Cali-Belgique IPA – Stone Brewing Co.

Stone’s Cali-Belgique is their classic IPA fermented with Belgian yeasts, 6.9% ABV.

Reviewed in a frosted hefeweizen glass.

Appearance: Pours a bubbly, light-shaded golden orange. It produces a one-finger head that dissipates rather quickly until it is non-existent. Zero lacing occurs throughout the glass, except for a bit of residue that is left by the head.

Smell: Has a great, complex aroma consisting of sweet, fruity notes backed by hints of light bread and malts.

Taste: Very sweet on the palate, with notes of light bread and orange. The Belgian yeast is also at the forefront, and produces a soy-like taste that accentuates the initial sweetness. Transitions to a citrusy, hoppy punch that is identical to the standard Stone IPA, but is more mellow on the finish with only a slight bitterness that lingers harmoniously with the yeast. There is a slight tinge of alcohol as well, but it is not overbearing or disruptive in any way.

Mouthfeel: A medium body that leans more on the softer side. Carbonation is fairly moderate. Overall, quite a fluffy mouthfeel.

Conclusion: Stone has created a fantastic beer with the Cali-Belgique. It’s not a drastic change in recipe from their standard IPA, but the added Belgian yeasts really do make a difference, and the end result is a surprisingly balanced brew. Despite the yeast’s lighter flavors in contrast to the hop’s citrusy, bitter profile, everything meshes well in the finish and leaves you wanting a second sip. It’s deliciously drinkable! I’d say my only complaints about this beer are it’s lack of greater complexity when compared to Stone’s more ambitious IPA collaborations, and it’s rather subdued hoppiness, but regardless, the Cali-Belgique a great addition to this brewery’s already outstanding lineup.

91 out of 100

Pliny the Elder – Russian River Brewing Co.

Pliny the Elder is a Double IPA, 8% ABV.

Bottled on 4/3/2012.

Appearance: Aggressive pour yields a two finger, fluffy, off white head. Excellent head retention. Color-wise, this beer is a hazy dark-orange with hues of amber. Sticky lacing coats the glass after every sip.

Smell: Pure, fresh hops. Hints of grapefruit and orange. A bit of pine and resin. Smell is more citrusy and bright than the taste.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation. Smooth and velvety on the tongue with a hint of bubbliness.

Taste: One word: balance. Breathing in while taking a sip of this beer combines a citrusy and tropical hop profile from the aroma with a piney and earthy hop profile from the taste, giving you the ultimate hop experience. This intense hopinness does not come at the cost of being extremely bitter. The bitterness is present but subdued, allowing the hop flavor to shine. Caramel malt backbone kicks in at the last second to round out this beer perfectly.

Overall: There is a great deal of hype surrounding this beer. It sits at #5 on the Beer Advocate list of the top 100 beers and is widely known as one of the best IPA’s available. Does it live up to the hype? It absolutely does. The complexity of this beer is astounding. Each sip contains so many subtleties that it’s almost difficult to take them all in.

This is a beer that definitely requires multiple tastings to appreciate. When I first tried this beer, I was still pretty new to the craft beer scene and I thought it was a well done IPA, but nothing to write home about. Every time I’ve had it since then (4 times in total), I’ve understood more why this beer is so loved. The brewers at Russian River are truly masters of the IPA.

100 out of 100

Red Poppy Ale – The Lost Abbey

Red Poppy Ale is a Flanders Red Ale, 5% ABV.

Appearance: A gentle pour yields a large three-finger tan head. Head is very bubbly and fades away very quickly to a patchy layer. The beer itself is a dark red-brown that turns to an intense rose red when held to the light.

Smell: Dominated by tart cherries and oak. Sour yeast funkiness works perfectly with the sourness from the cherries.

Mouthfeel/Taste: Body is smooth but beer is highly carbonated. Feels very bubbly on the tongue. Wonderfully sour. Tartness is almost mouth-puckering and can be felt all over the tongue, especially the back. Sour cherries blend perfectly with the oakiness from the aging. Finish is dry and acidic.

Overall: Flanders Red Ales are quickly turning into one of my favorite styles of beer. This beer takes the sourness of the style to the next level. Granted, if sourness is unappealing to you, then this beer will not be your favorite. Everything about this beer is amazing – from bottle design to the last dregs in the glass. It’s not cheap at $16 a 375ml bottle, but completely worth it in my opinion. If you like sours, do yourself a favor and pick this beer up.

