Thursday, December 23, 2010

12BoC: Goose Island Mild Winter, Harpoon Winter Warmer & Magic Hat Howl

Hey, it's Christmas time; a guy's gotta do his shopping sometime, right? Sorry to have left you sans beer reviews. Here's a tripleheader to get us caught up.

I used to have a bunch of friends in Chicago, since the stylish thing to do after college was to move to the Windy City. Most of them have given up on Chicago, but I've inherited quite a few new friends due to my impending nuptials. My old friends and my new friends are quite disparate groups, but they all have one thing in common: they like drinkin', and Goose Island is a pretty impressive Chicago brewery.

I've been known to knock back their 312 wheat ale, the Summertime kölsch, and even their IPA when I'm feeling masochistic. I have to admit, though, that the Mild Winter was not in my original review queue. I only picked it up after the project started, but I was pretty impressed by this and I was tired of writing bad reviews of beers, so I bumped a beer which shall not be named and never looked back.

Goose Island classifies the Mild Winter as an American Mild Ale, but it could just as easily be called a Rye Beer. It pours out a deep rich brown with a frothy, bubbly, off-white head that laces itself to the glass. It doesn't have a very strong aroma, some caramel malts and a slight whiff of dark fruit. On the surface, not altogether impressive, but looks (and smells) can be deceiving.

Upon first sip, I thought maybe I was drinking a coffee stout. Coffee and roasted malts dominate here, with a healthy amount of rye and cinnamon, though not overpowering. It's got a very pleasant sweetness to it, and at times a little bit of candied apple poke through. Really nice, unique balance of flavors: rye has a tendency to want to dominate a drink, which makes this even more impressive.

The aftertaste is primarily malty sweetness, but not too intense. This is very drinkable, and at 5.6% ABV, not likely to put you on your ass without a concerted effort. Like I mentioned from the outset, this was a really good brew that wormed its way into the 12 Beers through sheer merit. Kudos to Goose Island and here's to wishing a Mild Winter upon my Chicago pals.

Beer Advocate readers: B+
Justin: B+

A couple of days ago while reviewing the Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser, I wished to Santa Claus that some of these Christmas beers would either be objectively exceptional, or at the very least flame out trying to do something unique. Harpoon answered my call, putting forward a polarizing Winter Warmer that would make grading this beer very difficult.

I have to admit, I have never had a single beer from the Harpoon Brewery, a Boston institution since 1986. This being my first, I'm interested to try their other varieties because if they go all out with those like they do with the Winter Warmer, I'd imagine they're worth a shot.

Pouring this out, you get this beautiful reddish copper color. It's crystal clear with some visible effervescence, and the creamy off-white head is just icing on the cake. Or should I say pie?

You can't miss the aroma of this beer, as it assaults your olfactory nerves with an onslaught of spice - cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger - it really does smell like a pumpkin pie, minus the pumpkin, of course.

The first sip surprised the hell out of me. I knew I was going to get a fair amount of spice, but this beer tastes like it was stirred with a candy cane. Very sweet with a blast of cinnamon and nutmeg. It's very crisp despite its sweetness, thanks in part to the juniper-esque hops used to balance the malts and spice. The slight hoppy finish is enticement enough to find the bottom of the glass and then refill it.

This beer is not for everyone. It is a textbook winter warmer: heavily spiced, though a little on the light side at 5.8% ABV. A lot of people are going to be turned off by this as it doesn't have much of a hop or malt character. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed this and wouldn't hesitate to pick up another sixer to get me through the rest of this holiday season.

Beer Advocate readers: C+
Justin: B+

On Monday night, instead of reviewing Christmas beers, I was getting soused on Magic Hat #9 with my ex-bandmates, The Kyle Sowashes. Ever since Columbus Brewing Company discontinued their Apricot Ale, #9 has been my go to when I get a hankering for apricot beer.

Aside: this peculiar palette demand was opened up by drinking Rolling Rock when I was in college. My dad always swore that Rolling Rock was about a step and a half below piss, and while I acknowledge that it's not a high-class affair, I'll defend my consumption on the grounds that it was what I could routinely get for free or cheap that wasn't Natty Light. Also, my dad drinks Milwaukee's Best Light. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, I'm generally amenable to Magic Hat brews - their summer Wacko was a big hit for me - so I figured this beer would do OK by me. The Howl, marketed as a "black-as-night winter lager," started off by at least living up to its description. It is incredibly dark, though not as dense and opaque as the Anchor offering, which was virtually impenetrable to light. The bubbly beige head has a little bit of lacing against the glass.

Now, this is a lager, so I wasn't expecting a knockout aroma, but I also wasn't expecting it to be as subdued as it is. I have to strain to get the faintest whiff of smoky malt and maybe a hint of black licorice. Weird, but acceptable from a brewery that regularly churns out "Odd Notion" beers.

Howl is another very roasty brew, kinda like the Goose Island above, but not as well balanced. The roasted malts play with the bitter hops to produce some unholy amalgamation of toffee and charcoal. It's a pretty thin beer, as lagers generally are, and it drinks more carbonated than it looks.

Here's the real downer: the I get that black licorice back in the aftertaste, but it's laden with ash and rancidity. I've pretty much got to force this one down, and I am not compelled to drink another one. In fact, I pretty much just want to wash my mouth out. This beer might be appealing to somebody (judging by the BeerAdvocate ratings, more than I can imagine), but I will never put this in my taste hole ever again. I'll keep it out of the "avoid" range if only for the fact that it's still better than Beast Light.

Beer Advocate readers: B
Justin: C-


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