Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tango Delta – Horny Goat Brewing Co.

                One of Horny Goat Brewing’s newer beers, Tango Delta attempts to increase the flavor of the citrusy hops used with the addition of fresh tangerine juice.  Other breweries have taken similar approaches, the most popular being Ballast Point Brewing’s Grapefruit Sculpin, a beer which pulls of the addition of citrus extremely well.  Adding fruit to beer can either really help the base beer or it can detract from what would otherwise be a great beer.

From my earlier Horny Goat posts you probably know that I had a rough introduction to Horny Goat back when they opened.  I went to the Hideaway in their first week and was less than impressed with the beers on tap.  Unfortunately, whenever I see a new release from Horny Goat I still remember those first couple beers that I had with a burger at the pub, and shudder a little.  Since then however, Horny Goat has drastically increased their offerings and brought in a new brewmaster, Brian Sauer, a former homebrewer who is bringing a homebrewer’s creativity and zeal to Horny Goat.  In his short time at the helm, Brian has pushed out a lot of creative new beers, of which Tango Delta is only one of the many examples.

In all honesty I was very skeptical about this beer and passed it over in my fridge quite a few times before opening it to take notes for this post.  The aforementioned thought of Horny Goat beers as being less than impressive lingered in my mind and prevented me time and again from taking this can out of the fridge.  However, every beer deserves a chance, so on with the review.

They Say:

This citrus bomb starts off as a light bodied IPA brewed with craft hops and malts.  It then goes all renegade on your palate, with the addition of fresh tangerine juice that adds a slight sweetness to complement the bold hop presence.

                6.8% ABV
69 IBUs

Brewmaster Brian Sauer adds:
                Tango Delta is our breakfast beer.  We build a simple base beer that fills in the background behind the hops on this one.  Simcoe, Amarillo, and Columbus together provide a very tangerine-like flavor with a dank, musty pungency for all the hop lovers.  We then add real tangerine juice at packaging to bump up the tangerine flavor for a breakfast kick.

I Say:

                Tango Delta pours a very clear golden amber with a moderately thick, creamy white head with an impressive rocky cap.  The head holds very good retention (5+ min) before leaving a moderate amount of lacing behind in the glass.  Slightly grainy pale malts and tons of citrusy hops come to the forefront in the aroma.  Grapefruit, pineapple, and clementine hop notes blend flawlessly with fresh, juicy tangerine (like smelling fresh squeezed juice).  Strong citrus lingers on the nose.

                The flavor, like the aroma, is dominated by citrus.  Ripe tangerines lead, with slightly grainy malts.  Sweet minello orange, pineapple, and a hint of ruby red grapefruit all make an appearance on the hop front.  Tango Delta has an assertive hop bitterness that perceptibly dries out the beer, which is definitely called for in a good IPA.  Sweet tangerine notes linger on the back and into the finish, with orange rind in the aftertaste.  With a medium body and a moderately high carbonation, Tango Delta has a slight effervescence that accentuates the hop bitterness and helps suppress any lingering sweetness from the tangerine juice.

                I was suspicious that an IPA brewed with tangerine juice would be good, if you couldn’t tell from the intro.  Heck, I even put off drinking the can of Tango Delta that I had for a week because I was unsure about it.  I kept looking at the can in my fridge and turned to another beer; heck, one day I turned to a Grapefruit Sculpin, the beer that inspired this one.  I’m glad that I opened my can of Tango Delta though, because it was a pretty awesome beer.  The addition of tangerine juice sets it aside from many traditional IPAs, and I’m planning to pick up more of this.

                Tango Delta is a great fruity IPA-ish beer with plenty hop bitterness, and a great juicy citrus kick.  It probably won’t impress an IPA purist or a crazy hop head.  You know the guy right, the one who throws around the phrase “lupulin shift” in every day conversation?  Heck, I used to be a guy like that, and I still love massive hop bombs like Heady Topper, Pliny the Elder, Enjoy by IPA and Devil Dancer; but all beer isn’t a major hop bomb, and it’s great to see experimentation with the style.  The craft beer industry is all about trying new things and Tango Delta certainly does that!  This is a great beer that you should definitely pick up, and maybe do a blind tasting with a bottle of this and Grapefruit Sculpin.  In fact, that sounds good, I think I'll try it!

