Saturday, December 31, 2011

FatCat's Top Beers 2011

As I reflect back on this awesome craft brew year I attempt to recollect the greats.  These are the brews that immediately stand out when I ask myself the question, “What were the best brews you remember trying in 2011.”  I tried to limit my responses to brews that I first tried in 2011 and were not super duper limited.  Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

14.  New Holland The Poet - This oatmeal stout was a discovery of mine late this year.  For a year round availability this brew is outstanding.  I can't wait to pit this against my beloved Sam Adams Cream Stout.

13.  Ska Modus Hoperandi –
This is the beer that started my canned craft brew     discovery.  This IPA can stand up to the best of them and you can take it in your boat!

12.  Schlafly Bavarian-Style Weissbier –
This brew was a welcome break from the summers’ IPA binges.  It immediately pops in my head when I think of this summer and will forever hold fondness in FatCat’s heart.

11.  Crabtree Oatmeal Stout –
This is the brew I first tried at the Omaha Beer Festival.  Crabtree Oatmeal Stout was the most notable brew and the brewers were some of the nicest people at the event.  As a plus I found out that Crabtree brews are actually available in KS.  Score!

10.  Ska ESB –
This was part of my canned craft brew discovery and I loved it.  If you ever wondered what a creamy beer should taste like grab a can of this. 

9.  Sam Adams Double Bock – The malt complexity and the smoothness of this big ABV brew is phenomenal.  This was also named the Lager of the Year at the World Beer Awards 2011. 

8.  Founder’s Centennial IPA – This is as close to perfection as you can get in the IPA style.  Not only does this nail the complexity of hop character it has also has a stellar malt character on the front.  Poetry in beer form.

7.  Odell Myrcenary –
Grapefruit character runs rampant and this brew is dangerously drinkable for an imperial IPA.

6.  Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale –
This brew is the superman of malt complexity.  Third Coast is the brew that took our Barleywine shootout standing up to the bitterness of the American Barleywines.  The malt complexity is truly amazing.

5.  Avery The Czar –
This is the imperial stout that blind sided me in 2011.  With stouts being my favorite style it’s hard to “surprise” me without bourbon barrel aging or some other bells and whistles.  Well the Czar surprised me and made me a believer.  I love it.

4.  Free State Oktoberfest –
I drank more of this brew than any others this year.  This could be because I was drinking them 1 liter at a time but who’s counting?  This was one of the only American renditions I would prefer over the traditional German Oktoberfests.  DAS BOOT!

3.  Trappistes Rochefort 10 –
As I get further and further into beer culture I try and expand my horizons.  Belgian beer is one of those horizons that many others are absolutely infatuated with and I just didn’t get it.  In an effort to be part of the cool club I started trying different Belgian style brews to try and “get it”.  Largely disappointed in my experience this is one absolute gem that I do “get”. 

2.  Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel –
I tried this brew at Twisters downtown.  I was looking for something different to try and this seemed like it would fit the bill.  Holy crap this brew more than fit the bill it won the lottery.  Discovering new brews that completely surprise me is what keeps me coming back time and again to craft brew.  I love it.

1.  Firestone Walker Parabola –
This is easily my favorite brew of the year.  Big, bad, and boozy imperial stouts are what make me weak in the knees.  This brew is all of that and a little more.  I wish I could get a keg of this stuff and drink it everyday for breakfast.  Is this too much to ask?

Those are my memorable moments in craft beer drinking 2011.  Each beer may or may not be the best version of it’s style, but these are the brews that left an impression in the old noggin.  What are some of your favorite brews for 2011?

Everyone have a happy and safe New Years.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boulevard Dances with the Reaper!

What can you expect when you see the grim reaper dancing with a shock of wheat?  I’m not sure either but I’m intrigued.  I don’t recall ever trying a wheat wine, now I’m doubly intrigued. 

The Harvest Dance poured with a mountain of head.  The head started to come out of the glass volcano style and I began to wonder if it was trying to kill me.  Could this literally be the grim reaper in beer form waiting to kill?  No, the head faded eventually and I could finally enjoy the body of the brew.  The nose had a phenol spice character with some wheat aroma playing along.  Initially you are hit with a thin and very dry body.  Some malt sweetness greets you up front but it is quickly taken over by a big dry middle.  The dry mouthfeel finishes with a spicy kick on the back of your palate.  As the brew warms, the malt character begins playing a substantial role in the flavor profile.  At its peak of complexity you get some wheaty malt sweetness, then a fruity character resembling pear or green apple, and finally the dry spicy kick finishes it out.

