Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Avery Project Wrap-Up

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Nov. 27, 2012

As I sit here on my patio on a mild, late fall afternoon here in Boulder to reflect on The Avery Project, what surprised me the most was how long it took me to finish.  I initially anticipated that it would take me a couple of months, tops.  As it turns out, however, finding an hour to sit down and really, truly focus on a beer, no matter how easily obtainable it is, is not so easy to do three times a week.    

So here we are 1 year, 2 months and 15 days later; 276 ounces of beer later, $129.83 and 617-plus IBUs consumed later; and 24 blog posts later.  That is what it took for me to review 20 Avery beers.  

To be fair, 20 Avery beers are not your typical 20 beers.  The average ABV of beers I drank for this project was 9.5%, which works out to be the equivalent of 43.7 regular, 12-ounce Budweiser’s…at least in terms of alcohol consumed.  Flavor is a different story – not sure there are enough Buds on the planet to equal the amount flavor I experienced during this project.

When I set out on this little excursion, my goal was to get to know my new hometown brewery in a much more intimate sense - and to expand my beer horizons with their wide variety of styles.  Along the way I was hoping that my journey through 20 of their beers might enlighten a few people as to what Avery is capable of accomplishing aside from their flagship brew.  Since many beer drinkers, particularly those outside of
Colorado, only know Avery for their IPA I wanted others to have the chance to see more of what those of us here in Boulder see of our hometown’s most well-known beer producer.    

By the way, when I say that this journey was through 20 beers, 20 is the number that I actually wrote about and posted.  During my visits to the taproom over the past year I have probably sampled 50-plus Avery offerings, many of which did not make it into the project.  This was not because they weren’t great beers, rather that when I drank them I was not in a position to review.  Drinking great beer at the brewery with great company is not exactly the time to break out the notes and start reviewing. 

Even during several of the occasions when I was able to take notes at the brewery I was often unable to convert those notes into full posts.  At times it was not just because I never had the time to make the conversion, but rather because of the intent of the project.  Had I began this whole thing as an effort to only review rare and special releases that no one outside of Boulder really gets a chance to try than my trip to the 19th Anniversary party would have yielded five or six reviews…or maybe a few less considering that by the end of said party I managed to spill three ounces of Uncle Jacob’s on myself (I know, sacrilegious).  That day I had at least one glass of Summer’s Day IPA, Bourbon Barrel Aged Salvation, Ross’s Mom, Tweak and, as indicated above, more than my fair share of Uncle Jacob’s Stout. 

Some other notable beers that I had over the past year at/from Avery – Trogdor, Piglet Purgatory, Odio Equum, Out of Spec and Lilikoi Mahu.  All of these were amazing in their own way (and in one or two cases a little too weird), but again, this wasn’t about showcasing beers that no one can get.  Avery has very strong flagships, solid seasonals, several excellent rotating series and some spectacular one offs – all of which deserved some attention here.

With all of that said, there are a few beers that could have (and maybe should have) easily been included in this project but were not.  I’ll start with my favorite beer that did not make the cut – Mephistopheles Stout – one of my all time favorite beers.  I actually wrote a review for it while sitting at the West End Tavern here in Boulder, but sadly it was a month before I was able to sit down to turn those notes into a full review.  Writing a post based on month-old notes did not seem appropriate for a beer that deserves such respect.  I ended up going with The Beast as the representative from the “Demons of Ale” series instead – which I was able to review and post in a much more timely manner.

So I guess now we’re at $134.83 + tip for the whole project.

Collaboration not Litigation was a similar story.  This one I actually reviewed at home one night and I did not forget about it.  Instead, my computer crashed half-way through the review and I never was able to retrieve it.  Rather than go on memory alone, I chose to skip it.  An $8 mistake bringing the new total spent to $142.84.  By the way, this is the eighth most reviewed Avery beer on Beer Advocate.

Next, Old Jubilation is probably one of two that I feel the worst about missing out on.  No, it isn’t my favorite seasonal from Avery, but it is one of the most popular and I simply never got around to reviewing it.  The good news for you all though is that everyone else did – it is by far the most reviewed full-production seasonal from Avery. 

And that brings us to the final beer that could/should have been included here, which is Eremita.  Eremita is a taproom exclusive, sour, brett beer that has had four iterations over the past year.  They have all been very good and I am slightly ashamed that I never got around to reviewing any of the four of them.  I may have to add an addendum to the project just to sneak one of these in.  This beer really does say a lot about the brewery.

Additionally, some of you may have noted that two very important Avery beers did not get reviewed for this project – Hog Heaven Barleywine and Maharaja Double IPA.  The reason I skipped those two is because they were both already reviewed here during our Barleywine Project and DIPA Project respectively.  I did not want to unnecessarily double up on them.   

