Review: Half Hitch, Crux Fermentation Project

Half Hitch Imperial Mosaic IPA
Crux Fermentation Project — Bend, OR

  • Style:  Imperial IPA
  • Bitterness:  80 IBU
  • ABV:  10.0%
  • Malts:  Not specified
  • Hops:  Mosaic
  • Sampled:  375 ml. bottle (provided by brewery) 

Description:  Hops climb up twine that’s just loosely tied to the trellis with a half hitch knot— and this Imperial IPA is just loosely tied to tradition. The Mosaic hop imparts surprisingly floral aromas instead of the more expected grapefruit-y notes. On the palate, complex layers of flavors might remind you of guava, mango, stone fruit and lemon, unraveling your idea of what an Imperial IPA should be.  —  Crux Fermentation Project

Random thoughts:  Crux Fermentation Project recently sent me a few samples. I’ve heard great things about their beer, but have never had the chance to taste one. That changes now.  Today I’m drinking Half Hitch, an Imperial IPA that features Mosaic hops.  Mosaic is a descendant of Simcoe, Tomahawk, and Nugget hops. Its flavor descriptors include citrus, cedar, floral, stone fruit, tropical, pine, and even onion and garlic! Let’s hope those last two don’t find their way into this beer!

The tasting:  Bottled on December 4, 2013. Half Hitch is golden orange in color, slightly hazy, with a white head that dissipates slowly.  Aroma starts with grapefruit, but quickly moves to tropical fruit with guava and mango taking center stage. There's also a bit of bread and a touch of alcohol in the nose. At the first sip, mango and guava are front and center in taste. Grapefruit is present, but is takes a backseat to the tropical fruit flavors. This is a nice change of pace, as most IIPAs tend to emphasize grapefruit flavor.

In the middle, biscuit and slightly sweet caramel malt flavors emerge followed by a bit of warming alcohol.  At 10% ABV, I expected a more noticeable alcohol bite, and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of it. Hop bitterness is moderate to high, but is very nicely balanced. Half Hitch is moderately carbonated, medium bodied, has a mouth feel that’s creamy, yet slightly resinous. It finishes with a tropical fruit and warming alcohol.

4 star.  Really good! I want this again!  This is a delicious Imperial IPA! It has loads of juicy tropical hop flavors, but manages to stay out of hop-bomb territory. For a 10% ABV beer, it’s extremely drinkable—so take it your time and savor it. Sadly, my drink didn’t last very long. Half Hitch might be hard to find, so if you're an IPA lover and come across it, don't hesitate to pick it up.   

Have you tried Half Hitch? What's your favorite Crux beer? 
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Smuttynose Releases Durty for Mud Season

Smuttynose Brewing Co. is releasing Durty, a hoppy brown ale, as its new spring seasonal. While this is its first broad release, it's not a new beer. Durty was released twice in 2013 as part of Smuttynose's Short Batch series.  I wrote about it last year, and you can see my full review for Durty here.

Smuttynose is adorning this beer with two different mud-inspired labels. For what it's worth, I'm not aware of another brewery that has done this. For more of the Durty details, check out the brewery's news release at the end of this post.

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Get Durty with Smuttynose this Mud Season!!

A big, hoppy, brown ale is just what you need to make it through the meteorological ups and downs of spring.  Durty, one of our most talked about Short Batch releases, graduates to fill a long-vacant spring slot in Smuttynose’s seasonal beer rotation.
Each bottle and pint features a delicious balance of carmelly brown ale malt flavors and the hop profile of a double IPA. Durty has enough oomph to get you through the frosty mornings and chilly nights, while the light body and hop flavor will awaken your tongue and senses for the coming warm weather.
We’re also excited about Durty’s packaging.  It’s our first beer with two distinct images.  There’s no telling what the label mix will be in a six pack or twelve pack, but both images are featured on the six pack and twelve pack containers. 

Durty will be shipping out throughout the month of January, but you can try it and buy it at our Holiday Open House on December 21.  Stop by between 11am and 4pm at 225 Heritage Avenue in Portsmouth, our current and original home.

