Beer Review: Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin

Around two years ago, Ballast Point started distributing their beers in the Buffalo area.  They did the usual introductory tap takeover at a local bar, which my step-dad and I gleefully attended.  We pulled our usual hijinks, getting into the tasting area early like a couple of groupies.  Ballast Point came to the event with an arsenal of beers, but one in particular knocked our socks off – Habanero Sculpin. 

If you are a fan of West Coast IPA’s, Ballast Point Sculpin is one of the more superb IPA’s you can get your hands on regularly.  It’s expensive, about $14.99 a six pack, but is insanely fresh, citrusy, and hoppy.  It’s very good.  Ballast Point took this IPA, and infused it with habanero peppers.  This was also very good.

Up until that point, I hadn’t had a hot pepper infused beer before.  This beer was fantastic. It had the hoppy, citrusy, deliciousness that the Sculpin IPA has, but with a kick of heat after you swallow.  No other hot pepper beer I’ve had measures up to it.  It’s not just the heat, its the overall balance of flavors that coincide with the heat.  Other pepper infused beers fail at achieving this delicate balance.

Just recently, this has now become available in the bottle.  I’m not sure how available, but we managed to get our hands on a few six packs.  Would the bottled version measure up to what I tasted 2 years go?  You bet your ass!  If you can find yourself some, I highly recommend this beer.

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Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin

7% ABV  70 IBUs

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Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA

Walking into our local Wegmans, I couldn’t help noticing this beer on display.  It was an IPA, slightly over-priced, and touted something I wasn’t exactly familiar with – “Brewed from farm distilled hop oil.”

These days, everyone is coming out with a gimmic IPA.  Stone releases a new one every month and quite frankly, it gets a bit ridiculous after a while.  Had this been something from Stone, I would have passed on it.  Not because it wouldn’t have  been good, but because I’m bored with it.

Over the past year, Sierra Nevada has impressed me.  They have taken some bold steps to stay relevant in an over-saturated craft beer industry, successfully putting out some solid beers and collaborations.  With Hoptimum being one of my favorite Imperial IPA’s from Sierra Nevada, I had good reason to give Hop Hunter a try.

Hop Hunter is brewed with an all new method, steam distilling wet hops before they leave the fields.  According to Sierra Nevada’s scientist and hop genius, Tom Nielson, the technique allows the brewery to procure hop oil right from the hop farms, as opposed to the brewery.

The brewery retrofitted machinery that used to be used to extract oil from mint plants.  Multiple trailers store the freshly picked hop cones.  With the normal hop process, the hops are dried from 75% moisture down to 10%.  A lot of flavor is lost during this process, so these trailers were designed to steam the hops, collect the vapor, distill it, and then separate the oil from the water.

So how was this beer?  The first time I had it, I was taken back.  I found it to be a little bitter and it definitely had a taste that was different from your normal IPA.  I was not a fan.

A few days later, I had another.  I found the flaver to be the same, but not nearly as bad as the first time.  I was still not a fan.

About a week went by, and one afternoon I decided to give it one more try.  Third time’s a charm right?  Yes actually!  Something about this beer clicked with me on the third time around.

Beer Advocate gives this about a 91%, and I think that’s a fair assessment.  If you try this and don’t like it at first. give it a few more tries.  It’s not a technique I normally use with beer, but I found this to be an original enough concept to give a fair chance.

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High Water Brewing: Campfire Stout

    Ahh Sunday.  My favorite day of the week (during football season.)  It’s a day that I spend most of the week eagerly anticipating.  Not only is it a day about watching the Buffalo Bills, but it’s a day about beer and food.  Every week I try to get something new to drink for Sundays.  This week, my wife had picked up a bottle of High Water Brewing’s “Campfire Stout.” 

   I haven’t been doing a lot of beer reviews as of late.  The craft beer market is saturated.  It’s not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a fantastic thing to be a consumer.  The choices are ridiculous.  There are so many beers now that I enjoy and so many that I dislike, blogging about all of them just gets boring.  I’ve decided to save any beer reviews that I do for truly unique experiences.  Whether a beer is good or bad, if there is something truly unique about my encounter with it, I will share the experience.  This beer was one of them.

