Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 November, 2016

Better Late Than Never: Helles Ginger Bock by MobCraft Beer

I was going to begin by saying something akin to "blah blah blah Madison's MobCraft" when I recalled that the brewery has moved to Milwaukee. But being slightly behind the times is par for the course for this review as MobCraft's Helles Ginger Bock came out earlier this spring. In addition, my quaffing occurred a month or so ago. Tempus fugit.

MobCraft and I have – not a love/hate relationship – more like an on-again/off-again relationship. I have a great deal of respect for what they do. Polling the teeming millions and then brewing an everything but the kitchen sink beer cannot be easy. But I have found that often times their brews are better in a theoretical kind of way as described on their website than they are when encountered by my tongue.

Despite this, there are still times when I'm simply a sucker for novelty, something MobCraft brews up in spades. Helles Ginger Bock appears to have been a brewer's choice as I see no evidence that the style/flavor was crowdsourced from the unwashed masses.

In addition to precipitation, procreation, and verdancy ascendant, the spring time is also flush with pale bocks. Spring bocks are lighter in color and a bit more hoppy than the bock biers that help keep the winter at bay. The pungent zestiness of ginger was thought by practitioners of medieval medicine to be hot and wet and so the root is an ideal addition to a spring bock as it can add an aromatic, sanguine complexion to the bier.

MobCraft's vernal brew was a lovely golden hue. Its sparkling clarity revealed a surfeit of bubbles tucked underneath an inch or so of off-white foam.

The smell was dominated by fresh ginger and its wonderful floral-citrus-pepper pungency. There was a little bit of bread to be had in the background as well. This combination held fast into the taste where that zesty ginger took pride of place. A moderate dose of carbonation and a hint of bready sweetness fooled part of my tongue into thinking it was drinking the ginger beer with which I was down my jerk pork whenever I frequent the Jamerica food cart.

Some grassy hops were revealed as the ginger faded on the finish. Bitterness was moderate but the denouement was surprisingly rather dry. Not much Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had aside from a few random foamy spots.

It should be said that Helles Ginger Bock has a great fresh ginger aroma and taste and it truly reminded me of a good ginger soda. To a point. I found this bier to be lacking in the malt department. It was 7.1% A.B.V. but had a fairly light body. There wasn't much bready taste nor malt sweetness. I have no problem with the style's hoppiness being supplanted by the ginger, for the most part, but the paucity of grainy goodness made the bier quite one dimensional.

Junk food pairing: Pair any remaining Helles Ginger Bock with a fine, warm processed cheese food sauce. Dip thick cut/kettle chips in the gooey mess to your heart's content.

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31 October, 2016

That's a peach, hon!: Peach Lager by Abita Brewing Company

Back in the summer I thoroughly enjoyed Abita's Strawberry Lager, another fruity brew in the Covington, Louisiana brewery's Harvest series. I recall buying fresh strawberries down in Louisiana in March one year from the back of a pickup truck. While I'm not sure, I would say peaches ripen beginning in May down there, if my memories from another trek to the Bayou State are to be believed.

I'm also not sure when Abita released their Peach Lager - this is apparently the inaugural batch of the beer - but I think it began appearing on shelves here in Madison about a month ago. Now that I actually give more than a passing glance at Abita's website, I see that they do a fair amount with fruit and they're not afraid to flavor lagers with them either. There are three Harvest beers using strawberries, blueberries, and peaches; a strawberry doppelbock; and Purple Haze, a raspberry lager and also one of the breweries year-round beers. Fruited lagers are something of a rarity, at least in these parts, yet Abita does much more than did its collective toe into the water.

Having been duly impressed by what they did with strawberries, I was eager to discover to what use Abita would put peaches.

Peach Lager looks like summer which is a good thing here in October in Wisconsin. Its light gold color and hazy countenance brought back memories of the dog days of summer. My less-than-spectacular decanting skills were again on display as I managed a scant white head that was not eager to pose for pictures. On the other hand, there were plenty of bubbles to be had beneath.

