Monthly Archives: December 2015

Christmas Bell’s

Bell’s Brewery

Okay, make that Christmas Week Bell’s, since I reviewed Bell’s Christmas Ale in the previous post. However there’s a lot of goodness for the holidays, and for all year.

Bells TwoHeartedTwo Hearted Ale

From Comstock, MI, this IPA is their #1 seller. It’s pale amber in the glass with a medium bright off white head. A pretty citrus hop aroma comes with flowers. The mouthfeel is soft and slightly foamy. The flavor delivers great balanced fruit notes with cracker and crystal malt and restrained bitterness. Caramel offsets the nice hop bite. The hops hold the finish for a long time. Most satisfactory! 7% ABV

Amber Ale

Guess what? It’s amber. This comes with a brief off white head and a mild nose. On the palate you get a rich malt flavor of bread and caramel with just enough hops. Beautifully balanced with nice effervescence and medium mouth feel. The finish continues the balance of hops and malt. 5.8% ABV

Bells Hell Label-cropHell Hath No Fury Ale

A dubbel style, this pours opaque dark brown with a brief tan/sand head. Very light nose with hints of chocolate and malt and a breath of spice. Flavor is smoky grain and malt…not really a whole lot of flavor. Let me let this warm up a bit. 7.7% ABV


This is a wheat beer, hazy pale gold in the glass with a medium white head. The nose is yeasty and hoppy before estery. The flavor has mild stone fruit and a great restrained hop bite. The finish is lingering malt, stone fruit and hops. 5.8% ABV

Bells TheOracleLabel-cropThe Oracle DIPA Ale

Pours golden with a moderate lemon chiffon head. The grapefruit nose comes with a touch of yeasty apricot esters over a crisp dry malt. The flavor delivers big citrus hops and grainy malt flavors with tart grapefruit, carrying right through the long finish as more malt emerges. Hops and malt play with each other for quite a while. This is rich sipping ale, but you had better like grapefruit, and you had better like hops…as I do. 10% ABV.

Lager (of the Lakes)

Straw-colored with a generous white head, the nose features classic cracker malt and noble hops. It’s a great pure dry lager with solid malt flavor. The finish has a nice hop bite. 5.0% ABV

Bells Best BrownBest Brown Ale

Pours chestnut brown with a medium persistent tan head. Leads with a rich warm-bread malty nose with subtle underlying hops. The flavor is as welcoming as a good pub, toasty, roasty and caramel-y malts which linger in a straightforward finish, nothing fancy, just really good brown ale. 5.8% ABV

Mango Habanero Oberon Ale

Creamy apricot in the glass with a brief white head and a gentle mango and malt aroma. The flavor starts with mango malt immediately overtaken by hot pepper. The finish carries that hot spice for a long time. This is a pepper ale more than an ale with pepper, but restrained, not a Ghost Face Killah. I can drink a pint of this, but not two. 6.0% ABV

Bells 30th30th Anniversary Ale

Imperial Stout pouring inky black with a deep brown head. The aroma is of malt and roast grain and more malt with something almost meaty about it. This would certainly go well with roasted or grilled meat. There is a liqueur note as well. Silky mouthfeel of molasses and dark malts with a roastiness that only grows stronger on the finish. According to the label “Brewed to celebrate 30 years of inspired brewing, this big, bold stout honors all that has gotten us to this point–hard work, authenticity and our commitment to quality. Whether you choose to celebrate now or later, here’s to the next 30 years.” Clearly they suggest that aging is an option, and these rich flavors at 11.0% ABV would certainly age well, but I’m a greedy bastard with no cellar space, so I choose now. Excellent!

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Happy Hoppy Holidays!

This is a time to share with family and friends (after the frantic shopping, of course). Once the shreds of wrapping paper settle to the floor, what better way to celebrate than to savor some treasures of Christmas, pint by pint? Here is some of the wealth of choice, a round dozen brews. Enjoy the season!

Sam Smith Winter WelcomeSamuel Smith’s Winter Welcome

Here’s a pint of winter warmer, straight amber with a smooth off white head. Looks like an ale! The aroma is of malt malt malt with fruity notes and just a touch of spicy hops or spice and hops. I need to let this warm a tad, it should be cellar temperature rather than refrigerator temperature. Almost an ideal ale, to my taste, perfect for savoring in a pub. 6.0% ABV

Bruery 8 Maids-a-Milking

This is an Imperial milk stout, nearly opaque brown with a moderate tan head. The nose is hard to describe with almost a bacon note with liqueur and dark malt. The flavor is like maple smoked bacon with nice notes of both maple & smoke. It’s very smooth but not exactly to my taste. Give me some sharp cheddar and things will balance right out. 11.5% ABV [Switching from this to a maple porter (not reviewed here) produced a shot of chocolate that I didn’t get in either beer, fading into a light smokiness.]

