Beer Review: Gordon Biersch’s WinterBock

Name: WinterBock
Brewing Company: Gordon Biersch Brewing Company
Location: (National Brewpub Chain), Beer consumed at Gordon Biersch New Orleans
Style: Bock – Dopplebock
ABV: 7.5%

“The well-established brewery/brewpub chain has crafted an immensely flavorful and pleasing doppelbock, a classic German style interpreted deliciously.”

Gordon Biersch says this about Winter Bock:

Our winter seasonal is a traditional doppelbock. A mohagony hued, full bodied lager with warming rich caramel and toffee maltiness.

Gordon Biersch has been brewing beer and selling well-crafted food to patrons for over 30 years. When the independent/craft beer movement was gaining momentum in the late 1980s and early 1990s, “brewpubs” were many people’s first exposure to flavorful, craft beer. Gordon Biersch began in 1988 and I know I’ve been to a couple over the past twenty years. A recent business trip to New Orleans afforded me the opportunity to visit a Gordon Biersch brewpub once again.

I was in New Orleans for a cybersecurity convention and hanging out with an old friend when we stumbled into Gordon Biersch, which I hadn’t realized was even there. A quick look at the beer list and my eyes immediately fell on this beer. I’ve remarked before how much I enjoy bocks, so there was no way I was going to pass on a freshly made doppelbock from a brewery this well-known.

The beer arrived in iconic Germanic dimpled beer mug, with the beer name and brewery emblazoned on the front. #ProperGlassware indeed. A thick light khaki head sat atop the brownish-caramel colored beer. Ultimately, I don’t think I could have imagined a more perfect visual example of a Dopplebock.

I didn’t really let the aroma sit in my nose for too long before taking a drink, so I suppose that indicates the aroma was pleasant and inviting. Delightful. That’s the immediate thought I have after my first taste of this beer. It is extremely smooth, with all the elements of the brewing process playing together seamlessly achieving a gestalt of flavor.

This beer tastes as if an abundance of flavor comes from the malts, which evoke caramel-like flavor along with some hints of toffee, too. What I appreciate even more, and this goes down to how well made the beer is, is the finish of the beer. Some dopplebocks (and bocks in general) can have a slight tang of bitterness or even spice on the end. That is nowhere near Gordon Biersch’s WinterBock. The finish is sweet, not cloyingly so, and very smooth. Again, I have to make the comparison to caramel flavors from the malts. It was a delicious beer that I enjoyed slowly, allowing the flavors to breath as the beer warmed to room temperature.

This was the first of a few beers I had during my long evening at the brewpub and it was the best. In fact, I’d easily rank as one of the better Dopplebocks I’ve had over the years. Of course, beer is an experience and the great food and friendly company may have potentially added to my enjoyment of the beer.

For Gordon Biersch as a whole, as one of the foundational brewpubs in the country, I’d definitely recommend visiting one should be near you or where you’re visiting. This is a beer to seek out (at one of Gordon Biersch’s 17 locations) if you want to get an idea of what a good German inspired doppelbock should taste like.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I’ll Be Bock (Level 11)

Once you’ve had just one, there’s no doubt you’ll be saying “I’ll be bock” for another.

 

Beer Review: Great Divide’s Mexican Chocolate Yeti

Name: Mexican Chocolate Yet
Brewing Company: Great Divide Brewing Brewing
Location: Denver, CO
Style: Stout – American Imperial / Double
ABV: 9.5%

A huge stout that is a near perfect blend of sweet and spicy. An ideal dessert stout to enjoy on a cold night.

From the side of the Great Divde’s Landing page for the beer:

A very special, and very limited, entry in our venerable Yeti Series, Mexican Chocolate Yeti is a sensory delight. We’ve added a variety of spices, vanilla and coffee to Yeti Imperial Stout to create our version of a traditional champurrado drink. Spiced chocolate drinks have been part of Aztec and Mayan cuisine and culture for centuries, but they have yet to be paired with a Yeti! 9.5% ABV.

Great Divide is one of the big, reputable breweries based in Colorado. Founded in 1994, the brewery Brian Dunn started has won several awards for their beer, including their iconic Imperial Stout, Yeti. Over the years, Great Divide has brewed several variants of the Yeti, including this spicy, sweet Mexican Chocolate version.

Great Divide distributes mainly in cans, so for this specialty stout, they packaged it in a “Stovepipe” can of 19.2 oz.  I like this size and prefer it to the once ubiquitous 22oz bombers that seem to have slipped out brewer’s fancy, the 19.2oz is just enough of a beer to enjoy by oneself. As for the liquid in this particular can, I’ve had the flagship Yeti a couple of times, the first time I thought it was just OK, but when I was on a business trip in Denver, Colorado and attending a networking event at Great Divide’s Barrel Bar and I had Yeti again, I liked it much more. So, when this specific variant was announced, combined with the fact that I like the spicy/chocolatey stouts, I knew I had to get it.

