Beer Review: New Holland Brewing’s Dragon Milk Stout

Name: Dragon’s Milk
Brewing Company: New Holland Brewing Company
Location: Holland, MI
Style: American Imperial / Double Stout
ABV: 11%

From the beer’s description on New Holland Brewing’s Web site:

Rich, Roasty, and Creamy with Heavy notes of Vanilla and just enough familiar warmth from Oak Barrels. Reminds us all that life’s events – big or small – are worth celebrating. A stout with roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in an oak bath.

Few beers have as great a name as this one – Dragon’s Milk. Something magical is conjured in the mind with this name and there is a tradition to the name, too. Dragon’s Milk is a 17th century term used to describe the strong beer usually reserved for royalty. From some older information New Holland put out for this beer, “This strong ale was aged in oak for over 120 days. The aging process extracts flavors from the wood, which contribute to its complex character.”

While a great name is all well and good, the beer must live up to the name. In the case of New Holland’s best known beer, the contents of the bottle (or if you’re lucky enough, the keg) more than meet the expectations laid down by the name. Also an unplanned thing is reviewing “Dragon’s Milk” after a beer called “Skull Splitter.”

The best-known craft brewery in Michigan may be Founders, and rightly so. One of their best known and most renowned beers is Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). Again, rightly so. But for all the hype surrounding KBS, Dragon’s Milk as a Barrel Aged stout is an excellent stout and not one to be overshadowed. Also, it is far easier to find and acquire this brew, at least here in NJ. There are variants on the beer I haven’t seen and only heard about, but this fantastic brew is a wonderful barrel-aged stout.

Straight off the pour, the bourbon and vanilla aromas make their presence known. The beer pours a beautiful black that makes a statement: This Beer is Potent. I let it sit for a few minutes before giving in and having a taste drinking in the aromas for a few minutes. Yes, this beer lived up to my memory of first having it about 7 years ago. Like Backwoods Bastard, the aroma of this beer is just as good as the taste. Rather than letting it sit on the table between sips, I was holding it to bathe in the aroma.

Like a lot of bourbon barrel aged stouts, Dragon’s Milk is a beer to be enjoyed slowly. Not a beer to guzzle or drink quickly. Not just because of the 11% ABV, but also because this is a beer that you want to enjoy for all the flavors swirling in your choice of glass. I’ll beat the drum again, but like most higher ABV beers, stouts especially, Dragon’s Milk is a beer whose flavors become more pronounced (i.e. delicious) as it warms to room temperature. The beer smells so damned good it is tough to not have a sip immediately. Do that sure, but let most of the beer warm for a few minutes before drinking more than that first sip.

The first time I had this beer was on tap at a wonderful restaurant/beer bar in Pennsylvania about 45 minutes from me – Isaac Newton’s – about 6 or 7 years ago. If you live in the NJ/PA region and are close enough to Isaac Newton’s, do yourself a favor, take a drive to enjoy some great food (incredible burgers, delicious meatloaf, excellent short ribs).

Shortly thereafter, I procured a four pack and enjoyed the beer periodically, but I saved one of those four for a special occasion. At the time, I was at a career crossroads, so I figured I’d save the beer until I landed a job I really wanted. Well, that “last beer” aged about 4 years and that time in the back of my fridge did wonders. I recall loving the beer, here’s my 2011 untapped check in.

This is the 2011 bottle that aged for four years

As it so happened, my father gave me a variety of beers which amounted a half of a case of beer for my birthday a couple of weeks ago, including some Dragon’s Milk. I am also in the midst of a career upgrade right now, having started a new managerial role yesterday (November 13). I enjoyed the aged bottle from 2011 on the first day in the then new position I started in 2015 and I “closed the circle” and had the new bottle of Dragon’s Milk on the last day in that role on the Friday of my last day in that role, before assuming promotion which began yesterday.

So, that was the small history lesson of me and this beer. Clearly, it is a beer I enjoy and one that any stout lover should be getting on a regular basis. Most of my friends who enjoy stouts talk about this beer with reverence so I suspect most beer folks do know about it. I’ve seen this in four packs for about $15 or $16 near me, which isn’t cheap, but well worth it when you consider that going to a bar and having a few beers of far lower quality will cost you potentially more money.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Beer Review: Orkney Brewery’s Skull Splitter

Name: Skull Splitter
Brewing Company: The Orkney Brewery
Location: Orkney Islands, Scotland
Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
ABV: 8.5%

From the beer’s description on Orkney Brewery’s Web site:

One of our strongest beers, named after Thorfinn Einarsson the 7th Viking Earl of Orkney

A rich fruity wine-like complexity on the palate includes fresh and dried fruits, warm exotic spice and light summer citrus fruits. Sophisticated, satiny smooth with a deceptively light character.