If you ever take the plunge and try a Peach Lager, do yourself a favor and pretend you're Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks. Close your eyes and smell. Your nose will thank you as it is inundated with fresh, juicy peach. It was simply marvelous and I could almost feel a summer breeze on my face. Oh, and I also smelled a tad of grassy hops. But mainly it was peaches.

If the aroma gave me a mild meteorological flashback to summer, then the taste was a full-on 3D experience. I closed my eyes and saw sunshine, flowing dresses, and smiles – like a scene from The Tree of Life - but not one with dinosaurs. "Juicy" became an even more apt description as the beer flowed giving unto me its fresh peachy, though not particularly sweet, taste. All those bubbles weren't for nothing as it had a nice fizziness to it as well. I also caught some more of those grassy hops and a little biscuity malt flavor too.

The wonderful peach flavor lingered on the finish as the hops and carbonation combined for a moderate dryness bolstered by a mild hop bitterness. My empty glass was left in a pretty state lined with a couple nice foamy streaks and lots of white spots.

This here Peach Lager is a mighty fine brew. A clean lager base largely stays out of the way of the luscious, juicy peach. The fruit is ever so slightly tart and goes very well indeed with the beer's light body, lager crispness, and ample fizz to make a really refreshing brew.

Junk food pairing: Pair Abita Peach Lager with lighter fare such as potato chips. BBQ and plain both go well with the beer's peachy goodness.

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26 October, 2016

The Last Gasps of Oktoberfest

Unless something goes horribly wrong, this will be my final Festbier review of the year, the omega of Märzen analyses, if you will. Yes, Oktoberfest inspections are on the way out.

Because this year's crop of Wisconsin Oktoberfests was, for the most part, cringeworthy – the ones I tasted, anyway – I am hoping to end on a high note. And so I look to foreign brewers to get the job done right.

To begin I am going to heed Horace Greeley's imperative and taste Märzen by Denver's Prost Brewing.

Considering that Prost brews German bier styles exclusively, one would think that their Oktoberfest would be preternaturally tasty. So far, I've found their biers to range from mediocre to very good. So, while perhaps not a shoo-in, I certainly expected this to be a really good bier.

Things began well enough as I discovered its golden hue, tinged – but only just – with amber. Certainly this would not be laced with caramel/crystal malt sweetness. Clear as day, I could see surfeit of bubbles inside. Alas, they made their way upwards to an imaginary head. D'oh!

The aroma was light toffee, bread, and some apricot. It was sweeter than I expected, yet it was not cloying with the bready scent more than holding its own.

If I had any worries about the aroma being a portent of things to come in the taste, I needn't have had them. Märzen came replete with Maillardy goodness, full of toasty bread taste. Just wonderful. It also had that nutty taste I first encountered with Victory Festbier, though less strong. Other less toasty bread flavors were joined by some great hops that were grassy tasting at first but took on a really nice flavor upon closer inspection. I did, however, find it a bit over-carbonated. Witness all those bubbles I saw.

Those hops took on some spiciness at the finish and added moderate doses of bitterness and dryness to drive away the last of the malty residue. Of Schaumhaftvermoegen there was none.

While it suffered from a touch too much carbonation and was thusly was a little acidic, this was a very good brew. It was nice'n'Maillardy and had very little sweetness. I really enjoyed the hops, especially the floral taste.

We now leave the Rocky Mountains and head to the bayous of Louisiana and Abita Brewing. Well, I am not sure that Covington is even near a boyou, truth be told. Still, the brewery likes to trade on bayou imagery, especially gators. Perhaps only gators. I don't recall ever seeing an airboat on one of their bottles.

