by Hop Nation USA's Steve
On podcast Episode 116, our friend Bryan from Tap That Brewing brought us beer from North Carolina. We review a D9 tropical IPA, a Catawba witbier, and a Wicked Weed west coast IPA. Those weren’t the only beers he brought us, though. There were actually two more westies; the NoDa Hop, Drop ‘n Roll IPA and the Appalachian Mountain Brewery Long Leaf IPA. It was nice to learn west coast IPAs aren’t dead, even in a beer hotspot like N.C.
I’ve been craving more and more clean west coast style. The local market seems to be flooding with soft, NEIPAs. When they’re done well, they’re fine. Too often I’m finding these beers to underdeliver on flavor and even worse cans can be filled with yeast sludge. It’s not appealing and not cool no matter how much hazehype marketing tries to push it. Thankfully, both of these westies were clean and clear.
I did find the NoDa offering the better tasting of the two though and is actually my favorite of the five beers we got from North Carolina. It’s incredibly bright and fresh with a lot of flavor. The majority of the hop flavors really hammer you at the end of a sip, but there’s a good balance between citrus and piney. The pine tree flavors are present without being overpowering, although there’s more of resinous aftertaste because of them. You can thank the Chinook hops for this I’m sure. While I’m sure this beer would turn off anyone who’s not into IPAs, it’s great for anyone who wants to return to the good ol’ days when beer was filtered and flavors mattered just as much as aroma. The one downside is I can see the hops causing palate fatigue from constantly going back from more, much like getting a stomach ache from eating too much candy on Halloween when you were a kid. You know you should stop, but you can’t. It’s that reason I completely understand why this beer won a World Beer Cup Gold Award. Definitely seek it out when you can.
The other west coast IPA from AMB, I can’t give as much praise to. Simply because I don’t think this beer has the universal appeal the NoDa does. If they’re goal with the Long Leaf was to can pine trees, they did it beautifully. This beer is for a very specific palate and that person probably uses Simcoe hops in place of parsley. It makes perfect sense, though. AMB originates from Boone, North Carolina which isn’t on the coastal side the state. They’re much closer to the mountainous, forest dense areas also known as the Appalachians...uh, doy. So yes this beer captures the area, and they don’t lie about it on the can even. AMB is very upfront in saying/warning drinkers there is “...an intense, resinous hop flavor that will stay with you, pint after pint.” And then after you brush your teeth, go to bed, wake up the next morning, on your way to work...it sticks with you, get it? I can only recommend this beer to the most serious of piney IPA lovers, mostly because I don’t want it wasted by people who would think it’s yucky. I will say both this beer and the NoDa were more flavorful than the Pernicious IPA from Wicked Weed we reviewed on the podcast. However, I see more universal appeal for the Pernicious over the Long Leaf. As a final note, I will point out Appalachian Mountain Brewery does make it clear portions of their beer sales do go to conservation and sustainability through the We Can So You Can Foundation. So if nothing else, do it for the trees.
It’s a shame we can’t easily try more from these breweries to get a better profile of them overall. North Carolina just isn’t a strong distributor for the Pittsburgh area. I’m not counting Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, either. But as hyperlocalization increases, it becomes less likely for our shelf space to be occupied by N.C. beer. Strangely enough, I’ve been getting my Burial and Hi-Wire fix from Ohio stores. Hope isn’t completely gone, but I think for now we’ll have to rely on the kindness of vacationing and work traveling friends.
by Hop Nation USA's Steve
I like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about music. My tastes are varied enough I listen to more than just the screaming Scandinavian buzzsaws of black metal. One particular aspect of music I enjoy is the cover song, especially when it’s done by a metal band. A lot of times, it’s bands paying homage to their forebearers. For example, Between the Buried and Me does an entire album titled The Anatomy Of covering their influences from Queen to Pantera to Motley Crue.