   The “Campfire Stout” is not a fantastic beer….but it is good.  The reason I wanted to write about it, is because it does something that other gimmicky stouts fail to do: It actually tastes like it’s suppose to.  It actually tastes like it smells.

    It’s one of my biggest pet peeves about stouts.  Breweries will create unusual stouts with flavors that spark intrigue.  Almost all of these things usually smell terrific, and almost all of them leave a disappointed beer drinker standing there with a glass full of mediocrity.  I had almost completely stopped trying them.

    The Campfire Stout is supposed to taste like S’mores and is actually brewed with Graham Crackers in the mash.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the beer tastes just like S’mores, but it does have a smokey, sweet flavor to it: worthy of praise.  It’s not a surprise to me that this is High Water’s top selling beer.

   If you are a fan of gimmicky stouts like this, I suggest you give this a try.  Finally, a stout that tastes like its meant to taste.

Cheers


I finally got my hands on the #1 rated beer on Beer Advocate…

    Last night I was feeding my daughter at the kitchen table, thumbing through my phone as she currently is in this stage where it takes her forever to eat.  Occasionally she just likes to practice holding the foods, which is adorable, but can go on for a long time.  On facebook there was a post from Mike Shatzel, a guy pretty much responsible for opening the best beer bars in Buffalo.  The post read:

“2 cases of heady at monk”
    I had plans to go out later that night with my friend Pat, to catch a beer or two, and we happened to be going there.  I was pretty excited at potentially getting to try this.  People have been hyping it for some time now in forums and Facebook groups – it’s not sold here.  I tried not to get my hopes up for scoring a can, and in a few hours I made my way over to The Blue Monk.
   As soon as I walked in, I saw a couple dudes at the bar with some.  I looked around to see if it was advertised anywhere.  There was nothing.  I wasn’t sure if it was some secret thing or if I had to quietly ask for it…I wasn’t sure how this worked.  I finally decided to ask as I wasn’t quite sure if I’d ever have another opportunity.  Good thing I did.  For $9.00 a can, I now had in my hands a can of “Heady Topper,” the number one rated beer on beer advocate with an impressive 100 rating.
    Now I’m not going to say anything bad about this beer because it was very good.  Just not at all what I expected.  I mean look at the artwork on the can.  It’s awesome.  There are loads of hops exploding out of this man’s head.  Getting to try another one of the other best beers in the world, Pliney the Elder, when I was in San Diego – I had high hopes for this beer.  I cracked open the can and took my first delicious sips.  It was really good, just not at all what thought it would be.  This beer was a lot sweeter then I ever expected.  It had a slight hop finish, but nothing memorable.  Maybe it’s the West Coast beer lover in me, where I love a citrus, piney, hoppy overload that Pliney is able to supply, even Firestone Walker’s Double Jack, but this beer was nothing like them.  It was unique in flavor, and the flavor was very good, just nothing I’d seek out special. 
   I suppose where this beer gets its praise is it’s balance.  The balance of hop and malt among beer lover’s is praised in over 7,000 reviews.  So from a personal point of view, I thought this beer was good, but not amazing.  Putting that aside, and breaking down what this beer actually is, how it tastes, the balance, the color and carbonation, this beer is very impressive and well crafted.  I had to really separate my personal preferences when tasting this.  I will have to thank my daughter later for forcing me to look at Facebook by endlessly staring at her piece if spiral pasta.  Love you kid 🙂

"Beer Camp" Weekend

    Typically I just drink IPA’s, but have recently started trying other things. The local beer forums have been buzzing about “Beer Camp,” a 12 pack collaboration with 12 top notch breweries. These breweries include Ninkasi, Firestone Walker, New Glarus, Ballast Point, 3 Floyd’s, Bells, Allagash, Russian River, Asheville Brewers Alliance, and Russian River in 12 oz bottles. With breweries like this participating, I had to try it out. I had seen the price for this 12 pack differ by location, but I found it here in Buffalo for $25. A bit steep, but these are one shot brews, so I made an exception.