One thing I don't associate with the creole culture in Louisiana is a German influence. I think of Native American, French, African, and Spanish but not German. But there was apparently a "German Coast" in the state's early days on the east bank of the Mississippi River. That Wikipedia article also notes, "During World War I, in a reaction against Germany as the enemy, the Louisiana state legislature passed Act 114: it prohibited all expressions of German culture and heritage, especially the printed or spoken use of the German language, in the state." Yikes!

So let's taste Abita's expression of German culture and heritage.

I begin by noting the bier's medium gold color. A good beginning as this bodes well for minimal sweetness. Clear? Check. For a change of pace I managed to pour a big head. The foam was white and loose and lasted 30 seconds or so. This was an effervescent bier with lots of bubbles inside.

Rather than caramel sweetness, my nose first caught the scent of some fresh grassy hops. Unexpected though not unwelcome. That caramel was there but tucked away in the back while a more bready smell was at the fore.

The same held with the taste. A rich bread/biscuit flavor held sway and relegated a touch of malt sweetness to a supporting role. The hops were firm but not overpowering and they had a tasty combination of grass and spiciness. While the Prost had a bit too much carbonation, here it was just right.

Those hops were let loose on the finish after the malt faded or was, perhaps, pushed out. They were pretty spicy – nearing minty territory – and made for a rather dry denouement, though not especially bitter. The Schaumhaftvermoegen was great with webbing everywhere inside my glass.

As someone who hadn't had many Abita beers prior to this one and with the ones I did have being all fruited beers, I wasn't really sure what to expect from them doing a traditional lager. I am happy to say that this was a really good Oktoberfest. It had a nice bread flavor, though not of the Maillard toasty variety, but tasty nonetheless. And the sweetness was minimized. Those spicy hops on the finish were a pleasant surprise too. I find that spicy hops clash with sweeter malts in an unpleasant way but here, with bready flavors, they were a wonderful complement.

Junk food pairing: Pair Abita Oktoberfest with a bag of Snyder's Peanut Butter filled Pretzel Pieces.

Watching Hell or High Water I noticed that Jeff Bridges character drank Shiner Bock in almost, if not every, scene in which he drinks a beer. Now I don't know if this was because the Shiner folks paid the filmmakers or if the filmmakers simply like the beer. Or perhaps a preference for craft beer is supposed to be a commentary on the otherwise gruff old-timer with a penchant for racial humor of a decidedly non-politically correct type. I suppose I was expecting to see cans of Lone Star.

I don't think I've ever reviewed a Shiner beer. Shiner is a brand brewed in the town of the same name in Texas between San Antonio and Houston. And it is brewed by the Spoetzl Brewery, named after Kosmos Spoetzl, a German immigrant and the brewery's first brewmaster and owner.

A fair number of German immigrants settled in Texas although I tend to associate the state with things like oil, steak, chili, and Tejano music. Then again, Lone Star was founded by at least one German immigrant. We're talking lagers here, a technique surely brought to Texas by Germans. And so while surely a minority culture, that of German immigrants left its mark.

Ooh. Shiner Oktoberfest pours an amber hue. We could be headed for caramel sweetness. The bier's clarity revealed a generous amount of bubbles floating upwards to a sizable loose, white head. Sweet or not, it sure looked pretty.

Yep. Sweet caramel(ine) was out front on the nose trailed by some bread and a nice herbal hoppiness. Things aren't going too well here.

While I could certainly taste caramel, I was relieved to also taste bread and roasted grains to keep the sweetness from dominating. There was a nice fizziness to it as well as some very tasty hops that were grassy and spicy.

A little of the sweetness lingered towards the end as the hops became stronger and took on some black pepper taste. The finale was quite dry and bitter, eventually washing away all trace of malt. Schaumhaftvermoegen was limited to a smattering of foamy spots with a few small patches.

All things considered, I quite liked Shiner's Oktoberfest. It ended up not being quite as sweet as the color would have you believe. Plus the bread and grain flavors were quite tasty even if they weren't toasty in a Maillard kind of way. The bier finished more like a Bohemian pilsener than a Märzen but the sprightly hop taste made for a nice, bracing libatious experience.

