No Corporate Beer Reviews: Loral Roberts

Beer: Loral Roberts
Brewery: American Solera (Tulsa, OK)
Style: Kŏlsch
5% ABV / N/A IBU

By definition, the Kŏlsch is a low gravity and highly drinkable style, representing old-world brewing traditions centered around the city of Cologne. Germany. It bears some similarities with filtered and top-fermented German hefeweizens, marzens and festbiers – where these beers flow, steins and dirndls can’t be far behind. But the calling card of the Kŏlsch is that it’s quite pale and light-bodied, with a taste that recalls lightly-hopped mineral water. It’s so low gravity that open-air festival fans can pound it to avoid heatstroke and/or use it as a bathing aid.

I came prepared to hate American Solera’s Loral Roberts. The Kŏlsch is a style that practically resists innovation and one that is very elemental – it’s reliant on local ingredients that are out of reach for most American brewers. It’s also a highly specific and regulated style (based on Germany purity laws), so much so that anything brewed outside of a 50km radius of Cologne is truly a Kŏlsch-style ale. But Loral Robberies is a very good rendition of the style, reasonably authentic in execution but with a character-transforming twist of dry-hopping.

Loral Roberts pours with a thick and creamy head, leading to foam residue on the side of the glass and a uniquely fluffy, cloud-like type of lacing. This is one that you can probably drink straight out of the can, because it’s not much to look at, but the flavor is great. Loral Roberts is, in turns, fruity like a Granny Smith apple and floral (thanks to the Loral hops). It also smells faintly of honeysuckle, which you really pick up on when it’s poured into a wide-mouthed goblet. And the dry-hopping is a master stroke. American Solera keeps finding new and novel ways to showcase hop varietals; now we’re waiting to see what magic the Tulsa brewery can perform on other styles that are not typically hop-forward.

For more info, check out American Solera here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Black Miso

Beer: Black Miso
Brewery: Japas Cervejaria (São Paulo, Brazil)
Style: Stout – Russian Imperial
11.5% ABV / 68 IBU

Part of the incredible story behind Japas Cervejaria can be found on each of the brewery’s can releases. Japas is a collective of three Brazilian women—Fernanda Ueno, Maíra Kimura and Yumi Shimada—paying homage to their shared Japanese heritage with beers that riff on Japanese concepts and ingredients. Black Miso proves to be a great showcase for this type of novelty, a high-octane Russian Imperial Stout that incorporates a totally different type of fermentation: red miso paste.

Black Miso is a bit thinner that your typical Russian Imperial Stout, with a body that more closely resembles the closely-related Baltic porter style. But despite its thinness, it hits all of the right notes, especially with its beautiful onyx color and its rich, full flavor. Black Miso has truly bold, roast-y notes of coffee and chicory (or the world-famous coffee at Cafe du Monde in N’Awlins). The balance of malt and bitterness in Black Miso is perfect.

And the red miso paste adds incredible dimensions to the stout base, much like the niche trend of adding butter to coffee to amplify the richness. Black Miso is actually one of three similar variations on Russian Imperials that Japas has experimented with, including Hiratake mushrooms and kombu, the edible kelp that forms the base of the Japanese soup stock dashi. With contract brewing agreements in place with Great South Bay Brewers in Long Island, Japas Cervejaria has extended its reach in the Western Hemisphere and will be leading the charge with this type of cultural fusion. Love, thy name is umami.

For more info, check out Japas Cervejaria here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Puff Puff Fish (Venom Series)

Beer: Puff Puff Fish (Venom Series)
Brewery: Tripping Animals Brewing Co, (Doral, FL)
Style: Sour – Fruited
6% ABV / N/A IBU

Puff Puff Fish is light, airy and refreshing—a mid-range ABV sour that drinks like a session beer. Daredevil thrill-seekers questing for an epic mouth-puckering experience may be a little put off by the final installment of this upstart brewery’s “Venom Series.” But Puff Puff Fish knows which way the wind is blowing with fruited sours: the sour base provides the framework for experiencing the fruit, and the more radical the combination of fruit, the better.

With sour styles (slowly) on the rise in popularity, Puff Puff Fish embodies a general micro-trend towards tropical sours. Having experienced coconut and pink guava in other sours, the combination of the two is pleasurable, but I really like the addition of lychee, a small Chinese stone fruit with not-overly-sweet white pulp. It’s something that tastes great in a martini, and that is kind of the effect with Puff Puff Fish.

