Local Beer Blog Spotlight: Oct. 17, 2013

We got a really nice response to our first Local Beer Blog Spotlight last week. We hope to keep it a weekly feature, but will switch to biweekly on occasion. Let us know if we’re missing any other blogs.

The Best Beer at Great American Beer Fest 2013
Joe Long at Empty Growler lists his favorite beer finds at this year’s GABF.

Review: The Bruery Autumn Maple

Queen City Beer Nerd reviews a fall favorite this week.

Keep track of your beer cellar
Tom at Queen City Drinks tries out three different ways of tracking what beers you are currently cellaring.

Rhinegeist Beer Dinner at Firehouse Grill
Chris from Queen City Fresh shares an audio recording of Bryant Goulding of Rhinegeist speaking at a recent beer dinner.

Past Due Beer Review: Sebago Bonfire Rye

Well… I’m writing again, which I suppose is a start. It took months of prodding, some beer and an unreasonable amount of patience on Tom and Carla’s behalf, but I picked up the computer.

So onto the beer!

Bonfire Rye by Sebago Brewing Co.

Sebago Bonfire Rye

Sebago Brewing is based out of Gorham, Maine so this is really more of a beer tease unless you summer in New England.

First impressions are a deep copper color that was pouring clear until I hit a bit of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. It has a nice tan head with small bubbles that linger. There was also a big whiff of hops that I wasn’t expecting from a beer named “Bonfire” although in hindsight the words, “Rye Ale Stoked With Hops” on the front of the bottle probably should have had some bearing on my expectations.

It has a crisp rye aroma that is packed with citrusy hops and a hint of caramel. Hmmm…  smells light and refreshing but still not quite getting “Bonfire” branding.


Big rye flavor, nice and dry, with a big citrus hop profile and a punch of roasted malt (Oh there you are Bonfire!). Usually when I’m sitting around a bonfire I’m holding a glass of a nice stout, maybe a porter, a winter warmer, or an old ale but usually the malt is the main player and the hops are often left out in the cold. The touch roasted malt plays well with the hops and give this hoppy rye beer a nice Autumnal twist.

HOMEBREWING SIDEBAR: This beer actually reminds me a lot of a beer I brewed. It was an aggressively hopped ale which was supposed to be pale but the couple ounces of chocolate malt I tossed in at the last minute turned it into a roasty American brown ale.

Over all, it’s a great beer and a good excuse (not that you really need one) to bring the hops fireside.

If it sounds good and you aren’t planning a trip to Maine anytime soon, hit up your local beer store and grab some American style brown ales to try and see if you can find some fire friendly hops.



Snapshot Review: Old Dominion Brewing Company (Part 1)

Disclosure: the brewery provided complimentary samples for review, with no further stipulations.  I checked the package for an envelope full of cash, and, sadly, there was none.


Dominion Oak Barrel StoutOak Stout

Brewery: Old Dominion Brewing Company
Style: Stout
ABV: 6.1%
Profile: Very malty with a light note of vanilla and a background of oak with a little bit of peat, chocolate, and caramel. Moderate mouthfeel of an American stout.
If you enjoy: stouts with moderate alcohol, good flavor profile but still very drinkable.
My Take: Very well balanced. It’s always great to have a stout with a good bit of flavor that won’t knock me on the ground. They don’t all have to be 4,567,983% alcohol. I really enjoyed this beer.


EspressoMorning Glory Espresso Stout

Brewery: Old Dominion Brewing Company
Style: Coffee Stout
ABV: 9%
Profile: Mellow coffee and chocolate, not too assertive. Enough alcohol to brighten it up, but still very smooth.
If you enjoy: Stouts that prominently feature coffee and/or chocolate.
My Take: Not at the top of my list of coffee beers, but still solid.  I wish there was a little more acidity to brighten up the coffee flavor, but they are clearly going for more of roasty, deeper, chocolatier profile.  I’m not really sure what to make of the bottle label…I’m just here for the beer, folks.