Anyhow, a strong argument can be made that the lack of any one of the above beers makes this project incomplete, but on the other hand, what would I have removed from the list?  Karma?  Rumpkin?  The Reverend?  Surprisingly, only 20 beers simply left too many bases to cover.

Ultimately, I do believe that I was able to provide a good mix of everyday Avery brews, special, but widely available beers and the rare, highly sought after special-releases.  I made sure to review a few of the everyday, year-round releases like Ellie’s and IPA, a couple from the “Trinity of Ales” series (Reverend and Salvation), both beers from the “Annual Barrel-Aged” series, a few from the regular “Barrel-Aged Series”, a collaboration (Repoterrior), a couple Anniversary brews (Thirteen & Nineteen), a “Demons of Ale” release (The Beast) and finally a special, once-every-four years brew in the Ale to the Chief.  I think, overall, it is a pretty solid representation of what Avery Brewing Company does.  

Collection of Avery bottles, not necessarily what I reviewed
I worked hard to avoid simply reviewing the styles that I prefer and I made an effort to try some things that weren’t necessarily what I would always reach for and I am glad that I did.  I learned a lot more that way and I am hoping that you, the readers, have appreciated that and learned from it as well.  Thanks for enjoying The Avery Project.  Stay tuned for the completion of The Barleywine Project and for whatever comes next here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Avery Review #20 - Ale to the Chief, a Presidential Pale Ale

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Nov. 11, 2012

“Not an “Imperial” pale ale, this is a democracy. It’s Presidential! Take the all-American pale ale, a bipartisan blend of malt and hops, increase both to Avery Brewing standards, and then, of course, dry hop the result with that most quintessential of American hops, Cascades, and you get this…a brew worthy of the Oval Office!”

That is the fitting description from the brewery for our last beer of The Avery Project, the brewery's tribute to the commander-in-chief, Avery Ale to the Chief.

A year and two months ago, almost to the day, I predicted that this project would be finished “In a couple months”.  OK, so I was a year off, no big deal.  Besides, the timing on this, the 20th installation of The Avery Project, is just right.  We saved one of the best for last and we saved it for Election Day...or at least we saved for sometime during the week of the Election.

Avery’s once-every-four-years brew; Ale to the Chief, will wrap up our second project here.  I’ll get into a summary of the whole project and some statistics in a future post, but each and every one of the beers on this list deserves our full attention, so let’s get back into the beer.

Just like the very first Avery Review here (at least for this project) the Ale to the Chief was reviewed live and in person at the Avery Taproom just days before the Election.  I think it was a particularly great choice to finish up the project on because it is such a strong example of what Avery, as a brewery, is capable of.

The stats:

Location: Avery Tasting Room, Boulder, Colorado
Cost: $3/10 oz. pour
ABV: 8.5%
IBUs: 65
Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Style: Presidential Pale Ale (Or DIPA according to Beer Advocate)
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.06 – Excellent
My Beer Advocate Rating: A/4.43 - Exceptional
Current Number of Reviews: 376
Brewery Description: Avery Ale to the Chief
Tapped On: Oct. 2012

APPEARANCE:  (4 out of 5) The colors of this beer are absolutely gorgeous.  The beer itself is a darker golden color with a stark-white head topping it off.  For a couple minutes the head stays still and then slowly begins to fade away.  A few streams of bubbles slowly rise up from the bottom through an almost completely translucent liquid, but this is not quite as lively as some other Avery beers I have seen.  The lacing is also not as strong as I have seen with a nice lace pattern sticking to the upper half of the glass, but almost nothing on the lower part.

SMELL:  (4.5 out of 5) The smells are almost as pretty as the color.  Your nose will be greeted to a big burst of pine and bright citrus aromas as soon as you stick it in your glass.  A second dip of the nose will reveal some more subdued and sweet malty caramel aromas as well.  As the Beastie Boys once said, this beer is “crazy sniffable”.

TASTE:  (4.5 out of 5) The caramel is not so subdued once it reaches your palate; it pairs with a big helping of pine to create the backbone of the flavor profile for the Ale to the Chief.  Just the right touch of grapefruit comes through along with hints of lemon, orange and a very faint bit of anise towards the end.  All of the citrus and anise, as well as a bit of earthy hoppiness, help to give this beer a nearly perfect balance.

MOUTHFEEL:  (4 out of 5) A light carbonation is present, but this beer is creamy and smooth.  In fact, silky is an excellent adjective in this case.  It goes down very easy.  As I mentioned above this is a very well balanced beer, although it leans towards the sweeter side, particularly up front.  The back end provides a dryer bitterness that becomes more obvious as the beer warms.

