Years ago, when I was first delving into craft beer, one of my friends told me about this dark, strong elixir that I just had to try. This was back when Stone Imperial Russian Stout only made peekaboo-like appearances in New England for a week or so after it was released and then it would be gone for another year. If you weren’t quick, you’d lost your shot. Luckily, I walked into the store one day and they had just received their case. I grabbed a bottle and, after I cracked it open, found out that my friend hadn’t lied. Fast forward many years and Stone announces that they’ll be adding espresso to this beer for their 2013 Odd Year series release of Stone IRS. Now, if there’s one thing I like as much as beer it’s coffee...hell, our first collaboration beer was a coffee stout we released with Notch Brewing! So I was over the moon about this and knew I had to get a bottle. Well I did, and here it is.
What’s the darkest place you can think of? Perhaps your childhood basement at night with the lights off (if you’re the sentimental type)? Well this beer is darker than that. It’s black like the absence of light. Black like the Brooklyn Nets’ jerseys. Black like black is black. You get it, right? It’s really dark. As you pour a short, tan head forms on top, completing the illusion of drawing a shot of espresso and getting a good crema.
Not unsurprisingly, the predominant aroma in this is coffee...a roasty, mildly fruity blend of beans that smells like it may have a hit of bitterness up front. There’s a sweetness in the aroma that is similar to the way that coffee with milk and sugar smells. Once you’re past the coffee, and it does mellow as you smell it more and your nose becomes a bit numb to it, the dark fruit and berry aromas of the base Stone Imperial Russian Stout begin to come through and you get the nuances of this beer. If it was just a stout with a ton of coffee in it, I’d drink it and enjoy it. But it’s these additional layers that make this such a great beer.
A thick, viscous brew, the Stone Espresso IRS hits you right upside the head with a serious espresso fist. Honestly, in many ways it reminds me of the Taza Coffee Mexicano Chocolate: dry, slightly bitter and a ton of coffee flavor. The sweetness and fruit flavors that are so expressive in the regular version are nowhere to be found here, even as the beer warms, having been countered by the Ryan Brothers Coffee beans. There’s a bit of a chocolate milk flavor in the finish and the mouthfeel isn’t that far off either. The light, but permeating, carbonation is just enough so that it doesn’t feel flat. If you love coffee and Imperial Russian Stout, then you’ve got to check this one out! But make sure you like that caffeinated black stuff or else this may not be the one for you...it’s coffee like whoa!
It was only last year that we started writing about cider here at Drink Craft Beer. Contemporaneously a slew of cider producers launched right in our backyard...or at least in our city. One of those was Bantam Cider Company and their Wunderkind cider. We’ve waited for the follow up with bated breath and even got a sneak peak at jm Curley a while back...finally, they’ve released La Grande into bottles, their long-anticipated barrel aged dry cider. Aged in rum and bourbon barrels, this one has me stoked because I’ve long hoped for brewers and cider makers to branch out in the type of barrels they use...and rum is one of my favorite liquors. So let’s dive right into this one!
We're also excited to have Bantam joining us for Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale 2013!
[Editor’s Note: You may be wondering why Sarah, Drink Craft Beer’s cider writer, isn’t writing this review. Don’t worry, she’ll be back, but she’s currently on a reviewing leave as a result of being pregnant with our first child. I say ours because, if you haven’t volunteered at a Drink Craft Beer festival, you may not know this but Sarah and I are married. We can’t wait for the first Drink Craft Beer baby...branded onesies coming soon!]
La Grande is a crystal clear, amber honey tinged cider than can only be qualified as luscious. It’s honestly the color of light, high-end maple syrup. As with almost all ciders, a lack of protein in the liquid means there’s no head...don’t worry, that wasn’t just me executing a poor pour.
The first word that came to my mind - and will come to yours as well, most likely - is juicy. Seriously, I could smell this while I was pouring it in a big way. As I’m typing this, the La Grande is off to the side and I can smell it. This is one deliciously fragrant cider. It’s much sweeter in aroma than Bantam’s flagship Wunderkind, which has more of a wild flower honey thing going on. Big, juicy fresh pressed apple juice asserts itself right away. I keep putting my nose into it, and more details keep coming out. After that apple sweetness there’s some tannin that I had assumed was from the oak barrels, balancing the sweetness a little. I was at best half-right as it turns out this cider was made from “the Reine de Pomme, an heirloom French Cider apple rich in tannins,” according to the label. Either way, there’s a lot going on and it all works! (Note: Let it warm up for a bit and more of those rum notes will come out...as a fan of rum, I’m really digging it!)
Whoa! That is NOT what I expected! As I mentioned, the cider smells sweet and full-bodied. The label mentioned a blend of wild and cultivated yeast, leading to a complete fermentation and dry product. I didn’t think that could be true given what my nose perceived, but I was wrong. The low residual sugar mixed with tannins from both the apples and barrels means a super dry drink. With that said, while dry usually means crisp, I would never use that word to describe this one. Rather, a restrained hand with the rum and bourbon barrels adds on to those Reine de Pommes, lending a character similar to white wine. La Grande will just dry out all the moisture from your mouth with a ton of tannin. Don’t shy away, though, as it’s quite delightful. In the end, I’ll sum it up by saying this is a cider that you have to try. It blew my mind and then I went back for more. We here at Drink Craft Beer love Wunderkind and this is a great follow up for their second product!