Malt Liquor Monday: Colt 45

A funny thing happened to me a few weeks ago.  I was on my way home after a long night of auditioning chimpanzees for the title role in my new street play, “Puddin and the Primate’s Revenge: Episode One of the Organ Grinder of Darkness Saga” and realized I needed a beer to cap off the night.  You know, something to savor while I decided between Mr. Jinkees and Manny the Monkey.  Unfortunately, it was late.  So late that all of my usual craft bottle shops had long since closed for the day.

Luckily, a few days before, I’d just happened to be listening to the Puddinette—which is something rare enough in itself—when she mentioned to me that she noticed they were now stocking craft beer at my local Quik Mart-o-Stop.

Well, if that wasn’t serendipity, I’m not sure what you’d call it.  Well, actually, I’m not really sure what “serendipity” means, anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.

So I pulled into the place and made way to the beer cooler at the rear of the store.  As I said, though, it was late, so I really didn’t feel like dropping the money on a six pack I knew would be overkill.  Instead, I slid over the singles stack, hoping to find a nice bomber.  Maybe a Stone IPA or something interesting from Rogue.

No luck there, I’m afraid, but I found something else quite intriguing.  Apparently, the newest thing in craft brewing is something called “Malt Liquor”, which comes in both 22 oz and even 40 oz bottles.  You know, for those nights.  Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for, but with interesting names like “Olde English 800”, “St. Ides”, and “Colt 45”, I was totally expecting a style steeped in tradition but with an aggressive, innovative approach.

I took home a 40 of Colt 45 that night, hoping that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Three days later, when I finally woke up, I was partially blind in one eye, my mouth tasted like a combination of ashtrays and Scope, and couldn’t remember anything of my first malt liquor experience.  To my credit, I found I’d taken copious notes about the experience.  Admittedly, the notes looked to have been written by a child, but you know, who writes anymore, anyway?

With further adieu, then, here’s the first post in what I expect to be a new weekly Hoperatives feature, Malt Liquor Monday.

Colt 45

Appearance: Pours a pale, winter sunrise yellow.  A finger or two of soft, fizzy, perfectly white head disappears faster than deviled eggs at a family reunion.

Smell: Extremely light odors of straw, grass clippings, Cheerios, creamed corned, and rubbing alcohol.  Reminiscent of being at Uncle Earl’s farm in August, when he starts up the still.

Taste:  Grain.  Then more grain.  Then something bitter, but not good bitter.  Like sucking on a dirty penny.  Plus a slight hint of something astringent, like Stridex pads. Oh, yeah, and a big smoking hot wallop of alcohol…BAM!

Mouthfeel:  Smooth, yet burns with the fire of shame and a thousand stars going supernova, but not in a completely unpleasant way.

Overall:  I guess I drank the whole thing?  I’m not sure.  According to my hastily scratched scribbles, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.  Although I do have to wonder why the land lord has been giving me the evil eye since that night. Oh, and the local police department has left me several messages in the past 18 hours, too.  Surely, that’s not related?  Anyway, I guess I’d drink Colt 45 again.

Availability: I haven’t seen it at my local craft bottle shop, yet, but I guess maybe the Quick Mart-o-Stop got a scoop with the local distributor. Anyway, if you can’t find any at your favorite place, give your Quick Mart-O-Stop a try.

So that’s my first toe-dip into the waters of craft brewing’s newest fad, malt liquor.  Next up on Malt Liquor Monday: Olde English 800.  Possibly your traditional bitter with a twist?

I, for one, can’t wait to find out!


Tasting Notes: Cincinnati Beer Week 2012 Barleywine Ale

I was privileged enough to make it down to the tapping of the 2012 Collaboration Barleywine at Rock Bottom Brewery ( https://www.hoperatives.com/?p=9957 ) and just wanted to share a few quick tasting notes I jotted down in between all of the great beer conversations I was having with the local brewers.

The appearance is ruby red with a light tan head. It has a strong hop nose with floral and citrus components.

There is a lot of ripe citrus flavor up front followed by some caramel and dark sugar. It’s slightly warming and you can tell the alcohol is high but the malt and strong hop flavors mask it nicely.

It’s not what I would normally think of when I hear the term Barleywine (I think I heard the term Barley IPA thrown out) but a great beer none the less. Take these notes with a grain of salt because it was a pretty green beer and could probably use a little age on it. When the hops mellow just a bit this will be a really excellent beer. I can’t wait to try it again.


