Sunday, April 5, 2009

April's Fools and Finds

My latest batch of samplings has been incredibly polar. In the past week, I've added two five-stars to my tally (giving me ten out of my 360 rated beers), but have also been let down and borderline disgusted by a couple others. No more intro time wasted here. First the misses.

Tyranena Paradise by the Dashboard Lights

Brewery: Tyranena, Lake Mills, Wisconsin

Style: Imperial Porter

ABV: 7.5%

Rating: 3 stars

Don't confuse: I'm all about imperial porters, and I think we'll be seeing more of them soon. Here are the issues. I've noticed with Tyranena beers more than any other that the bottled versions fall far short of their draught counterparts. This was the case with Hop Whore, Scurvy, and now Paradise. Though I haven't had it on tap, I imagine it is much livelier, as the others were. In a bottle, it bogs you down.

Perhaps my taste buds weren't firing this particular night, or perhaps I had unfair expectations of the cherry aspect of this beer, but I didn't find it. And this from a Brewers Gone Wild! beer? I thought subtlety was an afterthought in this series.

More troubling was the beer's deterioration throughout the drinking process. I would given it a far more favorable rating if I'd only had a 4 oz sample, but by the last few gulps, this one had lost most of its bite. Got flat and dull on me.

This is one I'd try again, because I want to like it. Rather, I want to not dislike it.

Left Hand Juju Ginger

Brewery: Left Hand, Longmont, Colorado

Style: Herb/Spice Beer

ABV: 4%

Rating: 1.5 stars

On tap at the Happy Gnome. I am a huge ginger guy, love to use it when I cook, love me some ginger ale, ginger beer. I like ginger. Naturally, I was intrigued by a beer that substitutes freshly ground ginger root in place of half the hops.

Results were not favorable on this day. It smelled good, with major ginger punch bursting through. Big ginger is fine in the aroma, but it was too much for me when it came to the actual taste. It felt halfway between a natural ginger beer or real ginger ale and a beer with ginger notes. Not quite as refreshing as the former, not as punchy as the latter. I guess I'd rather have a full commitment. I want either a non-alcoholic, beautifully blended ginger ale or a satisfying, quenching beer with some ginger notes added. That's just me, I guess.

Now, the successes.

Surly 16 Grit

Brewery: Surly, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

Style: Imperial IPA

ABV: 9%

Rating: 5 stars

Putting this tasting off for a while, for reasons unknown. Maybe because I'm a bit tired of hop juggernauts these days. Everyone's doing a double IPA, and it's not hard to please me. I'd like to be a little more discerning. With that said, I imagined it would be hard for me to not like this beer. Surly, at this point, gets the benefit of the doubt on just about everything they do, and they deserve it.

The amarillo hops were beautiful in this one, and while I'm not too familiar with glaciers or warriors, I can't help but think they helped as well. I liked this one initially, but had fallen heavy for it by the end of the glass. If you can work me from a 4- to a 5-star in one tasting, you've earned that rating.

I particularly enjoyed the finish. Dry enough to make me want another sip, but not dry enough to suck the life from my mouth. I enjoy both, but I felt it balanced better without the big back end grab. There's still room in my beer log for double IPAs, it seems, and this one got me in just the right frame of mind to crack open

Russian River Pliny the Elder

Brewery: Russian River, Santa Rosa, California

Style: Double IPA

ABV: 8 %

Rating: 5 stars

Had this for a month or so, and I had been saving it for the perfect occasion. First, I thought the Gophers NCAA tournament game would suffice, but I found myself not in the mood. And I didn't see any worthy moments on the horizon, so last night became the night. Perhaps the 16 Grit restored my confidence in the style.

Now, Pliny, based on reputation, is both blessed and damned. I guess I'd generally call it one of the 25 or 30 highest-rated beers on earth. Thus, you know it's good. A beer with that many ratings isn't in that position by accident. However, it's a bit unfair to expect a brew to be the best you've ever had and build it up as such for the year before you get to try it. In a way, I wish the ratings were only available after you've rated it. If that were the case, though, I'd probably never try this one because the legend wouldn't exist in my mind.

So I tried to go into the bottle with as open a mind as possible.

The aroma emanates as soon as the cap pops, and I'm instantly swept away to a land of hyperbole and bow-down-edness. Impossible for me to smell those grapefruit hops and not crumble. Pliny has the look of a beer unparalleled in its freshness. Extremely lively carbonation, and the color was much brighter than most DIPAs I've seen. Plus, the bottle gives it that extra boost of class. Nothing flashy; plain colors, text and design. We don't need a fancy label. We're Pliny the Elder.

Balance is the key separation between the DIPA men and the boys. Pliny dove in as syrup, a sweet creamy smooth thing, only to bite the roof of your mouth as soon as you feel comfortable. I love that bitter drag--takes that sweet syrup right away. The round flavor left me wanting nothing.

Or does Pliny get a boost because it is so highly-rated? If I blind taste-tested this next to, say, a Goose Island Imperial IPA or a Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree IPA, would I be able to sense the difference? I think, because of the modest alcohol content, I would. The trend is to beef these babies up as much as possible. The Double Crooked Tree is a prime example, with the ABV at an astonishing 13.6%. At that point, haven't you become something other than an IPA?

That's the beauty of Pliny the Elder. Its 8% content is perfect. Not arrogant in either direction. Enough alcohol to feel, but not to the point that it dominates the taste.

After tasting, I had to reflect. What constitutes a five-star beer, and does this qualify? I decided it was definitely one of the ten best beers I've had, and that makes it deserving. What's the point in having five-star beers if you never give them out? Ten out of 360 (less than 3%) is a good rate for five-stars. Besides, who is the rating for? This blog? My records? Who cares? I loved this beer, so five stars it is.


Aaron said...

Pliny is fantastic. If I can ever get my hands on the Younger some day on draught...

Mag said...

Hmm, that's too bad you didn't enjoy the JuJu. I happen to love it. Try a bottle sometime. I've heard complaints from more than one person (and more than one brewer) that Happy Gnome doesn't do a very good job cleaning their tap lines. I've not had any issues myself, but there it is. Maybe you'll get a different experience.