Junk food pairing: Shiner Oktoberfest pairs well with sharp cheddar cheese food products like Velveeta and Easy Cheese so dip a soft pretzel in some melted Velveeta dip or pointed your aerosol can in its direction.

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25 October, 2016

Oktoberfest Is the Cruelest Style: Oktoberfest by Pecatonica Beer Company

I guess my previous post won't quite be my last review of a Wisconsin Oktoberfest.

The Pecatonica Beer Company is apparently domiciled in Gratiot, Wisconsin in the southwest part of the state. The company's tied house, the Pecatonica Beer Company Tap House, however, resides south of Gratiot on Highway 78 and across the Cheddar Curtain in Warren, Illinois which is within spitting distance of the Wisconsin-Illinois border. I would have included this bier in a Wisconsin Oktoberfest round-up but I was under the impression that the company itself was headquartered in Illinois with the suds being brewed in Wisconsin. Ooops.

Pecatonica's beer is brewed in Monroevia (as my Croatian-American friend who lives there calls it) at the Minhas Craft Brewery. Minhas does not exactly enjoy a good reputation as a microbrewery yet it was #9 (#9, #9, #9) in a 2015 ranking of largest craft breweries by volume. The Wisconsin State Journal's Beer Baron confessed that he finds "a lot of the beer produced by Minhas has a Corn Pops-type flavor". I personally haven't noticed this but did find that every beer in their Lazy Mutt sampler pack tasted A) thin & watery and B) barely distinguishable from one another. I will admit that those bombers of Rhinelander stout are plenty fine, especially for the price.

As for Pecatonica, I have had their Nightfall Lager. The dark lager is one of my favorite styles and so I upbeat at the prospect of another one appearing on store shelves. Unfortunately, the few times I've had it – on tap – it has been a syrupy, ill-attenuated mess. Did a perfectly delectable barrel leave Minhas only to become sullied somewhere along the way each time? It is certainly possible. Wherever the blame lies, I have avoided Pecatonica since. Well, until recently.

Pecatonica Oktoberfest pours a lovely light amber color. Atop the clear amber liquid sat about half an inch of loose, off-white foam. Sadly it did not hang around very long. Inside there was a fair amount of bubbles. All in all, a very pretty brew. (All that glitters…?)

There was a lot more caramel to be smelled than the bier's color let on. Usually big sweetness is accompanied by a darker hue. Sneaky. Some nice grassy hops and a nebulous, berry-like fruit scent rounded things out for my nose.

I was thoroughly unsurprised to find that the taste was dominated by caramel sweetness. I can only imagine what it would have been like if there wasn't nice, firm carbonation and a tasty bit of black pepper as well to put down the sweetness rebellion. Shades of bread and banana rounded out the taste.

Grassy/spicy hops bid the malt auf wiedersehen leaving things in a pretty dry and bitter state. There was also an astringent chemical taste that I couldn't identify. Of Schaumhaftvermoegen there was not a trace.

Talk about going out with a whimper. Octoberfest has been the cruelest style for Wisconsin brewers this year. I am tempted to find another local Festbier just to end this year's batch on a high note instead of this. Knowing next to nothing about the actual details of how Pecatonica's beers are made nor what trials and tribulations my bottle may have undergone prior to being in my clutches, I don't know on whose shoulders this mess belongs. On the one hand, the paucity of bready tastes as opposed to sweet, toffee ones is not a sin belonging to Pecatonica alone. On the other hand, the banana and chemical tastes are as is the lack of a nice lagery crispness. The tastes just don't harmonize here; instead it is as if they are at loggerheads all the time.

Junk food pairing: Go for the cheesy overload and pair your Pecatonica Oktoberfest with some Snyder's Cheddar Cheese Pretzel Sandwiches dipped in a fine cheese food product dip.

