ABV 6.0-6.9

White Birch Rusalka

White Birch Rusalka

Beer No. 70 – White Birch Rusalka

Imagine an Oompa Loompa that dipped his finger in just-grey ash then stirred your Milk Stout. This is what you get, and it’s exquisite.

My chief complaint with Left Hand Milk Stout (Beeradvocate 89, ratebeer 96) is that it “drinks more like a 2% milk stout than it should.” No problem here. Undeniable creaminess, latte-like consistency and a polished product that’s best captured by that moment right before your tongue runs along the roof of your mouth in bitter dissatisfaction. Except it doesn’t, and the fact that it teases you with it is maddening in the best possible way.

The real winner here is my taste buds. It’s impossible to overlook the way three different grains – barley, wheat and oats – are blended to achieve a smooth malty balance that at least one review says is “very” sweet, which I agree with if by “very” he means “just right.”

Complaints: Few. I don’t think it needs them at all, but I was promised “plumb” and “raisin” and get neither. Maybe they’re victims of my chill chest, filled with Belgians where those flavors come to the fore more directly. I could coax a little raisin from the nose but it’s still not there on the palate.

Overall an excellent offering that I’ll be trying to get my hands on again.

Beeradvocate Rating: N/A (five ratings)

ratebeer Rating: N/A (six ratings)

Hayward Abbey Rating: 92

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPABeer No. 69 – Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Is this really a problem?

The New York Times is reporting that large-format, 750 ml and beyond brews will face, and maybe already are facing, an uphill battle with craft consumers. Among the complaints are:

  • Cost/value 
  • Sessionability
  • Brewers are putting all the good stuff in this format
  • This isn’t beer

Some of these points are more interesting than others. Like beer isn’t beer if it’s bottled and priced like wine and scotch and fancypants.

I’ll admit that price isn’t, at the moment, a barrier for me. And except for nights like tonight, with a late start forcing my hand to the 12-ounce section of the beer rack, neither is sessionability. That’s why it’s hard to take the complaints of these beer sommeliers – whose job it is to sell large-format craft beers – too seriously when they say large-format craft beers “can be problematic to sell.” To Mitt Romney, sure. But you work at a hip restaurant in New York City. You mean to tell us you can’t sell two or three beers? Because fundamentally that’s all large-format is.

Anyway, it seems the biggest challenge here is philosophical. Too many craft consumers have their identities wrapped up with their beer, defined positively as “it’s local” or negatively by what it’s not (“anything but Bud Light”). Fine, that’s not the best definition but we now have some parameters. We also have some assumptions, including “This is beer.” By comparison, what’s obviously not is wine, and bourbon. So when craft brewers start experimenting with barrel aging, craft consumers bristle. People don’t like to have their assumptions challenged.

Make no mistake, this isn’t about price or the lament of hipster sommeliers. We are entering the next phase of brew development and should support these efforts, not undermine them. Beer has been evolving for thousands of years. Dogfish Head Midas Touch (Beeradvocate 84, ratebeer 93) is an homage to three drink ingredients – barley, grapes and honey – discovered in the burial site of King Midas. You have to believe the ancient Greeks and today’s beer geeks didn’t use the same methods or stylistic flourishes.

Beer is evolving. It will continue to evolve. And I guess I can’t and won’t get too worked up over someone who wants to charge $14 for 750 ml of a Farmhouse Ale aged in red wine barrels. That sounds like something someone put a lot of time and effort into, and more importantly it sounds highly quaffable.

Beer Notes: It seems the whole-cone hops get lost in the caramel ryeness of it. But it is crisp – rather so – for a rye beer so maybe that is the whole-cone hops coming through. Pleasant finish, decent effort.

Beeradvocate Rating: 88

ratebeer Rating: 98

Hayward Abbey Rating: 84

Shipyard Prelude Special Ale

Shipyard Prelude Special AleBeer No. 66 – Shipyard Prelude Special Ale

There’s no way it’s just 6.7% ABV. I won’t believe it.

Here’s a simple rule, for Winter Warmers, Doubles, Imperials and other Strong Ales: Beer shouldn’t sear your nostrils or your mouth. What’s really at fault here are my expectations and the thought that here’s supposed to be a warming booziness. Instead for some reason it’s cold. Real cold that shoots straight from the glass up the nose and doesn’t improve with the first or second sip.

Toffee, pomegranate juice and rubbing alcohol mix awkwardly in a fine mahogany glaze.

It’s Chimay Première without the distribution or the flavor.

