Purchased at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa ($5.99/22 oz. bottle) and poured into tulip glasses.
This “Quadrupel ale brewed with flame raisins, candi sugar and oranges” pours a date-like dark brown with a small, off-white head. The richly inviting nose offers classic Belgian Quad aromas of raisins, dark fruits, nuts and a hint of maple, but the first swallow beckoned some unexpected flavors, especially on the sharp and seltzer-y finish. It’s no wonder the bottle suggests pairing Paris of the West with Roquefort cheese, and even as the brew warmed, it became apparent that we probably needed food to fully bring out the flavors. That seltzer aftertaste is likely due to the unusual addition of oranges, as subsequent sips brought forth fruitcake-like flavors of citrus peel and dried fruits and nuts. Not fully successful but consistently interesting, and I love the willingness of Almanac to push the envelope on familiar beer styles.
Purchased at Der Biergarten in Sacramento ($6/13 oz. serving) and poured into tulip glasses.
This “imperial pumpkin beer” and highly anticipated fall seasonal from San Diego-based Coronado Brewing Company pours a burnt orange with a slight, white sand-colored head. True to its NOFX-inspired name, it smells of drunken pumpkins, both the flesh and the seeds, along with dark fruits and autumnal spices. Punk’in Drublic brings robust pumpkin pie flavors to the front on the first sip, with subtle cinnamon and allspice notes that become more pronounced on subsequent swallows, but it’s still more pumpkin-y and less kitschy or sweet than most beers in this style. It’s a real rarity – a pumpkin beer with complexity, as brown sugar and honey sweetness play off the savory spices and juicy pumpkin.
Purchased at Capitol Beer and Tap Room (16.9 oz. bottle) and poured into tulip glasses.
This “sour golden ale brewed with mango, chili, sea salt, and natural flavors and aged in oak barrels” from Colorado-based Paradox pours a dark burnt orange with a big-bubbled, hazy sliver of foam that all but disappears upon impact with the glass. The nose offers a sour-y aroma of tart fruits, melons, Pixie Stix, and just a whiff of heat from the chili. I got a lot more than a whiff of chili on the first swallow, although the lingering burn is balanced well by a salty finish. More tequila-like lime and cantaloupe and green apple come through than the promised mango flavors, but it’s all nicely rounded out by mouth-coating wine tannins, with the salt continually beckoning you back for another sip. As is the case with most “hot” beers, a little bit of Skully Barrel No. 26 goes a long way, so splitting a 16.9 oz. bottle between two people is just about perfect.
Purchased through Rare Beer Club and poured into tulip glasses.
This “Belgian-style Amber” was brewed by Florida-based Saint Somewhere Brewing Company with their own house yeast, and open fermentation techniques were employed. It pours an opaque chestnut brown with a cumulus cloud of a dirty blonde head. Lecto Divina boasts a lovely nose of fruity Belgian yeast, dates, dark fruits, and tropical nuts. Despite the quad-like color and nose, the beer is actually quite tart on the first swallow, heavy on green apples and other sour fruits. With its peppery yeast and tongue-coating flavor, Lectio Divina is almost saison-like, and while it’s a fine beer now, Saint Somewhere expects it to mellow and ripen with age.
Purchased at Taylor’s Market in Sacramento ($12.49/25.4 oz. bottle) and poured into tulip glasses.
This inaugural offering from Santa Rosa-based Shady Oak Barrel House pours a gorgeous light gold with a foamy, bright white head. Inspired by the works of Kurt Vonnegut, the brettanomyces-heavy Bokonon exudes tart and earthy farmhouse aromas – lemons, grass, barnyard funk, Belgian yeast, and minerals dominate the nose. It’s also a little bit metallic, on the nose and on the first swallow, but it’s brimming with Belgian complexity, with mellow citrus and freshly mowed lawn holding the front line while the more tart and aggressive flavors guard the rear. Bokonon offers a whole lot of funk and must, not all of it entirely pleasing, and yet I kept going back to discover more about this fascinating and challenging beer.
Purchased at Curtis Park Market ($12.99/12 oz. bottle) and poured into mini goblet glasses.
This “stout with coffee added aged in bourbon barrels” pours a desolate black with a tight, brown sugar-colored head. Tweak blasts out an intensely sweet nose of chocolate syrup and black coffee, with alcohol singe and barrel wood bringing up the rear (it’s very similar to the Black Tuesday we reviewed earlier this month). The first sip is not as sweet as expected, but it packs a mighty punch – dark chocolate, coffee grounds, sawdust, vanilla, and whiskey-soaked wood chips crowd the palate, leaving an almost chile-like burn on the tongue. It’s a beer that goes directly to your dome, almost too strong for its own good, but also too big and bold and challenging to dismiss or ignore.
Purchased through The Bruery online shop and poured into mini tasting glasses.
This already legendary bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout from Orange County-based The Bruery pours a midnight black with a vaporous, light brown head. It smacks you with hard alcohol aromas upon the first crack of the bottle, but chocolate, coffee and wet wood notes emerge when you dial in further. An eye popper upon first swallow, with the flavors working on two different levels – throat-clearing booziness on one end of the palette, spectacularly strong and nuanced chocolate and coffee on the other. Black Tuesday is a masterful slow-sipper, and not as grossly sweet as some of The Bruery’s other big-ass brews. The beer works wonders if you take your time with it, growing a little more peppery on the aftertaste, and with vanilla bean and wood growing stronger the longer it warms.
Purchased at Taylor’s Market ($4.99/22 oz. bottle) and poured into pint glasses.
Brewed by San Diego upstarts Saint Archer, Coffee Brown pours a black coffee color with a mid-sized, sawdust-colored head. The nose is more sweet than roasty, not unlike coffee candy, with aromas of coffee, amaretto, milk chocolate and toffee. Coffee Brown gets sweet on the first swallow as well, with a flavor that feels a little too artificial, and although it finishes with a nice coffee and cream richness, the aftertaste is a little thick and syrupy. There is some nuttiness from the brown ale base, but I would have preferred more bitterness, and a coffee flavor that was slightly more authentic. We have really enjoyed some of the hoppier offerings from Saint Archer, but this one just misses.