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24 October, 2016

Fanfare for the Uncommon Beer: 30th Anniversary Dunkel by Capital Brewery

2016 marks the 30th anniversary of Capital Brewery, well, brewing. The company itself came into existence in 1984 but brewing didn't commence for a couple of years. To celebrate, the brewery whipped a few special biers: Munich Dark infused with coffee and vanilla, an imperial pilsner, a pear Kölsch, and, most recently, a spiced Oktoberfest.

Capital also released Madtown Mule, their Lakehouse Lager infused with ginger and lime juice, but I don't know if this was in honor of the 30th anniversary or not. Similarly, there have been various barrel aged offering but, again, I am unsure if they are anniversary one-offs or just part of their nascent barrel aging program.

What is striking to me is how little fanfare was made of the anniversary. Maybe the brewery really whooped it up on social media that I do not frequent – I am certainly willing to concede that. But I doubt it. None of the anniversary biers were bottled and I don't recall the brewery actually throwing an anniversary bash. Did I miss it? Go to the Capital website and try to find any mention of these celebratory biers. When Grateful Red, their red IPA, was released, Madison buses were wrapped in adverts for it. For special anniversary one-off lagers, it's good luck finding them on tap. Sad.

Growlers to Go-Go recently tapped a barrel of the Munich Dark infused with coffee and vanilla. Considering that the bier was released in the spring, this was probably not the freshest bier. But it's not about hops and was presumably stored nice and cool so, while perhaps not optimal, I saw no reason not to give it a try.

The bier was a dark copper color and quite clear. While there was a good amount of bubbles inside the glass, up top there was no head. This was likely due to my poor pouring ability and the fact that this was day two of the brew sitting in my growler.

Taking a whiff, I found that vanilla was up front with the coffee just behind it. And they smelled really nice and rich. Taking a sip, I found that the vanilla was still right up there but that the coffee had become a little stronger. And so, in addition to a great coffee taste, there was also some bitter chocolate to be had. The dunkel seeped through as well as I was able to taste some roasted grains. In addition to flavor, the coffee also added some bitterness which mingled with the hops that gave a grassy/spicy taste and moderate bitterness of their own.

The coffee and vanilla lingered pleasantly on the finish while the hops reached a spicy crescendo. But not too spicy. Just enough to give some bitterness and end on a mildly dry note. Schaumhaftvermoegen was nowhere to be found.

This bier was ausgezeichnet! The coffee and vanilla combination was just great. I suppose they go well together since they have complementary earthy flavors. But the vanilla adds a little sweetness while the coffee contributes bitterness. While these infusions are the stars of the show, I could still taste the roasted grain of the clean, crisp dunkel beneath.

This should have been bottled and given a wider release. Not only is it an extremely tasty brew but Capital, as the alpha of Madison area craft brewing, deserves to have their anniversary celebrated better.

Junk food pairing: Pair your 30th anniversary dunkel with something that complements the infusions like some Snyder's Dark Chocolate Pretzel Dips.

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18 October, 2016

A Final Wisconsin Oktoberfest With Addendum

Today will be my terminal tasting of Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. By and large this year's crop has been disappointing. Words like "full" and "rich" were sadly inapplicable to most of these biers. At least one was laden with diacetyl – a big disappointment. But most were simply one dimensional, thin and watery with a touch of caramel sweetness and perhaps some hops.

There were, of course, many more homegrown Oktoberfests that I haven't tried than those that have crossed my lips. Amongst bottled brews are New Glarus, Ale Asylum, and Sprecher. Add to that those from brewpubs and I'm sure you've got quite a total.

I'm no statistician so I am not sure if 12-14 samples is representative enough of Wisconsin Okto-output to render a valid verdict for 2016. But as far as my tongue is concerned this year was simply disheartening. I'd like to be able to just put this episode behind me and wait for Wisconsin to shine with its Weihnachtsbiers but we don't really brew many of those. What is my state's preferred winter seasonal?

