Beer Review: Left Hand 25th Anniversary

Name: 25th Anniversary
Brewing Company: Left Hand Brewing Company
Location: Longmont, CO
Style: Stout –Imperial / Double
ABV: 12.1%

From Left Hand’s page for the beer

Assertive notes of dark chocolate, cherries and roasted coffee beans with a smooth warming finish.

In 1993 we set out to change the world one pint at a time. For 25 years we have forged an independent path, building a stronger community and creating an employee-owned company founded on brewing the best beer we can make. Cheers for supporting us at Left hand and independent craft beer.

25 years is quite a long time to be in the brewing business, outside of the multinational macro brewers. Left Hand Brewing is one of the old guard of Colorado breweries, having been at the forefront of the Western American Craft beer movement since 1993. They’ve brewed some iconic beers like Sawtooth Ale and Milk Stout and the innovative Nitro brand that began with Milk Stout Nitro, the beer for which they are likely best known. So, for an anniversary ale, they decided to go with an Imperial Stout.

This one pours dark with a khaki head. Closer examination reveals colors that hint at crimson and deep red. The aroma, to be honest, doesn’t stand out too much. I mean, it smells like a well-made stout with some roasted coffee notes, but I don’t get the cherries. In other words, it smells like other stouts I’ve enjoyed in the past.

First sip is fairly complex – roasted malts, some cocoa with a hint of cherry sweetness. It immediately put a smile on my face. A few more sips and I get the full taste; dark/bittersweet chocolate dominates the palate. The coffee is still hinted, but the cherry flavor is a nice undercurrent providing a sweetness that offsets the bittersweet chocolate. It doesn’t feel too much like a 12.1% beer in the body, but there’s definitely some heat/booziness from that high ABV.

This stout drinks a little better as it approaches room temperature, with the cherry notes becoming more pronounced giving the beer a nice overall flavor profile. I found the bittersweet notes to be a little more dominant than I typically enjoy in these types of big stouts. On the whole; however, this is a complex and tasty Imperial Stout.

As an anniversary or special occasion stout, it definitely works. The addition of the cherries gives the beer just enough of a unique taste to make it stand out from typical Imperial Stouts. Not sure if it is available on draft, but the beer is in 4-packs of bottles for distribution. This a beer you’ll want to pour when you have no plans on a cool night aside from relaxing and reading a good book or watching a movie.

Left Hand had a big celebration for this beer. That would have been a nice time to visit the legendary brewery!

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: AleSmith’s Speedway Stout

Name: Speedway Stout

Brewing Company: Alesmith Brewing Company)
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 12%

From AleSmith’s page for the beer:

Speedway Stout’s ominous, pitch-black appearance has become a hallmark of this modern-day classic. Chocolate and roasted malts dominate the flavor, supported by notes of dark fruit, toffee, and caramel. A healthy dose of locally-roasted coffee from Ryan Bros. Coffee, Inc. added to each batch brings out the beer’s dark chocolate flavors and enhances its drinkability. Despite its intensity, Speedway Stout’s fine carbonation and creamy mouthfeel make it very smooth and surprisingly easy to drink. This beer ages very well and will continue to mature for many years to come.

AleSmith is one of the great California craft breweries, having established itself as a presence in San Diego over twenty years ago in 1995. Their beers have won acclaim and loyal fans from their IPAs, their San Diego Pale Ale .394 (named in honor of Tony Gwynn) and this, perhaps their most popular beer with over 100,000 check-ins in untappd. I’ve wanted to try it (or one of its variants) for a while and I’m pleased I finally did.

I’ve seen the beer in large bottles and pint cans, with the pint cans sold singly for about $7, which may be pricey for a single pint in a liquor store but compared to a pint in a bar, it is a bargain. Be that as it may, I popped open the can and out came a thick black beer that was quite dark. As the head formed, there was a little bit of a deep brown at the top and in the foam – the color was reminiscent of a lightly creamed coffee. In other words, this looked like my kind of stout. With an aroma of coffee coming from the glass along with the roasted malts, I barely sat down before taking the first sip.