This is the second Scotch Ale I’ve reviewed here at the Tap Takeover and the first beer from the land which lends the name to the style, Scotland. This is as traditional as a Scotch Ale can get and after seeing a few reviews on untappd and the beer guy at my bottle shop give this big thumbs-up when he caught me glancing at the bottle, I knew I wanted to give it a try. One day a couple of weeks ago, my wife stopped at one of the many bottle shops on her way home from work and surprised me with a four pack of this one. My wife certainly knows what I like. She’s also a self-admitted sucker for a great label and beer name, as she said, “How do I not get you a beer named Skull Splitter?”

On to the beer…malty aromas come out of the bottle as the brownish/copper ale fills the glass. The beer looks a little cloudy and has a very pleasing aroma once it fills the pint glass and breathes. The beer starts strong and has a nice feel as you absorb the complex flavors.

Those complex flavors include hints of some kind of fruits, I’ve seen people mention figs and maybe plums or even raisins. I can’t disagree with any of those, I just know I like the taste. There’s a nice caramel/malty finish to the beer that is extremely tasty and smooth. As the flavors settle then dissipate, it really makes you want to take another three or four sips. Like some of the maltier ales the hop presence doesn’t really assert itself, which is fine by me.  Rather that caramel sweetness finishes with a slight tang/spice at the end that makes for a very nicely balanced beer.

The easy drinking taste of the beer; however, is in contrast to the relatively high ABV. This isn’t a beer you should throw back at 3 or 4 an hour. Maybe…maybe 2 an hour. The complex flavors really benefit from slowly drinking it, letting all the complexities roll around your palate.

The beer reminds me a bit of some of the great Dubbels I’ve had over the years for the malt and smoothness, but Skull Splitter‘s caramel flavors and hints of brown sugar set this one apart into a glass of its own pouring.

A perfect beer for a cool fall evening, one to enjoy after the meal is complete almost as a dessert beer but one that  also might pair well with a really earthy meal of steak and mashed potatoes or a hearty stew. You know, a meal like Thorfinn Einarsson, the  surly Viking leaning on the axe on the label, would enjoy.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Wee Bit of the Scotch (Level 2)

Whether it’s a Scotch Ale, Scottish Ale, or a traditional Wee Heavy, don your kilt and prepare yourself for a wee bit of Scotch.

Beer Review: Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Winter is Here

Name: Game of Thrones: Winter Is Here
Brewing Company: Brewery Ommegang
Location: Cooperstown, New York
Style: Witbier / Double White Ale
ABV: 8.3%

That is indeed George R.R. Martin’s signature on A Dance of Dragons in the background.

From the beer’s description on Ommegang’s Web site:

Winter is Here is brewed with pilsner malt, white wheat malt, and soft red wheat flakes, hopped with Saaz hops, and spiced with white pepper, sea salt, coriander and sweet orange peel. Brewery Ommegang’s house yeast is used in primary and secondary fermentation. This double white ale pours a hazy pale straw color with a stark white head. Aromas of banana, clove, and pronounced peppery phenols lead, and the flavor is slightly sweet malt, subtly balanced by hints of sea salt. Despite a full mouthfeel and healthy ABV, it still manages to drink quite lightly. The finish gradually builds in a warming crescendo of peppery spice

I’ve been trying to “spread the love” and not cover the same breweries in my reviews and Draught Diversions. Sure I’ve posted a Tuesday Beer Review for breweries I’ve visited, but I’ve tried not to repeat myself and I’m aiming to continue that trend through the end of the year. I think I’m still getting away on a technicality here with this review since I haven’t truly reviewed a beer from Brewery Ommegang yet. Since I’ve done a review/overview of all the Game of Thrones beers from Brewery Ommegang, I almost have to review the newest in the series, right?

Wheat based beers are high up on my list of favorites and Witbiers are the Belgian take on the style. As loyal readers of this blog may recall, the first beer review here at the Tap Takeover was of a Witbier. Ommegang’s primary output is Belgian influenced styles so a Witbier is a natural fit for them. I’ve enjoyed their Witte Wheat in the past so I was especially looking forward to this latest installment of the Game of Thrones series.  In the latest Game of Thrones offering, Ommegang has really hit it out of the park, so to speak. Billed as a “Double White Ale” this beer is everything you’d expect from a finely crafted Witbier and more.

