No Corporate Beer Reviews: Peanut Butter Chocolate Milk Stout

Beer: Peanut Butter Chocolate Milk Stout
Brewery: Lost Coast Brewery (Eureka, CA)
Style: Stout – Milk/ Sweet
5.6% ABV / 21 IBU

You put your chocolate in my peanut butter. You put your peanut butter in my chocolate. Two great tastes that – hey, wait a second. Why are peanut butter flavored stouts and porters becoming so ubiquitous? Peanut butter is a pretty strange ingredient for any beverage, but it’s a mainstream ingredient in candy, and stouts tend to be trending in the candy and “pastry” flavored direction, so here we are., wondering whether to welcome our new peanut butter overlords.

I’ve sampled a number of peanut butter flavored beers, and Lost Coast’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Milk Stout is definitely worthy of your attention. Within the field, I give Belching Beaver Brewery the edge because their peanut butter chocolate milk stout features the aroma of roasted peanuts. But Lost Coast delivers on all of the elements it advertises, and boasts a creamy mouthfeel from the lactose, a hint of chocolate to balance out the stout base and a similarly subtle peanut butter element that recalls the taste of Nutter Butter cookies.

If anything, the milk stout part is muted; it is a beautifully-colored beer but not especially toothsome one. The label—which describes this as a “malt beverage with natural flavors and caramel color”—may explain why. Lost Coast’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Milk Stout but would benefit from more body. Most stouts are very malt-forwarded, but the flavor of the lactose here dominates. Still, this is so easy-drinking for a beer of this style that it’s bound to turn some heads among stout skeptics.

For more info, check out Lost Coast Brewery here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: El Cuatro

Beer: El Cuatro
Brewery: The Ale Apothecary (Bend, OR)
Style: American Wild Ale
11.16% ABV / N/A IBU

El Cuatro is not one single formulation, but a series of wild ales brewed with wildflower honey, each with subtle variations in color, character and, perhaps more importantly, alcohol content. El Cuatro has been getting progressively boozier since The Ale Apothecary introduced it—early versions of this American wild ale hovered in the 8.5% ABV range, while the newest batches (the label will specify bottling date and alcohol content) clock in between 10-11% ABV. This is not a bad thing.

El Cuatro pours a translucent caramel color akin to a Brown Ale, with little carbonation and a quickly dissipating head. It sis sweet and dry like a dessert wine, and can be enjoyed in a stem glass, as a before-dinner accompaniment to cheese and crackers or as an aperitif. What’s radical about El Cuatro is that you can taste and experience every element of the brew—the Oregon barley malt and the wildflower honey are particularly prominent, but you also get lactic sourness from the mixed culture (lactobacillus and brettanomyces) fermentation.

Like a lot of American wild ales, El Cuatro shifts its shape through bottle-conditioning. You’ll want to buy two bottles, so you can drink one immediately and cellar the other for a couple of years to really draw out the funkiness. To bring a little joy to my quarantine routine, I cracked open an El Cuatro that had been bottled nine months prior—the smell imparted by the Pinot Noir wine barrels, where the wild ale is aged before being finished in brandy barrels, was particularly intoxicating. El Cuatro is sweet but not cloying, and sour but not bracing—sugar and spice and everything nice in one bottle.

For more info, check out The Ale Apothecary here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Saison 13

Beer: Saison 13
Brewery: Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec)
Style: Farmhouse Ale – Saison
6.1% ABV / 19 IBU

Who knew Dave Mustaine was such a fan of saisons? He’s certainly a fan of the number 13, which is where Unibroue’s latest Megadeth tribute beer draws its name from (technically it should be “Saison Th1rt3en,” but that would be an eyesore). Perhaps that’s the influence of Unibroue’s Brewmaster Jerry Vietz. You are forgiven if you didn’t think there was anywhere else to go with Megadeth tribute beers after Unibroue’s original Belgian-style farmhouse ale ÀTout le Monde. It’s a very well-balanced and drinkable rendition of that style with perhaps only one question mark: It’s a little wussy compared to the band’s music.