Sierra Nevada CelebrationSierra Nevada Celebration

They say “First brewed in 1981, Celebration Ale is one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA and one of the few hop-forward holiday beers.” It pours yellowish amber with a moderate yellowish head. The nose leads with hops before malt, nice resin and citrus blend over a bed of biscuity malt. There is a nice body and light effervescence on the palate followed immediately by hop bitterness, plenty of hops throughout the boil. The finish is mild emphasizing the hops. The number of hop-forward holiday beers is rising, but this is a leader. 6.8% ABV, 65 IBU

Deschutes JubelaleDeschutes Jubelale

“A festive winter ale,” dark brown and ruby with the light behind it and a generous foamy light tan head. The nose is malty, both bread and caramel with roastiness and a hint of chocolate. It’s a rich mouthful of malt with chocolate, coffee and a liquor note. The flavor is actually not so much coffee as Louisiana coffee with chicory. There’s vanilla as well. The finish is smooth, some dark plummy fruit emerges and the flavors come together in balance. I could drink quite a few of these. In fact, I had a six-pack (not all at once!) unlike my usual singletons. 6.7 ABV 67 IBU

Bells Christmas AleBell’s Christmas Ale

Pours slightly cloudy amber with a medium yellowish head. The aroma is gentle, bread & cake malts with hop spiciness. It has a very malty flavor, fairly light body and light effervescence. There is moderate bitterness in the finish. This is a good straightforward ale, not fancy, and its holiday “spice” comes from hops and barley. This would pass the test of the Reinheitsgebot. A Christmas ale for real ale fans. 5.5% ABV

The Shed Mountain AleThe Shed Mountain Ale

Not specifically a holiday beer, it’s a solid brown ale with a brief off white head. As malty as an English ale should be, it delivers full bodied caramel & toffee with lightly roasty undertones. This is accented by moderate English-style hops, the notes say Mt. Hood & Northern Brewer. It has a nice caramel finish dried by the hops. 7.4% ABV

Victory Winter CheersVictory Winter Cheers

“A celebratory wheat ale” this pours cloudy straw with a generous foamy white head. The nose is yeasty and estery with banana and stone fruit plus a distinct but subtle spiciness. On the palate comes sparkly refreshment with a touch of cloved orange. The finish is long and lightly spicy with almost a hint of cinnamon, dry, but retaining that estery quality all the way. 6.7% ABV

21st Amendment Fireside Chat21st Amendment Fireside Chat

This “Winter Spiced Ale” is dark brown with a moderate off tan head and an aroma of spiced fruit bread. The mouthfeel is soft and the flavor is earthy, almost meaty, with roasted grain and dark malts. The finish gets very dry as substantial hops come in, a nice finishing bite. On further sips, slight sweetness develops in the flavor and spice increases on the finish. This is a 50-degree ale, not a 40-degree brew. 7.9% ABV 45 IBU

Founders Project PAMFounders Project PAM

This is a black IPA with maple syrup & bourbon, inky brown with a brief off tan head. It delivers a rich bourbon nose over deep malt. It continues with maple-malt flavors blending with bourbon and persisting into the finish getting sweeter on the end. I was curious about the name, and I simply have to quote what they say about it:

Venture into the shadows of our brewers’ minds and discover their mad genius. From this unknown emerges Project PAM. In development for years under a shroud of secrecy, this Black IPA is brewed with a cornucopia of hops then aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels to add complex oaky bourbon notes and the sweetness of maple syrup to keep the bitterness in check. Like its creator, the origins of its name will forever remain a mystery.

ommLovely Dark DeepOmmegang Lovely, Dark and Deep

They call this one an “oatmeal stout winter ale.” It pours opaque brownish black with a persistent moderate tan head. The aroma is so roasty it almost crosses to tobacco, then rich malt comes in with a hint of smoke. The flavor starts with smoke, almost ashy, with malt building in. This makes me think of rauchbier and that impression persists into the finish. Never sweet, it dries out more on the end. 5.3% ABV