It pours a little thicker than I’ve come to expect from Witbiers, but the aroma is spot on. The one thing that stands out on appearance for me is the extremely fluffy head. Regardless of how I tilted the glass or patiently I tried to refill from the 750ml bottle, the head was quite large. The beer looks very inviting once the pint glass has the full head on, but it is thicker than most Witbiers I’ve enjoyed.

The spices and clove are up front, as one expects from a Witbier. Excellent so far. I got a little more banana hints than orange/coriander compared to most other Witbiers I’ve had. This is by no means a slight on the beer. Rather, I like the slightly different profile for this one. It gives the beer a wonderful feel and taste of gravitas; this is far from your standard Witbier.

The other thing that stands out in this beer is the level of maltiness. Most wheat beers, especially the lower in alcohol Witbiers, aren’t nearly as malty as Winter is Here. Again, this is not a knock on the beer by any means. I think the higher alcohol (about twice that of a typical Witbier, this one is 8.3%, most Witbiers are between 4% and 5% ABV) accounts for the more pronounced malt.

The only thing that strikes me as a little odd is that I typically associate wheat beers, especially Witbiers, with warmer months. With higher a ABV, though that thought sort of evaporates. Also, since the glowering fellow on the label is the Night King, the head of the White Walkers, it makes sense to make a beer in homage to him and his followers as a White Beer, another name for Witbiers.

Of the nine Game of Thrones beers Ommegang has brewed and distributed, Winter is Here is my personal top two or three. This is a beer that is a delicious “leveled-up” version of a Witbier that really works to the strengths of Ommegang’s wonderful Belgian heritage and brewing styles.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Keep Your Wits About You (Level 8)

Hazy and white like a winter storm, but best enjoyed on a warm sunny day. This specific style of wheat beer brings with it a subtle mix of spices and hops, giving it a distinct flavor with little bitterness.

Beer Review: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

Name: Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale
Brewing Company: Schlafly – The Saint Louis Brewery
Location: Saint Louis, Missouri
Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 8%

From the beer’s description on Schlafly’s Web site:

Our Pumpkin Ale blends the spices of the harvest with full-bodied sweetness for a beer that tastes like pumpkin pie. Pounds of pumpkin form a malty foundation that supports the fall flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

While pumpkin beers were produced in the early days of the American colonies, they were different from the pumpkin beers we know today. Colonists used pumpkin and squash as the fermenting medium, since malted barley was scarce. Once malt became more readily available, it replaced these alternatives to grain. In the 1990’s, American craft brewers reintroduced the style to the delight of pumpkin beer drinkers.

Pumpkin Beers are one of the more looked-down-upon styles in American Craft beer, it seems there are just as many articles in the beer-writing community decrying the style as there are variations on the style. I’ve even written one such article myself, although it was more about the ridiculous and overwhelmingly early placement of the beers in stores and not about the style itself. As I say in that post, I enjoy pumpkin beers as much as I enjoy many other styles. When done well, a pumpkin beer can be a wonderful tasting beer, just like this fine ale from Schlafly in Saint Louis, MO. The best brewery in Saint Louis.

While Schlalfly may be overshadowed in sheer size by a certain Clydesdale wagon-pulling brewery in Saint Louis, the overall quality of Schlafly more than makes up for it. I’ve had a handful of brews from them, over 50 pumpkin beers since joining untappd, and Schlafly’s is probably the most consistent tasting over the years and an example of how the straightforward approach with the relatively standard components of a pumpkin beer can produce a very tasty beer which, ultimately, has set the bar for the style.

The aroma of the pumpkin pie spices wafts from the bottle as it pours into the glass. The beer is a lovely amber-orange, exactly what to expect with a pumpkin ale. A small head atop makes for a nice presentation that is surpassed by the taste.

The spices and pumpkin are upfront and present throughout the beer. What I appreciated most about this specific Pumpkin Ale is the added sweetness. Some pumpkin beers can have a slight bitter aftertaste or (all I can think of) is too much earthiness. The added sweetness in Schlafly’s version balances out and just about removes that aftertaste. The end result is the gold standard for Pumpkin Ales, or in this case Orange-Amber standard.

I’ve had other pumpkin ales (over 50, according to untappd) and for the straight-up Pumpkin Ale, just about all others are in the shadow of what Schlafly has been consistently brewing for years. The recipe seems relatively unchanged and the beer is model of Autumnal consistency.