Saison 13 bears more than a few similarities to ÀTout le Monde, right down to Megadeth mascot Vic Rattlehead’s prominent placement on the art, but I’d rank Saison 13 higher on at least three counts. First, the malt profile in Saison 13 is superior, creating more of a medium-bodied brew but also a noticeably sweeter one with strong caramel notes. The malt is a good canvas for the spices and provides good counterbalance to the spiciness and the light bitterness offered by the dry-hopping process. This is also reflected in the color of Saison 13, a very appealing deeper, red-ish amber.

Our tastes favor the stronger ABV of Saison 13 vis ñ vis ÀTout le Monde. There is a fairly dramatic difference between the 6.1% ABV of Saison 13 and the 4.5% ABV of ÀTout le Monde. Saison 13 is not a session beer. It’s also not a boozier clone of its predecessor, because the malt (back to that again) tips the scales in the direction of a pale ale. Of course, the style of the beer is in its name, and the saison-ness of Saison 13, particularly the effect of the peppercorn and coriander, can not be denied. A strong offering in extreme brewing’s most unlikely tribute series, So far, so good… What’s next?

For more info on Unibroue and Megadeth’s collabs, go here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Trappistes Rochefort 10

Beer: Trappistes Rochefort 10
Brewery: Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy (Rochefort, Belgium)
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
11.3% ABV / 27 IBU

There will be no bombshells or revelations here: Trappistes Rochefort 10 is one of the finest beers in the world. This Belgian Quadrupel—known for its distinctive blue cap—is a 2x gold medal winner at the World Beer Championships and currently sports perfect “100” scores on the Beer Advocate and RateBeer websites. It is a joy to drink straight from the 330ml bottle or in a wider mouthed tulip glass, where you can admire the beer’s rich caramel color and experience a resplendent warming effect that’s unusual for non-barrel aged beers.

Although monks at the Rochefort Abbey have been brewing beer consistently since 1899, Trappistes Rochefort 10 (the name refers to the beer’s original gravity in the archaic Belgian system of degrees) is the relative newcomer, with a recipe developed in 1952. In a sense, it’s one of the original craft beers, handmade by artisans that have been perfecting their techniques for decades. Like a lot of Belgian beers, this one is top-fermenting and features the Rochefort Abbey’s own strain of yeast. It also features water drawn from the well at the Abbey. Like a New York bagel, the character of the water (and specifically the mineral composition of that water) is crucial; you can’t make a beer like this without it.

Other than the proprietary yeast strain and the well water, the other major innovation with Trappistes Rochefort 10 was the introduction of candy sugar, which is added to the wort. The sugar plus the barley malt makes for a fanciful sweetness that evokes cherries, plums, figs, and dates. But there’s also some spiciness, partly from the hops but more from the coriander, the essential spice in Indian cuisine that seems to sneak into every Trappist brew. Celebrated beer guru Michael Jackson (not that one) described this Belgian quad as being both food at drink. It is more than just science or magic; it is extraordinary.

For more info, check out Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Mind Haze

Beer: Mind Haze
Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Paso Robles, CA)
Style: IPA – New England
6.2% ABV / 40 IBU

I’ll Stan for anything coming out of Firestone Walker’s experimental brewing arm Barrelworks. The results aren’t cheap—a 375ml bomber will typically set you back around $15. But for fans of mixed-culture fermentation, it’s worth seeking any of the Barrelworks brews out. The “Bretta” series is particularly maverick; only cultish beer nerds could dream up a beer mixed with fermented grape juice, something that walks a fine line between dry wine and a wild ale.

Firestone Walker’s core line-up is all about mass appeal, though. Mind Haze is Firestone Walker’s first stab at a New England IPA and although it isn’t particularly emblematic of that style in either look or mouthfeel, it synthesizes some important lessons from some of Firestone Walker’s greatest success stories. Like C-Hops, the pale ale from Firestone Walker’s Propigator series, and the Luponic Distortion run of West Coast IPAs, hops are skillfully blended in Mind Haze to create bold flavor combinations. It’s all about the hops. It’s always about the hops, isn’t it?