Great Lakes Christmas AleGreat Lakes Brewing Christmas Ale

Pretty chestnut in the glass, tinged amber with a very brief off white head. The nose is spicy-fizzy, if that makes sense, with cinnamon & ginger. On the palate there’s plenty of malt and just a hint of barnyard below the spice. It has a light ginger ale body with increasing spice as it flows into the finish, with and light honey sweetness that grows from sip to sip. I like it more from sip to sip. At the very end some hops dry it out. Quite drinkable–refreshing–though not outstanding. From the body and freshness you might think this is sessionable, but it won’t be a very long session. 8.5% ABV 30 IBU

Troegs The Mad Elf AleTröegs The Mad Elf Ale

“Ale brewed with honey and cherries,” this pours a clear chestnut with almost no head, just a light pinkish ring. The aroma is of cherry soda with a hint of biscuit malt.This left an expectation of cherry soda and the flavor is not far from that, just adding a base of malt and a smooth layer of honey. The finish holds both cherry and honey but adds a spicy hop note. It’s pleasant sipping and a good follow up to the Great Lakes. 11% ABV and not a hint of that strength. This stuff could be dangerous!

I doubt I’ll get in another blog post before Christmas, but hopefully these will tide you over. Happy holidays and a happy, healthy New Year!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good pint!

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Super Flight to the Holidays

It’s holiday time! (Well, with good beer, when isn’t it?) Even though the weather on the East Coast has been incredibly mild, it’s time for winter warmers, holiday beers, Christmas beers. So let this be the official start for this blog!

Growler and Gill usually has some “red star” special beers that aren’t eligible for inclusion in flights. These are often ones in limited release or higher alcohol or both. Last night I saw they were offering “Super Flights” which could consist entirely of those “red star” beers. Most of the current batch were holiday offerings, and it’s definitely the time for those. Preflight, though, I had this one:

sfDarkHorse 4ElfDark Horse Brewing 4 Elf Winter Warmer Ale

Hailing from Michigan, this pours almost opaque darkest brown with a brief tan head. The delicious nose delivers spices & malt with a liqueur hint. On first gulp you get a big mouthfeel (yet still refreshing) with roastiness and dark malts plus a light sweetness. The spice comes back in on the transition to the finish with clove and nutmeg and a hint of hops. The big flavor makes this a tough act to follow. It destroyed the next beer I tasted, and I won’t name that beer–a light holiday ale–because it wasn’t a fair fight. 8.75% ABV

Now on to the Super Flight!

sfScaldis NoelScaldis Noël

Crossing the pond to Wallonia, this big beer is chestnut brown in the glass with no head at all.The aroma is of super molasses and caramel malt. The flavor is raisiny and intense with tons of malt, and the finish is long, smooth, sweet and boozy. This is really interesting–perhaps even challenging–and will stand up to anything. 12.5% ABV

sfMikkeller SLHMikkeller Santa’s Little Helper

Moving on to Denmark, I had the Grand Marnier barrel aged version of this Belgian Strong Ale a couple of weeks ago, and I have a 750ml bottle of the regular green label waiting for Christmas. This time it’s the “regular” on tap, yielding a brown glass with ruby highlights and a small off white head. The nose is restrained cara malt with a hint of smoke. The flavor continues caramel with a ton of malt. (Clearly we have a theme of Big Malt for these special holiday beers!) This has another long smooth finish with increasing caramel, but it doesn’t have the depth and balance of the Scaldis. I’m a little disappointed, but it’s hard to follow the Scaldis. 11.0% ABV

sfRidgeway VeryBadElf-cropRidgeway Very Bad Elf

Now we cross the North Sea for the British Pale Ale, hazy straw-gold with a moderate white head. Leads with a powerful nose, fruity, apple cider like with strong malts like cake and spice bread. The mouthfeel is smooth and palate coating with complex flavors including toffee and a fruit brandy flavor rather than a cidery flavor. Continues with a long liqueur finish, very smooth. 7.5% ABV

Prairie Artisan Ales Christmas Bomb!

Back across the Atlantic into the heartland of Oklahoma, Prairie takes their excellent Bomb! and readies it for the holidays. This Imperial Stout pours dark brown with a medium off tan head. The spicy toffee nose comes with strong, complex dark malts. The flavor is like biting into a great spice cookie with nutmeg & cinnamon & allspice, and yes, you can practically chew it. This flows into a very long spicy finish with crystal malt tones. Use this one with–or in place of–dessert! 11.5% ABV

2.DFH_BitchesBrew_BottleShotDogfish Head Bitches Brew

If that was dessert, then this can be the after dinner drink. Finishing this holiday trip in Delaware, this Imperial Stout is very dark brown with a big long lasting creamy tan head. Starts with a nose of chocolate and dark malt, followed by super smooth flavor continuing the chocolate and rich dark malt. The finish is lightly spicy, and since the beer coats your whole mouth, that finish goes on and on. So this isn’t a holiday beer? Give yourself a present of the Miles Davis album of the same name, and savor the beer with the jazz. 9% ABV


Now who says that flights during the holidays are a bad thing? Happy holidays!