Overall this brew wasn’t bad once it warmed up a little.  Based on the wheat “wine” label, I was expecting a bit more in the way of malt complexity.  To summarize the grim reaper didn’t kill me but that shock of wheat haunted my dreams for days.  You have been warned!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

FatCat of the Future!

Crappy Picture:  How me and the cousin prepare for the Christmas family get together.  No snowmen were harmed in the making of this photo.
In case you haven’t noticed the title image at the top of the blog it does mention, ” beer and BOURBON in and around Kansas City.”  Some of you may be asking yourself, WTF…I’ve never seen FatCat post about bourbon so what gives?  Bourbon is one of my other alcoholic passions and I intended to post bourbon reviews when I started this blog.  The thing is, I can read some other person’s review on a beer and understand what they are referring to when they talk about floral, earthy, grainy, etc.  This gives me some confidence that I’m not completely full of crap when it comes to reviewing beers.  Bourbon is a completely different animal.  I read reviews about bourbon and I can’t say that I taste the cherries, the molasses, the floral notes, etc.  The other problem is my bias towards 100+ proof bourbons.  I started my bourbon life by cutting my teeth on Wild Turkey 101.  Needless to say I’ve developed a preference for big and bad bourbons that punch you in the mouth.  Because of this, I rarely purchase bourbons less than 100 proof and will probably favor rougher bourbons that most connoisseurs would denounce.   With my inability to detect the delicate floral notes of a 100+ proof bourbon, I’ve been hesitant to post reviews on such.  I will now shed my chains of hesitancy and bless the world with my blatherings about the not so subtleties of bourbon.  With the caveat that I’m in no way an expert and I will in no way sound intelligent, I will begin sharing my bourbon tasting notes with you.  I might even organize a blind tasted bourbon shootout!  Hold on to your knickers kids this could get ugly.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

FatCat's Merry Freakin' Christmas!

What is Fat Cat’s favorite holiday season?  If you guessed Fourth of July you are close.  For those of you who guessed Christmas you are absolutely correct.  If you couldn’t tell by my minimal blog posts for December, I’ve been busy preparing for the holiday season.  (Well that and hunting down bourbon and/or imperial stouts Rambo style.  I should have saved more money for this season.)  My plan was to try as many of the winter/Christmas brews as I could and post the Naughty and Nice list on the blog.  I have failed miserably on this mission and will now resort to one big post in my attempt to wish all the Fat Catians out there a very Merry Christmas.

It seems winter/Christmas brews tend to go one of two routes, the fresh hop/IPAs or the spiced winter warmer style brew.  As I may have mentioned earlier a hoppy IPA in winter seems outside the realm of logic.  However, if you want to use the freshest hops picked in October you have to make your brews at that time.  The outcome is winter brews with enough hop character to satisfy the biggest hibernating hop heads.  What is my idea of the quintessential winter/Christmas brew?  Sweet with a hint of cinnamon is my answer.  That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the hoppier offerings.  Off to FatCat’s workshop!

The Christmas Tree – Breckenridge Christmas Ale
This brew is very piney in taste and with a little bit of bitterness.  This brew is big at 7.4% ABV and is very affordable.  This brew can be the backbone to your holiday celebration just like your trustee Christmas tree.

The Fireplace – Sam Adams Holiday Porter
While this brew is chilled it has substantial bitterness in its finish.  Let it warm up and you are rewarded with a wonderful malt sweetness accompanying the bitterness.  The malt character is somewhat smoky with a hint of chocolate towards the end.  So lay next to the Holiday Porter and warm your toes in the cold winter months.

The Plaza Lights – Boulevard Nutcracker Ale
If there is anything more of a staple for Kansas City in Christmas it is Nutcracker.  Many people proclaim serious love for this brew.  Super Dave wanted to go Black Ops when we went to the Boulevard Brewing Co. tour and dive into the entire vat of Nutcracker.  This brew relies on some bready malt character with some citrus hop flavor in the finish.  As it warms the hop flavor starts to turn a little earthy.  Not bad Boulevard, not bad.