                That’s all for today, check back soon for another review!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Batshit Crazy – MobCraft Beer

                MobCraft Beer has released a plethora of excellent beers, but back before I had even heard of them a group of friends in Chicago were going practically batshit over a new coffee beer out of a startup brewery in Wisconsin.  At their urging I ran to the liquor store to pick up a bottle and was so impressed, I went back the next weekend and bought a case of Batshit Crazy.  The beer has gone on to be a flagship beer from a brewery that otherwise releases one off-beers based upon user submitted recipes that then enter into a voting round.

                Unlike most coffee beers, which all too often use a stout as the base beer, the guys at Mobraft chose instead to have a Brown Ale as their base beer.  Brown ales tend to be malty with caramel, or toasted malt flavors as opposed to stouts, which often have coffee or chocolate flavors from the dark malts.  Brown Ales also have a lower level

of hopping, giving them a less pronounced hop bitterness than a stout.  You might be wondering why that matters, but what it really comes down to is that a brown ale should showcase the unique flavors of the coffee beans used more than a stout would, if equal amounts of coffee beans were used in both.

                For now though, let’s get on with the review.

They Say:

Brown ale brewed with milk sugar to add a balanced creamy sweetness, and flavored with a delicious blend of Guatemalen coffees that exhibit slight characteristics of cherry, tobacco and brown sugar.
Scaled down so you can brew your own 5 gallon batch

·         .5lb Lactose @ 15 Min
  • 4oz Coffee Grounds (Secondary)
-We Use A 50/50 Blend Of Dark And Light Roasted Guatemalen Coffees From Just Coffee Coop But Feel Free To Get Creative!

  • Wyeast 1056

  • 9lbs Pale Ale Malt
  • .5lb Victory
  • .5lb Crystal 60L
  • .5lb Chocolate Malt

  • 60

  • 1oz Fuggle @ 60
  • .5oz Goldings @ 15

  • 1.060/1.017

  • 25

  • 5.6%

I Say:

                Batshit Crazy pours a brilliantly clear light mahogany with copper highlights when it is held up to the light.  A moderately thick, light tan, creamy head that holds moderate retention (~3 min) before fading to a thin collar that leaves minimal lacing behind in the glass.  A complex roast coffee leads in the aroma; it’s almost like walking into a neighborhood coffee shop, which I suppose kind of is the case here.  Notes of caramel, leather and pipe tobacco provide additional depth and complexity.  Coffee, tobacco and caramel linger round out the finish, and linger in the glass well past the last sip.  The aroma is fricking amazing, and I found myself wishing this was in a mug so I could continue the illusion that I was drinking high end coffee.

                Roasted coffee leads in the in the flavor with moderate tobacco notes and a hint of caramel.  There is a very slight coffee astringency, but it was less than my daily cup.  Slight cherry notes, molasses, and a slight nuttiness blend effortlessly with the coffee.  As the beer warms in the glass, the coffee notes deepen, and become more pronounced and the astringency fades.  The finish is all molasses, tobacco, and coffee, with the coffee lingering long into the aftertaste.  The moderate maltiness blends well with moderately low hop bitterness and a moderate level of bitterness from the coffee.  With a medium body, and a moderately low level of carbonation, this is exceptionally smooth and easy drinking.

                In case you couldn’t tell, I really like Batshit Crazy, and pick up a bottle whenever I see it.  The only downside is that whenever I open a bottle I have to share at least half of it with my wife.  This is an excellent coffee beer that really puts the emphasis on the coffee rather than the other ingredients, so it is very understandable that it medaled at the 2014 GABF.  Fresh, this is one of my favorite beers on the market.  There is one word to note in that last sentence though, “fresh”.  Coffee beers can be hard, as Central Waters can attest with their twice recalled Peruvian Morning.  After a couple months in the bottle Batshit Crazy can turn a little sour, taking on a lactic tartness, almost like plain yogurt.  Coffee beers often seem to have a shorter shelf life, at least in my experience.