-Jared Whalen



Seeking Light, Gluten-free and Non-Alcoholic Recommendations

When you write a beer blog, you start getting asked for your better beer recommendations. Sometimes, that’s an easy question to answer. Sometimes, it gets a bit trickier. There are three categories of beer that we’ve been getting asked about lately that have been a little trickier than most.

There are more and more beer drinkers now that need to choose their beers carefully for one reason or another. Because of those reasions, there are always going to be beer drinkers interested in better versions of light, gluten-free or non-alcoholic beers. So we’re opening this up to get your recommendations in these three categories. We have a couple of light beers that we lean towards, but we’re totally clueless on the other two categories. So help us out and we may even do another Hoperatives Tasting Panel like we did with amber beers a while back.

Yeah, We Tried It! : Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

So what is a “Yeah, We Tried It!” post? In general it has come to be something of a running joke where we sample a beer from one of the larger brewing companies whose names shall most times not be mentioned unless I want to hotlink or tag their name in a shameless attempt to garner more hits. It oft times results in nothing more than a slam fest where I bash the beer, the company, curse fizzy yellow American lager, and invoke brand names that attempt to crush the heart of all things that are “Better Beer”.

This one is a little different, maybe not so much in conception, as it was based on a bit of Twitter goading from fellow Hoperative John Lavelle, but perhaps in outcome. It would seem that I have become the guy who will try any beer and that’s not far from the truth as it’s not hard to twist my arm into drinking a beer. In fact out of the thousand beers I have tried I would say that there is probably only one where I couldn’t finish a glass, but that’s a story or post for a different day.

Now that I’ve stated my intentions and preconceptions, let’s move on to the beer.

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

Belgian-Style Wheat Ale Brewed with Pumpkin and Spices

Appearance: 2/3

It’s slightly hazy with a light orangish color. The head retention was poor despite my best efforts to froth it up.

Aroma: 3/3

The main aromas are sweet caramel malt, pumpkin, and nutmeg. It’s nice a festive but not overpowering.

Hop Malt Balance:3 /4

It’s very sweet but I guess that’s what you are aiming for when you are looking to mimic pumpkin pie in light form. The main detractor is that it’s called a Belgian style wheat but it doesn’t really hit that mark for me with any yeast and refreshing citrus tones covered up by the pie components.

Aftertaste: 3/3

The aftertaste is reminiscent of pumpkin pie with a nice faint pumpkin flavor and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mouthfeel: 2/3

Medium bodied and easy to drink but seems slick. Perhaps that’s the creaminess that my wife perceived when she said “It’s like they added the whipped cream too”.

Overall Impression: 3/4

It’s a decent pumpkin beer and my wife liked it, which is saying a lot considering I’ve never seen her take more than two sips of most beers and she drank almost half of one of these. It plays to the light American beer palate as you might expect but it is better than most of the big brand forays into different. If my wife will drink it and I’m willing to drink a 6 pack then “Yeah We Tried It!”, but we kind of liked it. . . this time.







Review: Great Crescent Brewery – Dark Lager

Great Crescent Brewery is located in beautiful downtown Aurora, IN. About 10-15 minutes south of I-275. It’s not as far as it seems and I promise the beer is worth the drive. Take the family out on a Sunday drive, you come off as the All-American parent and get to fulfill your ulterior motives of hunting down great beer.

I’ve had a number of their wonderful beers recently but somehow I had managed not to try the Dark Lager. It was purchased in a 4-pack of pint cans and poured into a standard pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3

It’s a dark caramel reddish brown with a tan foamy head. The head dissipates quickly and doesn’t leave behind a lot of lacing on the glass.

Aroma: 3/3

The first thing that hits your nose is dark chocolate and roasted coffee and that is followed by some sweet caramel and maybe a hint of hops.

Hop Malt Balance: 3/4

The sweet roasted malt is up front but there is a hint hops that keeps it from being overly sweet. I’ve been on a hop kick for a while now and I think I’m a bit biased against beers that feature malt so predominantly like this one does, although a full flavored lighter bodied beer like this one might be enough for me to reconsider my Hop Malt allegiances.