After the pop of the can, I pour the beer into the glass and it is a very deep black, just like an Imperial Stout should pour. Some pleasant aromas arise from the glass, a little bit of maybe cinnamon, definitely some chocolate and vanilla. Smells to me like this will make a fine dessert beer.

I’m hit with delicious stout flavors, but then the adjuncts take over. This is a feature, not a bug. The aroma, unsurprisingly, pointed the way to a degree. I get strong flavors of chocolate, more than the vanilla nose led me to believe. Again, not a bad thing, but the vanilla is there and in just the appropriate dose for me. Vanilla can often be overused in beers, particularly big stouts, but not here.

Mexican Chocolate Yeti finishes with a little bit of coffee and some of that spice I caught on the aroma. I’m guessing some cinnamon, definitely. Not sure what else, but probably some kind of pepper. What surprises me is a few flavor bursts of something fruity. Not sure what, maybe a slight hit of cherry? Maybe citrus? Whatever that fruit is, it blends extremely well with all the other flavors. …and of course the beer tastes better as it warms in the glass, allowing the flavors to really breathe, but that should be taken for granted by now for dark beers of a high ABV.

Great Divide’s Mexican Chocolate Yeti is more than full flavored stout, it is a beer to savor and experience. If you like Stone’s Xocoveza stout as much as I do, you’ll likely enjoy this one. It also reminded me a little of a local favorite, Conclave Brewing’s Mexican Morning Stout. Believe in the Yeti, especially this incarnation

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check

Beer Review: Just Wing It from Icarus Brewing and Heavy Reel Brewing

Name: Just Wing It
Brewing Company: Icarus Brewing / Heavy Reel Brewing
Location: Lakewood, NJ / Seaside Heights, NJ
Style: Stout – Milk / Sweet
ABV: 6.6%

A perfectly rendered stout that exhibits delicious qualities of both a Milk Stout and a Coffee Stout.

From the side of the can:

Just Wing It is brewed in collaboration with Heavy Reel Brewing. Jam packed with four different roasting malts and a huge addition of lactose and oats. Post fermentation aged on Chocolate and Coffee. The Coffee is from Happy Mug Roasters and Vanilla Bean.

It has been nearly 8 months since I reviewed a stout and with the weather getting cooler, now is a perfect time to take a look at a great NJ Stout. Some folks even call the colder months “Stout Season” since stouts just feel like cold weather beer with more roasted flavors and the darkness of the beer. This preamble leads to Just Wing It, which is a collaboration between two Jersey Shore breweries, Icarus Brewing out of Lakewood and Heavy Reel out of Seaside, NJ.

Let’s get the ball rolling…or the can opening, so to speak.

The crack of the can pops and I get a little bit of coffee aroma mixed in with the smell I’d typically expect a sweet stout to produce. This is a pleasantly dark beer, with a malted milk/khaki colored head. In other words, exactly how a stout should look. Having sampled a decent amount of beer from Icarus over the last couple of years, I’m even more hopeful this will be a good one.

That first sip…it hits just about every button I want a Milk Stout to hit. The milk sugar sweetness is very present, but not to an overpowering degree. That sweetness form the lactose enhances the already sweet malts of the beer. As the beer finishes its journey through my palate, I get a very welcome burst of coffee flavor. I also taste more sweetness, likely from the chocolate which raises its proverbial hand in class to let me know it is present in the overall taste profile of the beer.

The beer has mild carbonation, and that khaki head dissipates fairly quickly. It is a smooth, delicious, flavorful stout that exhibits all the optimal qualities of both a coffee and a milk stout. A beer worth seeking out and a stout that illustrates the great quality of beer loyal customers of Icarus Brewing have come to expect.

Locally, I’d compare this beer very favorably to three NJ Milk Stouts: River Horse Oatmeal Milk Stout, Conclave’s Espresso Milk Stout, and Twin Elephant’s Diamonds & Pearls. For a national comparison, I’d stack Icarus & Heavy Reel’s take on the style next to Left Hand’s well known Milk Stout and Firestone Walker’s outstanding Mocha Merlin. Long story short, Just Wing It could sit comfortably on any shelf with any of those beers.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Another point of recommendation – the four pack barely lasted a week in my fridge before all the empties made it to the recycling bin.