                So, if you stop by a liquor store, and see a bottle of Batshit on the self, pick up a couple, but by all means please drink it within a couple days of buying it. I know I will be picking up another bottle the next time it’s in stock!

                That’s all for today, remember to check back soon for another review!

                Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter - Horny Goat Brewing

                I haven’t written much on HornyGoat beers, because like some of you, I was less than impressed with the first Horny Goat beer that I had shortly after the brewery opened.  It was alright, but there are so many excellent craft beers on the market that my limited cash always went towards something else.  That said, I was impressed with the Brownie Porter that I wrote up a little while back and although I did not pick up the strong chocolate character that I was hoping for it was still a very good brown porter.

                Having not tasted the chocolate in the Brownie Porter, the next logical step was to try some Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, surely the chocolate flavor would be featured in such a brew right?  I mean come on, it’s in the name.  In all fairness, I had previously had Chocolate PB Porter on tap at the Horny Goat Hideaway and was not a fan then.  Looking back I don’t know if my dislike of the beer had more to do with the beer, or the fact that I was there for the 2013 Monday Night Packers-Bears game in Chicago. You all remember that one, right?  The on that Rodgers left with what turned out to be a fractured collar bone…

The injury that kept him out for the remainder of the regular season…

Yeah, that could have colored my impression of the beer, it was a rough night… 

With that in mind I decided to give Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter another go…

They Say:

A full bodied porter that gets its dark luscious color from the generous use of roasted malts.  You’ll get just the right amount of chocolate and peanut butter to question whether you’re drinking a glass of delicious suds or popping a peanut butter cup in your mouth.

6.5% ABV
55 IBUs

The Brewmaster Brian Sauer adds:

Chocolate Peanut Butter, best put, is illusive.  One day you see at the store, the next it’s gone.  So reminiscent of a dark chocolate peanut butter cup that most people are drawn directly to the nose on this beer.  To me, the true winner is the malt bill.  We use 2 different types of chocolate, dark caramel malts, and a touch of roasted barley to capture a rich, dark chocolate profile.

I Say:

                Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter pours an opaque black with a thick, creamy light tan head that holds good retention (3 min) before fading to a thick collar around the edges and leaving behind nice, thick lacing in the glass.  Strong notes of graham cracker and toasted marshmallows waft out of the glass during the pour.  Peanut brittle and milk chocolate become increasingly apparent in the glass as the beer warms and are supported a soothing vanilla note.  The aroma finishes on a great chocolate and peanut butter not that is reminiscent of a Butterfinger candy bar.
                Chocolate and peanut butter jump to the forefront in the flavor.  Notes of roasted malts, toffee, and vanilla add additional depth and complexity.  As the beer warms, the roasted barley notes become slightly astringent and the peanut butter flavor becomes on a slight chemically, so it is best to finish your glass of Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter before it gets too warm.  A strong Butterfinger/Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup flavor rounds out the finish and lingers long into the aftertaste.  Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter is nice malty beer with just enough bitterness to cut the malty sweentness.  It comes in just on the full side of being medium bodied with a moderately high level of carbonation that brings with it a slight effervescence.

                Honestly, Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter was better than I remember.  The nice complex
chocolate character brought to the beer from the dark malts is really the star of this beer as Brian noted when I reached out to him for additional info (after I took my own notes of course).  The excellent blending of dark malts to create this complex Porter highlights his brewing knowledge and is a good sign for any future new porter releases.  This is much more in the Robust Porter category, which most people expect when drinking a Porter in America.

I was not a fan of the chemically peanut flavor that came out as the beer warmed however.  The flavor played more like an extract rather than actual peanuts, which was disappointing.  Having homebrewed with P2B Powdered Peanut Butter  I have experience what a mess brewing with peanut butter can be even on my small five gallon setup, so it is understandable that Horny Goat might not want to use real peanut butter in the recipe.  However, it seems like they did an excellent Robust Porter a disservice by adding peanut flavored extract.  Fortunately a cold bottle of Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter out of the fridge tastes pretty good, but it is a good idea to drink this fast, rather than giving it time to warm.

