Beer Week 2015 (North Carolina)

NC BeersProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

I love spring. My beard is shaved, the flowers are starting to bloom, all the trees are budding, and the slight chill to the air is welcome, not foreboding. This week was my turn to supply the beers and the testing panel assembled on our back patio to do our scientific research and tasting. Here’s the lineup with descriptions mostly supplied by brewery websites:

Triple C Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stout (Charlotte): This beer starts with four malts – German Pilsner, Special B, white and chocolate wheats. It is aged in bourbon barrels and then on cacao nibs. The final addition is to add salt for the full pretzel treatment. Obviously meant to be the dessert for this tasting.

Howard Brewing General Lenoir’s Old Ale (Lenoir): This one was picked for its tie to NC history. The recipe comes from a 1795 hand written note attributed to General William Lenoir. The beer is touted as a traditional ale made with ingredients traced to the late 1700’s and Lenoir’s Fort Defiance. If we are going to taste beers from NC, we might as well taste a caramel and roast ale that is living history.

Highland Brewing Weizenbock Ale (Asheville): Highland is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I got to visit there with my wife, sister, brother-in-law and nephew last fall. They have created a group of small batches to honor the anniversary and this is one of them. The website notes for this beer tout flavors of cloves and bananas and malts that include wheat, barley and chocolate rye. I do have to say that when we toured, our nephew Dan knew more about beer than our guide, so I should have sent him one of these to try.

Foothills IPA of the month for March (Winston-Salem): The label is a caricature of Boston terrier mix named Murphy who in turn was named after a band. They really emphasize the final Citra and Lemondrop hops that provide the citrus bloom to the flavors, and the traditional German malts that give it depth.

NoDa Brewing Hop Drop & Roll (Charlotte): This beer won the 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Medal for American Style IPA which is the most contested category based on the number of entries. Hopping occurs throughout the brewing process with a late addition of Citra and Amarillo hops. Multiple malts add depth and body to this brew.

Holy City Bowen’s Island Oyster Stout (Charleston, SC): There are 2 bushels of oysters per 15 barrels of beer in this stout. I bought this one in Charleston a couple of months ago (as a note to our nephew Dan, it is not skunked being two months old) and sent one of these as a bonus beer. I like odd numbers and I am calling it a bonus so that I was sending 5 beers plus one.

David can rate these in order but I have to provide my tasting notes supplemented by my illustrious panel. One of the tasters is not a fan of IPA’s so we spared him the Hop Drop & Roll. That said it was the best of these beers, even if the award may have biased our judging. The Chocolate Pretzel Stout was probably second with an amazing complexity that reflected the numerous ingredients and careful attention to the brewing process. Surprisingly the General Lenoir Ale was the next favorite. The intrepid tasters noted that is best represented the concept of beer. The Weizenbock was a German style beer with little to distinguish it, the Foothills IPA for March was good but not spectacular, and the Oyster Stout suffered for having followed the Pretzel Stout. A regular beer after dessert? That’s hardly fair.

Here’s David’s Review:

March IPADuring our first week of beer, Jonathan threw down the gauntlet. He sent selections to convince me to like IPAs, and, while I won’t concede it’s my favorite style of beer, I enjoyed both of the IPAs he sent… and the others too. Like last week, not one of these beers was a bust. All were quite good, even and especially the IPAs. Reluctantly, maybe I’ll have to rethink my perverse antipathy toward the beer everyone else seems to enjoy… along with my distaste for many movies, literature, music, and art popular and universally beloved.

Nah.

I’ve ranked these beers, and I can’t help noticing how differently I regarded them… but it’s more a matter of preference than taste. I wouldn’t turn down any:

6. Holy City Bowen Island Oyster Stout: My wife really enjoyed this dense and dark beer, and I also appreciated its evocation of smoked oysters. I liked it much better than I expected I would and think it’d make an excellent cooking beer. Oyster stout just may not be my thing.

5. Triple C Chocolate Pretzel Stout: Chocolate covered pretzels are one of my favorite foods in the world, but I confess some fear of stouts. This one possesses the characteristic intimidating gravity and dark bitterness that sometimes turn me off, but, as a dessert beer, it was surprisingly good. Can’t say I tasted chocolate or pretzels, though.