Mind Haze has some mild coconut on the nose, but is bursting with juicy orange/ tangerine flavor. This is achieved entirely through the hops, which includes mandarina and cascade included in the wort, plus seven different dry hops added after the boil. Stronger flavors in the dry hop mix like Idaho 7 and especially Mosaic don’t dominate here, so there’s some good alchemy going on with this NEIPA. More creaminess would knock this out of the park, but Mind Haze goes a long way on flavor alone. It’s also completely crushable—dangerously so, for a mid-range ABV beer.

For more info, check out Firestone Walker Brewing Company here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Cold Brew Coffee Pumking

Beer: Cold Brew Coffee Pumking
Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY)
Style: Pumpkin/Yam Beer
8.6% ABV / 30 IBU

With two radically different pumpkin beers in its seasonal line-up, Southern Tier is the undisputed king of the style. Especially when it comes to innovating, because Pumking and Warlock offer radically different interpretations of the pumpkin beer style. Warlock, an imperial stout with pumpkin flavoring, has its ardent fans, but it’s a stout at its core. Pumking, an imperial ale brewed with pumpkin pie spices, hews a lot closer to the Platonic ideal of the style—basically, pumpkin pie in liquid form.

Over the last few years, Southern Tier has branched out with both of its core pumpkin beers, expanding the lines with barrel-aging and nitro cans. That’s a logical progression for the Warlock stout, but Southern Tier’s experiments with the more neutral canvas of Pumking have been really rewarding. Chai Tea Infused Pumking—sadly only available on draft—helps to neutralize the strong clove notes of Pumking with a healthy dose of cardamom. Cold Brew Coffee Pumking is similarly excellent, pairing a smooth coffee flavor with the warming notes of the pumpkin pie spices.

The effect is not mellow like a pumpkin spice latte, but aggressively roast-y and malt-forward. Since the cold brew process typically uses 2.5x as many beans as hot coffee, you have to really enjoy coffee to get into this. The coffee flavor of Cold Brew Coffee Pumking is pretty smooth, but there’s additional bitterness from the hops that create the sensation of an espresso roast. There’s a lot going on with Cold Brew Pumking outside of the coffee and pumpkin, too—it smells like root beer and tastes like candied nuts. If pumpkin beers become a year-round thing, this is a great place to start.

For more info, check out Southern Tier Brewing Company here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Pumpkin Blend

Beer: Pumpkin Blend
Brewery: Downeast Cider House (Boston, MA)
Style: Cider – Herbed/ Spiced / Hopped
5.1% ABV / N/A IBU

Whether you find pumpkin beers delightful or loathsome, they’re all essentially the same: heavy-handed with the pumpkin pie spices to carry the idea forward. There are slight variations in, say, the barre aging process that might produce different variations on the same basic theme, but what most want from their pumpkin beers is best characterized as “pumpkin pie in a bottle,” the same reason people queue up for Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks. It’s all about the Proustian sense memory of autumns and Thanksgivings past that the flavor triggers, and also the warming, hot toddy like effect that the pumpkin spices create.

Downeast Cider House’s seasonal Pumpkin Blend is none of those things, but it is terrific. For one, it’s an unfiltered cider, produced by adding mashed pumpkin to the apple press. So there’s a pleasant but not overwhelming amount of pumpkin flavor, but the sweet apple dominates. The spices are familiar enough on the nose, but way more complex than your typical pumpkin beer; the chai spice blend represents everything in the pumpkin pie blend (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves), plus cardamom, allspice, and ginger. The cardamom is mellowing, but the allspice and ginger balance this with additional spiciness that makes the tip of your tongue tingle. As for any warming effect, dunno… I finished this one too quick to notice, but appreciated the sweetness and crispness of the apple, plus its overall authenticity. Artificial flavors can sink the best pumpkin brews, but Downeast’s Pumpkin Blend is tr00.

For more info, check out Downeast Cider House here.

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Five for Friday: September 4, 2020

Alright, friends, it’s the first Friday of the month again. That means it’s Bandcamp Friday, when the service waves its revenue share to let the money go directly to the artists. That means today you have a chance to make an extra contribution to the lives of the artists you worship.

And this week, there’s plenty of solid tunes to choose from. Lots of crushing death metal and frosty black metal.

Always a good sign.

Check it out.