For a series of beers named after nature’s predators, Puff Puff Fish and its predecessors emphasize drinkability. Tripping Animals is a small operation that is only a couple of years old, but the brewery is already making a name for itself with its creative fruited sour and fruity berliner weisse combos. The Miami area brewery seems to have cracked the riddle of how to make accessible styles of beer that are otherwise not universally adored. And if Tripping Animals only did sours, they’d have an impressive line-up, but of course they can brew higher gravity beers and make that look effortless, too.

For more info, check out Tripping Animals Brewing Company here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Morticia

Beer: Morticia
Brewery: Barrier Brewing Company (Oceanside, NY)
Style: Stout – Russian Imperial
10.1% ABV / N/A IBU

For a beer conditioned on oak, this Russian Imperial Stout doesn’t bowl you over with that familiar oak smell or flavor. There’s no more tragic way to ruin a perfectly good beer than extending aging in oak barrels, but Morticia owes its unique character to a more subtle technique of conditioning on bourbon barrel spirals, a way of strategically imparting a bit of barrel character into spirits without full-on barrel aging. There’s a hint of bourbon on the nose with Morticia, and a little bit of a palette-warming effect as you swig it, but it doesn’t taste like a stout that fell into a barrel of bourbon and drowned.

This is great, because there’s already a fair bit going on with Morticia between the inclusion of coffee and milk sugar. The latter seems to be the key to the beer’s creaminess, and although still subtle, edges Barrier Brewing’s delightful stout towards the milk stout range. The former is what contributes just the perfect amount of bitterness, enough to evoke the sensation of a cup of coffee, but not in stark opposition to the milk sugar and infused bourbon barrel spiral flavors. With all of that going on, plus the typical chocolatey malts associated with stouts, Morticia ends up with the overall flavor profile of a mocha.

At 10.1% ABV, Morticia packs the same punch as celebrated imperial-style stouts like Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues and Surly’s Darkness. While lightweight considering the trend towards 14-15% ABV Russian Imperials, mo’ booze is not necessarily mo’ better. At that concentration, you taste the alcohol and experience a burning sensation in your throat. Around 9-11.5% ABV is where it’s at for a beer like this, especially for a stout as balanced as Morticia. Swish it around in the glass, breathe in a little bit with a sip in your mouth, and experience the narcotic bliss of a beer that claims to be the final word on imperial stouts.

For more info, check out Barrier Brewing here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Hitachnio Nest Anbai Ale

Beer: Hitachnio Nest Anbai Ale
Brewery: Kiuchi Brewery (Ibaraki, Japan)
Style: Sour – Fruited Gose
7.5% ABV / 10 IBU

The Kiuchi Brwery has been continuously in operation since 1823—incidentally, six years prior to the founding of Yuengling, the oldest brewery in the U.S. The Kiuchi Brewery is perhaps best known for a line of beers called “Hitachino Nest,” first introduced 25 years ago and now ubiquitous at upscale Japanese restaurants. The Hitachino Nest line encompasses everything from saisons to stouts, but Anbai’s most decorated beer is the Hitachino Nest White Ale, a spiced witbier that won gold medals in two different iterations of the World Beer Cup.

Hitachino Nest White Ale is a solid offering in a very crowded class, and thus an extremely appealing alternative to Asahi or Sapporo, but not really remarkable. But Hitachino Nest Anbai Ale, which transforms the White Ale base into a salt and slightly tannic sour, dares to be different. As its name implies (and literally translates as), Anbai is “just right” in its execution. And even though it’s still on the more sour side and a little boozier than your average gose, the way it pays homage to the ancient German brewing tradition while championing ingredients that are distinctly Japanese, is terrific.

The wild card with Anbai Ale is the inclusion of Japanese sour green plums (ume). Combined with sea salt, the flavor is pungent and striking, much like umedoshi, dried Japanese plums that are both salty and sweet. When you add in some bitterness from the coriander and orange peel additions in the White Ale base, Anbai Ale is one of the few beers that totally embodies most of the basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Only thing missing here is umami, but to borrow a phrase from Meatloaf, four out of five ain’t bad.

For more info, check out Kiuchi Brewery here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: iStout Unchained

Beer: iStout Unchained
Brewery: 8 Wired (Auckland, New Zealand)
Style: Stout – Imperial/ Double
12% ABV / 50 IBU

8 Wired’s iStout Unchained is like no stout you’ve ever tasted. That’s quite possibly because by the end of the process of aging and conditioning iStout Unchained, it barely resembles a stout. It starts with a very good imperial stout, iStout, one of the New Zealand brewery’s flagship brews. But then it is aged for three years in pinot noir barrels with added breattanomyces. By the time iStout Unchained is ready to drink, the barrel aging has done the trick and it smells more like wine than beer.

