Total Mango Bomb Recall

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Total Recall is a fantastic movie. I love the original. It is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movies. It is a fantastically crafted original story by Philip K. Dick, brought to life on the screen and has aged pretty well for a sci-fi flick from 1990.

The 2012 remake was an absolute mess and it bombed at the box office.

Pizza Boy recently attempted their own remake of a classic.

Al Kominski had a hand in brewing at least two Tröegs Scratch beers by my recollection: Scratch 58 and 98. Those Scratch Triple Mango IPAs, were high gravity beers with mango and hops in massive quantities. They were great. Classics of the Central PA craft brewing revolution.

Fast forward to 2016 and Mango Bomb was touted as an “extreme beer,” this time by Pizza Boy. It too was brewed with an insane amount of mango and hops to go along with its 14% ABV.

This beer is bombed out in every sense.

I was excited to try it. I recalled the first two Mango Triple IPAs. I even pulled a cellared Scratch 98 out for #DrinkItNow in February. These were great beers. I was hoping for a great remake but I got something else.

The beer is totally opaque and sits thick in the glass. Mouth feel is akin to a thin, lightly carbonated tomato juice. The smell is mangos, dank hops, and booze. This beer is boozy from start to finish; and not pleasantly.

The flavors are of mango puree and mango rind. The hops are aggressive and punishing. The alpha acid bitterness, off the charts and lacking a balance of sweetness or malts to make it tolerable. The finish is that of Everclear and rubbing alcohol. This beer is bombed out so the name is appropriate. As a study for what is possible when pushing flavors to the extreme this beer achieves, but little else as it is nearly undrinkable.

Mango Bomb is like the three breasted mutant hooker from Total Recall. That sounds awesome. I wanted to see that.

But three tits are just weird and I only have two hands. So why was I so excited in the first place? More can sometimes just be more; not better.

Also the remakes rarely live up to the original. This remake was a bomb in name and result.

Post Script:

I have praised Al and Terry many times here on this blog and elsewhere. Unquestionably, they make great beers. Hell, they brewed a phenomenal beer with Boo-Berry cereal. But this one was a mess and just awful. That was a first for these guys. If they go another five years without putting out a bad beer, who could find much fault in that?

I was slow to post this, so now the beer is off the tap list at Al’s. I hope it gets toned down before making another appearance.

I hate ripping a beer. I don’t particularly like doing it.

 

“I Smell An Imaginary Smell.”

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I sometimes let my five-year-old daughter take a smell of my beers. I generally do this with beers that have a strong aroma. I like to see her thinking about the different things that she can pick up just from taking a whiff.

Recently, she took a sniff of RAR’s Naniticoke Nectar, a hazy IPA with bold citrus and nectar flavors. When she took a deep inhale her response was “I smell an imaginary smell.”

Imaginary smells…

That sums up so much of what makes many beers great. We inhale deeply and savor IPAs with citrus and tropical notes, or piney dankness. We drink grassy farmhouse ales which harken to the earthiness of the barn and the smell of horse blankets. Russian imperial stouts can have vanilla, coffee, and toffee aromas.

These nuanced flavors are often achieved by carefully extracting them from raw ingredients that individually and before manipulation by the brewer do not appear. What we sense are molecular compounds that in their make-up smell and taste like other familiar foods and flavors (i.g. Beer brewed with Citra hops have flavors akin to grapefruit along with lemon and orange zest.) These analogous compounds are described when we talk about craft beer.

They are “imaginary smells.” We are sensing aromas and flavors of things that don’t actually exist within the beer. They often were not used in the brewing process and instead we use widely understood examples to describe what we sense. What a cool concept. It really does make the brewer’s work seem like alchemy.

This leads me to a terrible opinion:

I am already tired of these fruit infused IPAs.

I did not always feel this way. Just over year ago I was praising the return of Aprihop by Dogfish Head as one of my favorite beers and one of the few worthy of purchasing an entire case. I loved Aprihop and now… well… Dogfish replaced it with an even fruitier beer. It’s not bad. It’s not great either.

Full disclosure… I have a difficult relationship with most fruit beers. They are, in general, just not to my taste. Fruity beer leaves me conflicted at best and very unsatisfied at worst.

Mostly, fruit in an IPA is one of those “less is more” ideas. The less it is leveraged via the use of actual fruit the more likely I am to enjoy it. If there are fruit flavors to be had in a beer I believe the best way to achieve them via the proper use of grains, hops, yeast and other traditional ingredients. Bombing out a beer with fruits (or so help me an EXTRACT) is always fraught with danger. To do so with an IPA is even more suspect.