98 out of 100

Special Holiday Ale – Stone / Jolly Pumpkin / Nogne O

Special Holiday Ale is a Winter Warmer brewed with chestnuts, juniper berries, white sage, and caraway seed, 9% ABV.

Appearance: Aggressive pour yields one-finger khaki head that quickly fades. Light brown around the edges turning into an intense dark brown in the center. Hazy with almost no light penetration. Lacing is very slight.

Smell: Juniper and sage give the aroma floral hints. Toffee sweetness and a bit of bready malts round out the aroma nicely.

Mouthfeel/Taste: Syrupy and thick body, yet bubbly on the tongue. Sweet bready malt up front, followed by a hop blast complemented by the brewing spices, and ending with a nutty finish from the chestnuts. Only the faintest touch of alcohol on the back of the tongue. Each ingredient makes its presence known without making the beer convoluted.

Overall: The flavor of this beer is impressively dynamic. It seems like it changes in every sip: some are sweet and malty while others are bitter and floral. Not being a big fan of this style of beer, I was a little skeptical of whether or not I would like Special Holiday Ale. However, Stone, Jolly Pumpkin, and Nogne O did an outstanding job of putting a surprising amount of complexity into this beer. A great collaboration between three quality breweries.

90 out of 100

Dry Hopped St. Rogue Red – Rogue Ales

St. Rouge Red is a Red Ale, 5.1% ABV.

Reviewed in a Stone Tulip.

Appearance: Dark red, almost to the point of being brown. Orange hues around the edges when held up to the light. An aggressive pour yields a two-finger head that fades very quickly to a patchy layer of bubbles. Lacing is present, but not particularly sticky.

Smell: Hops are the spotlight. Piney, grassy aromas are substantial in this beer. Malty backbone rounds out the aroma nicely. Hint of sweetness from the malts when beer is swirled around the glass.

Mouthfeel/Taste: Medium to medium-high carbonation. Bubbly feel on mouth and tongue. Not as hoppy as the aroma suggests. Hop profile is very earthy and grassy. A rather bitter finish for a beer that is only 44 IBU’s. Bitter hops can be felt on front of tongue and sweet malts can be felt on back of tongue. Malts are subdued, but add a very small hint of bready sweetness that gives this beer decent balance.

Overall:  The hop profile on this beer reminds me of chewing on an actual hop, which is great for hop-heads like me. I typically prefer my red ales with little to no malts, and this beer delivers. It’s not a stellar red ale by any means, but this beer is a good addition to the style. A great session beer for hop lovers.

89 out of 100

Red & White – Dogfish Head

Red & White is a Belgian Witbier brewed with coriander and orange peel. It is fermented with pinot noir grapes and sits at a 10% ABV.

Reviewed in an over-sized wine glass.

Appearance: It pours a copper orange that fades to a clear orange around the edges. The beer becomes more clear as it settles and warms. It produces a three-finger, white frothy head that dissipates to a thin layer on top of the beer. The lacing is very sticky and clings to the glass well.

Smell: The Belgian yeast is very noticeable but blends well with the rest of the aromas. Lemon and orange aromas complement the slight sourness of the pinot noir grapes. Bits of coriander and clove are present.

Taste/Mouthfeel: Red & White is well carbonated. It’s very bubbly on the tongue, yet is smooth on the rest of the mouth.

Spices are more noticeable than I would have guessed from the smell. Traditional Witbier flavors are there: Belgian yeast, wheat, and citrus. A bit of oak is apparent as the beer warms. A very small hint of sourness from the grapes ties the flavors together nicely. The alcohol also becomes more pronounced as the beer warms. It’s finish combines with flavors from the grapes to give this beer wine-like characteristics.

Overall: This beer is definitely the most complex Witbier I’ve ever had. Dogfish Head does a great job putting their own spin on a standard beer style. That being said, this beer runs into the same problem I have with some of the other Dogfish special releases: I enjoyed the beer but I have no real desire to ever go out and buy it again. It’s hard to fault this beer too much for that though as it was a pleasant experience.

88 out of 100