Dogfish Head Brewery’s Theobroma, a very complex brew

While on vacation to Ocean City, MD, Jason and I were able to take a tour of Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, DE. I was excited to see that I would be able to taste a few new beers, as well as buy three specialty pints of beer available for a limited time. One of these is Theobroma, an “ale brewed with natural flavors (honey, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, ancho chilies, and ground annatto)”. I picked this one because I’m always eager to try beer that uses unique ingredients. I’ve had beers that use cocoa and chilies successfully before, but never together! I was excited about this one, and after finding out Theobroma’a ingredients are inspired by Mayans and Aztecs drink additives and also known as “Food of the Gods”, I had high hopes.

The beer was a surprising goldenrod color, with scant foamy white head that dissipated quickly. As soon as we opened the bottle I could smell Theobroma’s strong aroma of honey and alcohol. Not surprisingly, these were also my first tastes. At 9% ABV, this beer packs a stinging alcohol punch that initially hits you hard. Alcohol is quickly followed by the complex flavor of honey and chili spice, which compliment each other extremely well. The chili spice is smoky, peppery, but with a hint of something else, possibly the annatto, a derivative of the achiote tree found in tropical areas of the Americas (thanks Wikipedia!). Annatto delivers a peppery, slightly nutmeg flavor, and this is noticeable in Theobroma. As the beer warms the chili and annatto flavor becomes stronger, but still pleasant.

After the first few sips, I found myself asking “OK, where’s my cocoa? I saved this beer for dessert for a reason, right?” Then, in my next sip, I was hit with an unmistakable dose of cocoa flavor in the back of my throat which lingered for the duration of the glass. The cocoa flavor is different from other chocolate beers I’ve tasted. It’s not sweet, it’s a bitter, very real tasting chocolate flavor. As a dark chocolate lover, I really enjoyed this part of the beer.

If you get the chance to try Dogfish Head Brewery’s Theobroma, I suggest you do. The only gripe that I have with it is that it seemed to pack so much flavor variety into one glass that it took me a while to appreciate and enjoy. I would love to see what Dogfish Head could do with just one of those ingredients, in a cocoa nib stout or annatto flavored beer, for example. Cheers to Dogfish Head for creating a wonderfully balanced, complex brew!

Boulder Beer’s Cold Hop – A Hoppy IPA with a Sweet Finish

When I’m faced with a large amount of beers to choose from, like I was at Fat Head’s (E. Carson St, Pittsburgh) last week, I usually look for my favorites first, and then try to pick one I’ve never tried. One of my favorite types of beers is India Pale Ales. All IPA’s share bitter flavors of hops and can sometimes also have sweetness from malts. English IPAs, like Boulder Beer Cold Hop, which I am reviewing today, are characterized by a malty sweetness that balances the hoppy bitter flavor that is sometimes overwhelmingly present in similar beers. They commonly have high alcohol content, as well, and Boulder Beer’s Cold Hop is no exception, clocking in at 6.5% ABV.

Cold Hop has a dark gold pour with a moderate amount of thick head that quickly reduces down to a thin line around the glass. The aroma is a mixture of hoppy freshness with a bit of grassy earth. Up front the taste is hoppy, with a clovey bitterness that is fresh and clean. The back end of this brew is sweet, with a caramel sweetness that lingers. The beer is lightly carbonated with an alcohol tinge that is quite pleasing.

I love IPAs mostly because I am a total sucker for “smack me in the face” hops. Hoppy flavors add a level of crispness and cleanness to a beer that is extremely refreshing. Boulder Beer Cold Hop is overall a nice drinkable beer with true hoppy flavor that is lacking in some similar brews. While I love the upfront taste, I am not a fan of the sweet caramel aftertaste. Personally, I feel that this aftertaste takes away from the refreshing flavor that is so pleasant upfront. Its taste is absolutely true to an English IPA, though, and I feel that Boulder Beer Cold Hop is a success. Give it a try and let me know if you agree!

By Beth Kerr

Great Lakes Brewery Company’s Lake Erie Monster, a Big Hoppy Monster of Goodness

I’ve never heard of the legendary “South Bay Bessie” that is rumored to inhabit Lake Erie’s shallow waters, but then again as a Pittsburgher I’ve spent much of my life avoiding anything Cleveland related. One beer coming from the Mistake on the Lake may force me to change my mind about the hapless city.

I have been lucky to try the limited seasonal offering honoring “South Bay Bessie” from Great Lakes Brewery Company, Lake Erie Monster, twice so far here in Pittsburgh. This is the first year since its inception in 2005 that it has been distributed much outside of Cleveland, and even now it is difficult to find.

Lake Erie Monster is an unfiltered imperial India pale ale that when poured is surprisingly clear, golden, with a white persistent head that laced pleasantly around the glass while drinking. The aroma of this brew is very fresh, hoppy throughout, with lemon. While you are hit with a lot of hoppyness with your first taste, plus refreshing lemongrass and pine, the noticeable alcohol flavor on the backend is masked perfectly with sweet malt that does not leave an unpleasant too-sweet aftertaste. The honey-like malt flavor balances with the major hops and unmistakable alcohol without making itself overwhelming, something that I find all too rare.

