Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm right-handed, but...

I can definitely live with these two Left Hands. Two new Left Hand brews have made their way to Athens, and I've got the word on both of them...and the word is good.

The first one I picked up is Left Hand's new seasonal, Fade to Black. First, let me say that you should realize this beer is a one time deal. The actual recipe will change each winter, yet the name and bottle, much like the song, remain the same. I found the Colorado brewery's newest creation, which as a warning will replace their Snowbound Ale for all you fans, in a beautiful black and white 6-pack at Five Points Bottle Shop. This foreign export stout pours as dark as I'd expect, but the head leaves a little bit to be desired. Any qualms I had with the appearance were forgotten when I dove in...or faded out if we want to extend this metaphor. This isn't your typical winter seasonal. This stout produces hints of licorice and dark molasses, providing a much enjoyed escape from the sometimes monotnonous pumpkin ales followed by spiced winter warmers. I found this stout a little watery compared to other offerings within the same style, but the flavor really made the consistency and mouthfeel more than forgivable. After all, the experience isn't unpleasant in any way, just a little different than what the powers-that-be say it should be. That said, Fade to Black is a seasonal and an ever changing one-time release for a good reason. This deep, dark seductive brew is like a good booty call: something I can thoroughly enjoy and then not revisit for a while without any major reperscussuions.

Up next was the most recent release from Left Hand's Big Mo' series, an Oak-Aged Widdershins Barleywine. I grabbed this limited edition treat at Trappeze Pub in downtown Athens after a long day of work. It seems I've found yet another beer that's oak-aged to perfection. I've previously declared, and even voted so, that Sweetwater's Donkey Punch Barleywine was my favorite of the category. The local boys at Sweetwater still have a place in my heart with their scandolously named barleywine, but I have to give credit to this well-aged creation from the guys in Longmont. This is the first oaked barleywine I've tasted, and I really appreciate what the aging does for this style. Barleywines are something I drink eagerly, but slowly and cautiously. At times, the sweet maltiness derived from the style's namesake grain is almost too much for me. The oak in which this brew was aged both tames and accentuates the sweetness of the barleywine, much like a fine...ahem, wine. At the same time, the sweetness cuts the oak quality which, in my opinion, can easily overwhelm the rest of a beer's flavor. The careful balance of oak and malt make Widdershins Barleywine incredibly drinkable, despite it's 10% ABV.

Overall, both beers were quite enjoyable and very appropriate seasonal offerings. While Widdershins is not a one shot deal, it's oaked form along with the foreign stout edition of Fade to Black won't be around long. So as the weather becomes a little chilly, enjoy all of your favorite holiday spiced winter seasonals along with a few new ones, but should you grow a bit weary of the sameness, reach no further than your Left Hand.

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Friday...come on, get hoppy!

It's one of those in-between autumn days. Even the trees outside Trappeze Pub aren't sure whether they should let go of their leaves yet. I find myself wanting to dive into recently tapped dark winter warmers, but still clinging to the lighter amber and golden fall seasonals. I think I better ease myself into the cold winter, even if we don't see freezing temperatures in Georgia until February.

I start out with a Laughing Skull Amber Ale from our close neighbor Atlanta Brewing Company. I was already enjoying the resilient head, but this light and clear beer is smooth, full-bodied, and everything an amber ale should be. It reminded me that an amber ale doesn't have to be the diluted cousin of other beers. That alone would make it a standout in the category for me, but the twist at the end is M. Night Shyamalan-esque. This amber ale finishes with a strong, hoppy presence that nicely balances out the smooth malty flavors. The quite noticeable, yet still reserved hops on the end transitioned beautifully into my next brew.

Up next was a slightly stronger New Belgium Hoptober. The boys from Colorado have really grown their brewery in the last decade, and with the popularity of Fat Tire, their distribution in Georgia has greatly expanded. Along with their flagship staples, the Southeast appears to be guzzling down their seasonal offerings. Along with a more pronounced hoppiness, this golden brings a slight increase from 5 to 6% ABV. This golden ale was pretty well balanced with a nice caramel malt flavor, and a slightly increased hop presence. The color was still a nice gold, and the head was nice and pronounced, leaving medium lacing. As an added bonus, I even got to keep my New Belgium glass.

As Hoptober ended, I eyed a rare offering from Athens' own Terrapin Beer Company: an oak-aged version of last year's Big Hoppy Monster, an imperial red ale. I've tried many oak-aged beers, saddened that the oak quality of many of them overwhelmed their other notes, but this batch I found the oaky aroma and flavor to both subdue and complement the hoppiness of Big Hoppy Monster quite well. The guys at Trappeze pulled this at just the right time, as the oak notes know their place but also do their job in accentuating the hoppy finish of this beast. The Oaked Big Hoppy Monster is a great booty call: a beer that I enjoy immensely for a pint and don't want to revisit for another week or longer. This more mature version of the imperial red Monster is the cougar of the Terrapin lineup, one to be approached cautiously but bragged about to all your friends after having it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hoppy birthday!: Terrapin gives birth to a new IPA

It's been a little while since the last...ahem, first update. The academic world has demanded much of me in the past couple weeks. The beer's been pouring the entire time nonetheless, so there's much to tell.

First, Classic City Craft has a Twitter page. This will allow me to include more frequent updates on-the-go. For those of you not interested in diving into the Twitter world, CCC's Twitter updates can be viewed in the sidebar of this blog (yeah, that's it right over there).

On October 28, Terrapin Beer Co. held its third Wednesday night brewery tour, and its first tour featuring a new year-round IPA called Hopsecutioner. The crowd was a bit slim, but I was told that the Wednesday night tour is beginning to grow. For those of you who have never been to Terrapin, I urge you to take a visit. The small, cozy brewery seems like everything a craft brewery should be, and the staff made the tour anything but boring, even for those not interested in the actual brewing process. The tour offered visitors some of the first tastes of Hopsecutioner IPA (the very first sips were taken at a Terrapin/Left Hand beer dinner earlier in the week). So how was it? In the midst of the other offerings on tap: Pumpkinfest, Depth Charge, Big Hoppy Monster, and all of the Terrapin regulars, Hopsecutioner earned 5 of my 8 tickets. The new year-round IPA was pulled off  the line for the tour, so it lacked all of the carbonation that will be present in the finished product. The product I sampled was good, but I hope the last bit of carbonation added before bottling will provide a little extra bite that I look for in an IPA. At around 7.0% ABV, it is on par with most other American IPAs. Overall, I found Hopsecutioner to be a clean, refreshing, and very drinkable version of an IPA, lacking such a commonly overwhelming hoppiness that I feel polarizes most people's opinions on the style. This new addition may not please traditionalists who look for an extremely hoppy, authentic IPA, but like many of Terrapin's other beers, it is well balanced yet tame enough to appeal to a wide range of beer drinkers. Hopsecutioner seems like a welcome addition to Terrapin's lineup, staying consistent with the overall tone of drinkability while filling a much needed niche in the ever-expanding collection of beers from the Athens brewery.