A White Christmas - Sam Adams Winter Lager
I mentioned earlier a semi-sweet beer with some cinnamon character is what I think of if you mention a Christmas beer.  What else comes immediately to mind when you mention Christmas?  Snow!  Winter Lager is subtly sweet with a good cinnamon finish.  There is not overwhelming sweetness in this one but it does have some grainy malt character to give this brew some complexity.  This brew is not over the top but does nail my essentials for a good Christmas brew.  Winter Lager is FatCat’s white Christmas.

The Angel – Old Fezziwig
This is my absolute favorite brew of the Christmas season.  I love you Old Fezziwig will you marry me?  This is the bigger brother to the Winter Lager with more sweetness and wonderful deep cinnamon character.  This one also has some orange peel in it that supplements the cinnamon character perfectly.  Just like the finishing touch of your Christmas tree, Old Fezziwig is the finishing touch to the winter season.

Socks – Sam Smith Winter Welcome
I read in another blog that this was the number one Christmas brew.  I tried this brew and it was OK but not what I expected.  It was like a brown ale with some spice on the end of the palate.  Everything was subdued and nothing really stood out.  It just didn’t seem as interesting as some of the other holiday offerings.  This brew is just like receiving socks as a present, they are functional just not exciting.

The Lump of Coal – Summit Winter Ale
Summit has been impressive with everything I’ve tried so far.  I was excited about trying this one but it was rather bland.  It is very Porter-esque with some roasted malt bitterness and graininess.  My big gripe is how thin the body of this brew is.  It throws everything out of whack.

The Family Get-Together Argument – Sam Adams Chocolate Bock
Here’s is where I eat my words.  I made a rant about chocolate in the thinner bock beers and how much they don’t go together.  Well when I was ranting I forgot how much I like Sam Adams Chocolate Bock.  It is very chocolately like the others but this brew seems to have enough body to make it have less of the chocolate milk mentality.  Perhaps it’s because it comes in a 12oz bottle and you drink it in one motion.  Like a big holiday family feud I eat my words on a previous argument and really enjoy this brew.

Your friends awesome present that you wished you got – Bridgeport Ebenezer Ale
I didn’t try this one but Super Dave said it was awesome.  Some guys have all the luck.

The last piece of pie you shouldn’t have eaten – Weston’s Winter Warmer
This brew is super sweet with huge spice character on the finish.  I immediately compared this brew to the over the top sweetness/spiciness of pumpkin beers in the fall.  Just like your first bite of pie, the sweetness is welcoming.  By the time you stuff your pie whole to the brim, you are sick of the sweet pie character.  By the time you get to the bottom of this Winter Warmer, you feel the same way.

Left over Christmas Dinner – Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
I reviewed this brew earlier and it was good but very hoppy.  This is one of the fresh hop ales and it will punch you in the face with hop character.  I revisited this brew after I first reviewed it and it has grown on me exponentially.  Without my sweet/cinnamon expectation in the way, this brew is beautifully bitter.  Like Christmas dinner it tasted ok the first day but for some reason the leftovers on the day after Christmas are awesome.  What is it about leftovers when you are home in your underwear which makes them so magical?  Some mysteries may never be solved. 

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Imperial Stout Tournament of Death: Round 1

Here it is what we have all been waiting for…FatCat’s Imperial Stout Tournament of Death round 1.  What better way to ring in the holidays than to drink tons of imperial stout.  In case you’re behind on the cards, imperial stout is FatCat’s absolute favorite beer style in the world.  As part of my holiday celebration I’m going to enjoy some of the best stouts I could find all year.  This is not a shootout and thus not a blind tasting. We sampled each beer and ranked them in the order we preferred drinking them. I invited some FatCat veterans over and we got through round 1 of the tournament. Here are the results. 

Warning:  Beware of Zombies!