As I stated before, I typically only go for West Coast IPAs and Double IPAs. This 12 pack had some stuff in it that I would never normally try. I decided to go into it with a completely open mind. The first beer I had tried from the pack was the Sierra Nevada/Cigar City Brewery collaboration, “Yonder Bock Tropical Maibock.” This was actually in a can. I had tried a few beers from Cigar City earlier in the summer and was pretty impressed. A friend of my wife had brought us some from Florida. It was their year round releases: “Invasion Pale Ale” and “Florida Cracker White Ale.” Both of them were very good. I chose to pour this into a glass.  Some would argue that it’s meant to be consumed out of the can, but I hate doing that. The beer poured nicely and smelled great. I have found that Cigar City’s beers have a “flavor” that sticks with each brew they make. It’s not a bad flavor, it’s actually really good. The color on this beer was as vivid as it’s taste. I surprisingly loved this beer. As I write this, I am about 5 beers into the 12 pack (not all at once), and this remains my favorite. Bravo, Cigar City. You have impressed me.

Yonder Bock Tropical Maibock 

The next beer of choice was from the Sierra Nevada/Firestone Walker collaboration called “Torpedo Pilsner,” which was touted as a “Hoppy Pilsner.” I had high hopes for this one, as Firestone Walker is one of my favorite breweries. However, this was not a “hoppy pilsner.”  It wasn’t a bad beer, but it was nothing I’d bring up in a conversation. When I think of a “hoppy pilsner,” I think of Victory’s “Prima Pils” which is an excellent pilsner. This beer was light and refreshing, but lackluster and forgettable.

Torpedo Pilsner

Up next, Sierra Nevada and Russian River have created a Belgian style brew called “Yvan the Great Belgian-Style Blonde.” I actually loved this beer as well. I don’t particularly like Belgian-style beers, but maybe it was the weather?  Whatever the reason, I found this beer to be tasty and refreshing.  It held its flavor as it warmed up, too. A surprisingly good beer.

Yvan the Great Belgian-Style Blonde

I tried to drink these strategically, so the next beer I had was a collaboration from Sierra Nevada and Allagash Brewing known as “Myron’s Walk,” a Belgian Pale Ale. This beer was just “good.” It was nothing special, yet it served as another Belgian-style beer that won me over. Not something I would seek out, but was a tasty, refreshing one-timer.

Myron’s Walk – Belgian Pale Ale

The next selection was one I was excited to try. The Sierra Nevada and Ballast Point creation a”Electric Ray,” labeled as an India Pale Lager. This tasted more like a double IPA to me, but I loved it. It was a bold beer, with a good balance of malt and hops. There were really no lager-like characteristics, so that aspect of it failed in my opinion, but the beer delivered some really good flavor that only got more intense as it warmed up.


The next beer that I tried from Beer Camp was the Sierra Nevada/Oskar Blues collaboration “CANfusion” Rye Bock. I’m not all that familiar with bocks, but this beer was solid as well. One of the higher ABV’s in this pack, at 7.2, this beer packed a nice blend of rye, caramel and hops. This is one I would like to try again.

CANfusion – Rye Bock

The final beer for this post (I haven’t finished the 12 pack yet), is the “Chico King” Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada and 3 Floyd’s Brewing. This isn’t like many pale ales I have had before, this one was beefier. For a pale ale, I found this to be powerfully malty and equally as hoppy. Another beer from this box of gems that I would like to have another of.

Chico King – Pale Ale

I should have the rest of these up in a few days. So far Beer Camp is a fun trip and makes for an engaging, at home, beer drinking experience. Although I’d say 90% of these beers are about average, they are good enough to enjoy this way. 

Happy Birthday! Wooden 6 Pack from Rustic Creek Products

   My wife knows me well.  We joke often about how I’m super easy to buy a gift for for the holidays or for my birthday.  I’m just constantly into tons of things.  One thing that is pretty consistent with me is my love for really good beer.  My stepfather is also a beer advocate, so often there are times when I head over to his house with some select beers from home.  Normally I look around for an old empty 6 pack cardboard and then just fill it with random beers.  Not any more.

From Rustic Creek Wood Products

This nifty device not only makes it easy to carry some select beverages to my destination, but it also has a sweet old fashioned opener on the side of it.  Mine of course came equipped with 6 awesome beers that my wife has researched before getting.  This is a great gift for any beer lover!