We are on the cusp of fruit IPAs taking over this summer. We are going to get orange and blood orange, grapefruit, apricot, peach, watermelonpineapple, pineapple, and pineapple IPAs out the ears this summer. They will be everywhere. Everyone is making them. It is going to be overwhelming.

I am already tired of it.

This is trend is hitting harder and faster than pumpkin beers during the third week of July.

When Grapefruit Sculpin first hit taps and later cans… I jumped in line to give it a try and I liked it. McGrath’s in downtown HBG got it on Nitro? I had to get down there. It was a great beer. Still is. It is just no longer novel and was simply existing as the crest of a giant wave.

The niche became a trend and soon, if not already, it is a fad run amuck.

I was interested and intrigued by the concept of a fruit infused IPAs when it was novel but now that they are downright ubiquitous they are uninteresting. Some taste like nothing but fruit juice mixed with a slightly hopped beer. Most seem to me more fruit than IPA. I think they are generally, overly sweet, lack subtly and are above all derivative.

The citrus, fruit or “tropical” and IPAs which use massive quantities of fruit to achieve their distinct flavor are going to burn hot and fast. I suspect it will pass through the industry in short order. Then on to the next trend.

Post Script:

/chugs Haterade

I regret nothing.

Is this a sign of an “organic homogenization” of craft brewing? I hope not but with the industry in an interesting state of flux, competition getting hot, and buyouts at every turn this might be part of the fall out. Everyone chasing trends and a bit less diversity in offerings.

The Craft Beer Industry has been chasing trends for a long time but these days they seem to come faster and faster. Additionally, there is little to differentiate each beer when these trends take hold.

I admit that initially the trend was intriguing, I quickly turned against that feeling. These beers are just not all that interesting. Doubly true for the pineapple and watermelon IPAs; they make no sense to me.

The only thing worse than pineapple beers is watermelon beers. The only thing worse than watermelon beers is pumpkin beers.

The only thing worse than that is pumpkin beers in July. Look at this. Southern Tier advertises that Pumking is availble in JULY.

JULY!

Extra special thanks to lil’ Ms. Bearcat for being my muse on this one.

 

Iteration and Variation

Over the past few months I have been enjoying the light, crisp and easily quaffable styles of the summer beer drinking season. Session IPAs, Goses, Berlinger Weiss and Hefeweizens have been taking up plenty of space in my fridge.

But I love stouts. They were my first love when coming to craft beer and they always draw me back.  So a week ago when I saw a lonely bottle of the new Blackwater Series Choklat Oranj from Southern Tier I knew it was time to mix it up.

A little background…

As far as I can tell, and this is my educated guess, the Blackwater Series are Imperial Stouts brewed with the same four “mother” malts and two “father” hops. This provides for iteration. Using the same base for each brew allows for variation while also breeding familiarity. The Blackwater Series is made up of Choklat, Crème Brulee (the most impressive of the bunch), Warlock (a pumpkin beer) and Mokah.  Previously, this series also included Jahva and Oat.

Choklat Oranj is the newest edition to this series and is another great iteration. It takes the familiarity of the series and the big chocolate flavors of Choklat and adds a refined orange breeziness. Opening the 22 oz. bomber and pouring into a snifter you first get whiff of dark chocolate buddied up with orange oils. The beer sits dark as pitch in the glass with no head.  It drinks heavy but with a curvy body like a playboy centerfold. Chocolate and roasted malts dominate with a long sweet finish of orange peel.  This is like drinking a liquefied Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I would be stunned if that was not part of the inspiration. The beer is silky with a lingering orange and citrusy release.  While the beer is 10% ABV it never gives a hint of the booze even as it comes to room temperature.  Drinking this beer slightly warm really opens up the flavors as the orange acidity is boosted late in the drink.  Let this sipper rest in the glass and enjoy it slowly.

What Southern Tier have done here is create a dessert beer just like its brothers, that fits right between Choklat and Crème Brulee in sweetness.  Oranj is not as creamy as some others in the series and is more acidic; making it more versatile in potential pairings.

The “variation on a theme” works well with the Imperial Stout style.  Locally, Spring House Brewing Company does something similar with their stouts: Planet Bean Coffee Stout, Satan’s Bake Sale (Mint Chocolate Chip) Stout, Kerplunk! Imperial Chocolate Stout, and the very impressive combo of Big Gruesome (Chocolate Peanut Butter) and ‘lil Gruesome (Peanut Butter and Jelly) Stouts. They all have a familiar backbone. The iteration and slight variation provides for exploration of how flavors can be magnified, muted, or changed via slight alterations and bold flavor additions.

