A tip of the bottle cap
A roundup of unique beers worth tasting
It’s amazing, how the work, e-mail, and new beers stack up when you go on vacation. Here are a few noteworthy new beers I’d been meaning to get to:
Smuttynose Homunculus The fourth release in the Big Beer Series from New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewing Co. is labeled a Belgian-style golden ale, but it’s more like a Belgian IPA. In fact, Homunculus - Latin for “little human’’ - was modeled after Houblon Chouffe (whose mascot is a gnome - hence the homunculus), which some of us consider to be the greatest of all Belgian IPAs.
So Homunculus has a lot to live up to.
And live up it does. Bright golden-orange with a small head that quickly dissipates into a thin sheen, Homunculus boasts a hoppy, bready aroma that shows off its Belgian yeast and array of hops. Notes of bananas and tangerines burst forth in a taste that is more aggressive than the Belgian IPAs brewed in Belgium. At the same time, the alcohol content - 9.9 percent by volume - is well hidden.
Stone 15th Anniversary Finally the so-called “black IPA’’ has been perfected. It figures that Stone Brewing Co. - the Escondido, Calif., maker of aggressive beers - would be the one to do it.
The brewer’s new release is a mouthful in more than one way: The beer is called Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA. And it is a study in contradiction. It looks like a Russian imperial stout but smells and tastes more like a double IPA.
The beer is pitch black with a two-finger coffee head that gradually subsides. The aroma is a hop bomb and a half, more or less like that of Stone Ruination. With the first sip, bitter hops - all citrus and flowery - attack the palate. But underneath is a subtle hint of roasted coffee beans, a hallmark of the hefty malt.
That character quickly fades, though, and the hops take over again on the finish.
Close your eyes and you would swear this was a double IPA. I’ll set aside the qualms over the designation “black IPA’’ (how can an India pale ale be black?) and go out on a limb by saying this: Not only is this the best black IPA I’ve yet had, but it’s one of the best beers Stone has produced.
Schmaltz barrel-aged beers The latest releases from the Schmaltz Brewing Co. mean serious business: He’Brew Vertical Jewbelation and Coney Island Human Blockhead are powerful, intense beers that make no attempt to hide their alcohol.
Vertical Jewbelation is dark, dark brown - almost black - with an aroma much like that of an imperial stout. Chocolate, coffee, whiskey, oak, and anise all seem to emanate from this beer, which is self-classified, vaguely, as an American strong ale. The small head disappears quickly, and the smells transfer to the taste, which is very boozy, owing not just to its 10.5 percent alcohol-by-volume content but to the whiskey barrels in which the beer was aged.
Human Blockhead, an imperial American doppelbock with 10 percent ABV, is in the same league. It’s a bit lighter in color - ruby brown with a 2-inch, foamy vanilla head - and a suggestion of anise, again, is in the aroma, along with vanilla and wood. Whiskey, oak, and malt dominate the taste. The mouthfeel is a bit on the syrupy side.
Each of these 22-ounce bombers was difficult for two people to finish, so if you’re going to try them, bring along a few friends. These beers are more like digestifs, so save them for the end of the night.
Samuel Adams Bonfire Rauchbier The new entry in the Samuel Adams Harvest Collection 12-pack is a strangely satisfying brew. It’s well named too: Bonfire Rauchbier tastes like a bonfire - as though the beer has somehow been char-grilled. It’s hard to believe a liquid can contain this much smokiness, but that quality is due to the smoked malts. (Rauchbiers, which date to the 16th century, are made with malts that have been dried over beechwood fires.)
Copper-brown with a strong, two-finger head, Bonfire has medium carbonation and a burnt-wood aroma. With virtually no hop character, the malt notes - caramel in particular - take over. I’d say I wish Bonfire (5 percent ABV) was sold in six-packs, but I’m not sure how many of these unusual beers I would want in one season.
Samuel Adams Baltic Porter If you want Sam’s new baltic porter, you’re going to have to go to one of the New England Patriots’ home games to get it. The beer, the winning entry in Sam Adams’ Patriot Homebrew Contest, will be on tap only at Gillette Stadium this season.
Created by Jim Prucha of Londonderry, N.H., this baltic porter (the style is pretty much indistinguishable from a Russian imperial stout) is pitch black with a nose of malt, caramel, molasses, and roasted coffee beans. Smooth with low carbonation, moderate alcohol (7.75 percent ABV), and a robust profile, this is a beer that Sam should bring into its regular stable.