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: Von Trapp’s Dunkel

Name: Dunkel
Brewing Company: von Trapp Brewing
Location: Stowe, VT
Style: Lager – Munich Dunkel
ABV: 5.7%

A classic style of German Lager interpreted deliciously by the Vermont brewery with Old World traditions.

From Von Trapp’s beers page:

Creamy, toffee aromas balance the bitterness of Munich malts in our roasted brown lager. Although dark in color, Dunkel is medium in body and finishes dry and clean, resulting in a rich lager that can be enjoyed throughout the year.

With my trend towards Lagers over the past few months, I’ve been wanting to highlight one of the lagers from Von Trapp Brewing (yes, that Von Trapp Family) who brew traditional Austrian/German Lagers. I’d had a few of their beers over the past couple of years, but this Dark Lager is one that eluded and intrigued me. I haven’t had too many beers of this style – Munich Dark Lager – usually preferring a Dopplebock or a Dunkelweizen for my dark German-style beers. I wanted to feature this beer specifically because I wanted to try something different, I like Lagers, and I like featuring styles that deserve more attention when I can. Of course, I didn’t know if I would enjoy the beer, but having enjoyed Von Trapp’s Helles and Pilsner in the past, I knew I was getting 2 beers I’d enjoy in their Variety Pack, and since the Dunkel was in it and I wanted to try the beer, I grabbed said Variety Pack.

So, let’s dive into the beer simply called Dunkel

The Munich Dark/Dunkel Lager is far from a popular style here in the states, although I’ve been seeing a few from local breweries as of late. As the name would imply, it is popular in Munich, Germany and a style with deep history. The Von Trapp is a family with history and their lodge in Vermont began brewing in 2010 with this Dunkel as one of their year-round beers.

Crack of the can, pour of the beer. Not black, but a nice dark brown. In the glass, Dunkel looks really appealing for this dark beer lover. Aroma … I did not get too much off the aroma, maybe a little sweetness? First taste … it tastes like a lager, but then more of the malt characteristics come through.

The malt utilized by Von Trapp in this beer imparts a tasty sweetness that evokes notes of caramel/toffee and chocolate. Not a chocolate bomb like River Horse’s Chocolate Porter, but rather subtle hints of the chocolate. Chocolate isn’t used in the brewing of the beer so all those sweet flavors come from the malts themselves which even further highlights the quality of the beer and brewers at Von Trapp. The beer finishes with a very important element – enough great flavor that made me want more. It finishes with a slight roast and a very pleasant sweetness. Unlike most lagers, but like darker beers, letting the beer get just a little closer to room temperature benefits the overall flavor.

An equivalent beer on the Ale side of the brewing spectrum would probably be a Brown Ale, as both it and Munich Dunkel are very similar in color and flavor profile. A pretty popular/easily available Brown Ale that compares favorably is Bell’s Best Brown so if you like Bell’s Best Brown, you’d likely enjoy Von Trapp’s Dunkel.

I appreciate that Von Trapp simply went with “Dunkel” as the name rather than a quirky “clever” name for the beer. The can art/label is equally straightforward, with the horned goat for the Von Trapp logo and the beer title in an attractive font does making for eye-catching can. You know what you’re getting. A straight-forward name for a beer that is also straightforward delicious. I haven’t had enough Munich Dunkels (only a taster of Spaten’s at a beer festival) so I don’t have a good comparison. As a flavorful Lager, I really liked it and hope I can find some six packs of this one near me because it works perfectly in cooler fall months, but is balanced enough to be an every-day/year round lager.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

 

Beer Review: Firestone Walker’s Old Man Hattan

Name: Old Man Hattan
Brewing Company: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Strong Ale – American
ABV: 9.6%

A potent beer evoking two popular potent bourbon-based cocktails makes for a complex and tasty slow-sipping dark ale.

From Firestone Walker’s landing page for this beer:

A barrel-aged mashup of two classic cocktails: the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.

This inaugural Proprietor’s Vintage release features a blend of five notable Firestone Walker beers, including select lots of Parabola and Helldorado aged in cherry, orange and aromatic bitters barrels.

The result is a barnstorming beer that exhibits pronounced whiskey notes while artfully expressing essences of both the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan cocktails.

Originally conceived as a brewery-only Black Friday release, Old Man Hattan now makes its Proprietor’s Vintage debut due to popular demand.

I’ve been wanting to feature a beer from Firestone Walker on here for a while. Granted, one of their beers (Nitro Merlin Milk Stout) was the second beer I ever reviewed here at the Tap Takeover, but their barrel aging program and blending programs are arguably the best/most respected in the country, whether those beers are on the sour side or on the big stout/dark ale side.

The beers in this “Proprietor’s Vintage” aren’t always the most widely distributed or easiest to find, and when they do appear on shelves they don’t last for long. I’d been hoping to get a bottle of this one specifically given that part of the aim of Firestone Walker in brewing this beer is to evoke the classic “Old Fashioned” drink, my favorite cocktail. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

The beer pours dark, maybe a very deep brown, maybe black, maybe even dark burnt sienna. In one of the lights in my house, I can almost see a deep reddish brown. The aroma is strongly of beer, strongly of the bourbon, and of the bitters. At least from the aroma perspective, I’m getting the evocation of the Old Fashioned and Manhattan Firestone was aiming to evoke. So far, so good.

That first sip sure is interesting, I don’t quite think I’ve had a beer like this before. That’s good, by the way, because I like what I’m tasting. More of the beer proves the same. The beer elements remind me of a stout, but not quite as heavy on the roasted malts as a stout. I’d expect some roasted malts from a Russian Imperial Stout (Parabola) and maybe hops from a Barleywine (Helldorado), the two styles of beer which comprise this blend. Again, the absence of the strong roasted malts isn’t bad. The hop presence is mild, too. I get a little bit of hops, but not overpowering. The beer elements are there, bottom line.

What does come through are the whiskey/bourbon elements from the aging of the two base beers. I also strongly get fruit elements from the bitters barrels, cherry and orange most strongly. The beer finishes its journey through my palate with the same little pep that an Old Fashioned does. A great flavor finish that encourages careful and thoughtful consumption, rather than quickly throwing back the beer.

This beer is a great example of how complex flavors can be coaxed into beer through innovative brewing, blending, and barreling methods. I’ve had two of these boxed barrel aged beers from Firestone Walker and now I want to give more of them a try, particularly the beers blended to make this beer. Ten bucks for a 12oz beer, but you’re getting a beer bottled in very limited quantities (3,000, I think) and a beer that has undergone an extensive aging/blending process to get to what is in the bottle. It is also clocking in at just under 10% ABV, so the price is more than justified and well worth trying.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Iron Man(Level 8)

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 40 different beers with style of Strong Ale – American, Strong Ale – English, Strong Ale – Other, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Golden Ale or Lager – Euro Strong.

Beer Review: Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest

Name: Oktoberfest
Brewing Company: Great Lakes Brewing Company
Location: Cleveland, OH
Style: Märzen
ABV: 6.5%

An annual favorite from Great Lakes Brewing is a beer many consider the best American made Oktoberfest/Märzen. I would be hard pressed to argue with that notion.

The mug is the proper glassware for an Oktoberfest. Just look at the label.

From Great Lakes Brewing Company’s page for Oktoberfest:

One of our most celebrated and critically lauded brews has returned! Oktoberfest, our 3-time Gold Medal winner at the World Beer Championships, is back for another season of tailgates, cookouts, and bonfires.

Regarded as a world-class example of a timeless German style, the easy-drinking flavor of Oktoberfest is as hearty as it is approachable. With earthy hops keeping a gentle beat, rich notes of caramel and baked bread waltz together joyously, making Oktoberfest a celebration of all things malt! O’zapft is! Oktoberfest is here!

Oktoberfest will ship to all GLBC distribution markets in 6-pack, 12-pack, and draft beginning Monday, July 29. Oktoberfest is available now in the GLBC gift shop and will be on tap at the brewpub soon. Learn more about Oktoberfest below…

Über smooth with vibrant malt flavors and a festive flourish of noble hops (lederhosen not included).

I’ve mentioned Great Lakes Brewing a few times here on the Tap Takeover, but I figured what better beer from them than their World Class Oktoberfest to feature in a review. Brief disclaimer: I mentioned this beer back in my Oktoberfest 2017 post (before I had the six pack format down), but feel it deserves a full focus since it is often my favorite Oktoberfest/ Märzen every year.

On to the review…

As the beer pours from the bottle to the mug, I see perfection: a golden amber just as I’d want an Oktobefest to look like. The head is a little thinner than I’d expected or remembered, but that’s fine. I get malty sweetness from the aroma. In short, between the aroma and look, this beer is 100% on the right track.

A remembrance of quality, that’s what I feel when the first sip passes through my palate. This is one of the few beers I’ve reviewed here at the Tap Takeover that aren’t new to me for this blog. I’ve been enjoying this beer every year for the past four or five years and the 2019 version lives up to those memories. As good as previous years, but maybe the changes in my palate catch on to the sweetness from the malt more than I can remember. There’s a pleasant evocation of sweet caramel from the malts in the beer. As I have more of the beer and it progresses through my palate, I get some hints of toffee, and maybe, just maybe a little bit of breadiness.