Beer Watch: Bronx Brewery Pale Ale

   Over the summer, my parents gave me an old fridge that was in their garage.  I also had a wife that (rightly so) complained about me hogging the fridge space with all my beer.  So it only made sense to put a second fridge in my basement dedicated to the housing of delicious beers.  I am an I.P.A. drinker, but the problem with that is, you really cant keep a large amount of I.P.As in there because they really should be consumed as fresh as possible.  You don’t want to let them age.  I have started broadening my horizons when choosing beers to bring home, branching out to stouts and other things.  While at the beer store, there was a rep from Bronx Brewery handing out some samples of their Pale Ale and the Scotch Ale.  I sampled both beers which were poured from a growler they brought.  The Pale Ale was full and delicious.  A nice balance of malts and hops, and for an American Pal Ale (which I normally hate), it was very good.  The Scotch Ale was also impressive, but like the Pale Ale, it didn’t taste like your traditional Scotch Ale.  It resembled more of a malt heavy I.P.A.
   Both beers out of the growler tasted pretty good, but when I got home and cracked open a can, the taste was dramatically different.  It wasn’t awful by no means, but was not something that I’d probably revisit.  The Pale Ale that I purchased was overly malty, and resembled my first home brew batch that I had done last year.  After the first can, I was on the fence, and hoped that my second can would be a little better.  It was actually worse.  This could have been my palate at the time, and I have two cans left (4 pack) to decide, but my overall impression of this beer currently, is that it falls short of being decent.  A valiant effort.

Can’t get this out of my mind…

    I have a lot on my mind these days.  The major one is that I have a kid on the way that is due any day now.  I also have the holiday rush here at supersweetshirts.com happening any day now as well.  With all of this going on, there is a third thing that was brought to my attention just this week that I cannot get out of my mind as well….

Let’s talk about how awesome this is.   Of course my primary reason for blogging is to occasionally mention the awesome products at supersweetshirts.com and also at our etsy store , but occasionally a product comes around that is well deserved of a third party plug.  “TapIt Cap” is worthy of this.  Its like a mini draft system for your home.  I love growlers, but a big reason as to why I don’t get them more often, is because I can’t finish it up fast enough to maintain the freshness.  Let me modify that statement, I CAN finish a growler without a problem, but maybe I just want a pint or two?  Maybe every time I open a growler, I don’t want to get bombed.  This device will keep your growler fresh and let you drink at your own leisure!  Genius! The best part?  Its not even that expensive retailing at 45.00 at Tapitcap.com .  This is a great gift for any beer lover!  On a side note, the perfect gift to go along with this would be:

Available in our etsy store!

Our Trip to Stone Brewery

   The last thing we did on our San Diego trip was the thing I wanted to do most….our trip to Stone!

When I think of craft beer, Stone Brewing is one of the first breweries I think of.  They are like the Bruce Lee of brewing.  They took a look a traditional craft brewing at the time, and tossed all rules and tradition out the window.  Setting themselves apart from the rest, they are true icons of the craft beer movement.  This was the nicest brewery I’ve ever been to.  It was sort of hard to find the place, not because it was complicated direction-wise, but the building looked like some cookie cutter office park and we had initially driven past it.   Parking was almost impossible as the lot was totally full.  Once we got in, it was like stepping foot into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  Ok maybe not that extreme….but I was pretty happy.  The eating area is amazing with a huge outdoor section in a lush Japanese garden that actually had trails which led to little social areas with fire pits, chairs, mini bars, it was awesome.  We sat down outside, each table having one of those heaters in case it was a bit chilly.  I wanted the beer on cask which was some sort of special IPA with ginger (if I remember correctly), but they were out of the cask.  I was upset..but not really, there were tons of beers to choose from.  The cool thing about stone is that they carry other craft beers from other brewers.  I was in the mood for a cask brew….

I was able to find several different IPA’s to enjoy and we also sampled some others.  You were able to get sample flights of basically whatever you wanted.

The food was average, not bad at all, just not “amazing”.  The portions though were truly American.
In the back, you can see where the trails go off into the Stone wooded wonderland.   It’s amazing to see something like this when you see that the brewery is just some business park.
I wish every table I sat at looked this way.

    The visit to Stone was pretty awesome.  I was not leaving San Diego without stopping here!  The Merch Shop was pretty nice as well an reasonably priced.  I picked up a shirt and cap and Nicole picked up one of these:

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