Some of these songs can gimmicky fun like Children of Bodom’s cover of Britney Spears’ “Oops...I Did It Again.” Or they can be full on transformative exercises like iwrestledabearonce’s cover of Muse’s “Uprising” or Tori Amos’ cover of “Raining Blood.” They can also be arguably better versions of the original like Cradle of Filth’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name” Iron Maiden cover or Dimmu Borgir’s cover of the Twisted Sister song “Burn in Hell.”
You can also get unlistenable dog turds which should probably never been attempted like Disturbed’s version of “Sound of Silence.”
All of this is can be related to the beer world as it becomes more commonplace for brewers to ape non-traditional flavors found outside of the beer world. What is Duclaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus or Belching Beaver’s PB Milk Stout if not a cover of Reese’s Cups? If a Colorado brewery brews a Mexican-Style Lager, are they not just singing someone else’s song? Breweries want to capture not just the flavors, but the feelings and memories associated with an intended mimic. A number of breweries like Saucy and Hitchhiker make fruit punch flavored beers. Why? Because 90s kids want to be reminded of Hawaiian Punch but with booze.
Some breweries go the other way. Instead of adding booze to childhood favorites, they pay homage to adult cocktails. Cocktails are just as experimental and creative in nature as the American craft beer revolution itself. It’s not hard to see how the two would go hand in hand.
I’ve experienced good “cover songs” from Pittsburgh’s Hitchhiker and Abjuration brewing who both “covered” Painkiller. Both capture the tropical drinkability and warm weather feels, but they don’t need prepped and come in cans. However, the Mimosa Ale and Mint Julep from Flying Dog’s Brewhouse Rarities couldn’t be more disappointing unless they were the Fall Out Boy Ghostbusters Theme. Both completely fail to capture bright, flavorful nature of the cocktails. The Mimosa tasting much like orange juice poured into beer, which is just a beermosa, its own brunch phenomenom. The Mint Julep didn’t taste much like anything, certainly not even a trace of mint, and was barely palatable. Thankfully, it was retired.
This brings me to the most recent cocktail cover I drank, the Southern Tier Old Fashioned. As a whiskey drinker, both bourbon and Irish, I fell in like with Old Fashioneds at the suggestion of a friend. I fell in love with them during a New Orleans bachelor party where the more complex and regional Sazerac is common. The Southern Tier “cover” does not hold up.
A part of their Barrel House Series of barrel aged beers, it looks well enough. A nice, deep orange without much carbonation. It’s in the drinking where it falters. There’s only three main ingredients in an OF; bourbon, bitters and an orange peel. Because of this, the original cocktail relies heavily on the quality of booze, unlike a mixed cocktail like a daiquiri. Southern Tier, though, seems to play it pretty close to the vest as to where exactly they source their bourbon barrels from. It’s not hard to imagine the quality of bourbon is more Bird Dog than Bulleit. This is fine for other beers when you just want to impart some of the characteristics of the wood and bourbon on a beer, but as mentioned before the bourbon has to be upfront in this flavor profile. What you wind up with is a taste of somewhat cheap and muted hooch, but with hot burn. Also generally lost in this beer is a taste and aroma of fresh orange; the second most pivotal part of an old fashioned. The way a fresh orange peel and twist can open up the freshness and brightness of the cocktail is wonderful. Here, it’s like a bartender rinsed a glass in Sunny D and tossed in some well bourbon. Quality and freshness an Old Fashioned demands are simply two things breweries cannot compete with and expect to maintain a reasonable price point. I don’t fault them for trying, but maybe don’t try again.
While it’s not completely undrinkable, it’s hard to justify drinking this over an actual Old Fashioned or another better Southern Tier beer(try one of their Girl Scout Cookie covers.) This isn’t a famous band paying lip service to another famous band. It’s your uncle’s AC/DC cover band playing the same bar every third Thursday. You’ll just wind up craving the original more than ever having another.