Only one other pumpkin beer for me hits as many notes as well as this one does and that one is technically not a Pumpkin Ale, but rather a stout with Pumpkins and the associated spices.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Beer Review: Heavy Seas Blackbeard’s Breakfast

Name: Blackbeard’s Breakfast
Brewing Company: Heavy Seas Beer/Clipper City Brewing Co.
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Style: Porter / Imperial Coffee Porter
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on Heavy Seas Brewing Company’s Web site:

Blackbeard’s Breakfast is a robust porter with a new world twist. Aged in bourbon barrels and brewed with Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company’s Dark Sumatra coffee, this porter is flavorful and complex. Featuring unique English malts, this brew will have strong notes of caramel and a slight nut character. Paired with bourbon notes and the sumptuous Sumatran Coffee, Blackbeard’s breakfast will please coffee and beer connoisseurs alike.

Heavy Seas has been brewing beer out of Maryland for over two decades and their beers can be found on shelves up and down the East Coast. I’ve had a couple of their beers, found them tasty (especially The Greater Pumpkin) so when I saw this beer at my local bottle shop a few weeks ago, I knew I’d want to give it a try especially since Porters are one of my favorite styles of beer. There have been debates for years in the beer community about the differences between porters and stouts, I just know I like both.

I’ve had my fair share of “Breakfast Stouts” the best of which come from Founders. Not many Breakfast Porters, though. As the description above indicates, this one has the added complexity of having been aged in bourbon barrels.

The most noticeable element of this beer is how dark it is. The beer pours even more black than the Allagash Black I reviewed a couple of weeks ago although not quite as thick. The head on Blackbeard’s Breakfast is a tannish brown and makes for an appealing looking beer. The second most noticeable element is the aromas of coffee and bourbon.

The bourbon and coffee elements hit you straight away and are present throughout the beer. I’d say the two flavors blend together to the point that they are one flavor. Usually when beers are aged in liquor barrels, the liquor is a secondary presence. Not quite the case here, for me they came together as one flavor, or at least two halves of a whole flavor rather than a layered set of flavors, if that makes sense.

The 10%ABV for this beer isn’t immediately noticeable, although the bourbon presence lets you know this isn’t a beer to drink quickly especially given that it was in a 22oz. bottle. I find myself saying this often, but I took my time with this one, enjoying the beer over the course of well over an hour. The flavors came out only a little more as it warmed, which made for a really consistent flavor for all 22oz of the beer.

I appreciated that the aging in bourbon barrels really reduced the bitterness of that coffee can sometimes impart in a beer. If anything, the coffee-bourbon flavors overpower the flavor of the beer a little bit. Coffee and bourbon are flavors I happen to enjoy a great deal, so that was fine by me.

All told, Blackbeard’s Breakfast is a flavorful beer that should please beer drinkers who enjoy coffee-infused beers, porters, or beers aged in bourbon barrels. At the price point I purchased it (only $8.49 for the bottle) I would consider it a bargain. I know I’ll be grabbing a bottle next year should Heavy Seas brew it again.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Beer Review: Saugatuck Brewing Blueberry Maple Stout

Name: Blueberry Maple Stout
Brewing Company: Saugatuck Brewing Co.
Location: Douglas, Michigan
Style: Milk Stout
ABV: 6%

 

From the beer’s description on Saugatuck Brewing Company’s Web site:

A rich, sweet stout with classic malt characteristics with a bold, unique twist. This beer tastes like you crammed a fat stack of blueberry pancakes into a pint glass and smothered it with maple syrup. Channel your inner lumberjack, because it’s in for a real treat.

Sometimes a beer grabs you because of its name, because of how that name is translated into the taste of the beer and because that beer is off the beaten path. Such is the case with Saugatuck’s Blueberry Maple Stout.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Stouts allow for a great variation of flavor enhancements and beers with syrup flavoring are not uncommon. Founders, another Michigan brewery, has a few that are even aged in Syrup barrels. I’ve had a few beers with syrup as a flavor enhancement/component, usually stouts and sometimes porters, but there’s something even more “enhanced” about this one, from what is touted to be a complex flavor profile.

The beer pours very black, but is not quite as thick as other stouts. There’s blueberry on the nose and that’s the first taste to hit my taste buds when I sip the beer. I’ve had my share of beers with blueberry in them, usually wheat based ales and naturally some were better than others, but I can’t quite recall having a stout with blueberries before this one.