It may still be the heat of summer but a sweet, thick stout can be just the ticket to changing up your beer choices. Sweet stouts are undeniably a great way to finish a fine dinner.  You would be hard pressed to find one better suited to the task than Choklat Oranj or any of the other Blackwater Series beers.

Post Script: During Harrisburg Beer Week’s Little Big Beer Fest the ladies at Stouts and Stilettos were pouring their collaboration with Pizza Boy Brewing, Sun Kissed Stout.*** Sun Kissed was an imperial chocolate and orange stout; as such is easily comparable to Choklat Oranj.  Similar in style and intent these two had a number of differences according to my notes and recollection.

The Sun Kissed Stout was lighter in body and was deeper in the roasted malts. This impaired a slight smokiness to the nose and finish.  The flavors imparted by the fruit in Sun Kissed was closer to orange rind and pith as opposed to the Southern Tiers orange oils. While the Oranj skews towards sweetness, the Sun Kissed had a bit of spiciness and roasted flavors. Both were great beers… the good news is while it may be hard to find you can still pick up a bottle of Choklat Oranj.


***It really should have been called Orange In The New Black Stout

Juxtaposed Breweries Help Define Community Brewing

Even given the explosive growth of the craft beer industry it may seem strange to say that sleepy little Elizabethtown, PA has two breweries. Moo-Duck Brewery opened eight months ago and has a wonderful location a stone’s throw across from the beautiful train station. Then, this past week Cox Brewing Company opened its doors to the general public for growler fills.

A fellow beer drinker and I decided to visit the two during an especially rainy day. What we came to find is two completely different approaches to craft brewing.

Our first visit was to Cox Brewing Company. Cox is a veteran-owned brewery started by Nick Cox and Tim Kreider. Pulling up to the industrial park located brewery you immediately get a sense that these guys are passionate about their service to this country and brewing beer. The winks and nods to military service are everywhere but are not overwhelming and tastefully give it character.

Three beers were on tap: Liberty Lager, 82nd Amber Ale and CH-47 IPA. Talking with Nick and Tim about the beers showed they had put thought into their product and its place in the local market. Cox makes beer for people that may not have considered trying a craft beer. The three brews are as approachable as the men brewing them.

The Liberty Lager is a pale lager brewed for the guy that likes an ice cold Budweiser tallboy but wants something with a bit more bite, or to support a local business. The beer was dry and clean with a easy noble hops bitterness in the short finish.

82nd Amber Ale was the best of the three with a great color and a thick frothy head that sticks to the glass. Medium bodied with a proper malts and hops balance for the style. Tim put this beer as between a Yuengling and Sam Adams and that description nails it. The guy that regularly orders a “lager” at the bar would be wise to consider this one.

CH-47 IPA is a crisp ale with a easy drinking bitterness. CH-47 is not bombed out with hops but instead provides a gateway for the first time IPA drinker. Clean in the start with a slightly dry finish it would make for a nice compliment to a burger.

Brewing beer requires hard work and can be described as an investment of “blood, sweat, and tears.” For Nick and Tim this looks to be true. They are investing themselves in this business. In fact, Tim lost three fingers building a Jockey Box; due what I assume is to an accident with a saw.  Nick and Tim are committed and passionate about both beer and veteran service.

When asked if they plan to sell pints at the brewery they expressed a focus on continuing to to serve their bar and restaurant customers in the area. They do fill growlers and offer generous samples at the brewery making it well worth a visit.

Our next stop was Moo-Duck Brewery; a short five minute drive from Cox. I have visited Moo-Duck about a half-dozen times since their opening and after about eight months I feel like they are starting to hit a stride. The beers are coming into focus; as exemplified by their two seasonal beers now on tap.

Honey! Strawberry Blonde is brewed with 48 pounds of fresh local strawberries, carefully picked and cleaned by hand. By the pictures in the link you can see they are the tiny, bright red variety; these I personally favor. The only thing the beer missed was tiny seeds to pick out of your teeth. Crisp and refreshing but not overly sweet. Its soft pink hue and bubbly light body complimented the flavors well. Strawberry in the nose and slightly tart and sweet in the finish. It was wonderful and the perfect example of what is possible with local seasonal brewing. It is highly recommended.

The last beer of the day was Big Sit Summer Ale, another fruit beer made with lemon and orange peel and dosed with orange blossom honey. The citrus tones are evident in the nose and the honey comes across nicely in finish. Light and refreshing with lemon and orange coming though as equals playing well together. Eminently drinkable this is a great beer to enjoy on your back porch.