At this point I believe I’ve had the three most decadent of the Decadent Ales offerings I can get my hands on. Those being the French Toast, the Double Toasted Marshmallow and the Creamsicle. I can firmly say without hyperbole, Decadent absolutely lives up to their namesake. A lot of breweries have nonsense, in-jokes or just named for local attractions as names. Decadent isn't just a name, it's truth in advertising and perhaps a warning to some. Check out podcast Episode 54 and Episode 67 for reviews on the Marshmallow and Creamsicle, respectively.
by Hop Nation USA's Adam
Lavery Brewing of Erie, Pennsylvania has created a beer that truly has me confused. Lavery’s Imperial French-Style Ale is a conundrum of a beer. The first thing that struck me was the nose of the beer versus the actual taste. To be honest, I have no idea what a French-Style ale is. Quite frankly, after drinking this beer, I still don’t know.
Hop Nation USA's Steve
Big fuckin’ surprise. Southern Tier once again perfectly replicates the flavor of a cookie and makes an impossibly drinkable 10% dessert. Whoop dee doo. Why don’t they try challenging themselves and make a Roquefort blue cheese IPA or a gose using the dishwater from a Denny’s? Obviously, this whole beer making thing is too easy for them. The Samoa This captures coconut, caramel, and chocolate flavors while never being too sweet or too boozy. It’s almost like they brewed this simply because there were some people who didn’t like mint. But this beer is clearly just another in a long list of fat kid wish fulfillments. Stop throwing darts at your daughter’s Girl Scouts order form, Southern Tier. Make the unfiltered, driveway gravel yeast sediment, kale saisons we deserve.
by Hop Nation USA's Steve
On Episode 51(listen here), we reviewed spruce beers from Alaskan, Yards and Dogfish Head. The latter two were good beers, although the spruce flavor was arguably muted by caramel and malty notes. However, the Alaskan Winter Ale was notably unpleasant to drink. There was little to no spruce flavor. Instead, it was full of coppery and metallic notes which overpowered any other flavors present. It was with trepidation and hope I approached the Alaskan Spruce IPA. Trepidation, because I had just been burned by the Winter Ale, but hope because I’ve found the majority of offerings from Alaskan to be rather good.
by Hop Nation USA's Steve
I fell in love with Thai food back in 2008 while working on an independant film. We were filming in a semi-trendy, soon to gentrify neighborhood. The crew members who were more familiar with the area introduced us lowly PAs to the Thai restaurant in the neighborhood, leading to many lunches and after shoot dinners. Panang and Kiew Wan have since become some of my favorite dishes. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast and have a favorite meal, then more than likely you have a favorite beer to pair it with. Heartbreakingly, I’ve been lacking a beer to pair with my Thai dishes. Until now.
by Hop Nation USA's Adam
3 Daughters Brewing is out to prove the headline’s adage with the A-Wake Coffee Blonde Ale. The St. Petersburg, Florida brewery has decided to take the ‘fun in the sun’ route in their entry into the coffee beer arena. Unlike most beers with a coffee flavor, the A-Wake is light and well suited for a full day on the fishing boat. Being from Florida, and a blonde ale, this makes total sense.
Hop Nation USA's Adam
It’s 10 degrees outside right now, the plans I had for my day off have gone up in smoke, and the best thing I can find on TV is the Who Cares Bowl, Presented by Callahan Auto Parts. It’s time for a beer. A quick perusal of the beer fridge brings me to an offering from Ipswich Brewing that I’ve been meaning to try for some time.
by Hop Nation USA's Adam
There. It’s done. The G'n'R reference is already taken care of in the title. Now we can get to the actual review of Evil Twin’s You’re In the Jungle Baby! The latest offering from Evil Twin is a big imperial stout that does everything in its power to sock you in the mouth. Before the top is even popped on the futuristic leopard printed can, a quick scan shows that this beer means business. A listed ABV of 12% lets the drinker in on what may come. The big booze on this beer is not the headline though. Nor is the nose, which honestly, at best only gives up the inclusion of cocoa nibs in the recipe. The look of the beer doesn’t give you any help either, as the darkness of this beer still won’t give you any hints of the real danger within, let alone let light through. Admittedly, it does look nice with its big tan head sitting on top of it after a transfer out of the 12 oz. can and into your favorite glass.