Aging in pinot noir barrels helps to transform this stout base from a 10% ABV beer with above-average bitterness into something markedly boozier but without the chemical burn you might experience once the alcohol level gets to 15%. There are some roast-y notes from the malts but aging has tamped down on or diluted some of the bitterness, likely in parallel with more of the sugars from the malt being converted into alcohol. But it’s 11am on a weekday during the winter as I’m drinking this, so I don’t give a fuck, give me the strongest stout you’ve got, because my only plan is to spend the rest of the week napping it off.

Initially, I found the addition of brett culture to be perplexing, but it really fits in with 8 Wired’s program of sours; the New Zealand brewery even has a separate facility outside of Auckland just for aging. One cool thing about the inclusion of brettanomyces is that it agitates the beer and makes it pour with a massive, creamy head—a clever way of simulating the experience of a nitro pour. But the coolest thing is that the flavor of iStout Unchained is like a ripe French cheese. This makes sense, since washed-rind cheeses acquire their stinky flavor from the introduction of bacteria. But iStout Unchained is pungent without being off-putting, a stout primed for barrel-aging and the magic of further bottle conditioning.

For more info, check out 8 Wired here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: A Dashing Rogue

Beer: A Dashing Rogue
Brewery: Haandbryggeriet (Drammen, Norway)
Style: Sour – Flanders Oud Bruin
6.8% ABV / N/A IBU

Should you encounter a bottle of anything from Haand on your next trip to the specialty store, ignore the price and treat yourself; this Norwegian brewery always has an ace up its sleeve. In the case of A Dashing Rogue, it’s the beer’s nose. It smells incredibly earthy, with hints of mushrooms and grass, not to mention a distinct peat odor that begs for this beer to be sampled in a tulip glass like a fine scotch.

The hallmark of the Flanders Oud Bruin style—and this still applies to Oud Bruins made in Drammen, Norway—is a tart, mouth-puckering acidity that barely skirts the lines between red wine and vinegar. Far too often, the Flanders oud bruin ends up being totally one-dimensional in its presentation and the vinegar notes drown out anything going on with the malt. With A Dashing Rogue, barrel-aging yields some dividends, both in the peat-like smell and in balancing some of the sourness. The oaking is subtle, but rewarding.

A Dashing Rogue also features some bold notes from macerated raspberries and cherries. True to the style, the addition of the berries recalls a raspberry vinaigrette—which may be a non-starter for even the most ardent sour fans. As a darker beer, it would be interesting to see a formulation that was, say, 15-20% sweeter, if only to mute some of the sourness. But A Dashing Rogue is still a terrifically complex fruited sour, especially with some smokiness and spiciness imparted from the oak barrels. That’s a credit to Haandbryggeriet’s boundary-pushing spirit. These guys don’t just brew beer—they create experiences.

For more info, check out Haandbryggeriet here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Salts

Beer: Salts
Brewery: Black Narrows Brewing Co. (Chincoteague, VA)
Style: American Wild Ale
4.4% ABV / N/A IBU

Salts is a tribute to Black Narrows Brewing Company’s origins at the site of a historic oyster shucking house in Virginia’s Eastern Shore. It also features two particularly bizarre ingredients: oysters and a house strain of yeast cultivated from locally-sourced Chincoteague salt. OK, having a “house strain” seems to be the norm these days with breweries experimenting with bacteria culture. But bay oysters? Oysters on the half shell with an easy-drinking wheat beer on the side—sure thing. But together in the same bottle?

There’s a precedent for this, of course: the oyster stout, which is typically brewed with oyster shells, treating the wort like a giant pot of stock. Salts incorporates that technique, plus a small quantity of the oyster flesh and a larger quantity of oyster liquor. The latter is part of the genius of this Black Narrows brew. Oyster liquor – the juice surrounding the oyster inside of its shell – is arguably the best part of a freshly shucked oyster. In Salts, it functions as an Umami bomb, imparting a briny flavor that is completely different than the sea salt profile of a gose.

The base of the beer is a pretty straightforward mix of pilsner malt and raw wheat, but the Black Narrows house strain of yeast is also an incredible difference-maker here. The lemon flavor from the lactobacillus is pleasingly tart and evokes the German tradition of pairing witbiers and hefeweissens with citrus. You can also get a hint of the complexity of this beer from its nose, which is both floral and grassy. Few brewers are bothering to do anything with under 5% ABV beers, let alone something this funky and offbeat; Salts states a pretty persuasive case for why sessionable wild ales might be the next big thing.

For more info, check out Black Narrows Brewing Co here.