Durty Vital Stats                  
8.4% ABV  97 IBU
Malts: North American 2-Row, Munich 10L, Chocolate, C-60, Brown Malt
Hops: Bittering-Magnum, Flavor- Nugget, Dry Hop- CTZ and Chinook
Yeast: White Labs WLP-001 American Ale
Available in six packs, twelve packs and cases of 12 ounce bottles as well as 5.2 gallon and 15.5 gallon kegs. Durty will be hitting markets throughout the month of January.


Review: Winter Storm, Heavy Seas Beer

Winter Storm
Heavy Seas — Baltimore, MD

  • Style:  Imperial ESB
  • Bitterness:  50 IBU
  • ABV:  7.5%
  • Malts:  2-Row, Crystal, Caramalt, Chocolate
  • Hops: Warrior, UK Goldings, UK Fuggles, Cascade, Centennial
  • Sampled:  12 oz. bottle (provided by brewery) 

Description:   Winter Storm may be Hugh’s favorite beer in the Heavy Seas catalogue. Our winter ale draws on hops from the West Coast and the UK for its pronounced bitterness. A mix of pale and darker malts give it its tawny color and its bigger body. True to the style, Winter Storm’s aroma is nutty malts and earthy hops. This is a perfect fall beer, especially because of its warming qualities. — Heavy Seas

Random thoughts:  I first tasted Heavy Seas beer this summer during a visit to Boston.  Heavy Seas is located in Baltimore, and primarily distributes in the eastern US. They also specialize cask ales and have one of the largest (if not the largest) cask programs in the country. I enjoyed their beer and wanted to give their winter beer, Heavy Storm, a try as part of my series on winter seasonals. 

The tasting:  Deep amber in color, clear, with an off-white head that dissipates slowly. Aroma of caramel, earthy hops, molasses and a faint whiff of alcohol. The taste starts with rich caramel and toast. In the middle, plum and nutty flavors emerge, along with a touch of brown sugar sweetness. Hop bitterness is moderate throughout, but partially muted by the malts. Winter Storm is medium bodied, has a creamy mouth feel, and finishes with toasted malt and warming alcohol. 

Rating: 4 star. Really good! I want this again!   Winter Storm is the kind of beer I look for in a winter seasonal. Its rich malty flavors and full body provide a perfect complement the cold and dreary weather. So let this Winter Storm warm you up the next time the Polar Vortex comes your way. 

What do you think of Heavy Seas Winter Storm
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BridgePort's New Labels and Rotating Hop Czar IPA Series

BridgePort Brewing Co. is turning 30 this year. To celebrate, they will release their Trilogy series of limited release beers throughout 2014. 
In addition, BridgePort will soon spruce up their label artwork as well. In the picture below, you can see BridgePort’s current label images on the left. On the right, are the new labels. The updated labels sport the same general look and color scheme. The BridgePort name is displayed more prominently in black. Gone is the image of the bridge (St. John’s by the looks of it).
Now if you look closely at the Hop Czar labels, you'll notice a more substantial difference. Hop Czar is changing—well actually, Hop Czar will be rotating.  Last week, I asked BridgePort about the branding and formulation changes. In their response, they also confirmed to me that Hop Czar will become a rotating line of IPAs (similar to Widmer Brothers’ Rotator IPA series). The first release will be a Citra Dry-Hopped IPA. Here’s what BridgePort told me about the changes: 

What prompted you to redesign your labels and eliminate the image of the bridge? 

For 2014, we wanted to place as much emphasis as possible on our 30 year anniversary. We considered many design options both with and without the bridge. Although we ultimately decided to proceed with a design that does not include the bridge, this does not mean that it has been permanently discarded. This was simply a design choice that we felt would help to place more visual emphasis on the 30 year labeling. 

Will all of your beers use the new design?

Yes, all of our beers will use the 30th anniversary design for 2014.  The new labels will begin arriving at the shelf during the week of 1/20.

Why did you change Hop Czar? Is this the first change you made to this beer?  When will the new Hop Czar be released?