4. General Lenoir Old Ale: I expected to like this one the best because it’s a sort of red, British style ale, the style I enjoy most consistently. Plus, the history is so cool. I did enjoy it, though its flavors didn’t seem quite as well integrated as some of the others. It tasted alcoholic—though the NoDa was the quite clear champion there!—and its carbonation seemed quite sharp, undercutting its mellow flavors.

3. NoDa Hop, Drop & Roll IPA: I know this one was supposed to be the award winner, and you have to love the name. It reminded me of the posters in my college dorm reminding us what to do should we happen to catch fire. I liked the beer too. It made very positive first impression, but it was the second best IPA for my taste. It amasses layer on layer on layer of hops. In the end, I found the combination of hops overwhelming by the time I emptied the glass.

2. Foothills March IPA: My objection to IPAs has always been how unbalanced many of these beers are, but this one was nicely fruity. For me, the strong hops complemented rather than overwhelmed the character of the beer… like a hoppy plum. Then again, as this beer is from my old hometown Winston-Salem, maybe it’s just nostalgic pride.

1. Highland Brewing Wiezenbock: My understanding of the Weizenbock style is limited, but I know it’s wheat beer and, as such, delivers just what you’d expect—a lighter, cloudier character that’s more subtle than bold—but, for me, the bock part of this ale also made it rich, roasty, and a little on the sweet side. I like the sweet side.

Jonathan’s take: A beautiful spring afternoon tasting beer. That’s probably the winner.

David’s take: Some IPAs are good… but that’s all you’re getting out of me.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

It’s been quite some time since either of us invented a cocktail, but I often fool around with the ingredients we have left over, and I’m ready to risk introducing one of my concoctions to my tough-reviewing brother. I’m calling it a 3GT. The letters stand for gin, ginger beer, Goldschläger, and tonic. Here’s hoping Jonathan hasn’t consumed all of those former ingredients… and won’t be too hard on me.

North Carolina Beers

beer1Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

It’s the first of two beer weeks for us. One could argue that is just a way to prove we’re not too savvy about other beverages, but it was intended to give each of us chance to pick out 6 micro-brews for each other and take a short break from cocktails.

This week was my turn to send David those beers and I decided to concentrate on NC brews. Like the regions of Scotland (okay that may be my fantastical view), I divide NC into mountains, piedmont and coast when choosing favorites. There is at least one beer from each area, although the piedmont is overrepresented since more of them are bottled and distributed. In no particular order these are the beers that I sent:

Weeping Radish Ruddy Radish. Weeping Radish is located in the community of Grandy on the coast of NC and is the oldest currently operating brewery in the state. Their beers are hard to get, but luckily folks know I enjoy them and are nice enough to get me some when they are near the Outer Banks. In this case I can’t review Ruddy Radish since the bottle I sent was the only one I had. Most of their beers are German style, but descriptions of this call it either an American Amber or Red Ale. My favorite beer from this brewery is Black Radish which is described as a Schwarzbier. I drank all of those though.

Foothills Torch Pilsner and Cottonwood Frostbite. These beers are together because they are both made at Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing since Foothills purchased the Cottonwood brands (that originated in Boone) when they bought brewing equipment from an older craft beer brewer. The pilsner is a true Czech style one and was chosen since David prefers, or at least I think he prefers, less hoppy beer than I do. That said, Frostbite is a seasonal Black IPA made with a roasted malt of barley and wheat. While it has an added bitterness from the hops, that is balanced from the flavors introduced by the roasted malt. Frostbite is my favorite among those I sent.

Big Boss Blanco Diablo. This one is a Witbier with orange peel and coriander added for flavor. Once again this was intended to balance some of the other choices with a lighter flavor and the option to garnish (it would an orange slice in our house even if some folks think that is beer sacrilege) or even make a cocktail of some type with the beer.

Olde Mecklenburg Fat Boy Baltic Porter. Another seasonal beer, Fat Boy is brewed in Charlotte where I live. Olde Mecklenburg follows the German roots of large parts of this area and they adhere to the purity rules of German beer making. Baltic Porter falls under the lager group and is slightly different from the English style porter. In this case, Fat Boy had a surprising amount of different flavors but was smooth like you would expect a porter to be.