First up is the venerable Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company. I wrote about the special place in my heart for Leine's not too long ago. Having said this, their output is uneven. They brew some fine beers but they also brew liquids that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the style listed on the bottle. It's like they're starter beers. They get you into the ballpark of what the style is about without ever going all in.

Will the same fate befall Oktoberfest?

It poured a deep gold which was something of a relief as I figured it wouldn't be overly sweet. Clear as day, I could see a fair number of bubbles rushing upwards to a big, frothy, white head that decided to stick around for a while.

As expected, my nose caught a bready smell first. It was joined by some tasty grassy hops. Sure, there was some caramel sweetness but, as the color foretold, it was rather mild. And really, overall, the aroma was pretty tame. Not bad, but certainly not an olfactory fanfare.

The taste was mostly more of the same. A restrained bread/biscuit maltiness bolstered by a touch of caramel sweetness. While the hops were grassy on my nose, they pulled a Jekyll and Hyde routine and took on a sharp herbal/spiciness on my tongue. Add in just the right amount of carbonation and you've got a nice little bit of zing going.

The malt fades at the end leaving that zesty hop flavor to come forward for a rather dry and bitter finish. My glass was left with some scattered patches of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Leine's Oktoberfest was just about what I expected it to be – a Virginia Slims beer. It's got all of the Oktoberfest components but not enough of most of them. More malt flavor was needed in place of the hints of bread and biscuit here. I will admit, however, that I really like the hoppiness. Grassy to the nose but spicier on the tongue with a little bite. Really nice.

Junk food pairing: Pair Leine's Oktoberfest with something simple like potato chips and a bacon & horseradish dip.

This is really more of an addendum as the Old Style brand is, to the best of my knowledge, still owned by Pabst which is, in turn, owned by a "beer entrepreneur named Eugene Kashper and a private equity firm based in San Francisco. According to Wikipedia, anyway. And so, while Old Style is not a Wisconsin company, it is being brewed in La Crosse again at City Brewery, the former of of G. Heileman.

Old Style was very popular in Chicago when I was growing up there and when my friends and I would steal beer from our fathers' stashes, it was usually Old Style. (And sometimes Special Export or Hamms.) I don't have an affinity for the beer or the brand because of this but Old Style has a long history in Wisconsin and I think it fits the theme here, if only tangentially. Having said this, I see that the Old Style website plays up its (former?) popularity in Chicago heavily. "Chicago's beer" is everywhere. Oh well. Alia iacta est.

I haven't found any indication that Old Style used to brew an Oktoberfest while it was still brewed in La Crosse back in the day although G. Heileman may have under a different label.

As with the Leine's Oktoberfest, I didn't go into this with great expectations.

Old Style's Oktoberfest was amber in color which augured a sweeter bier. It was clear and, against all odds, I managed to pour a bier with a nice head. This was was firm and off-white and, happily, it lasted a while. There was a modicum of bubbles inside.

As was forewarned by the color, Oktoberfest had a not insignificant caramel sweetness to it that managed to somehow not lapse into being cloying. There was a little biscuit flavor as well as a healthy dose of peppery hops. The carbonation fell into the optimal range. And there was also this nebulous earthy/spicy flavor. The best way I can describe it is that it was as if they were going for that peppery flavor you find in some amber lagers such as Eliot Ness but couldn't quite get there. It wasn't unpleasant, really, it just malformed or perhaps undercooked.

For the finish the malt bid farewell leaving some peppery hops to do their thing. Here that meant a fairly firm dryness and attendant bitterness. Along the lines of a German pils, I'd say. Schaumhaftvermoegen was everywhere with streaks all around my glass.

With a medium body Old Style's Oktoberfest had a bit more heft than Leine's but this is purely because of the additional sweetness. What both biers had in common was a real lack of maltiness – especially the kind that doesn't taste like caramel. They were both thin and in need of more of a grainy foundation. The peppery hops in the Old Style were a pleasant surprise but they required more malt to play against.