Kristen Brubaker was tending bar and again greeted me with a warm welcoming approach and was quick with a refill of my glass. Talking with her that day and with Mike previously reveals the different approach this couple has compared to their new neighbors. Mike (the brewer) and Kristen are former environmental educators. This permeates their approach to both the brewing and the business. These beers and the food they offer are based on what is local and fresh and are just outside the mainstream.

These two breweries are juxtaposed in many ways that provides a fascinating look at the different approaches available within this booming industry. Cox Brewing Company and Moo-Duck Brewery are servicing the same community in different ways; both in brewing style and business plan.

While Cox is sticking to traditional styles, Moo-Duck is trying daring variations on the classics. Cox is servicing local restaurants and only recently started selling growlers. Moo-Duck is slinging the beer at their own bar and only going into restaurants and bars cautiously; as they pointed out in a recent Beer Busters podcast.

But both are clearly committed to the community. Cox is partnered with veteran charities that they support and are doing good by those that served. Moo-Duck partners monthly with a local charity to offer a “charity brew” providing 50 cents from each pint sold.

Moo-Duck and Cox are both an example of what community brewing is capable of providing.  Breweries historically had been and should be part of the community they service.  Seeing this develop in Elizabethtown is adding to the quality of the community.  “Drink local” is not just a slogan. Drinking local beer is good for the economy and for the industry. So if you are in or near western Lancaster county or just passing through… give these two a try.

Strawberries and Beer: Together Again For the First Time

  Right now driving around Central PA the farm stands are all open and there is one piece of produce that is at peak: Strawberries.

Let us forget for a minute my last post about summer beer and their light and crisp flavor profile and instead focus on what pairs right with a fresh bowl of ripe red sweet and slightly tart strawberries.  In my opinion these tend to be malty, heavier beers that contrast the natural flavors of the berries.

My fist pick is ¿Impending Descent? by Troegs.  This gonzo Russian Imperial Stout gets released each November so I buy in bulk to enjoy it on occasion throughout the year and have been ageing a large number as a running vertical. If you have one tucked away, pairing it with some fresh local strawberries will work out perfectly.  The copious amount of malts (six varieties) provide for various flavors of dark chocolate, vanilla, and coffee.  The roasted malts work wonderfully with the sweet tart fruit. If this beer has been cellaring for a time the pine and resin hop notes will have muted and left a perfect pairing.  If you can’t get a hand on ¿Impending Descent? I suggest picking up the always available Javahead Stout or racing out to the Hershey brewer right quick and picking up a growler of Scratch #192 a velvety smooth and decadent chocolate stout.

Palo Santo Marron by Dogfish Head Brewing will pair nicely.  The caramel, vanilla, and wood flavors from this 12% ABV brown ale will marry wonderfully.  The roasted notes along with molasses and a round mouth feel just work.  This is a world class beer and would be right at home with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some strawberries.

Samuel Smith Organic Strawberry Ale is a wonderfully crisp and tart fruit beer from the world famous English brewers.  Smooth malts with a soft mouth feel and subtle strawberry finish will be intensified by local fresh berries. This beer is easy drinking at 5% ABV. I would pair this with a strawberry and baby spinach salad with a light poppy dressing for dinner.

After dinner consider opening a bottle of Southern Tier’s Crème Brulee Imperial Milk Stout.  This beer is the pinnacle of Southern Tier’s very highly regarded Blackwater Series in my opinion.  Remarkably this beer tastes exactly like its name sake.  In fact, it is downright magical in likeness.  Cream, vanilla, and burnt sugar come straight through with a long sweet lasting finish.  This 9.6% ABV full bodied beer has an exceptional mouthfeel and would be a fine addition to a strawberry shortcake dessert.

Cheers.

The Highs and Lows of Cellaring Beer

SlyFox Raspberry Reserve  Speedway Stout 2011

Shortly after I bought my first home eight years ago I started cellaring beer.  I had heard of the practice and it seemed like the perfect way to expand my interests in rare and unusual beers by making some of the best beers of today potentially even better.

First off… I am no expert on aging beers.  That being said there are a few rules I work around and they have worked for me.