The original Hop Czar was created as an exploration into the world of adventurous hop-centric styles. The Hop Czar series that we are launching this year is simply an expansion of this exploration. The series gives Jeff and his brewers the opportunity to craft and release new and innovative IPAs and double IPAs three times per year. This is an exciting creative opportunity for our brewers.

Yes, this is the first change. The launch of the series does not mean that the original Czar is gone for good. It may come back in its original form, slightly altered, or extremely altered—only the brewers know for sure!  The first of the series, a Citra dry-hopped IPA (6.5% ABV, 60 IBU) will begin shipping in February.

There you have it. I think a change to Hop Czar was overdue. Perhaps it was an Imperial IPA when it originally launched, but it doesn’t fit the bill in the current era of mega hopped, high alcohol IIPAs. I’m a big fan of variety—and IPAs, so I welcome the change. But, I’m glad to see that BridgePort is keeping their classic IPA in the lineup.
However, at the same time, I wonder if beer lovers are getting rotating IPA fatigue. Widmer Brothers launched their Rotator IPA series nearly two years ago. For the first year, they seemed to release new IPAs every 3-4 months. Recently, the length of their IPA rotation has increased. Hopside Down IPL, Widmer’s current Rotator, has been on the market since last May. Is that a reflection of declining interest? Time will tell.
There has always been a special place in my heart for BridgePort IPA because it was one of the two beers (along with Widmer Hefeweizen) that kindled my love of good beer. So I’m looking forward to tasting the new releases! Happy 30th anniversary to BridgePort! 
What do you think of Bridgeport's labels and their new rotating Hop Czar IPA series?
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Review: Cellar Series Smoked Apple, Woodchuck

Cellar Series Smoked Apple
Woodchuck Hard Cider — Middlebury, VT

  • Style:  Smoked Hard Apple Cider
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • Ingredients:  Hard cider, less than 1% of: natural flavor and sulfites.
  • Calories:  210 per 12 oz.
  • Sampled:  22 oz. bottle (provided by cidery)

Description: Apple pomace is smoked using a blend of maple and applewood chips. Our original small batch hard cider is run through the smoked pomace. The result is a full-bodied deep amber cider. Strong crisp apple notes with hints of vanilla are balanced on an applewood smoked backdrop.  — Woodchuck Cidery

Random thoughts:  Smoked Apple is the second in Woodchuck's Cellar Series line of experimental hard ciders. I enjoyed Dry Hop, the first release. In general, I'm not a huge fan of smoked beers, but I'm intrigued by how smoke will taste in a hard cider.

The tasting:  Reddish-brown in color and clear. From the first sniff, smoke (reminds me of damp wood) is prominent. Taste starts with bright apple, and is quickly followed by smoke in the middle. The level of smoke in taste is more subdued than in aroma, but is still prominent. Moderate sweetness and a  mild level of acidity emerge in the middle and provide a nice contrast. It's light bodied, has an effervescent mouth feel, and finishes semi-dry with notes of smoked wood and tart apple. 

Rating:  3 star.  Good. I would drink this again if someone gives it to me.  My biggest pet peeve is when breweries (or cideries) don't deliver their featured flavor(s). That's certainly not the case here. Smoked Apple does a good job of providing a solid level of smoke, without overpowering. If you're a fan of smoke or are  smoke-curious, give it a try. The Woodchuck Blog has a nice article that explains how the apple pomace was smoked and used to flavor this cider. Check it out.

Just yesterday, Woodchuck announced that Chocolate will be the third Cellar Series release.  Cocao nibs in a hard cider?!? That should be interesting...

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Beer Run: Even More Winter Seasonals

This is the second part of my series on winter seasonals. You can see the first part (with links to full reviews) here.  I'll close out my winter beer drinking by enjoying:

Although we're still in the middle of winter, the winter beer season is quickly winding down. At the start of each year, most breweries will start shipping their spring seasonals. So if you have a favorite winter beer, be sure to pick up a few six-packs to hold you over until spring!

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