While this beer is hoppy enough to satisfy IPA lovers everywhere (and to scare off any hop-fearers), it is so drinkable that it easily lives up to its name as a monster. Clocking in 9.1% ABV, drinkability is a dangerous characteristic for this beer to have! I highly recommend (carefully) giving this delectable brew a try before they are all gone. Lake Erie Monster is only available from May to July, so your time is running out! I found Lake Erie Monster on draft at Harris Grill (the location of Bacon Bash) on Ellsworth Ave in Shadyside and more recently at the Sharp Edge in Friendship.

By Beth Kerr

21st Amendment Brewery’s Brew Free! Or Die IPA: Great for a 4th of July Cookout

As the temperature climbs and the Fourth of July creeps nearer, cookouts will inevitably be a part of my plans. The question, for me, is never what food to bring to cookouts (cheddar brats…duh), but instead what beer to bring. Luckily, one of the hottest trends in the beer world is looking to make this dilemma quite a bit more interesting.

Admittedly, prior to this spring, I hadn’t drunk beer from a can in a very, very, long time. There are great benefits from drinking beer in a can, including the most satisfying “crack” of opening it and its welcome spot at any outdoor event. Despite this, a few things always disturbed me about beer in a can. First, the metallic tinge of flavor that was added when drinking beer from a can always was a huge turn-off for me. Secondly, there are simply only awful choices of beers available in cans. That is, until now.

I can thank the hot brew trend of the season, craft beers in cans. I’ve tried several of these this spring and summer, two of which came from 21st Amendment Brewery out of San Francisco, CA. Most recently, their Brew Free! Or Die IPA has been resting comfortably in our fridge.

First of all, this beer gets points for awesome name and can design. It really stands apart from the other beers in the distributor, which it should, because I would be quick to dismiss boring cans in the sea of fancy bottles. Out of the can it is a rich golden color with a moderate amount of thick head which stuck around. Its flowery aroma is pretty standard for an IPA, although less impressive than similar brews. While the mouthfeel of this beer is very pleasing, with a thick, satisfying, slightly carbonated sensation, I feel that its taste was good, but nothing to write home about. I was left hoping for a little more hoppy bitterness with this beer. The sweetness of the malts in this IPA was a bit too present, definitely not allowing the hops to take center stage. This characteristic made the beer quite drinkable, though, which leads me to decide that it passes my “cookout worthy” test.

While I found the beer enjoyable to drink, it left me unfulfilled as an IPA. Is this a consequence of the can? I don’t know the answer to that, but I feel that 21st Amendment Brewery can be proud of their success of improving the state of canned beer. I recommend it for your Fourth of July bash, as well with lunch or dinner. Finally, I feel that this IPA, because of its lack of bitterness, may be a more universal craft brew for those used to drinking the current “triple hop brewed” canned beer selection.

Let me know what you think about this beer if you have the chance to try it. Also be sure to check out my last beer review, Sweaty Betty Blonde.

By Beth Kerr

Boulder Beer Company’s Sweaty Betty Blonde

On hot summer days, like ones we have been lucky enough to experience recently here in Pittsburgh, there is nothing quite like finding the perfect refreshing beer to kick back and enjoy. Sweaty Betty Blonde is a selection from Boulder Beer Company (Boulder, CO) that may just fit the bill for you this summer. With a label that describes the beer as “Irresistible. Flirtatious. Aromatic. Soft. Supple. Unavoidable. Smooth. Exuberant. Glistening. Wild. Firm. Rare. Succulent. Luscious. Ripe. Natural. Glowing. Curvaceous. Magical”, it better live up to the hype.

First, a short bit about Blondes. Blonde ales, also known as Golden ales, share a clean and crisp taste, low to medium hoppy flavor, and sweetness from malts. While they may have some faint fruity notes, they should not be overwhelmingly present.

Sweaty Betty Blonde, once poured, was cloudy, with a pretty straw color and little head that did not stick around long. This is a nice looking beer in a glass. The aroma of was not strong at all and only consisted of faint flower and banana scents. Not overpowering, and really barely noticeable after the first few sips. I feel that the most prominent taste was a spicy medium-hoppy flavor, accented nicely by slight banana and clove flavors. I was pleased with this balance of flavors, and found it to be quite a drinkable beer, especially in warm weather. There was some carbonation with Sweaty Betty, but not a great amount. The mouthfeel of this brew was clean and crisp, leaving a sweet lingering taste on the palate.

I would recommend this beer as a refreshing drink after mowing the lawn (not that I’ve ever mowed a lawn), or a long walk. Personally, I wouldn’t prefer to drink this beer with food, since the sweet lingering flavor may clash with dinner. I would, however, order this pre-meal or on a lazy afternoon. Give it a try and let me know what you think! I enjoyed this beer at Mad Mex here in Pittsburgh (McKnight Rd, other locations).

By Beth Kerr

I would like to take this time to welcome Beth Kerr to the site. She will be writing about beer and recipes (since she is the one that cooks most of them). She has also been called Mrs. Baconpants on more than one occasion, so adding her to the site was a no brainer. Enjoy her first post.