Aftertaste: 2/3

The roasted malt and cocoa flavors linger on with a bit of astringency that makes you want to keep drinking.

Mouthfeel: 3/3

Nice and light very easy to drink.

Overall Impression: 4/4

A great local example of what a full flavored sessionable lager should be.




– Jared Whalen

Twitter: @jrodwhalen

Review: Great Divide Brewing Sampler Pack

Is it just me, or does it seem like a lot more breweries are putting out sampler packs these days?  Or maybe it’s that some of the packs from not-quite-so-large breweries are finally getting distribution.

Whatever it is, I like it.  Samplers are a great way to try several different beers from the same brewery and get a taste for what they’re doing.  A lot of them tend to include a seasonal offering or two, so you’re not always getting just their flagships which you’re more likely to have already tried.*  I like to have many different styles of beers around the house, so if nothing else a sampler pack can be a more cost-effective way to inject some variety into the fridge.

I was at Jungle Jim’s – which had a very good selection of samplers – and I picked out the the “Brewer’s Picks” 12-pack from Great Divide Brewery in Denver, Colorado.  I tend to shy away from beers that have to travel a long way to make it to my liver, so I can’t say I’ve had much of their beer – despite the fact that I am well aware of Great Divide and their reputation.  I’ve tasted a few different incarnations of their “Yeti” line and have always been impressed.

The sampler includes 3 bottles of 4 different beers, at least 2 of which are usually not as readily available.  This won’t be a standard review using the famous Whalen-ian Method, since there are too many beers.  Rather, this is just to give you a, um, sampling of the…sampler.

Samurai Rice Ale
Unfiltered, pours a very light straw color.  Sweet nose gives off a lot of rice.  Character is very crisp and refreshing, with a little bit of fruit.  It’s balanced with a hint of bitterness.  Very refreshing, and a nice alternative to lighter wheat beers and blondes for a summer.  Having this be unfiltered was a great decision.

Wild Raspberry Ale
Pours a pretty, ruby-amber color with a nice head.  The first word that comes to mind when I put my nose in the glass is “tart.”  The flavor also is somewhat tart, but surprisingly subdued.  It’s very well-rounded, and the raspberry is balanced out by the grain.  If you’re looking for a fruit beer that is unabashedly raspberry, this is not it.  I’ll also say that it paired beautifully with the brownie I was eating.


Denver Pale Ale
It is an English style pale ale, and I get more of a malty and English hop aroma than what you generally find in an American style.  The taste is smooth and right down the center, exceptionally well balanced.  A little grassy, which I really enjoy here as it plays with the malt.  This is a really, really solid beer.


Titan IPA
Builds a thick, foamy head with a copper color.  Aroma is straight out of the American IPA handbook, with a nice balance of pine and citrus.  The taste profile is just what is advertised on the nose: plenty of American hops, but with a pleasing malt backing.  The hop flavor is fantastic.  This is an excellent beer.  If you’re looking for a stellar representation of the American IPA style, look no further.

This is an impressive offering from Great Divide.  I really like that two of the beers are less common in these parts and are probably ones that I would have a tough time finding a 6-pack or bomber of (while they’re not officially “seasonal” offerings, they fit this particular season very well).  I highly recommend this sampler, especially if you’re not already familiar with Great Divide.



*I love Samuel Adams and have great respect for the brewery, but if anyone from that company is reading this…PLEASE, PLEASE consider packing your samplers without your flagship Boston Lager (and sometimes also Sam Light).  I enjoy both beers, but I bet almost everyone buying a sampler has already tried Boston Lager.  It is a testament to what an excellent beer it is and how well you’ve done to propagate it.  However, you offer many great varieties, some of which we can’t get in Cincinnati (or most other geographies) except for in samplers. Please take this into consideration.  Respectfully, John.

Revisiting the Tasting of the Ambers

This post originally ran back in January, but we thought it was relevant given the news that Yuengling is going to be available in Ohio in the Fall. We haven’t done another tasting panel since we did this one, but we need to. It was a lot of fun.

