly with a somewhat cough-syrupy cherry flavor. This seems like a niche beer for folks who prefer something between fruited sours and malty dark ales.
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.