  • The storage space should be cool. My basement is quite cool year round and never gets above 60 degrees.
  • It should be dark. Beer is as photosensitive as an albino in the tropics. I use wine boxes and some old blankets.
  • Choose boozy beers. 8% ABV and above.
  • Hops are fragile and their floral, dank, piney, resin, citrus and/or tropical flavors degrade quickly. This will make you sad.  Pick something else.
  • I like to generally work with dark beers… Imperial stouts, barley-wines, Belgian strong ales, sour beers, Flanders reds work but so can Triples and Quads.
  • Bottle conditioned beers and those injected with wild yeast or Brettanomyces tend to offer good results.
  • Try to run a vertical. Age a couple bottles from each year and then try them together to get an idea of how the beer is developing during its long slumber.  This is great for learning about when a beer reaches “maturity” and when its over the hill.
  • Experiment… some will work and some will not. Failure is an option. Some will be sublime and some will be ready to hit the drain.  It’s a crapshoot; get over it.

I ran into that the dichotomy of that last bullet point this past week.  First, I opened a bottle of SlyFox’s Black Raspberry Reserve from 2010.  This bottle conditioned fruit beer weighs in at 8% ABV, is loaded with raspberries and is brewed in Phoenixville, PA.  I first had this beer fresh and I found it overly sweet and lacking sufficient complexity in flavor.  It was a little on the thin side but its effervescence made for nice mouthfeel.  It poured a deep rich purple with a slightly pink head. Flavors were only slightly tart and that was drowning in sweet sugars and candied raspberry.  I thought the beer promising if only the tartness could be amplified, the sweetness muted and some of the other potential fruity flavors given a chance to come forward. So in the cellar it went for nearly five full years.

Upon opening the cork and caged 750 mL bottle and pouring it in to a snifter I could tell the long rest had made significant changes.  This beer previously had a luminance about it.  The color had clearly moved towards a darker more brownish hue; not immediately off putting but certainly different.  The bubbly effervescent liquid was now flat and thin.  The aroma once of raspberry jam was now only a whiff of its former self.  It was bland at the front with no discernable finish. The beer lacked any real flavor. The beer was boring.  Age had not been kind this beer.  What was once a modestly good beer, with what I had hoped to be great potential, was lost for good.

The second bottle I opened was a 2011 Speedway Stout by AleSmith out of San Diego California. AleSmith makes a number of very, very well regarded brews and is a company that I trust completely with my hard earned beer money.  When fresh this imperial stout pours a pitch-black with chocolate and coffee aroma’s dominating the nose.  The taste of coffee and chocolate are dominate but do not hide the subtle toffee, caramel, vanilla and dark sweet fruits notes.  These all come through thanks to the fine and abundant carbonation. This beer is silky smooth and very easy to drink even at 12% ABV.

My 2011 bottle after four years of hibernation showed significant and welcome change.  The beer pours slightly flatter with the previously firm dark brown head disappearing quickly and only providing minimal lacing at the edge.  The creamy mouth feel was replaced with the smooth silk like texture of a fine cordial.  With the coffee notes completely out of the way after its four year slumber the beer now focused on the roasted malts.  Toffee, caramel, and vanilla are all here in abundance but never over powering.  The 12% alcohol is more evident but never lends itself to a burn or unpleasant astringency and merely invites more rationed sipping; a wise credit to my patience.  The finish is as long as ever but instead of coffee now evokes the flavors of softly roasted malts and a hint of plums.  The beer was and remains complex and is never boring.  I am glad to have two more bottle to see what another five to ten years does.

Speedway Stout and cellaring your beers both get the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

Aprihop by Dogfish Head

Aprihop

A classic spring brew that I seek out ever year. With a newly deposited tax return and welcoming the vernal equinox I sprung for the rare move and purchased an entire case; I rarely buy a case of anything.

A very popular and widely available seasonal beer, it’s the fruit beer for people that don’t like fruit beer. It’s like a double IPA with a fruity nose and a balanced use of malts.

Opening the beer and pouring the rich amber libation into a glass releases the fragrance of apricots. It’s in abundance in the nose with some hint of the northwest hops which are heavily used.

A vigorous pour provides for a light tan to off white head that dissipates slowly and helps offer up a very pleasing nose. This beer smells great and is inviting.

The flavors are complex but not delicate. Hops are loaded up and offer a earthy grassiness. The apricots are here in a supporting role and they merge well by adding depth to the bitter hops and sweet malts. The fruit flavors are a faint tartness as the beer reaches room temperature and really opens up. The 7% ABV becomes evident then too. This is a big beer but not over powering. The finish is long and crisp with a bit of dryness.

The flavors are in balance and that makes it an exceptional beer. If you have not had Aprihop you should take the opportunity this year. You will find it on tap at bars with discerning selections or in 4 packs.

It gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.