One of the interesting Cincinnati beer stories in 2010 was the introduction of Hudepohl Amber Lager. It’s only been available since September, but it seems to have established itself a staple in a lot of bars (and refrigerators) around town. Carla and I worked as volunteers on the day shift of the Hops over the Ohio festival in early October. We were pouring beers from Christian Moerlein, but one of the taps was given to Hudy Amber. We didn’t keep an exact count, but as the day went on we were probably pouring three Hudy Ambers to every one of anything else. We took it out to the Beer Blogger’s conference in Boulder in early November and it was well-received. I think it was while we were out there that we hatched our little plan.

Just like the iPhone getting released on Verizon yesterday, everybody knows that someday you’re going to be able to get Yuengling in Cincinnati. It’s anecdotal evidence, but we’ve been told by folks at the major beer stores that Yuengling is easily the most requested of all the beers you can’t get in Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky. The second most requested is often New Belgium’s Fat Tire. You can get Fat Tire in Indiana, but unless you live on that side of town it’s not going to be a beer you pick up on a whim. What do all these beers have in common? The word “amber.” Yuengling’s flagship is an amber lager. Fat Tire is an amber ale. All are really popular beers in our area. You can probably see where this is going.

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Carla and I invited some folks over to participate in a tasting panel. Included were our three regular contributors (Jared Whalen, John Lavelle and Jason Rust) as well as Rivertown Brewing’s Jason Roeper and Goose Island’s local representative Lindsey Bonadonna. This was the first time we’d tried anything like this, but after doing it I think we’ll do it again.

You can read in excruciating detail how we conducted the tasting here, but there are two things to be aware of. First, we added in a fourth beer — Bell’s Amber — because we wanted to introduce a bit of uncertainty for the participants. They knew in advance what three of the beers were going to be, so we added the fourth as a kind of wildcard. They didn’t know what beer they tasted until after they were finished. Second, we did things in such a way that no one knew for sure which beer they were tasting at a given time. It’s all explained after the jump, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The maximum score a beer could score was 20 points. Since there were seven of us, that means the most points a beer could get was 140. Just for fun, we threw out the top and the bottom score like they do in figure skating and platform diving to come up with an adjusted score (with a maximum of 100 points). Here is a summary of the results (the complete results can be found here):

  1. Bell’s Amber Ale: 119.5 total points (85 adjusted points)
  2. Hudepohl Amber Lager: 86.5 total points (63.5 adjusted points)
  3. New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale: 80 total points (59 adjusted points)
  4. Yuengling Lager: 79 total points (56 adjusted points)

The clear winner here was Bell’s Amber. All seven participants rated it the highest. Hudepohl was the surprise coming in as the second-highest rated. I say it was a surprise because there was no consensus on what should be ranked 2, 3 or 4. The night we did the tasting we weren’t quite sure what the rankings were because we all (ok … I) drank too much to want to input things into a spreadsheet. Eyeballing things that night we all thought Fat Tire came in second. As I said, we’d been drinking.

You can see that there’s a big gap between Bell’s and the Hudepohl Amber, but the other three are kind of grouped together. I think that’s the big takeaway from this. If you’re familiar with one or two of these but not all three, it’s worth your time and money to give something new a try. It’s also hard to see this as anything but good news for Christian Moerlein. I don’t think it’s any secret that the beer was designed to go head-to-head with Yuengling, and clearly it does that. What is a surprise, though, is how it fared against Fat Tire. I certainly didn’t go into this thinking the results would fall out this way.

There’s one thing that needs to be said here that’s true of any review of anything (here or elsewhere): you are the best judge of your own tastes. If you walk up to me and say that “I can’t believe Beer X came in ahead of Beer Y. I love beer Y. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning and feeds the part of my soul that makes living worthwhile,” you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to run like a crazy person is talking to me. But while I’m running I’m going to feel a little guilty about not buying you a glass of Beer Y. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re wrong for liking something. You like what you like. Why do this, then? It’s mainly so you can find out about a beer you might not know much about. Before we did this test, I’m not certain that I’d ever had a Bell’s Amber. Now I know.

That pretty much wraps up the first Hoperatives Tasting Panel. One thing we learned is that we definitely plan to do it again. If you want to keep reading, I go into some detail about how we conducted the tasting.

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