OVERALL:  (4.5 out of 5) As I have learned throughout the course of this project and from living in Boulder for the past year and a half, Avery takes a lot of chances with their beer.  They are willing to test the limits of a style or even attempt a style that doesn’t exist.  The Ale to the Chief, however, is an example of Avery’s ability to simply execute very well.  In today’s beer universe, chock-full of Double IPAs and big, hoppy beers, this is nothing that will boggle the seasoned beer drinker’s mind.  Rather, it is something that will simply allow that beer drinker to savor and appreciate a very finely crafted, big, hoppy and delicious beer.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Avery Review #19 - The Beast Grand Cru

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Nov. 5, 2012

Election Night Eve and we are down to our second to last beer of The Avery Project – The Beast Grand Cru.  The Beast, as the name would suggest, is a big, huge, frightening, yet surprisingly tasty monster.  

While I have a bottle of this sitting in my cellar for a future date that (most likely sometime around the next Presidential Election when its Chris Christie versus Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer - just trust me on this one) I also realized that we have nearly completed this project and not yet reviewed a beer from Avery's "Demons of Ale" series.  I was a little ashamed when I realized this, also a little sad since Mephistopheles is one of my all time favorites and I failed to squeeze it in.  On the other hand, I knew, when I began this project that I would be certain to miss out on at least one or two Avery brews that deserved recognition.  I can live without doing the Mephistopheles, but at least one of the three "Demons" had to be represented and this was the one I had access to.  All three, however (Samael's is the third), are wonderful beers.

Cost: $8.99/12oz. bottle
ABV: 16.83%
IBUs: 63
Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.78 – Very Good
My Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.93 – Very Good
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate: 519
Brewery Description: Avery The Beast Grand Cru
Bottled: July 2012 – Batch #10

APPEARANCE:  (3.5 out of 5) The beer pours much lighter than I remember it from the taproom and unlike the tap pours, out of the bottle, this one has a little bit of head.  That head hangs in there, at about a quarter-inch for a minute or two.  The beer is a lighter burgundy color and thousands of bubbles can be seen darting up the sides and the middle of the glass.  It is very clear and without any haze.  The lacing sticks around for one sip at a time, but this beer is just too heavy to sustain it.  It just slowly slides down under its own weight and never stays long enough to stick.

SMELL:  (4.5 out of 5) There is an impressive amount of malt in this beer to be sure, and every ounce of it is present in the nose.  This smells like a Dogfish Head beer to me, a lot of raisins and a nice, solid, boozy heat wafting up from the glass.  There is a lot more going on here though, and after three or four sniffs I am getting some molasses.  This sounds bad, but there is a hint of gasoline in there as well, but it is very faint and does not actually detract from the smell, just seems to supplement the booze.  Very complex aroma. 

TASTE:  (4 out of 5) The Beast really is a unique beer and while I have tasted it many times I don’t think it has ever been my first beer of the night, nor have I sat down with no distractions and paid my full attention to it.  Big, sweet candied orange peels are hitting me the hardest here.  The raisins from the nose along with some cherries and other dark fruits are swirling around those oranges in what is an increasingly complex beer with every sip.  Caramel and vanilla are both here.  Grapes?  Yes, I think that is a hint of grape I taste.  I feel like I am just throwing flavors out there, but there is a ton going on.  A little oak shows up for the finish right next to a small hop kick.  The aftertaste is most definitely hoppy, a little piney and resinous.  While the alcohol is certainly noticeable, it is not nearly as strong as it could be. 

MOUTHFEEL:  (2.5 out of 5) Saying this beer is full-bodied might be the biggest understatement I have ever made here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights.  This is huge!  The booze gives it some heat and this thing is sweet.  This finish dries up a touch, but the sweetness lingers until the next sip with a bit of a mouthcoating sugariness.  This is one of the few issues I have with this beer.  It is a little too much in the sugar department.  That, and after 8oz. I am feeling fairly tipsy.  Two of these and I would be outright drunk.

OVERALL:  (4 out of 5) One of my personal goals for this project was to intimately get to know many of the Avery beers that I take for granted.  Those world-class brews that I can bike down the street to get pretty much anytime I want.  This review and the last one in particular have helped me achieve that goal.  I have sipped on this beer over a dozen times at the brewery.  It is always enjoyable, particularly because I am drinking with great company and probably in the midst of some great conversation as well, but in those cases The Beast is a supplement to the atmosphere.  And to be fair, those conversations and company over the past year and a half have probably become a part of what I am experiencing every time I stick my nose in this glass or take a sip. 