Whoa-Damn!

This beer is a flavor assault, in a good way. The the typical stout-like flavors are present: roasted malts, extra hops since this an imperial stout and an ample amount of coffee. Usually stouts this high in alcohol with this complex of a flavor profile are barrel-aged. The brewmaster(s) at AleSmith coaxes plenty of flavor without the addition of the stout having aged in barrels and that is quite impressive. While the hops are definitely present as I said, they were just one component of the flavor profile and not overly dominant like I’ve had in some other stouts from West Coast breweries.

As much as the flavor profile is potent and delicious, one thing that is deceiving is the ABV. While you do get some of the alcohol and slight booziness, I would never guess this beer is 12% ABV.

After some friends and coworkers talked up this beer, I had fairly high hopes for it. I was a little cautious because some the hops can be far too dominant on some of these stouts, but that was far from the case with Speedway Stout.

Highly recommended. Now I just need to try some of the variants.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer: Heavy Weight (Level 58)

Heavy Weight (Level 58)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 290 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

2X (Level 29)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 145 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name.

 

 

Beer Review: Epic Brewing’s Son of a Baptist

Name: Son of a Baptist
Brewing Company: Epic Brewing Company
Location: Salt Lake City, UT and Denver, CO
Style: Stout – Imperial/Double
ABV: 8%

From the beer’s description on Epic Brewing Company’s landing page for the beer:

Son of a Baptist is an 8% ABV imperial stout. It is not barrel aged like its father, Big Bad Baptist; instead its flavor profile was designed to highlight the complex and often unique flavors of small batch coffees. Instead of sourcing a coffee that would play well in a beer we sought out creative and innovative roasters, then asked them which beans they’re passionate about. Each resulting release of Son of a Baptist is widely different depending on the coffee selected. Some are fruity and sweet with notes of jam and chocolate, others are rich and earthy with a big roasted finish. Each limited release will return to the Roaster’s home market where the beer and the coffee can be sampled side by side.

Stouts, truly my favorite style of beer. Add coffee to the beer in the appropriate amount, and I like the beer even more since coffee is probably the beverage I drink at least as much as or more than beer. Coffee may be the most prevalent adjunct flavor element in stouts and given that large swath of coffee stouts on the market, they vary in quality. For some of those coffee stouts, the coffee overpowers the beer. In other coffee stouts, the coffee is barely noticeable. With Epic’s Son of a Baptist, harmony is achieved.

As the beer pours from the can into the glass, I realize this is one of the blackest beers I’ve ever had. A combination of the roasted malts and coffee add to this, I suspect, but the aroma hints at coffee rather than blasting your senses with the coffee.

That first sip sets the tone for the delicious 12 oz that will be consumed. The standard stout flavors of roasted malt, a bit of hops are prevalent but the coffee slides in to give a wonderful, balanced flavor. There’s an added layer of sweetness not all coffee stouts exhibit. I do tend to put a little more sugar in my coffee so I’m accustomed to sweetened coffee. Whatever the fine folks at Epic did with the coffee matches just about perfectly with the level of sweetness I try to achieve every morning in my own mug of coffee.

For a non-barrel-aged stout, Son of a Baptist packs a decent punch at 8%. The closest comparison I can think of is Founders’ vaunted Breakfast Stout, a beer I love and get quite regularly. Son of a Baptist compares extremely favorably against Founders’ brew, so I’d highly recommend seeking out Son of a Baptist.

One of my co-workers was talking about this beer for the last few days before I picked up the six pack at my favorite beer shop. In other words, he convinced me to give this one a try and I’m very happy I did.

The particular six pack I purchased used beans from Novo Coffee. There are about at least another dozen variants to Son of a Baptist with beans from other local roasters so I may have to give each of those a try.

The “Baptist” line of stouts from Epic is very well regarded. In addition to the Son of a Baptist, there’s the Big Bad Baptist, which is aged in whiskey barrels as well as Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist with coconut aged in rum and whisky barrels.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Heavy Weight (Level 53)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 265 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

2X (Level 26)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 130 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name.

 

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.