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Video Premiere: Tooth and Claw — “Your Crucifixion”

Last August we premiere the debut track from Tooth and Claw — a wildly pedigreed metallic hardcore outfit featuring Scott Crouse (Earth Crisis), Daniel Austin (Die Young), James Chang (Undying, Catharsis, Sect), and Cameron Joplin (Magnitude) — and doled out roughly as much praise for it as the band doled out punishment on it:

The quartet naturally synthesizes the unique extreme music elements the band members separately conjured into existence with their past work and condenses it into an intense, vital, highly combustible new compound — think Gomorrah’s Season Ends meets circa Wolverine Blues Entombed meets the most grind n’ groove eras of Obituary meets Paradise Lost meets…well, suffice it to say Tooth and Claw packs a lot of different strains into its infectious and deadly sonic virulence.

That’s setting a pretty goddamn high bar, but Tooth and Claw easily vault over it on the extraordinarily diverse, primally heavy debut full-length Dream of Ascension — out May 21 via Good Fight — which is about as close to a tour de force as we’ve seen in metallic hardcore in some time. The album has shades of everything you love/loved about the members’ other seminal bands fused onto (positive!) surprises and (enlivening!) curveballs.

The track “Your Crucifixion,” streaming exclusively below, is a great indicator of this coming sturm und drang.

First, though, a little context courtesy vocalist Austin:

“Believe it or not, ‘Your Crucifixion’ might be the most optimistic, uplifting song on our LP. It’s a song about transcendence–transcending life’s inherently absurd and stagnant misery (LOL) towards an existence that hints at a chance of actually being meaningful — or at least one that’s perceived to be so. Who knows what’s real, illusion, or otherwise anymore given the post-truth climate of the world? Perhaps we know too much for our own good. All we can do is try our best to forge some meaning in the madness of everything that’s coming at us. In order for us to do that as well as we humanly can, we’re going to have to sift through the wisdom of the past, the knowledge and vitality of the now, and utilize the best of both to steady ourselves for the suffering that is just around the bend. No matter how you face your inevitable suffering, you’re going to be judged for it–by those around you, or if you’re lucky, the greater collective consciousness of humanity and its generations to come. People act like being judgmental is an ugly attribute of human character, but we all judge all the time, to ourselves and each other. You will judge and be judged. You are judging and being judged right now, so embrace it. Try to choose and love wisely. We wish you the best of luck on your path.

“Regarding the video, director Justin Reich said he read the lyrics and wanted to find a place that was visually fitting for the concepts in the song. He found a defunct grain silo overgrown with vines and reeds in rural North Carolina, so we all went out there to shoot the video in the 30 degree January cold. He noted that the top of the silo, with all its overgrowth, reminded him of a crown of thorns, and that was what made him decide on that shooting location.

“While ‘Your Crucifixion’ is not a song about Christianity in any way, we admit there are few metaphors in Western culture as powerful or prevalent as that of the crucifixion and, aside from being advocates of the vegan straight edge lifestyle, we are also advocates for the power of metaphor. After all, as Albert Camus posited in his classic, The Fall, ‘There are only Christians,’ whether we secular westerners identify as such or not.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Croatoan

Beer: Croatoan
Brewery: Speciation Artisan Ales (Grand Rapids, MI)
Style: Sour – Other
6% ABV / 10 IBU

Zao has been a fixture in Decibel‘s pages since the magazine’s inception—remarkable staying power for a metalcore band, or any act for that matter. As the Zao’s new full-length The Crimson Corridor suggests, the band has remained relevant by staying true to its own original vision while simultaneously testing the waters with nimble adjustments to arrangements, time signatures, and thematic variations. Which is to say that Zao has always presented as a somewhat straightforward metalcore act, but to the initiated, their sound showcases a wonderfully complex and layered approach.

The band’s new collaboration brew with Michigan upstarts Speciation Artisan Ales is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Zao, because it presents as a fairly straightforward wild ale and reveals itself to be infinitely more complex as it warms to room temperature. Croatoan—named after the third track on The Crimson Corridor—pours with no head and very minimal carbonation. There’s no ginger, but the bracing sourness and mouthfeel is reminiscent of kombucha, another fermented product that is traditionally conditioned in bottles and cans.

The striking thing about Croatoan is the intense oak smell. That’s because it’s a blend of two wild ales aged in gin barrels. The typical hallmarks of gin barrel aging—flavor of the gin botanicals and spiciness, or zest—have been imparted on Croatoan. But the nose, itself, is incredible, and totally separate from the taste of the beer itself; it smells like dirt and moss and smoke from a bonfire but drinks like a sour. It’s lovely, and the can art from Zao lyricist/vocalist Daniel Weyandt is killer. No false metal, no false beers.

For more info, check out Speciation Artisan Ales here.

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