I found this beer to be extremely consistent in its flavor from that first sip to the last at the bottom of the glass. Wonderful malt that makes up the strongest element of the beer and I was surprised at how well it tasted even at the end of the beer. I usually don’t think of lagers as styles whose flavors hold up once the beer isn’t cold out of the tap or refrigerator, but Great Lakes’s Oktoberfest bucked that trend for me – a slight bitterness I caught when I first sipped the beer was gone and the malty sweetness was more deliciously pronounced.

Given the history of German people in the Cleveland area, it should come as no surprise that Great Lakes Brewing produces one of the best Oktoberfest beers in the United States. Great Lakes also has annual Oktobefest Celebration at their brewpub. Further proof of beer’s quality is the fact that it is the #3 ranked German Märzen / Oktoberfest in the world on Beer Advocate.

If you want to try one of the best American interpretation of a classic German style, Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest is a must have. I think one thing above all else should speak to my feelings about the quality of this beer: I make sure to get some of it every Oktoberfest season.

Although this is a standard review here at the Tap Takeover, I would consider this American Craft Beer Classic.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Image courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Web site

Beer Review: Hackensack Brewing’s Parking Lot Pilz

Name: Parking Lot Pilz
Brewing Company: Hackensack Brewing Company
Location: Hackensack, NJ
Style: Pilsner – Other
ABV: 8%

“Not just an impressive Pilsner out the gate for a new brewery, but a damned good Pilsner all around.”

From the untappd description of the beer::

A crisp, refreshing, balanced pilsner

From Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook Post

An ode to the tailgating culture we grew up with in North Jersey/NYC. Parking Lot Pilz, a super well-balanced lager made to suit all your pre-gaming needs. Pairs well with burgers, chicken, shopping cart pretzels, and nosebleed seats.

When you host a fourth of July party every year, and most of your guests know you like good beer, you tend to get plenty of beer. My uncle, who knows how much I like Pilsners, brought a crowler of this beer (among others) to the party. It was early in the day and for me, a Pilsner is always a good start so I didn’t waste too much time before I decided to pop open the crowler and share it with some of my guests (including my dad and father-in-law).

For all the beer I’ve mentioned here and had over the years, this was the first beer I had from a crowler. Pouring the beer, I didn’t get too much of an aroma that made the beer stand out. Since we were all drinking from Red Solo Cups, it wasn’t exactly easy appreciate the color of the beer in its full glory, but yeah, it was yellow and looked how you’d expect a pilsner to look. The picture below snagged from Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook page shows the beer in its glory. Looks are only a small part of the game. We all know the flavor and taste is the main thing.

Ohhh yeah…this is a very tasty pilsner. Parking Lot Pilz leans more on the Czech side of the pilsner style so there isn’t as much hoppiness to the beer. A little softer than the German style pilsners, but there’s still a nice crispiness that is the hallmark of a good pilsner. The low IBU (20) proves out the milder hop presence (I only checked the IBU as I was writing this review). The lower hop presence is by no means a value judgment…I like the beer for what it is, and how it measures up to the specific style and not for what it isn’t. In other words, stylistically, Parking Lot Pilz is on point

Because there were many people (35+) at the party, a few people had some of the pilsner from the Crowler. My dad liked it quite a bit, and he leans more towards IPAs. My father-in-law, who leans more towards the lager side of the beer spectrum, was really impressed with Parking Lot Pilz, too. My brother-in-law was impressed with the beer, too. But no sooner did I finish my full pour did the crowler come up empty. Not a bad sign for the quality of the beer.

I like when my Pilsners and Lagers (especially the Helles Lagers) have that toasty, crackery finish and Parking Lot Pilz has that. There’s a really nice malt bill in the beer that gives the beer a flavorful body. I visited the brewery this past weekend and I wanted to make sure I tried the Pilsner fresh and boy is it even better fresh from the brewery. No surprise there, really. Again, not a knock on the quality of the beer out of the crowler, because it was damned good at my house.

All told, this a an extremely flavorful Pilsner. A beer any brewery would be proud to produce at any point in that brewery’s “lifespan.” Given that Hackensack Brewing only opened up January/February 2019 and they first made this available to the public in April, I’m even more impressed with the quality of the beer. I’ve yammered on about the skill and precision required to make lagers, especially pilsners, so brewmaster Mike Jones deserves big kudos for coming out strong with such a great lager game and a beer this flavorful that proves how good a Pilsner can be.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap (fresh at the brewery) / 4-bottle caps From the Crowler after an 1-hour car ride rating.