                Well, that’s all for today.  Check back soon for another Review

Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Brownie Porter - Horny Goat Brewing Co.

                Like many of you, if you live in the Milwaukee area, I headed over to the Horny Goat Hideaway shortly after it opened in 2009.  Back then I was somewhat impressed by the food, but less than impressed with the beer.  At the time I thought it was just one in what has become a long list of mediocre craft breweries taking advantage of the recent public interest in craft beer.  The beer wasn’t bad per say, just generic and it didn’t offer anything that justified picking up a 6-pack of Horny Goat beer in the store. 

When I spoke to someone associated with the brewery, he even admitted that when Horny Goat started, the focus wasn’t on the beer, but on the party atmosphere of the bar.  From my early experience, that sounded about right.  He was quick to reassure me however that the brewery now recognizes that it has to be about the beer, and to remain competitive in Milwaukee’s crowded craft beer market they have to release a consistently high end product.  Part of the transition was promoting Brian Sauer to brewmaster in July of 2014.  Brian, who has been with the company since 2011 was a home brewer for five years prior to his time as a brewmaster and like most homebrewers, the habit quickly became a big part of his life.  When I contacted Brian about his employment at Horny Goat, he replied, “I’m fortunate to work for a company that believes in me and trusts me to help us get to the next level and I’ll die trying to help get us there.”  Well Brian, I hope you do well with the brand!

They likely also quickly realized they could not keep up with demand which led Horny Goat to move their large scale contract brewing operations out of Point Brewery in Stephens Point, WI to City Brewing (the old Latrobe Brewery) in Lacrosse, WI where they can brew each batch on a much larger system than was previously available.  Larger batches mean that Horny Goat can brew less frequently and still produce a considerable amount of beer to meet their demand, much of which comes from outside the state.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I picked up a can of Horny Goat, Brownie Porter, but I figured what the heck, why not give it a go.

They Say:

The malt bill of this brew is comprised of seven different malts for a very complex base.  We add brown sugar to the boil which will increase the alcohol content and give the beer a molasses flavor.  Cinnamon is then added to the whirlpool to finish.  Finally, the beer is aged on Tahitian vanilla beans and Ecuadorian cacao nibs for a true brownie flavor.

5.6% ABV
27 IBUs

The Brewmaster Brian Sauer adds:

We work with a local chocolate maker in the city, Tabal Chocolate, to make the cacao nibs that go into this beer.  Tabal is the only USDA certified organic chocolate maker in the state and one of a handful in the Midwest.  I’m a huge fan of supporting local business in Milwaukee and feel it’s the lynch pin to our craft industries here.  We use the best vanilla beans you can get – Tahitian! And throw in dark brown sugar for a rounded sweetness.  This beer won a gold for us in the Great International Beer and Cider Competition back in 2013.

I Say:

                Horny Goat Brownie Porter pours a very clear light mahogany with a thick, creamy, crème colored head with moderate rock breakup.  The head holds very good retention, lasting 4-5 minutes before fading to become hazy with a thin collar around the edges of the glass that leaves a moderate amount of lacing behind.  Mild chocolaty aromas waft out of the glass and bottle during the pour, and linger into the first sniff.  Hints of earthy and slightly spicy cinnamon blend with the subtle chocolate, and a low level of vanilla add additional depth and complexity.  Slight roasted malts and cocoa powder round out the aroma and linger into the finish.  The aroma is interesting and complex, but doesn’t immediately pop out in my mind as a brownie-like aroma.