FatCat’s Ranking:
The Czar #1
The Zombie Apocalypse #2
Old Rasputin #3
Stone 2011 Imperial Stout #4

Greg’s Ranking:
The Czar #1
Old Rasputin #2
Zombie Apocalypse #3
Stone 2011 Imperial Stout #4

Super Dave’s Ranking:
Zombie Apocalypse #1
Old Rasputin #2
The Czar #3
Stone 2011 Imperial Stout #4

The Winner:  The Czar 
The Czar starts off with a huge nose begging you to dive in the thick malty goodness.  The nose starts with big malt sweetness with hints of bittersweet chocolate snaking its way out of the top of the glass.  The mouthfeel is very thick and chewy.  The taste mirrors the nose with big malt complexity and bittersweet chocolate on the finish.  This was definitely the thickest tasting of all the brews in this round.  The malt sweetness layers nicely and is big and complex.  There were subtle caramel notes up front followed by darker malt sweetness.  This leads to the signature bittersweet chocolate and some bitterness in the finish to bring the brew into acceptable balance for the style.  This brew is a real treat and is one of my favorite imperial stouts out there.  A bonus is it is reasonably priced and widely available in our area.  I love the Czar!

Second Place:  The Zombie Apocalypse 
This is one of my first homebrew attempts at an imperial stout.  I threw the whole gauntlet of ingredients at this one including some molasses.  As with most of my stuff this brew came out under carbonated.  One day I’ll figure out my kegging system and adequately carb something.  This brew is black as night and thick.  The nose is anise and black licorice with some sweetness playing around.  The mouthfeel is nice and thick but not as thick as the Czar.  The taste is big with hints of molasses and black licorice.  There is some initial malt sweetness that dives into the black licorice/molasses finish.  There are not any chocolate notes, of which I would prefer, but there is adequate sweetness to  balance the molasses twang.  The molasses twang in the middle of the palate mellows as the brew warms.  The finish is nice and clean with a slight hint of molasses in the aftertaste.  Overall this is a nicely complex brew with a big body to boot.  I’m happy with the outcome of my brew and it faired well in this tasting.

Third Place:  Old Rasputin 
When you mention imperial stout this is one of the first brews that pops into my head.  It is the quintessential, widely available, cheap imperial stout.  This is the first imperial stout that I experienced which pushed me further into my craft brew addiction.  Old Rasputin was by far the most bitter of all the brews in the tournament.  This also had the thinnest body of all the others.  The brew starts with some malt sweetness and moves to a drying bitterness.  There was a bit of astringency from the roasted malts but this tended to balance the maltiness in the other parts of the brew.  It had an almost metallic quality on the front of the tongue.  Overall this was not a very sweet stout, it was dry in the middle of the palate and bitter on the finish.  Old Rapsutin had dryness/bitterness which gives it coffee-like qualities throughout the palate.  I think this brew is very good and is one of the most refreshing examples of the style.

Fourth Place:  Stone 2011 Imperial Stout
This brew had the least interesting nose of all of the brews.  There was some hop character poking through with a minimal malt aroma.  The Stone had a decent mouthfeel but was fairly thin overall.  There was a fair amount of bitterness and a slight hop character in the finish.  The taste was flat in character compared to the other brews in the tournament.  It had some malt character but couldn’t compare to the others in complexity of taste.  I was super excited to try this brew and was very disappointed it was not as good as I had hoped.  Sad thing is this limited release stout is less interesting than imperial stouts available to us on a daily basis.

Extra Brews with abbreviated notes: 

Expedition Stout
The overwhelming bitterness had weakened from just a few weeks ago.  Still the bitterness was over the top for an imperial stout in my opinion.  The bitterness did subside as the brew warmed.  Dave and Greg were very impressed with it.  The complexity is developing with age and I can’t wait to see what this will taste like in 6 months to a year. 

Leinenkugel’s Big Eddy
This one had a smoky character not present in any of the others.  Good complexity with good mouthfeel.  The smoky character was dominant but the malt seemed to stand up well to the smoke.  This brew is very interesting and I want to taste this brew when I have a clearer head.  Stay tuned!

Why do I love imperial stouts?  Each of these stouts was completely different in flavor profile than the others.  The complexity of this style is amazing and it’s hard to find two imperial stouts the same.  Every bottle is a new delicious adventure and that’s what keeps me coming back to this style.  Imperial stouts I think I love you! 


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sam Adams Griffin's Bow

11.5% ABV

The Sam Adams small batch series has been anticlimactic so far.  Although the Third Voyage “Double IPA” was fantastically crafted the other brews lacked excitement.  Up next is Griffin’s Bow Oaked Blonde Barleywine.  This was the brew I was most excited to try behind the chocolate chili bock.  Will it be  boom or a bust?