Sadly, these Oktoberfests by larger, maybe less crafty, brewers are very much in line with those brewed by smaller, craftier ones.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Old Style Oktoberfest with some Doritos dipped in a vat of warm, gooey Velveeta cheese food product.

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14 October, 2016

I Looked and Behold, a Dark Horse Beer: Fore Smoked Stout by Dark Horse Brewing Company

Oooh! My first rauchbier of the autumn. I believe that it is also my first Dark Horse review. I've had a collaboration brew with which they were involved and have sampled their wares at the Great Taste but I can't find any evidence that I've blessed them with a solo inspection of one of their beers.

Dark Horse hails from Marshall, Michigan – a town about the size of Portage that lies in the south central part of the lower bit of the state. I don't really know why but I always think that the brewery is in California or Colorado when I see their six packs in the cooler. And they're almost always seated next to Short's, Bell's, Founders, and whole lot of other establishments that lie east of the Mississippi so you'd think I'd get the hint. But no.

Honestly, I don't know much about Dark Horse. I presume they brew lots of IPAs because that's what breweries do to placate all those tongues wagging in Citra-fueled paroxysm. Fore Smoked Stout is the fourth entry in their Stout Series so apparently they also have a thing for stouts in addition to hoppier beers.

Fore can rightly be described as Stygian in appearance. Pouring it, the beer looked to have the color and viscosity of motor oil. Sure, it's deep brown but looking at the glass like any normal person does, it is black. It may have been clear but I couldn't say for sure. I can tell you, however, that I didn't see any flakes or chunks. As per normal, I managed only a small head here. The foam was moved beyond the realm of tan into brown, albeit one of a lighter hue. Sadly it went away rather quickly. The effervescence you ask? Stygian, I say, Stygian!

As a lover of smoke beers, I find trying a new one to be exciting because I get to find out how far a brewer is willing to go/keen on going. Are they going to throw in a just a little smoked malt simply to add to the gustatory milieu and appease a wide audience or will they use a more generous helping to emphasize the smoky taste to appeal to the hearty few?

I can usually tell by waving my beer around to look at the color and whatnot because a fairly smoky beer is discernible even when it is a foot or more away from your nose. If there's a Schlekerla even 30 cm away, you'll know it. Fore is not one of those beers. Bitter chocolate was most pronounced to my proboscis with the smoke having a definite supporting role. And no, it didn't smell like bacon. Nor of apple wood. Perhaps it was oak smoked. There was also a firm sweetness which reminded me of the Chinese haw flakes I ate as a kid.

While I am sure the history of the stout is quite lengthy and convoluted, I simply think of them as, well strong porters. Fore certainly fits that description with a lot of dark/bitter chocolate taste that was bedecked with a hint of coffee and, of course, some (non-porcine tasting) smoke. Some spicy hops added a touch of bitterness but it was really the black malts that gave that acerbic taste.

A bitter chocolate aftertaste lingered long after the last drop had descended into my gullet and was joined by the hops which became a little grassy here. This was by no means a very hoppy beer but they let your tongue know they were there. And, when the carbonation joined, it was more than a little dry. I also noticed a slight alcohol burn. Fore is only 7% but you can taste it. There wasn't much lacing here – just some small spots here and there.

Dark Horse definitely took the smoke-as-an-accent route. It doesn't jump out at you and instead has a good ol' time blending with the coffee and bitter chocolate maltiness. Fore has a definite ashen black malt taste and it is bitter. But in a good way. While I wish there was more smoke flavor – I always wish there was more smoke flavor – Fore is a really tasty combination of dark and smoked malts. It's also on the big side with a heavy-medium body and some alcohol burn. Still, I found that it went down quite smoothly.

Junk food pairing: Pair Fore Smoked Stout with some Smoked Gouda Triscuits smothered in American Flavor Easy Cheese.

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