                A soft, delicate milk chocolate leads in the flavor backed up with slightly bready malts.  Notes of vanilla, subtle molasses, and toffee blend well with an underlying earthy/spicy cinnamon that lingers through much of the glass.  The finish is slightly roasty with some vanilla and a hint of chocolate.  Moderately malty with a medium level of hop bitterness, I can’t help but feel that the bitterness is a bit too assertive to pull off the brownie flavor.  Brownie Porter’s body is just on the light side of medium, and it has a moderate level of carbonation.  Had the carbonation been tuned back a notch, I might have perceived the body to be a little fuller.

                When many people think porter they are expecting something darker and more stout like, but they always seem to forget that there is a lighter porter, the Brown Porter which isn’t quite as bold or brash as its big brother, the robust porter.  Brown Porters are believed to be the original porter brewed in England way back in the day; the Robust Porter is a more American interpretation of the style. Yes, you read that right, we Americans weren’t quite happy with a brown porter and had to up the flavor quotient a bit.  If you are reading this in the US, chances are that you are more familiar with a Robust Porter than the more traditional Brown Porter.  It seems that Brownie Porter is more in the Brown Porter category with a lighter roasted malt character and more subdued chocolate flavors.

                The thing that sort of gets me with Brownie porter though is that right on the label it says that cocoa nibs were added.  I love a good Chocolate stout and would have thought the cocoa nibs would be more prominent in the flavor given the lighter malts used in the brewing process.  I did appreciate the cinnamon and vanilla additions however and thought they worked well with the beer as a whole.  Brownie Porter is a good beer, it just does not remind me too terribly much of brownies as the label claims it should.  Perhaps more time on the cocoa nibs could have accentuated the flavor.

                Well, that’s all for today.  Check back soon for another Review

Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly

Friday, February 27, 2015

Angry Molly – Big Bay Brewing

                A while back I posted a less than kind review of a Big Bay Brewing release, but every brewery deserves a second chance, so when I noticed bombers of Angry Molly on the shelf at my local store I figured it would be a good time to give Big Bay another shot.  I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this beer given my previous Big Bay experience, but I’m a sucker for Imperial Stouts during the winter.

Big Bay brewing currently contract brews out of the House of Brews in Madison, a chance since the last time I wrote up one of their beers.  Page Buchanan at House of Brews is a great guy and a wonderful addition to the Wisconsin craft beer scene.  By opening his brewery up to contract brewing he, like other Wisconsin contract breweries, allows aspiring brewers the chance to effectively rent his equipment to brew their beers.  Opening a new brewery is a capital intensive move and contract breweries allow new brewers to enter the industry without the upfront capital usually required.  Some people like to bash beers that are contract brewed, but all it means is that more aspiring brewers can push out more beer more quickly.  Everyone gets their start somewhere, and contract breweries allow us, the beer drinkers, to get to try as many new beers as possible.  Heck, even the Boston Beer Co. used to rely on contract brewers and Miller Brewing still does, at least for one of their product lines.

                Unfortunately the information readily available on Big Bay Brewing is still limited, and aside from a periodically active twitter feed, the brewery has gone dark.  Dear Big Bay, please update your website to keep up with your new releases.  How else is someone who does not follow your twitter feed supposed to keep up with your new releases like Angry Molly?

                Since I don’t have much more to offer on Big Bay Brewing, let’s move on to the review.

They Say:

                The Russians tangle with the Irish in this hybrid Imperial Stout.  Its brew and name take inspiration from a certain feisty lass, at once sweet with a deep, pitter complexity.  You’ll find notes of chocolate, coffee and toasted caramel that marry perfectly with white wheat and flaked out textures, giving her a soft, velvety demeanor.

I Say:

                Angry Molly pours a deep, opaque black with a moderately thick, creamy tan head that holds excellent retention (5-10 min) before fading to a thick collar around the edges of the glass.  The collar leaves moderate lacing behind in the glass, which is a great sign.  Milk and dark chocolate lead in the aroma, followed but a hint of medium roast coffee.  Caramelized sugar and a slightly sweet alcohol bring up the back end.  This is definitely a great smelling imperial stout.

                Baker’s chocolate, and dark caramel take the lead in the flavor.  Medium roast coffee and slight notes of roasted barley blend into dark and milk chocolate with a hint of vanilla on in the middle.  The finish has a slight latte character with notes of coffee and vanilla lingering into the aftertaste.  As Angry Molly warms to room temperature the smoothness fades and a very slight roasted barley astringency becomes apparent, although your glass will probably be empty before the astringency is apparent.  Angry Molly has a wonderfully full maltiness with a moderate level of hop bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malts, and there is pleasing alcohol warmth that hints at Molly’s 9% ABV.  With a medium body and a moderate level of carbonation, Angry Molly is very drinkable; and quite enjoyable.

                I am glad that I picked up a bottle of Angry Molly when I saw it on the shelf at my local store.  Every brewery deserves a second chance, and this beer goes a long way towards redeeming Big Bay Brewing in my mind.  Angry Molly is an excellent hybrid of a Russian Imperial and an Irish Dry Stout, and a very good Imperial Stout is always appreciated this time of year.  As good as it is, I can’t help but wonder how much more impressive it would be if it was barrel aged.  Perhaps there is a barrel or two filled with Angry Molly right now…  I sure hope so.

                That’s all for today, check back soon for another review!

                Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Seventeen – Central Waters Brewing Co.

                Like Sixteen last week, Seventeen is an Anniversary beer released by Central Waters.  As with Sixteen, Seventeen is aged in bourbon barrels and, like Sixteen before it, a relatively small release with the initial push being at the Anniversary party on Saturday January 24th, 2015.  Tickets, which came with the option to purchase up to 8 bottles of Seventeen sold out fast, which isn’t surprising because the Central Waters Anniversary release is quickly becoming one of the can’t miss beer events in the country.  I love seeing the success and wide respect a great Wisconsin brewery is obtaining on a national scale and I would put a beer from the Central Waters barrel program up against any other barrel aged beer in the country, it really is that great!

                Unable to make the Anniversary party, I thought I had missed my chance to get a bottle of Seventeen this year, fortunately after some trading I was able to land two bottles of this year’s release.  As I mentioned, I am a huge fan of the Central Waters barrel aged beers and had to try a fresh bottle before laying the other one down in my cellar to await a vertical pour once I have the Eighteen release next January.  I’m hoping that there will still be a few bottles of Seventeen left at the brewery the next time I drive up north so that I can pick up a few more for future consumption so that I don’t have to be so guarded with my one remaining bottle.

                I would love to go into the artistry that is barrel aging, and had I not covered it in my post on Sixteen which literally just went up this past week, I would delve into it again.  However, if you read my Sixteen post you likely aren’t interested in reading the same material again, but if you are please refer to my earlier post.  One thing is for sure though, Central Waters certainly excels at the art, and they will undoubtedly get even better at it each and every year.

                On to the review…

They Say:

                Seventeen is the product of blending two different bourbon barrel aged stouts to achieve a beer worthy of its forerunners.  Barrel aging and blending is an art form, and we like to think we get better at it year by year.  Happy Anniversary!

I Say:

                Seventeen pours a deep, opaque black with a moderately thick, creamy mocha colored head.  The head holds very good retention (~5 min) before fading to leave a thick collar around the edges of the glass, although surprisingly the collar leaves little lacing behind.  Coffee leads in the aroma taking on chocolate notes to become mocha-like.  Notes of vanilla and a strong bourbon character add depth in the middle of the aroma.  A slight hint of wood, vanilla, and toasted marshmallows from the barrel blend wonderfully with dark chocolate in the finish.

                Dark Chocolate and bourbon lead in the flavor when Seventeen is cold out of the bottle.  Smooth, almost silky, malts bring notes of mocha, vanilla, dark chocolate that become more evident as the beer warms in the glass and the bourbon becomes more restrained.  The finish has notes of coffee and sweet, warming alcohol.  As Seventeen warms closer to room temperature, the bourbon notes become more prevalent again, with notes of mocha lingering in the finish.  Seventeen is a very malty beer, with what could be a considerable malty sweetness nicely mellowed out by oak and bourbon from the barrel aging.  Full bodied, with a moderate level of carbonation, this is a wonderfully silky smooth beer with a slight alcohol bite.

                Barrel aging is an art and once again, Central Waters has shown a level of mastery over that art, although they would likely say they are still in the process of learning the intricacies of barrel aging.  At the start of this post I mentioned that I would put the Central Waters Barrel program up against any other barrel program in the country, and this remarkable release reaffirms that belief.  Seventeen, while not as rare as some, is an excellent beer and should easily pull in some big trades, if you are into that.  If you can get your hands on a bottle, drink it immediately, if you can get your hands on two, lay the second one down for a year.  If you were at the release and picked up the full allotment of eight bottles then quite frankly, I am very jealous; please send some my way ;).

                That’s all for today, check back again soon for another review!

                Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Monday, February 16, 2015

5 O'Clock Shadow (2015) – Grand Teton Brewing

                The 2015 Cellar Reserve series from Grand Teton Brewing is kicking off with a re-release of a 2012 Cellar Reserve classic, 5’O Clock Shadow Double Black Lager, an Imperial Schwarzbier.  I’m often a fan of Grand Teton Cellar Reserve releases and was particularly excited to find out that one of my favorites from 2012 was being re-released, especially since I recently finished my last bottle of the 2012 release.  When I reached out to Brew master Rob Mullin it turned out that he has kept and is still enjoying a few bottles from the 2012 release as well.  This release should be another great one that hopefully has the aging potential of the previous release.

                A Schwarzbier (black beer), is a specialty style from the southern Thuringen and northern Franconia regions in Germany and is believed to have originally been developed as a local variant of a Munich Dunkel.  Darker than a Munich Dunkel, a Scwarzbier is the product of darker malts and the style tends to reflect that win subtle roasted barley notes that can present themselves as chocolaty.  Caramel flavors may also be in evidence depending on the recipe and preferences of the brewery.  It’s probably easiest to think of a Schwarzbier as the German version of a Porter or Stout, with local brewers using the water and ingredients they had at hand to develop a darker, roasty beer to enjoy during the winter months.  Unlike a Porter (aside from a Baltic Porter) or Stout, a Schwarzbier is fermented with a lager yeast, giving it a cleaner, crisper flavor with none of the fruity notes that many ale yeast strains can produce.  Ideally a Schwarzbier should be served in a tall flute, or a tulip glass to show off both the color of the beer as well as its creamy off-white head.

                A traditional Schwarzbier is 4.5-5% ABV, although at such a low ABV a traditional Schwarzbier would not age well.  Fortunately for their Cellar Reserve release, Grand Teton bumped up the alcohol content with considerably more malt than is traditional, bringing it up to 7.6%.  At 7.6% 5 O’Clock Shadow is at the lower end of what I would usually consider to be a good cellaring beer, but if the 2012 release is any indication (same ABV), the 2015 release should age well.

                On to the review!

They Say:

5 O’Clock Shadow Double Black Lager is brewed in the German Schwarzbier (black beer) tradition. Schwarzbier is to lager what stout or porter is to ale. Like those dark British beers, Schwarzbier has long been considered nourishing and even curative. German doctors often recommend Schwarzbier for nursing mothers. Our Brewmaster, born in Munich, was the beneficiary of just such advice.
We have taken the traditional Schwarzbier, intended to be a “session beer” with typically moderate alcohol, and almost doubled its strength to 7.6% alcohol by volume. We brewed our version with a fine balance of German crystal and roasted malts and spiced it with German Tradition hops. We fermented 5 O’Clock Shadow at cold temperatures with a select German lager yeast and cold-conditioned it for sixteen weeks to create a velvety smooth, easy drinking springtime brew.

This German lager pours a deep brown, almost black color with ruby highlights. It has soft dark chocolate notes with hints of caramel and a light roasty finish.

5 O’Clock Shadow pairs nicely with hearty, spicy foods. Try it with barbecued, roasted or blackened meats and sausages. Steaks and burgers, especially charred, will complement this beer.  Recommended cheeses might be a fine Munster or even a buttery, well-aged cheese like Gouda.  For dessert we suggest a raspberry tart or ginger pear cake.