DUNWICH – Tail-Tied Hearts

According to the band, “DUNWICH is an attempt to dive into the bottomless ocean of your emotions. This is an unexpected call in the desert of your consciousness. This is a walk through the dark forest of your mind.” If you miss the spooky sounds of Subrosa, but wish they took things in a more raw direction, this is the haunting you’re searching for.

Stream: Apple Music

Tail-Tied Hearts by DUNWICH

Foretoken – Ruin

The mid-’90s are alive! Virginia’s Foretoken have sworn clear allegiance to the varieties of Swedish metal experience with their extremely epic, busy and soaring variant of blackened-melodeath. This a sound rooted in the classics: Dark Tranquility, Dissection, Dawn and perhaps a touch of symphonic power metal flair as well.

Stream: Apple Music

Ruin by Foretoken

The Glorious Dead – Into Lifeless Shrines

Speaking of bands steeped in the classics, The Glorious Dead knows their stuff: Bolt Thrower, Grave, Obituary, Incantation, Purtenance, and so on. One of the coolest things about this excellent record is its ability to evoke feelings of doom while still playing fast and blistering death metal. The band as a whole is comprised of experts, but the star professor of death here is definitely the drummer. Those blasts are just so perfect.

Into Lifeless Shrines by The Glorious Dead

Persekutor – Permanent Winter

Excuse me, sir? Can you feel the frost of dawn? This is some true black heavy metal here: heroic, raw, totally ridiculous, totally radical. Lots of cold riff action to be found here, but played through a prism of classic ’80s heavy metal attitude, rather than say, Battles in the North.

Stream: Apple Music

Permanent Winter by PERSEKUTOR

Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect – The World Trapped in Vampyric Sway (Darker and Darker)

Ok, so graded on a curve, this is the most accessible and well-produced release ever put together by Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect. All of Kane’s previous material, or at least the stuff I’d heard, was seriously raw and grating, palatable to only the most tolerant ears, eager for the aural assault. This release, on the other hand, preserves that feeling but brings the quality up just enough to make it hit that goldilocks “just right” balance between listenability and total contempt for typical sensibilities. The electronic and punk-influenced bits are pretty sick too, by the way.

The World Trapped in Vampyric Sway (Darker and Darker) by Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect

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Video Premiere: Contrarian – ‘In a Blink of an Eye’

Only Time Will Tell, the new album from Rochester progressive death group Contrarian, is the exact opposite of the Dropdead track Decibel premiered earlier today. Continuing down their path of progressiveness and technicality, the New York unit are ready to release their fourth album in November and Decibel has a premiere of a new song, “In a Blink of an Eye.”

Led by guitarists Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason (Sulaco), “Only Time Will Tell” shows Contrarian’s melodic side using shiny guitar leads over complex drumming, contrasted with Cody McConnell’s barked vocals. There are definite similarities to Death, Atheist and Cynic, but “In a Blink of an Eye” has a notably more modern feeling than those artists.

“This is the first song off our new concept album, Only Time Will Tell,” Tasikas explains. “The lyrics outline the essence of the storyline. The band’s mascot, ‘the cloaked contrarian,’ goes on an adventure of time travel for redemption and love for his mysterious mistress, ‘Scarlet Babylon.’”

Start the quest for Babylon yourself by listening to “In a Blink of an Eye” and watch the new video below. It’s out November 20 on Willowtip.

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Track Premiere: Thevetat – “Statues in Mourning”

Helmed by fallen death/doom monument Ceremonium’s Thomas Pioli, Thevetat formed in 2011 and released their demonic and crushing demo a year later. In 2015, Dark Descent put out their mandatory Desecration of Divine Presence 7-inch, and that was the last we’ve heard from the Staten Island old school death metallers—until now. 

“Statues in Mourning” is an unreleased track, recorded with Thevetat’s former drummer, John Mischling. Whether this indicates that more Thevetat material is on the way remains to be seen. For now, let’s be thankful for more Thevetat material. 

“I think I heard these words as enchanted time and it is meaningful to music in any form. I think good songs write themselves. It shows up more or less. And yet the band is me again, when creativity sparked but it was great to revisit. We collectively feel the truth of the title despite global pandemic. So I tear it up! Definitely want to get this song to maniacs everywhere!”

“Statues in Mourning”

Statues in Mourning by Thevetat

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