Archive for September, 2012

Fun With Beer: J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin)



Big things come in small packages.  That is the maxim that I would say describes this downright mammoth of a beer.  I was surprised how a little 9.3oz bottle can hold so much flavor, and such a complex symphony of it.  J. W. Lees has been doing some really interesting stuff as of late, and this is one of the more interesting I’ve seen in a while.
J.W. Lees is a British brewery and chain of pubs, mainly doing very British style beers.  Lagers, bitters, a dark one here or there, and an interesting little outlier called Harvest Ale.  This one’s described as “Silky smooth, syrupy sweet, and gum-tinglingly warm” and weighs in at a whopping 11.5% ABV.  Wow, I guess that’s what they meant by warm?  With something so thick, so high in ABV, and presumably very strong in flavor with the Lagavulin, maybe 9.3oz is too much?  Oh, and don’t even get me started on the price, holy smokes…
Regardless, I intended on purchasing this.  I am a fan of both Lagavulin and heavy ales, so something like this is right up my alley. However, I had some advice from a fellow beer drinker who was more experienced in JW Lees stuff regarding the sediment.  Apparently, their bottling process is a little… less than scrupulous when it comes to how much yeast gets in the bottle.  So, before I opened it I carefully held it up to the light.  Yikes.  Ok, so there is going to be left over, and my price per usable ounce of beer ratio is starting to make gold blush.  So, I poured it out into a few tasters because, hey, share the wealth.  May as well be dropping flif like a sultan if I’m going to be drinking like one.  Or maybe it’s a prince?  Either way, the frugal dollar-store meat shopper inside me is sweating profusely.
It pours observably thick and syrupy, and a murky reddish brown.  Hardly any head, and whatever is there dissipates quickly.  Even with my careful and conservative pouring, there was still a couple little bits of yeasty sediment.  Sad, but oh well.
Now, how would you guess the scent is?  What would you say is the dominating note with a beer that’s been aged in barrels of the smokiest, peatiest scotch out there?  Yeah, it was smoky as hell.  Not smoky like a Rauchbier, which is usually all burnt wood and ash, but a peaty smoke.  So definitively peaty that it is almost like someone just diluted cask strength Lagavulin with a very strong barleywine ale.  Besides the peat, you also get some scents of sweet golden raisins and molasses.
The taste is, like I said, too danged big for this bottle.  There is much more to be had of the peaty Lagavulin smoke, and even more sweet, sugary toffee flavors.  There is also a noted boozy heat, expected in something this high.  The mouth-feel is almost stifling in it’s thickness.  Its almost a strange tactile sensation of eating/drinking together, you can feel it move its way down your throat.
Overall, this beer is quite amazing.  However, like the delicious whisky that inhabited those barrels before, it is meant to be sipped daintily and delicately.  I had a little taster, and it was more than enough to get me by.  Now, whether it was worth the money… that’s a question you can ask yourself.  I know could have bought something a little cheaper and got myself that much more discontinued sausage from the dollar store, but I would have missed out on one heck of an experience.

Fun With Beer: Rogue Chipotle Ale


Well, they can’t all be winners, folks.  I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Rogue brewing, but I’m really starting to loose some of my optimism when I try something new from them.  Now, you can’t chalk this up to me becoming some kind of jaded snifter-swirling beer snob.  Well, not this time at least.  I would accept that as a possibility if my criticism hinged on it being just boring, but dang it all if this one wasn’t down right bad.  How bad?  I didn’t even finish it.  It seems like for every winner like their Double Chocolate Stout or HazelNut Brown Nectar, they have a flop like that Voodoo Maple Bacon Doughnut debacle or… THIS.

I picked up a bottle of their Chipotle Ale a little while ago, hoping to have something that was a bit ‘out of the box’ in flavor.  The fact that they were a pretty low price of about six wing-wangs sealed the deal, but in retrospect, I should have picked that Clown Shoes PIMP collaboration I had my eye on.
Disclaimer time:  this beer has a bit of a split reputation on beer review websites.  Some, even those called experts on some sites, will rate this pretty highly.  Others, they’ll average rather low.  More of my theories on this later.
I poured a hand full of fingers of this into my chalice and observed.  Where I was expecting this to be as dark as a Mole, or at least as dark as New Belgium’s Cocoa Mole, it was a a golden amber.  Hazy, but with just a bit of white head and good lacing.  The aroma wasn’t to disconcerting, but was kind of similar to a German smoke beer, rauchbier.  Very smoky, a bit malty, and even a touch of hops.  A very crisp basic “Ale” scent, besides all the smoke.
Here’s where things get a little…  boned up.  I taste, and the first thing I get is SMOKE.  Not like a camp fire, like a straight up arson.  Worse yet, arson on a Band-Aid factory.  Some impurities in beer have been known to produce a “band-aid” or medicinal flavor, usually when a fermenting vessel isn’t properly cleaned.  I don’t know if that is what happened here, but it was bad.  The smoke itself reminded me of actual liquid smoke seasoning, in a kind of artificial flavoring way.  It was kind of hard to get past this and parse out the rest of the flavors, but I did get a very nice sweet malt and the tangy cascade hops.  As for any actual chipotle flavors… There was a little bit of a bite after a few tastes, but nothing on the level of other chili beers.  No real burn, no jalapeno-style fruity/vegetable flavor, just… smoke.  A kind of smoke like I’ve never gotten from an honest chipotle.
Truthfully, if I ever see this on tap, I will try it to make sure.  I really don’t think the beer I had was meant to taste the way it did.  Hell, I’d almost be tempted to toss a little actual chipotle in there to balance out that huge artificial smoke flavor.  But the band-aid flavor, I guess I can give that one as an impurity.  A darned shame, and a waste of six bucks.  I think Rogue needs to get back to their roots and work on how their beers taste, rather than how they sound.