Alcohol By Volume: 7.6%
Color (Lovibond): 40.0º
International Biterness Units: 38

5 O'Clock Shadow will be available February 15, 2015 in 1/2 and 1/6 bbl kegs and bottle-conditioned 750 mL cases.

Brewmaster Rob Mullin adds:

I've been drinking our 2012 5 O'Clock Shadow every few months since its release. Our "cellar" is pretty steady 40F, and I'm liking the older version even better now than when it was fresh. I did a vertical with a class I'm teaching, and pretty much everyone there agreed, so I'd definitely recommend laying some of this down. At least at that colder temp, I don't think the '12 has peaked yet.

Imperial Schwarzbier is an ideal candidate for cellaring, since the tannins in the dark malt and the unfermented sugars both serve to protect the beer over time. The fact that it's already had twelve weeks aging in the tank before it was bottled also helps a lot. I think you've heard me say this before, but I love brewing lagers. It's what I first brewed professionally, almost a quarter century ago at Old Dominion Brewing Company in Virginia. This yeast strain, which I picked up while at Old Dominion, is probably my all-time favorite yeast. I love its clean flavors that really show off the malt, and I have great memories of visiting the monastery where it originated.

I've been looking for a while, and I finally found a local source for spicy German mustard--the kind that comes in a toothpaste tube.  It's probably easy to find in Wisconsin, but was a struggle here. Now I'm using it on almost everything. One of my new favorite pairings is good bratwurst, German mustard and 5 O'Clock Shadow. The spiciness of the yeast does a great job with the bitterness from the dark malts, and the sweet maltiness of the beer accentuates the flavors of a good brat. It's particularly good if you boil the brat in 5 O'clock Shadow before grilling it.

I Say:
                5 O’Clock Shadow pours a deep translucent black walnut with garnet highlights when held
up to the light.  A thick creamy khaki colored head with moderate rocky breakup quickly forms in the glass with a rigorous pour.  The head holds good retention, lingering in the glass for a few minutes before fading to a thick, ½ inch collar around the edges and leaving behind heavy lacing in the glass.   The aroma brings mellow dark chocolate on the front end with a hint of caramel.  Subtle herbal and mellow piney notes linger around the edges, barely evident alongside the malts.  A very slight spiciness is in evidence, which I take from Rob Mullin to be a byproduct of fermentation courtesy of the yeast.  The aroma is wrapped up by notes of baker’s chocolate on the back end.

                Dark chocolate and caramel malt flavors are joined by roasted barley notes on the front end.  The flavor takes on a subtle spiciness which could be either the hops or the yeast, and a hint of pine.  The dark malts lend a perception of smokiness to the beer, but I must be attuned to smoky flavors in beer because I pick them up in a lot of beers that contain roasted barley.  There is a full maltiness with 5 O’Clock Shadow, and a moderately low level of hop bitterness, which combined with the spiciness of the yeast, and slight char from the roasted barley serves to mellow the sweetness that malts bring.  Starting rich and malty, the beer has a drying finish reminiscent of eating a bar of baker’s chocolate.  Medium-full bodied with a moderate level of carbonation, 5 O’Clock Shadow has the mouthfeel of a good Schwarz bier.

                As with previous Cellar Reserve releases, 5 O’Clock Shadow is a pretty great beer.  Rob Mullin added, up above, that he is still periodically opening the 2012 Cellar Reserve release of 5 O’Clock Shadow and does not believe the beer has peaked yet.  Having opened my last bottle of the 2012 release recently I would agree with his sentiment, the beer aged remarkably well.  Using the 2012 release as an example, the 2015 release should age similarly and be good for another 3+ years.  I know that I am going to be on the lookout for bottles of 5 O’Clock Shadow when it hits the Milwaukee market in a few weeks!  If previous release prices are any indication, you should be able to find a bottle for $7-12 depending on your liquor store of choice.

                That’s all for today, check back later this week for another review!  Cheers!

                Happy Drinking!