Griffin’s Bow poured with the familiar giant three fingered head.  The nose was reminiscent of some of the other single batch brews with the simcoe-like earthy aroma.  There was maybe a hint of oak aroma poking through but was not prominent.  The flavor starts out fairly unique but the flavors are hard to place.  The flavors do seem to be blended well and are presented nicely on a medium thick mouthfeel.  There is a little sweetness on the front of the palate diving into a grainy oak character in the middle.  The oak holds on and lasts well into the finish.  The oak is not really a prominent character as in some other oak aged beers, it is more of a blended trait.  An earth/mint hop character is paired with a dark grapefruit character in the finish.  The bitterness seemed subdued and is only really noticeable after you swallow the brew.  As the brew warms, the flavors meld and harmonize giving a toasted oat flavor in the middle of the palate.

All things considered this is a fairly unique brew with a well blended character.  It does exhibit some decent complexity.  With that being said I’m not blown away by this brew and was expecting more out of the Sam Adams small batch lineup.  This could be a case of unattainable expectation on my part but I really wanted these beers to be better than they were. 


FatCat's Imperial Stout Tournament of Death!

Tis the season to stuff your face with tons of food and how else better to wash it down than with an obscenily big beer.  Imperial Stout anyone?  I've been stock piling for this event all year and will now administer a Mortal Kombat style tournment to the death.  I've split up 12 Imperial stouts in three brackets.  The brew will be going head to head for a winner in each bracket.  I wanted to put all 12 beers in one big shootout, but team FatCat talked some sense into me.  I now understand it would be a suicide mission to taste all 12 beers in one day, so the brackets were created.  Stay posted for the the results and beware that the start of the Zombie Apocalypse could spawn from this event.  I may throw some other stouts in unofficially and let you know how they stack up as well.

The Combatants:

Round 1:
Old Rasputin
Stone Imperial Stout
FatCat's Zombie Apocalypse
The Czar 2009

Round 2:
Hoppin Frog BORIS Barrel Aged
The Dogfather Bourbon Barrel Aged
Big John
Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

Round 3:
Firestone Parabola
Zombie Apocalypse Bourbon Barrel Aged
Founders CBS
Oak Aged Yeti

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sam Adams The Vixen Chocolate Chili Bock

This is probably the brew in the limited series I am the most excited to try. Sammy has gone 1 for 2 in their limited line up so far. Can The Vixen swing the tide of awesomeness back into Sam Adams’ favor? Let’s find out.

The Vixen poured with a big three fingered tan head. The high carbonation and three fingered heads has been common in all of the brews in this series. The nose has some bready malt aroma with a trace of chocolate aroma peaking through. In the beginning, the mouthfeel is big and chewy, as it warms the mouthfeel sensation seems to thin out considerably. The Vixen starts with some malt sweetness and then darkens into a slight caramel character. The chocolate character is not prominent while the brew is chilled. You only catch hints of the chocolate in the after taste. At this stage in the brew the chocolate seems well integrated and is not overwhelming to the palate. The heat from the chili is only detectable in the aftertaste and warms the throat. This is the first part of the taste test and I would give the brew a solid 3 drunken gnomes at this point. The Vixen is moderately complex and everything seems to blend well without anything really standing out. It did not meet my expectations of greatness, although my expectations were probably way too high.

Taste Test Part Duex:
I was alone in the consumption of this 22oz bomber and as the bottle progressed the balance took a turn for the worst. The brew warmed up and the chocolate became overwhelming. I’m pretty sure I was drinking an overly sweetened YooHoo. This very much reminds me of my exact reaction to the Boulevard Chocolate Ale. As I mentioned before the mouthfeel started to thin as the brew warmed and threw the beer-like-quality to chocolate ratio out of whack. With a thinner mouthfeel the brew could not stand up to the overly sweet/chocolate character. This begins the comparisons with chocolate milk made with skim milk and sugar dumped in for good measure. This furthers my argument that chocolate doesn’t belong in beers except for big thick stouts and/or some porters. Stouts and/or some porters have the thick chewy mouthfeel to stand up to chocolate and the roasted malts provide bitterness to balance the sweetness. Stop it with the non-stout/porter chocolate beers, I will make my own chocolate milk.

Friends don’t let friends drink this brew alone. If you are drinking this brew alone, leave the bottle in the fridge after you open it. Don’t let the bottle warm up in between your glass fills. While cold this is a decent brew.

While Cold:

While Warm: