Saturday, August 26, 2017

Best Wishes to Zauber Brewing and Geoff Towne

When Zauber Brewing in Grandview first opened its doors back in 2011, my wife and I used to visit every Thursday evening (or at least every one we could).  At the time, they didn't have their full brewing equipment operational and could only brew on their smaller-scale system. That meant that each Thursday they could offer some of their own beer.  The rest of the week, they were (mostly) selling beers from other craft brewers.  After they started full-scale operations we didn't visit quite as often.

I met Zauber founder Geoff Towne a while later, at Barley's Ale House's "Afternoon with the Brewers" event.  Geoff was a very nice guy and told me that if I was enjoying home brewing (which I am) that I shouldn't make it a business.  Once you do that, you're spending time dealing with employees, making payroll, paying a lease, meeting government regulations, etc.  You're spending very little time brewing and a lot more time doing mundane, sometimes stressful, business activities.  It was advice that I took to heart.

I've met Geoff a couple of times since then.  He once took a few of us on an impromptu tour of Zauber.  His passion for the brewery and Belgian/German beer styles was evident.  I always thought he seemed like a good guy and I wanted very much to see Zauber succeed.

The casual but friendly atmosphere at Zauber made it one of my favorite places to go have a beer. One thing that always stood out to me about Zauber was Towne's focus on Belgian and German beer styles.  That is pretty unique in the Columbus craft beer market.  Many breweries focus on IPAs, Pale Ales, and other hop-forward styles - rarely venturing into other territory.  I understand why they do it.  Those styles tend to be among the best-selling these days, and they are in business to make money.  But there is an underserved market around town for styles that aren't hop-forward.  Most of my friends and family members are perfectly happy drinking a well-balanced Kolsch, Cream Ale, Stout, Belgian Single/Dubbel/Tripel/Quad, Brown Ale, etc.  Few of them will happily crack open and drink a hop-forward Pale Ale, IPA, or Double IPA.  When they visit some of our local breweries, there's nothing on the menu they find palatable.  Zauber shined in that regard.  While I felt that some of the beers were a little hop-forward for the style (or for my taste), I could nearly always find something on Zauber's beer menu that appealed to me.

It saddened me to learn recently that Towne had found it necessary to sell his brewery.  The new owners are letting him keep the Zauber brand name, but they're taking over the equipment and facility.  They'll be re-branding it some time in the near future.  I haven't seen much from Geoff Towne since then.  In one interview, Towne was quoted as saying "I'd like to move to another site and re-emerge. Zauber isn't dying or dead, just evolving."  In another article I read, it seemed like Geoff had not decided if he'd return to craft beer or not.

If you are out there and read this, Geoff, I want you to know that there are folks like me who appreciated you and Zauber.  I hope you don't give up on craft beer and find a way to bring Zauber back as a successful local brewery.  When you do, I'll be there.

No matter what you do, I wish you success and happiness.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Middle West Spirits Tour - August 19, 2017

Located next door to Brothers Drake Meadery, Middle West Spirits produces a number of well crafted liquors.  I took a tour of the facility with my brother on Saturday, and it was very cool to see what Middle West has already accomplished and have a glimpse at what is to come.

When you enter the facility, you pass through the gift shop area, with lots of beautifully crafted wood counters, shelves, and product displays.

Walking around the corner, you enter what will eventually be their restaurant and bar.  The restaurant will feature a full range of cocktails made with Middle West spirits as well as spirits from many other companies.  They're promising an incredible array of beverages when they're up and running.

The tour starts in a small conference room or private dining area off the main restaurant/bar. The tour guide talks about the history of the company, its plans for the future, and its success to date.

After this brief introduction, you're shown the massive fermenters where the beverages start.

You then see the distillers and have the chance to look inside one of the fermenters to see the beverage fermenting inside it.

I knew that Middle West made a number of products. I've seen their whiskey, vodka, and other products on store shelves around town.  Until the tour, I had no idea how many different products they make.  It's quite an impressive selection.

We had a nice time on the tour, learned a lot, and got to try many of their products. I'd definitely recommend taking the tour if you get the chance.


Whiskey making still

The top side of the fermenters

Sampling/testing port for spirits in-progress - reminds me of a steampunk gadget

Spent grain ends up in these containers and is offered to local farmers to feed livestock

Massive distillation columns - practically works of art in themselves

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Brothers Drake Meadery Tour - August 19, 2017

I've visited Brothers Drake Meadery a few times since it opened, and always wanted to take the tour to see how they make their mead. On Saturday, my brother and I arrived there and took the tour with Sarah, who makes their mead these days.  That's her at the left.

The first thing that will strike you upon entering the mead-making area is that it's relatively small compared with most Columbus brewing and spirit-making facilities.  (You're seeing pretty much the entire facility in that picture, minus maybe six feet of additional equipment behind where I was standing.)

The tour gives a great background on the history of mead, the history of Brothers Drake itself, their emphasis on local ingredients and equipment where possible, and their relationships with businesses in the Columbus area.

Sarah (whose name I may be misspelling, and my apologies to her if so) was a great tour guide and spokesperson for the business.  She clearly enjoys what she is doing and is excited to be sharing what she brews with the community.  Her passion for the beverage and its potential is very clear.

After the tour, visitors can taste the various meads available and order glasses or bottles of any that interest them.  Brothers Drake also offers a variety of Cysers (which are kind of a combination of cider and mead, made with honey and apple juice) and a selection of local craft beers (not made by Brothers Drake).  Some mixed drinks are also available.  In short, if you visit with friends who prefer beer or mixed drinks to mead and cyser, you should all find something interesting to drink there.

I definitely recommend taking the tour if you get the chance.  It's a fun introduction to the meadery and the process of making mead.

The equipment in the meadery

Meads being aged in Middle West (OYO) spirit barrels

The list of Cysers on tap, along with bottles of mead and cyser

The list of Meads on tap

A sample of Wild Ohio mead, made with Ohio honey

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rhinegeist Brewery - Cincinnati

Entrance to the Rhinegeist Taproom
This past Saturday, my wife and I visited the Rhinegeist taproom in the Over the Rhine area of Cincinnati.

The taproom is located up four flights of stairs from the street.  The stairwell is very industrial looking, but is decorated with stickers from other breweries, many of which I'd never seen.

At the top of the final flight of stairs, you step through a doorway into the main taproom.  This is a massive room with high ceilings, huge ceiling fans, corn hole games, a gift shop, a couple of bars, lots of seating, and brewing equipment.

One thing the taproom does not have, however, is air conditioning.  On a hot day, depending on where you sit in proximity to those huge ceiling fans, the taproom can feel pretty toasty.  We were covered in sweat not too long after getting there.

At the main bar in the taproom, all of the Rhinegeist beers I could remember (as well as the various ciders) were on tap.  In addition to these, Rhinegeist offered several limited edition brews like a barrel aged Belgian Dubbel.  Each of the three bars in the building offered a slightly different set of brews, which encouraged moving around and checking them out.

The main taproom

One of the bars in the taproom

Brewing equipment in the taproom
At one corner of the taproom, you'll find a guarded door.  After showing your ID to the guard, you're allowed to walk up the flights of stairs to the Rhinegeist rooftop bar.  This area offers some amazing views of the surrounding area and a decent amount of seating.

The Rooftop Bar at Rhinegeist

View from the rooftop bar

Rhinegeist makes for an interesting visit.  I found it to be one of the more interesting taprooms I've visited, and one of the more interesting brewery visits.

If you find yourself in the Cincinnati area or if you're a big fan of their beer, you might find it worth the trip to visit.

If it's a hot day, though, make sure you dress in your coolest clothing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

14th Annual Smokehouse Brewing Mini Real Ale Fest 2017

One of my favorite craft beer events in Columbus is Smokehouse Brewing's annual Mini Real Ale Fest, held at the brewpub in Grandview. There are always interesting beers at the event that you will never see elsewhere, along with the opportunity to speak with some of the best local brewmasters. While you're there, you can sample the Smokehouse food. Their smoked wings in particular impress me.

This year, the lineup of breweries and beers available for sample included:

  • Actual Brewing Double peppercorn and Ginger Eccentricity Saison: Brewmaster Chris was there to gauge reactions to his beer. Brewed with Sorachi Ace hops, it was really a delicious take on the Saison style. The Sorachi Ace hops added a nice citrus note. The peppercorns gave it some earthiness and spice, and the ginger gave it some zing. I'd definitely buy it if they put it on store shelves. 
  • Barley's Bourbon Barrel Aged Ulysses: The Ulysses red ale is one of brwemaster Angelo Signorino's best (though my favorites are his Infinity Grand Cru and Point of Origin Belgian style ales). Aged in a Kentucky oak barrel, the beer acquired some nice complexity and oaky notes.
  • Columbus Brewing Brioso Coffee Cream Ale:  This classic cream ale was infused with coffee and cacao nibs. Unfortunately I didn't get to taste it, but reactions I overheard were positive.
  • Common House Ales Pineapple Hoptopus; This hoppy pale wheat ale was infused with pineapple. As someone who's generally not a fan of hoppy or sour styles, I was actually impressed with how well the hops and pineapple balanced each other. The 70 IBUs of bitterness were offset well with the tangy pineapple flavor.
  • Four String Brewing Maple Syrup Motorbreath:  This maple syrup barrel aged Imperial Stout was one of my favorite beers in the lineup. The maple and barrel notes offset the bitterness of the Imperial Stout well, making the beer a bit sweet rather than bitter and harsh the way some Imperial Stouts can be. This is another I would buy if it were available around town.
  • Kindred Brewing Red: This imperial red ale was generously dosed with hops. I only tasted a sip of it. It was, as they said in the program for the event, "tolerable".
  • Land Grant Lychee Batch 300 IIPA: This lychee fruit infused Imperial IPA surprised me. The sweetness of the fruit offset the hoppiness of the beer well, resulting in a very drinkable IPA for someone who's not generally a fan of the style. This is another I would try again.
  • North High Brewing Bourbon Java Milk Stout: This milk stout was infused with coffee beans and peanut butter. While it was an enjoyable beer, the coffee flavor dominated to the point that I couldn't pick out any Bourbon or peanut butter notes. 
  • Seventh Son Hot Pepper Jam Strong Ale: This strong ale was infused with peaches and habanero peppers. I expected it to be a very spicy hot flavor, but it wasn't really. There was definitely a hot pepper taste and warmth, but no more so than a typical chicken wing. 
  • Sideswipe Brewing Fisticuffs IPA: This version of Sideswipe's popular IPA was dry-hopped with Mosaic, El Dorado, and Centennial hops. I didn't try it, but the person I was with is an IPA fan and really liked it.
  • Smokehouse Dreamsicle Leroy Neiman Painting: This Berliner Weisse with orange was quite different from the other offerings at the fest. The sour lemony Berliner Weisse flavor was complimented by the orange. It was a well-executed sour.
  • Weasel Boy Brewing Anastasia a la Mexico: This Russian Imperial Stout infused with cayenne pepper was one of the brews I didn't get to taste this year, so I can't comment on it except to say that it ran out before some of the others did.
  • Wolf's Ridge Tripel Whiskey: This Belgian Tripel was generously dosed with orange peel and chamomile, then aged for a year in a Watershed Bourbon Barrel. I love sweeter Tripels and Bourbon Barrel Aged beers, and this one hit a home run with me. I spent several of my tickets on samples of this one. Without question, if this was available on store shelves I would keep a six pack in my fridge at all times. A simply excellent brew.

While at the event, I had the opportunity to talk with other craft beer fans, as well as a couple of the brewmasters. Angelo Signorino of Barley's reminded me that next week is the entry deadline for their annual homebrew competition. I'm hoping to get two of my recent brews entered, and to attend the event on June 4.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Taxman Brewing's "Death and Taxes" Day - April 22, 2017

If you haven't heard of Taxman Brewing Company of Bargersville, Indiana, that's not surprising. You won't find their beers on shelves in Columbus stores (unfortunately). However, if you sign up for's service, they do periodically offer Taxman beers to Ohio residents. That's how I found out about Taxman.

Taxman's taproom
Taxman Brewing is located in Bargersville, a small Indiana town. They feature a number of Belgian inspired beers, including Qualified (a Belgian style Quadrupel), La Maison (a farmhouse ale), Deduction (an Abbey Dubbel), Exemption (a Tripel), and many others. They have a two-story taproom which serves their beer and a variety of really delicious food. If you are a fan of Belgian style beers, this is a pilgrimage you should consider making.

Taxman's Facility in Bargersville, Indiana
My wife and I chose last weekend to visit them somewhat randomly, only to discovery it was their anniversary celebration, an event they call "Death and Taxes Day".  The event is held annually the weekend after tax day in the US. It features a selection of Taxman's beer, beer from approximately 40 Indiana breweries, and a special release of their Evasion stout. Actually, it features a separate version of the stout for each hour of the celebration.

My sample (and my wife's) of Cocoa Vanilla Evasion - Delicious!
This year's Evasion samples included "regular" Evasion, a version with Vanilla beans, another with cocoa and vanilla beans, one with coffee, and one with blueberries. I tried two of them and enjoyed both.

The line at Taxman's sampling station
The event draws about 2,000 people to the brewery, which is a testament to the quality of the beer.

I left the event with a bottle of the special limited release beer, as well as a case of Qualified (which was selling for $5 per bomber).

I look forward to vising the brewery again in the future and sampling many more of their beers.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Brew Dog Columbus Brewery, Taproom, and Restaurant

The outside of the Brew Dog brewery and taproom
On Saturday, March 5, I had the opportunity to visit Brew Dog's new Columbus brewery, taproom, and restaurant.

The brewery is reportedly not yet operational, and all Brew Dog beers served there are being shipped in from the UK.

The restaurant kitchen and bar are open, however, and seem to be drawing a constant crowd. At the time we arrived, there was almost a two hour wait for a table. Fortunately, we were able to find a seat at the bar pretty soon after we got there. Others stood or sat at the tables outside.

As you walk into the building, you pass through a gift shop loaded with a variety of Brew Dog merchandise for purchase. This includes pins, patches, hoodies, shirts, hats, growlers, and more. Prices felt a little high to me, but the merchandise seemed of decent quality.

Just past the gift shop is a waiting area for the restaurant and taproom. The wall between the taproom and waiting area is delineated by tall racks filled with beer kegs.

Taproom waiting area

One wall of the taproom is made up of garage-style doors that can be opened in warmer months to provide fresh air. There is also a patio area outside those doors with outdoor seating featuring a view of the creek running past the property.

Inside the taproom you'll find booths, high tables, and a bar with a large number of taps. The bar features both Brew Dog's own beers and those of some area breweries like Jackie O's and Fat Heads.

The bar and tap list

During our visit, the beers on tap included:
  • Brew Dog's Dead Pony Club
  • Brew Dog's 5 a.m. Saint
  • Brew Dog's Punk IPA
  • Brew Dog's Jet Black Heart
  • Brew Dog's Elvis Juice
  • Brew Dog's Cocoa Psycho
  • Fat Head's Trail Head Pale Ale
  • Fat Head's Head Hunter IPA
  • Jackie O's Mystic Mama IPA
  • Rockmill Brewery's Le Cheval Saison
  • Seventh Son Oubliette
  • Three Floyds Gumball Head
  • Rhinegeist Truth
  • Oskar Blues Old Chub
  • Stone Brewing Pataskala Red X IPA
Draft prices ranged from $4.50 to $7.50 depending on the beer, with most at $5 or $6.

Brew Dog 5 a.m. Saint

I had the Cocoa Psycho to start. It is a very rich, decadent beer with lots of chocolate, coffee, and roasted grain flavors. For the second round, I had the 5 a.m. Saint after getting a small taste of it. The Saint had a nice mix of flavors and wasn't too hop forward, though I think I liked the small sample more than I liked the full glass for some reason.

Cocoa Psycho disappearing fast

It was interesting to see the plastic kegs from which the beer was served. These, I was told, are common in the UK where the beer was made. The beer is in a plastic bladder inside a clear plastic bottle. It's pumped out of there with CO2 pressure as it's served. The bartender told us that once the Columbus brewery is in operation, they'll be using the traditional metal kegs.

UK Style Plastic Beer Kegs
While I'm a big fan of James and Martin and the Brew Dogs TV show, I'm less a fan of their beers. That's mostly because they (like many craft brewers) lean toward making every style hop-forward to draw the attention of American IPA and Pale Ale fans. I tend to like their rarities and limited-edition beers more than their mainstay brews. For example, the Dogma beer was one that I loved (until they changed the recipe).

In addition to the seating, a small area is set aside with pool tables and 80's style arcade video game machines.

The brewery is pet friendly, and several people did bring their dogs with them.

The menu during our visit included the following items at prices listed (among others):

  • Meat and Cheese Plate ($12)
  • Butternut Squash Hummus 
  • Kingpin Carnitas Tacos
  • Hop Fries ($5)
  • Smokin' Hot Wings ($10)
  • Scotch Egg ($7) - sells out really fast
  • Hail Ceasar Salad ($6-$15)
  • Various other salads ($10-$15 depending on salad and options added)
  • Regular Joe Burger ($10)
  • Identity Crisis Burger ($10)
  • Popcorn flavored with three possible choices ($2)
  • Walleye ($15)
  • NY Strip ($20)
  • Smoked Mac 'n Cheese ($9) (with optional chorizo - $2)
  • Stone Baked Pizza with several topping options ($12 for 12-inch size)

I had the mac and cheese with the chorizo. The mac and cheese was creamy but fairly bland, but with the very spicy chorizo added (the bartender's recommendation) it was quite good. My wife tried the Butternut Squash and really liked it, though I thought it was much too sweet for my taste.

All in all, it was an enjoyable visit, though a bit crowded and loud for my taste.

The staff, in my experience, was incredibly friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. At times (and despite their obviously working extremely hard) they were having trouble keeping up with demand for their time, but I never felt unreasonably neglected or ignore.

Bar and hard-working staff

If you're a fan of the brewery, the beers, and/or the TV show, it's worth taking a trip to see the place. Just be prepared for a crowd and be patient with the serving staff, who seemed in my experience to be working almost frantically to keep customers happy.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fat Head's Sorceror (9/10)

As a home brewer, I can say with a degree of certainty that getting a Belgian-style beer right is a challenge.  You need the right mix of malts, the right sugars, the right yeast, and the right fermentation conditions.  Getting that beer to taste like something you might actually buy in a store that came from Belgium isn't simple.  It's taken me a while to get there in my own brewing activities.  That's one reason I can really appreciate the work that the good folks at Fat Head's have done in Sorceror.  This Belgian Strong Ale is undoubtedly one of the best brewed on this side of the Atlantic.  Best of all, it's an Ohio brew!

It pours a dark mahogany with thin white head that lingers a bit.

The aroma is sweet and malty, with hints of cloves and other spices. Some fruit can be detected as well.

The flavor starts mildly sweet, with cloves, Belgian spiciness, and dark fruit all playing a part.  Finish is mildly sweet and lingering.  It's a very tasty beer if you like Belgian style ales.

I'm giving it a 9 out of 10, but I'm not alone here.  Beer Advocate gives it an 85 out of 100.  Rate Beer gives it a 92 overall.

As far as I know, this beer is only available on draft, as is Fat Head's (also excellent) Belgian style Christmas beer Pimp My Sleigh.  If you see either of these on the menu, they're worth ordering.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron (9/10)

Dogfish Head consistently delivers unusual beers that tend to speak right to my tastebuds.  I love several of their Ancient Ales like Ta Henket and Chateau Jiahu.  I like Raison D'Etre and Festina Peche as well.  One of my favorites, though, has to be Palo Santo Marron.

The base beer might be nothing to speak about. It's a brown ale, rated at 50 IBUs, and 12% alcohol by volume.  What makes this beer special is that it's aged in Paraguayan Palo Santo wood vessels often used for wine.  The wood imparts an incredibly complex array of flavors into the beer that transform it from a standard brown ale into something much more.  Time in the barrel also mellows out the hops, making it seem much less hoppy than it might otherwise.

The beer pours a deep dark brown with thin tan head that doesn't stick around long thanks to the high alcohol content.

The aroma is complex, hinting at sweet malt and a wine-like flavor.

The flavor is bold from the start.  It opens with intense malt and wine-like elements, followed by some roasted grain and vanilla.  Despite being 50 IBUs, it's relatively sweet.  The mouth feel is substantial, like drinking a milkshake.  I also find that as much as I love drinking this beer, finishing more than one of them is difficult.  It seems to sit in my stomach for a while, as though my stomach is enjoying it and refusing to share it with the rest of me.

I'm not alone in my love for Palo Santo Marron.  Beer Advocate gives it a 93 or "outstanding" rating. Rate Beer gives it a 99 overall.   I give it a very solid 9 out of 10, and on a good day I'd be willing to nudge that all the way to a 10.

This is one of those beers I buy again and again, and like having in my refrigerator.

You can find Palo Santo Marron at most Columbus area retailers who carry Dogfish Head products.  I've seen it at large grocery chain stores, Whole Foods, The Andersons, Kenny Road Market, and other retailers.  The price the last time I bought a four-pack was around $15, so it's not a cheap beer but not the most expensive either.

Friday, August 26, 2016

De Struise Tsjeeses Belgian Christmas Ale (9/10)

Some of you are wondering "Why the heck is he reviewing a Christmas Ale in August?"  That's a fair question, with a simple answer, this Christmas Ale seems to be available year-round and it's one of my very favorite ones.

The image on the label, and the name of the beer itself, generates a certain amount of discussion. Some friends and family members find the image upsetting, seeing it as depicting a famous religious figure with a Santa Claus hat on his head.  Others say the image looks nothing like that religious figure and is probably just a picture of one of the brewers with a hat and sunglasses on him.  Whatever it is, it might lead you to take the beer less than seriously.  It might even convince you to pass it by on a store shelf.  That's fine with me, because it leaves more available for me to buy.

The label says "Tsjeeses is a jolly, blond winter ale with a fluffy white cap.  Its aroma is elegant with hints of fruit, spices, refreshing herbs, and noble hops. The taste is robust, very complex, and quite dry for its style.  This warming ale is our gift to you for the holidays. Enjoy!"

Tsjeeses pours a nice coppery brown with an extremely generous off-white head that lasts a while.

The aroma is sweet, hinting at dark fruit, caramel, spice, and a strong alcohol presence... all as the label suggests.

The flavor starts sweet, malty, and with definite dark fruit notes.  The warmer the beer gets, the more pronounced the sweetness and fruitiness.  The colder it is, the less sweet it is and the more the hops bitterness is noticeable.  Ideally, I like it the upper 40's and lower 50's Fahrenheit.  Your taste may vary. To me, this is pretty much everything a Belgian beer should taste like.

I typically see this at Whole Foods in Dublin, at The Andersons General Store in Dublin, and at Weiland's Gourmet Market.  Even at $6-9 a bottle, I'll tend to pick one up any time I see it, unless I know I have a couple at home.

Friday, August 19, 2016

De Halve Maan Straffe Hendrik Quad 2012 (10/10)

Warning: If you're not comfortable spending $25 or more for a large bottle of beer, you may want to stop reading right here.

De Halve Maan of Belgium produces Straffe Hendrik Quad, a true Belgian brewed Quadrupel which is barrel aged before bottling.

It pours a dark brown, bordering on mahogany, with thin beige head that lingers a while.

The aroma is sweet and malty, with notes of dark fruit and spice.

The flavor follows the aroma, with a well-balanced malty sweetness and dark fruit element.  Cherry and brown sugar also make an appearance.  Hops bitterness is detectable but by no means obvious. The finish is dry with some tannins in it.  It's a very smooth beer and easy to drink.  The 11% alcohol comes through as a warming note in the finish.  I can't do this beer justice in a verbal description except to say that it's absolutely delicious.

The Beer Advocate crowd rates it a 91 or outstanding.  RateBeer gives it a 99 overall.  I'm giving it a 10 out of 10.

There are very few beers I'm willing to pay $20 a bottle for, or more.  I've paid $27 a couple of times for this one at World of Beer, and I picked up a bottle at Savor Pint for $25 a few months ago.  Those are the only places in town I've seen it.  I wouldn't hesitate to buy it again.

Friday, August 12, 2016

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2013 (10/10)

In late January, I found myself at The Winking Lizard on Bethel with a good friend.  I wasn't finding too much on the draft menu that interested me, so I took a chance on a bottle of J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale from 2013.  I'd never had the beer before, so it was something of a crap shoot, but I knew at least that as an English beer it was unlikely to be over-hopped like most American ales tend to be.

The beer pours a cloudy brown with thin white head that leaves behind rings of white lacing that gradually reincorporate into the beer.

The aroma is one of spice and dark fruit.

The flavor, in a word, was outstanding.  It combined all the best elements of sweet malt, dark cherry, dark fruit, and a warming alcohol presence with mild bitterness.  It was a complex but extremely pleasing array of flavors.  Despite the price of the bottle, I ended up ordering a second.  It was that good.

Lest you should think I'm exaggerating here, consider that Beer Advocate rates JW Lees Harvest Ale a 100/100 or world-class beer.  Rate Beer gives it a 99/100 overall.

I've only seen this on the shelf at Kenny Road Market and in the Cellarville room at The Winking Lizard on Bethel Road.  You might find success elsewhere in town, but you might want to call first. Shelf price at Kenny Road Market when I last bought a bottle was $8.99.

Friday, August 5, 2016

New Holland Night Tripper (6/10)

New Holland's Night Tripper is an Imperial Stout.  Their web site says "An abundance of roasted malts and flaked barley create rich, roasty stout with deeply intense, lush flavors."  It's rated at 11.5% alcohol by volume and 45 IBUs, which is relatively low for a stout.

Night Tripper pours a clean dark brown with hints of mahogany. A thin tan head atop the beer lasts a while.

The aroma combines bourbon, alcohol, and malt.

The flavor starts sweet and malty, turns to bourbon, and finishes smoky and bitter... far more bitter than you'd expect for 45 IBUs.

It's an OK stout, but nothing I'm in a hurry to have again.  I'm giving it a 6 out of 10. RateBeer likes it much better than I do, giving it a 99 overall.  Beer Advocate also likes it much better, giving it a 90 overall.  They must see something in it that I don't... or maybe I was just having a bad day.

I tasted this at The Daily Growler in Upper Arlington back in 2014.  I haven't seen it locally in a while, but claims you may be able to find a bottle at Pace High Carryout for $8.99.  I'd check with them before making the trip unless you're heading there for another reason.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Kentucky Ales Old Fashioned Barrel Ale (6/10)

Generally speaking, I like Kentucky Ales' line of barrel aged beers.  They aren't anything exceptional, but they're solid beers with a good barrel-aged flavor to them and are easy to drink. They are also easy to find, being on most store shelves around town.  This makes them an easy go-to beer if I'm in a hurry to grab something.

Old Fashioned Barrel Ale attempts to replicate the experience of drinking the cocktail known as an Old Fashioned, combined with a barrel aged beer.

The beer pours a clear copper color, bordering on mahogany, with a thin beige head that doesn't last long.

The aroma is malty and oaky. There's a hint of fruit but this is mostly subdued.

The flavor starts malty, mildly sweet, and oaky.  A slight warming note is felt at the back of the throat. The cherries and orange peel mentioned on the label are detectable but only barely so.

I give the beer only a 6 out of 10.  Reviewers on Beer Advocate liked it quite a bit more, giving it an 85 out of 100 or "very good" rating.  RateBeer's reviewers were tougher on it, rating the beer only a 48 overall.

The beer can be found at many Columbus area retailers, including most large grocery chains.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Actual Brewing Temporal Abbey Ale (6/10)

Back in late March, I picked up a bottle of Actual Brewing's Temporal Abbey Ale.  This review is based on notes taken at the time I sampled it.

Temporal pours amber color with some orange to it. It has a creamy beige head that lasts a while.

The aroma is malty with a hint of sourness to it.

The flavor starts with malt and hops in balance and then the hops swells up slightly and a kind of sour funk appears. The finish is bitter and lingers a bit. On balance, it's not what I expect from an abbey ale so I can't say I'm overly fond of it.

As of this writing, there are only 3 reviews on Beer Advocate.  These score it at 3.79, 2.81, and 3.82 out of 5.  If you average those scores and convert them to a 10-point scale like the one I use, it works out to a 6.94.  So other reviewers seem to like Temporal a little more than I do, but not a lot.

I've seen this beer on a number of store shelves around town, most notably Kenny Road Market.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Actual Brewing Woodford Reserve Barrel Aged Red Ale (7/10)

Actual Brewing of Columbus has produced a number of very nice beers.  When I had the opportunity to sample their Woodford Reserve Barrel Aged Red Ale, I didn't hesitate.

Although I'm not a huge bourbon fan, I did learn (thanks to a sampler at The Winking Lizard a couple of years ago) that I do like Woodford Reserve's bourbon.  Since I also like several of Actual Brewing's beers and barrel-aged beers in general, it seemed like a match made in beer fanatic heaven.

The beer pours a medium brown with finger thick white head that lasts a little while, then leaves behind line like lacing as you can see in the photo.

The aroma is malty and oaky, hinting at the bourbon flavoring in the beer.

The flavor is roasted malt at the start, then the bourbon and oak flavors rise up, followed by hops bitterness.  It's pretty well-balanced, though a tad dry and hoppy for my taste.

I give the beer a 7 out of 10 overall, which means I like it but simply don't love it.  You'll have to go with my opinion on this, as there's nothing on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer for it as of this writing.

I haven't seen the beer anywhere other than The Daily Growler, and it's long been off the menu there.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Actual Brewing Saison Du Poincare (8/10)

Here's a pro tip for reading beer reviews on this blog. If the picture shows much less than a full glass, the odds are very good that I enjoyed the beer so much that I almost finished it before realizing I had a photo to accompany the review...

I sampled Actual Brewing's Saison du Poincare late in 2015 at their taproom near the Greater Columbus International Airport.  Sadly, it looks like this beer may no longer be available... so consider this review a recording for posterity as to how good it was.  (I'm basing this on the fact that it's not listed on their web site.)

Actual describes this as "a dark saison, brewed with everything we had left in the 'cabinet' at the end of the brewing season."  I think they're being a bit modest with that description.

Saison du Poincare pours a hazy amber with white head that lingers and leaves no lacing.

The aroma has the typical Saison funk to it with some fruity notes.  I get a bit of tartness as well.

The flavor starts with a mix of sweet malt, citrus, and Saison funk.  Hops bitterness is well balanced, which is what I look for in a Saison.

I'm giving it an 8 out of 10.  Untappd gives it a 3.63 out of 5.  Beer Advocate had no reviews until I added mine.  RateBeer doesn't even have the beer listed.

Barley's Peach Infused Point of Origin (8/10)

Every year, Barley's Ale House near the convention center prepares a batch of their Origins Game Fair inspired Belgian golden ale Point of Origin. 

Brewmaster Angelo Signorino does a great job with the beer, which sells well to the thirsty gamers in town for the convention. Today he did something a little different, tapping a cask of the beer infused with peaches.

This version of Point of Origin pours a slightly orange gold with creamy white head.

The aroma is a mix of peach, orange, combined with Belgian fruity and spicy notes.

The flavor begins with a nice slightly sweet malty note with Belgian fruit and spice elements. These give way to a mix of peach and orange rind, with a touch of hops bitterness. The orange rind and hops bitterness lingers in the finish.  As a cask conditioned ale, it's a bit smoother than the standard Point of Origin, while no less tasty.

The only place you'll find this is at the Barley's Ale House location on High Street across from the Greater Columbus Convention Center.  Price is $6.99 per pint, while it lasts.

I hope Angelo considers putting this one into regular rotation in his brewing schedule.  Really nice. I'm giving it an 8 out of 10, possibly a 9 if a second pint is in my future...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Actual Brewing Photon Light Lager (8/10)

Actual Brewing from here in Columbus is one of my favorite local breweries.  I like their approach to brewing, which is a combination of science and fun. They brew some good beers.

On a visit to their taproom in late 2015, I had the chance to try their Photon Light Lager, pictured at left.

Actual describes Photon by saying "This dazzling light lager has a dual nature:  a wave of golden flavor entangled with a quantum of noble hops. A challenge to brew, but a cinch to drink, this beer moves at precisely the speed of itself."

Photon pours a bright pale gold with a white head that lasts briefly. It leaves behind virtually no lacing.

The aroma is a balanced blend of hops and roasted malt.

The flavor is a clean balance of malt, hops, and a mild roasted malt.  Photon is very drinkable and a good example of the style.  The balance between malt and hops is excellent, with neither overpowering the other.  I detected no off flavors in it, either.  A really nice example of the style.

As you can see from the photo, I enjoyed it rather a lot before realizing I hadn't taken a photo yet to accompany this review.  I'm rating it a solid 8 out of 10.  I like the combination of noble hops and roasted malt, and the fact that it's easy to drink.  When I compare it to the "big names" that advertise during major sporting events on television, this is a much, much better beer.  It's the kind of brew I can imagine offering to friends and family who don't care for craft beer and having them love it.

RateBeer doesn't have enough ratings yet to give this an official number, but the existing ratings show in the 11 to 13 out of 20 range, or approximately 6 out of 10.  Beer Advocate had no ratings for the beer until I added mine.

Actual's products are available in their taproom near the airport and at a number of other locations around town.  If you like light beers, I would definitely recommend this one over any of the big-name macro brews.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager (6/10)

Abita Brewing of Louisiana makes Strawberry Harvest Lager.  They describe it as "a lager brewed with pilsner and wheat malts and Vanguard hops" with "Real Louisiana strawberry juice" added after filtration.

Strawberry Harvest pours a clear yellow with thin white head that doesn't last long. 

The aroma is very definitely strawberry with a hint of beer behind it. 

The flavor is a mix of strawberry, lager, and mild bitterness. The finish is kind of a mix of hops and green strawberries.

Rate Beer gives Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager a 25 overall.  Beer Advocate is kinder, giving it an 80.  I am somewhere in the middle, rating it a 6 out of 10.  I give it a 6 out of 10.

This beer is available at a number of Columbus retailers.

ABV: 4.2%
IBU: 13