Highland Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. Another porter, but in this case the English style with the added benefit of incorporating another beverage love of David’s—coffee. Highland is located in the micro-brew capital of NC, Asheville, and as such is just one of many offerings available from that city. My favorite beers from Highland are the Kashmir IPA and the seasonal Devil’s Britches IPA but both live up to the IPA hoppiness that I was trying to avoid in my selections for David. This porter, like their Oatmeal Stout and Black Mocha Stout, is perfect proof that dark does not mean strong or bitter. Instead it has the flavor of chocolate to complement the coffee.

What is really hard to believe is that even with six selections, I did not send any from two other favorites. Natty Greene’s Brewery in Greensboro has an incredible variety of beers with consistent excellence, and I think Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill is the best place to sit and enjoy a pint. The last part could be related to a bias towards that certain part of NC, but the bias does not diminish how good their brewing is.

photo-76Here’s David’s Review:

I’m a more savvy beer drinker than cocktailian—I know the styles, read books about their history, understand different ingredients and preparations, and try to try each type at some time or another. I’ve even brewed my own—unfortunately indifferent—beer.

That said, my ability to review beers falls well short of what I read on Beer Advocate, and I apologize. I won’t have fancy terms to apply and won’t make you taste the beer as you read my descriptions. Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer, not a virtual reality engineer.

And, like an art museum visitor—something I do in addition to drinking—I know what I like more than what’s like-able. I’ve put these beers in reverse order, knowing, as Jonathan suggests, some styles don’t resonate with me. Any pleasing beer of some types would be surprising.

Come to think about it, I’m more snob than connoisseur, so value my remarks as you will:

6. Torch Pilsner (Foothills Brewing): I drank this beer with profound prejudice, I’m sorry to admit. I drink ales instead or lagers, and, when I do drink lagers, like the Vienna or Dortmunder style over Pilsner, which seems so restricted in requirements one seldom differs from another. This brew as “drinkable,” which, to be fair, my wife liked best about it.

5. Fat Boy Baltic Porter/ Gefühl Der Freiheit (The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery): Porters are an acquired taste, and I’ve taken the trouble to acquire it. Yet some, like this one, are quite smoky, using heat to release and change the sugar in the barley. This brew seemed quite barley-y to me, burnt without the proper balance of either sweetness of hoppiness.

4. Thunderstruck Coffee Porter (Highland Brewing Company): As much as I love coffee (it’s difficult to express my affection for coffee), I avoid stouts or porters including “coffee” in their name. A lover and a mistress should never meet. Coffee beer evokes charcoal for me, but this one—while certainly intense—was sweeter, pleasantly heavy without the acid push I usually associate with coffee beers. A surprise. Pleasant.

3. Frostbite (Foothills Brewing): What is it with India Pale Ale these days? The style developed more as a way to prevent spoilage, and now beer drinkers have embraced it to such an extent it crowds out everything else. I was pleased that this beer didn’t have the hoppiness generally associated with the style and the word “black” in its name didn’t mean overcooked barley but a welcome depth. A welcome beer.

2. Bianco Diablo (Big Boss Brewing Company): I confess, two issues concerned me right away—the use of “Diablo,” which is usually an unwelcome sign of potency, and the description on the label “Ale Brewed with Spices.” I’m a purist who loves hops, period. Yet, this beer was wonderful—complex in flavor, one moment spicy and another moment dense and malty. I was surprised again. Loved it.

1. Weeping Radish Red Ale (Ruddy Radish): I’m an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) fan and love session beers (those beers light and engaging enough for a long session of drinking). This one fit my preferences squarely, not so hoppy as to seem medicinal, a little on the sour side, the welcome warmth and complexity that comes from developing malt’s smokiness without burning it. Then again, maybe it’s just the echo of my university’s fight song.

David’s Take: What a pleasure, to try so many wonderful (in their own way) beers. Makes me think of the first time I fell in love.

Jonathan’s take: In the middle of assembling this mix, I made a trip to Denver and had one of the best beers I have ever tasted – Denver Brewing’s Graham Cracker Porter. So many beers, and so little time.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My turn! Even if I can’t get Jonathan to visit me in Chicago, I can introduce him to the prominent and pleasing breweries this city offers. I wish I’d been able to match the variety of styles he offered me, but I hope there will be some illuminating choices among the beers I sent.