It works pretty well. I suppose the closest comparison would be chocolate covered blueberries for the richness of the stout. With the blueberries upfront, the beer finishes with the maple sweetness. It makes for a good combination and an interesting flavor profile overall. The maple is overpowered by the blueberries, at least for me. Sure the maple is present, but it doesn’t assert itself to the extent that the blueberries do up front and throughout the whole beer.

Like a lot of stouts, this one benefits a great deal from warming up to room temperature. The flavors just become even more prevalent. Although I liked the first beer from the six pack I had, I think I enjoyed the second and third days later even more. I wasn’t sure if I would even want to finish the whole six pack, to be honest. By the third or fourth beer, I began to enjoy the beer more. Sometimes with a six pack I’ve never had, the remaining beers will sit in the fridge for months on end as I avoid drinking the beer, not so with this one. I found it to be a nice dessert beer, largely because for me, the tastes and flavor profile are complex enough that I think it would stand better on its own. I’m not sure why, maybe because I didn’t initially know what to expect with the first beer and my taste buds “knew” what to expect on second consumption and could enjoy the beer more. Regardless, this is an interesting, tasty beer.

 

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

So Udderly Sweet (Level 8)

Wouldn’t it be nice if milk stouts came directly from beer producing cows? While this unfortunately isn’t the case (yet) they do have a full body and sweetness due to a larger amount of lactose and sugars. 

Beer Review: Allagash Black

Name: Black
Brewing Company: Allagash Brewing Co.
Location: Portland, Maine
Style: Belgian Style Stout / Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 5.2%

From the beer’s description on Allagash Brewing Company’s Web site:

Technically, there is no such thing as a traditional Belgian stout, but we went ahead and made one anyway. In creating the beer, we took the aspects we loved in Belgian beers and used them to craft a stout. Allagash Black is brewed with 2-row barley, torrified wheat, oats, roasted barley, chocolate malt, black malt and hopped with Northern Brewer and Glacier. A generous portion of dark caramelized candi sugar produces a hint of raisin in the finished beer. The addition of oats lends Black a silky mouthfeel, which is enhanced by rich flavors of coffee and dark chocolate.

Allagash is another American Craft Beer pioneer located in the Northeast, and like Victory, because of their tenure and reputation in the industry, their beers are available throughout a majority of the United States. Their most famous beer is White, the standard bearer for the American interpretation of a Belgian Witbier (despite what you may hear under a blue moon). This beer is it’s opposite? Or cousin? However you would like to map the relationship between the two beers, the simply titled Black is a fantastic and unique brew in the American Craft Beer landscape.

But wait, aren’t there thousands of stouts (which is probably not too much of an exaggeration) on shelves? Aren’t Belgian beers and beers brewed with ingredients and in the Belgian style almost as prevalent? Sure, but as founder Rob Tod posited when he first brewed this beer, there really aren’t any Belgian stouts, so he created this mainstay masterpiece.

The beer pours, in a shocking turn of events, black. There’s a little lightening of the color as the head develops, but the cocoa and roasty aromas mingle in a very inviting way. There might be a hint of the Belgian yeast floating under current of at all in the aroma.

The first up front sip gives the classic stout flavors we’ve all come to expect, dark, roasted malt with a smooth mouthfeel. There’s a slight taste of cocoa and coffee that complement each other nicely; one doesn’t overpower the other.

At the back end of the taste; however, is where this beer stands apart from other stouts and dark, malty brews. The Belgian yeasts come into prominence, transforming those expected stout flavors into something more robust and unexpected.

I’ve been well aware of Allagash’s respected, Belgian-inspired output for years and now I’m kicking myself for not giving this one a try earlier. Although Black is part of Allagash’s year-round portfolio, this one will now be a stout return to regularly; a dependable, well-above average beer that is a nice outside-the-box stout.

The beer’s reputation precedes itself so my endorsement can be added to the many who count this among their favorites. There’s a bourbon barrel aged version of Black I *need* to try.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Iron Man (Level 3):
You don’t have to be a superhero to enjoy a strong beer. Boasting a higher than average ABV, these styles really do pack a punch, so be ready for it. That’s 15 different beers with style of Strong Ale – American, Strong Ale – English, Belgian Strong Ale, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Golden Ale or Lager – Euro Strong.

The Dark Side (Level 5):
At first taste, dark ales can be overwhelming for even the most skilled of beer drinkers, but your will is weak and with time you will eventually turn to the dark side. That’s 25 different beers with the style of Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Lager – Euro Dark, Lager – Dark or IPA – Black / Cascadian Dark Ale or IPA – Imperial / Double Black.