Beeradvocate Rating: 85

ratebeer Rating: 73

Hayward Abbey Rating: 72

Moat Mountain Oktoberfest Lager

Moat Mountain Oktoberfest LagerBeer No. 65 – Moat Mountain Oktoberfest Lager

It smells like breakfast, just not like any you’ve ever had. Wheaties in shallow pool of subdued grape juice, finished Tyler Florence style with a drizzle of hazelnut oil.

Yes, it is unusual to be drinking this style so early in the year. So yes, it is a holdover from the Fall. And yes, there is a good reason. A reason so good it deserves more time than I have at the moment, so no, I won’t be explaining it just yet.

But let’s do talk about the beer. I opine regularly (some would say too regularly and others would say “opine, more like whine you fucking baby”) about balance, and my perceived perception that some beer or another doesn’t have it. That’s not an issue here. It’s delicate, just sweet, lightly spiced and almost chewy. What’s most prominent is the breadiness, generic on its own but for the Disaronno like touch.

I like all these things as much as the next man. The dilemma of course is that I want to sip, yet feel compelled to gulp. And that’s not really how I want to enjoy my beer. A bit more heft – weight balance rather than flavor balance – would make this something really special.

Beeradvocate Rating: 86*

ratebeer Rating: Not yet available

Hayward Abbey Rating: 88

*Based on 25 ratings.

Bell’s Smitten Golden Rye Ale

Bell's Smitten Golden Rye AleBeer No. 64 – Bell’s Smitten Golden Rye Ale

It starts, as it usually doesn’t, with something special. What the hell are these little pollen dusts doing in my glass, and why are they turning me on? Am I drinking beer today or chicken stock from a Michelin starred kitchen?

These Rye Beers have put me on full tilt. Like Emmy Rossum, I can’t stop thinking about them.

So I let this brew with the IPA nose sit for a few weeks before granting myself the privilege of tasting it. The moment had to be right, as it is now. A near Spring day, momma bear and little b napping, and little ol’ me with nothing to do except relax with a pint that smells like cantaloupe, coriander and pine.

It’s not my favorite in this style, no. But it is a decent effort, highlighted by a refreshing weight. It’s rare to find a cool-your-mouth brew with enough body that you have to be reminded to swallow. Maybe I’m overreacting to last night. Or maybe not. I think it really does have that balance.

When the lips meet the glass there’s also rye bread (more obviously than with others in this style), bitter honey, dried leaves and mostly there roundness that’s sullied only by the absence of a citrus, ideally tangerine, note.

Beeradvocate Rating: 85

ratebeer Rating: 87

Hayward Abbey Rating: 85

Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey

Left Hand 400 Pound MonkeyBeer No. 59 – Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey

I’m going to have to grow into this style.

STYLE: English IPA

ABV: 6.7%

LOOK: Cooked orange and nearly translucent. Nice dirty head – not that it lasts – that’s most memorable for cutting the foulness.

NOSE: Garbage night, moldy peaches, nutmeg.

MOUTH: Has it gone bad or is this what it is supposed to taste like? Chalky tapwater, butcher shop, cowboy boots. It’s times like these when I have to walk the fine line between giving an honest assessment and respecting the time and effort some people, and probably more than I can imagine, put into this. Let’s call it a learning experience for all of us. (I’m sure a year from now after I have more and more of these that I’m going to regret this review what I wrote about Brooklyn East India IPA because I’ll have developed a taste for raw meats and dusty shoes.) 

Beeradvocate Rating: 81

ratebeer Rating: 71

Hayward Abbey Rating: 68

Founders Porter

Beer No. 56 – Founders Porter

Too often in a fit of “oh shit the baby’s going to wake up, poop everywhere and need to be changed, fed and played with” I don’t let the beer mellow, to come down a few degrees. I started this review in haste before deciding to take my own advice. Glad I did.

STYLE: American Porter

ABV: 6.5%

LOOK: Unremarkable, the midpoint between oily and soda. An appalling lack of lacing. What head?

NOSE: We’re off to a rather good start. Over a foot away, I can smell the chocolate and red fruits as it pours. Better as it warms. Smoother too. We’ve gone from metallic to mid-range coffee.

MOUTH: It settles into coffee and lightly burnt malts. Not the extraordinary failure I thought it was at first. Medium body, dirty, barn doors, green pear. It has to be sessionable, but not because the ABV is relatively low. It simply lacks something robust, be it flavor or texture.

Beeradvocate Rating: 95

ratebeer Rating: 100

Hayward Abbey Rating: 82