If you'd like to try some of Bantam's offerings, they're available in stores all over the Boston-area or you can come out to Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale! They'll be pouring a special farmhouse cider, as well as other offerings!
On Saturday, February 16th 2013 the new Mystic Brewery tap room opened it’s doors for the first time. Though the brewery has been open for a while now, it was only as of this day that you could sample the beer at the place where it was fermented (the physical brewing is done elsewhere, then unfermented wort is trucked back to the brewery for yeast pitching and fermentation). I’m a well-known lover of saisons, so I’ve basically been in a constant stoked state ever since Boston got a saison brewery of it’s own. Bryan Greenhagen, founder of Mystic Brewery, and his team have been doing crazy stuff with yeast over there and they’ve not disappointed the Boston beer drinkers. Their stuff is a constant in my fridge. So, on this day, there was no way I wasn’t going to be at the Mystic tap room to see what kind of specialties they might have on tap, just for those who made the trek. I ended up sampling a delicious “Half IPA” as well as their Table Beer, but perhaps best of all I walked away with 32 oz growler of their collaboration with D.C.’s yet to open Bluejacket DC, Vespula Mysticus, a saffron saison. (Sidenote, Bluejacket DC has Megan Parisi, former head brewer at Cambridge Brewing Company, as brewmaster...you know whatever she puts her name on will be good!) I had tried a sample previously at a beer fest, but was looking forward to a full, proper pour.
This one pours a slightly hazy, golden hue of deliciously enticing liquid. I’m already remembered the first time I sampled this at a beer fest and was floored by everything about it. As you can see from the picture, there’s pretty much no head, but I’m going to blame that on the fact that it’s from a growler and not on the beer itself.
Well it’s a saffron saison and, from the first time I smelled two ounces of this brew in a fairly crowded hall full of beer enthusiasts eager to sample the wares of brewers from across the U.S. until now, my opinion stays the same: it smells just like it’s called! I am honestly amazed at how they were able to capture the essence of saffron in a beer like they have! On top of that, the aromas actually gel quite nicely with the normal spicy saison aromatics, giving this beer a peppery, dried-flower aroma that is wonderful.
While the head may have faded a bit due to the growler, the carbonation is still there and it’s spot on! Tiny, prickly bubbles help to convey the smell of the beer to my nose while a flowery, light and bone-dry saison coats my mouth. The use of saffron is genius, as it lends perceived sweetness to the beer while allowing it to remain chalky dry at the same time. Honestly, put this in a can and the world will drink it all throughout the hot summer months! A minerally, grainy note comes along with the rest of the flavors, helping keep everything in balance and stopping those floral flavors from becoming too much like what I assume the potpourri in my grandmother’s house would taste like.
Honestly, this is a great beer that is well worth you getting out to Mystic’s tap room in Chelsea to get a sample and growler of! They’re open on Fridays 3-7pm and Saturdays Noon-4pm. If you want, you can find out what’s on tap before you go.
OK, bear with me while I make two sweeping generalizations, and then attempt to justify them using a single example.
The first generalization is that the color of your beer follows the seasons (summer is lighter, winter is darker). The second - that the booziness of your beer matches the temperature (colder is higher ABV, warmer is lower). Right, fine, I know you can point out hundreds of examples to disprove either of these statements. But let’s be honest you agree just a little bit.
I bring this up because with spring here the temperatures swing wildly between day and night, which makes it hard to pick out exactly which beer to enjoy after a hard day at work. For us folks living in the DMV - DC Brau’s Oaked Penn Quarter Porter is a fine choice for the changing season. Named after a popular neighborhood in D.C., PQP was DC Brau’s first limited release beer, though it is fairly easy to find. The oaked version - aged on Catoctin Creek Distillery Round Stone Rye whiskey barrels - is a little harder to come by, but oh so worth it!
At 5.5% abv the beer works nicely in warm early evening weather, but as the sun sets and temperatures drop the robust boozy flavors of DC Brau's Oaked PQP keep you nice and warm.
Right off the bat you notice the opaque black pour with a caramel head, then the spicy whiskey and vanilla oak flavors hit your nose forcing you to double check that you didn't accidentally open an 11% abv brew.
Waves of vanilla, whiskey, bittersweet chocolate, cold brewed coffee and roasted malt enliven your taste buds, but are tempered by a jammy stone fruit funk and a slight hop bitterness towards the tail end of a sip. The complexity and layering of flavors is impressive, and the roastiness actually fades a bit faster than I find to be typical for the non-oaked version - a plus in my book. My senses tell me to expect a drunken punch to the face, but the beer delivers a jovial pat on the back.
Soon enough we’ll be inundated with summer beers - so take the opportunity to enjoy this versatile all-season beer while you can!