Despite the number of times I have sampled this outstanding effort from Avery, tonight is the first time I have ever had more than 4 oz. at once.  I am slowly working my way through the full 12 oz. in this bottle simply so I can get the full experience…and it is good. 

Is this the best Avery beer I have had?  Not at all.  But for hundreds and hundreds of other breweries in this country it would be their best effort.  It just so happens that Avery probably has 10 – 15 more beers that beat this.  They are a world class organization and, in my opinion one of the more underrated of the top tier breweries.  There is a reason that Vinnie from Russian River has chosen to make his only two big collaboration beers with Sierra Nevada and Avery.  That’s because he knows neither brewery will release a beer unless it is just right.

Ultimately, Avery Brewing Company makes a lot of beers with a lot of hops and they make them very well.  This is a beer that showcases just what Avery can do with malt, but of course, in true Avery fashion, even their malt masterpiece still has 63 IBUs.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy Halloween - Southern Tier Pumking

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Nov. 1, 2012

Two bombers of Southern Tier’s Pumking have been staring me down every time I’ve opened the fridge for the past two months.  It has been tough to hold off, but the time has come.  Emily and I went for a nice hike up to the summit of Mt. Sanitas just outside of Boulder today.  We’re also hosting a small beer tasting tomorrow night and the other bottle will be cracked for that.  Plus, it’s Halloween and the weather here is just right.  There were too many factors in play tonight not to drink this beer.  It had to happen.

The Pumking does not have anything to do with either of the projects I am currently working on here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights, and it isn’t even time for one of our halftime breaks from said projects.  That said, I am guessing that this is the only time this year that I’ll have the chance to review this delicious brew, and it is one of my all-time favorite beers, not just pumpkin beers, but beers in general.  I had to share this with you all.  Some of you who are familiar may completely understand (and some may think I’m nuts to give this beer so much credit) and for some of you I hope this will turn you onto a great beer from an excellent brewery.

With that, onto my review of the Southern Tier Pumking:

Location: Home
Cost: Gift
ABV: 8.6%
IBUs: Low
Brewery Location: Lakewood, New York
Style: Pumpkin Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.03 – Excellent
My Beer Advocate Rating: A+/4.88 – World Class
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate: 1,483
Brewery Description: Southern Tier Pumking
Bottled: August/September 2012

APPEARANCE:  (3.5 out of 5) Very unassuming and somewhere between orange and straw yellow is the color of this beer, although it leans towards orange.  A thin head quickly leaves the scene with only a few wispy hints of its stay.  There is a little haze and some slow moving bubbles trickling up the side of the glass.  There will be no lacing here.

SMELL:  (5 out of 5) Perfect.  This smells like pumpkin pie, period.  Cinnamon is this first smell that jumps out, but by no means does it dominate.  Pumpkin itself, allspice, vanilla, clove and a dose of banana bread all make their cases to the nose before the first sip.  I almost don’t want to taste it, this beer is just so great to smell, if I could I would just keep this around the house all fall as an air freshener.  It truly is amazing.

TASTE:  (5 out of 5) This is a rare case of a beer tasting almost exactly the way it smells.  So, again, this is what every pumpkin beer should strive for.  No gimmicks, no fuss, no deviation from the plan to brew a pumpkin beer, just pumpkin pie in a bottle with some carbonation and booze.  Some who have reviewed this beer in the past have mentioned that there is not all that much pumpkin flavor, and that the pumpkin pie spices totally dominate.  And while I agree that the pie spices are certainly strong, the pumpkin is still noticeably doing its thing in this brew.  Clove, vanilla, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and banana bread also all dance around the palate during each sip of this masterpiece.

After the beer warms up, some woody flavors creep in and the pumpkin becomes more pronounced.  Also, at no point is there even the faintest hint that this is an 8.6%er. 

MOUTHFEEL:  (4.5 out of 5) Normally I would want a beer that tastes like this to have a bigger body, but the medium (maybe medium rare) body combined with a medium sweetness makes this a highly drinkable pumpkin beer.  The sweet is not over the top and is complimented nicely with a light carbonation that makes the Pumking smooth and creamy.

OVERALL:  (5 out of 5) Pumking is clearly the king of pumpkin beers and easily the best pumpkin brew I have ever had.  Avery’s Rumpkin could possibly claim that title, but I think it is only fair to classify the Rumpkin as a barrel-aged pumpkin, not just a pumpkin.  I wish that I didn’t have travel, trade and barter to scrape together a bottle or two of this stuff once in a while.  It is the best in class.