Image courtesy of Dogfish Head
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The Founders, Not the Fathers

Founders Brewing Co.

FoundersDoubleTroubleBottleDouble Trouble

Straw with a lacy white head. Starts with a malty nose with a hint of hops. On the palate there’s a surprisingly bitter touch over rich sweet malt. The finish continues the malt, drying out on the end. 9.2% ABV

FoundersBackwoods2Backwoods Bastard

Pours chestnut brown with a glass-coating light tan head. The rich fruity sweet nose probably comes from the bourbon barrel. The flavor is quite fruity & malty too. There’s almost a cherry truffle thing going on with no fruit and no chocolate. Delicious. 11.6% ABV

Harvest Ale

Amber in the glass with a brief white head. Very complex nose comes in with sweet malts and yeast and a touch of stone fruit. This is very much an ale, similar to a dry trippel. The flavor has layers of malt and stone fruit with spicy hops, leading into a finish that has both sweet and dry notes. Delicious. 7.6% ABV

Founders All Day GlassAll-Day IPA

Pours amber with a medium snow-white head. The nose leads with malt, then spicy-citrusy hops follow. There’s a malty flavor too, but plenty of hops come right along forming an earthy blend with citrus notes. The body and finish are light but still have substance and flavor, quite refreshing. This is just about a perfect session IPA. 4.7% ABV, 42 IBU.

Nitro Oatmeal Stout

Pours an almost opaque brown with a hint of ruby when held toward the light. It has a generous and very long tight tan head. The aroma is of roasty grain and dark malt with a toffee note. The light body is very smooth, even silky. There’s a light roasty flavor with a sense of coffee and something almost like coconut. Then comes the smooth finish with roasty bitterness building like crisp toast. 4.5% ABV, kind of a “session stout” but the traditional stout was never high in ABV, unlike some of the current monsters (often excellent monsters.)

Founders Spectra Trifecta LabelSpectra Trifecta

Gold in the glass with a hint of peach and a brief moderate white head. The fruity nose leads with herbal highlights. The spicy lightly sweet flavor follows like a hint of malt balls with stone fruit emerging and flowing into a malty finish. They call it a Kolsch Style Ale but my impression is of saison with all the herbal spicy flavors: chamomile, lemongrass and ginger. 5.9% ABV 20 IBU.

Blushing Monk

Beautiful cherrywood color fills the glass with a moderate white head. The bright raspberry aroma starts with Belgian yeastiness, then with malt that increases as it warms. The flavor is big raspberry masking biscuity malt. The finish is not dry but also never really sweet. This would be nice as an accent on vanilla ice cream, but it’s great by itself. 9.2% ABV

Dirty Bastard

Pours deep amber with a moderate yellowish head. Leads with a caramel-toffee nose with a ton of darkish malts and a hint of vanilla. This is followed by a honey brandy flavor, or maybe scotch with another ton of malt and a mix of very smooth and edgy heat. The long malty finish wraps this up neatly as a really fine beer. 11.6% ABV

Mosaic Promise

A golden glass with a bubbly white head and a strong piney aroma, quite vivid. The flavor starts and ends with the mosaic hops but there’s a wave of malt in between. Good bitterness on the finish, lingering for a long time. 5.5% ABV so approaching a session IPA. This is a single malt, single hop beer brewed to support ArtPrize. 5.5% ABV


This is a classic porter, opaque brown with a rich tan head. The chocolate aroma comes with light roast grain notes. There is even more chocolate in the flavor, accompanied by caramel, mostly smooth but with roasty edges. Hops emerge on the finish with nice bitterness. 6.5% ABV, 45 IBU

Breakfast Stout

This is described as “double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout.” It pours opaque darkest brown with a thick chocolate ice cream head. The nose delivers rich malts layered with chocolate and with roasted grain. The flavor starts with a chocolate liqueur quality and a lot more malt. Again roasted grain comes in so it has a sweetness without ever becoming outright sweet. The long lingering finish takes the malt, chocolate and grains and adds a slight fruit note as of ripe cherries–just a hint–joining the party. Truly rich and delicious! 8.3% ABV 60 IBU

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