Pete: Last time, I chose beers from Hardywood and nowhere else. This time, I wanted to give a more diverse look at the area and include some Maryland beer. I also felt the need to counter some of the robust hoppy offerings provided by Shane and Brian. Heavy Seas has been one of me and Shane's favorite breweries, so I wanted to include something from from them. I was also able to get a few DuClaw beers, which was awesome because they are really crazy with the flavors they mess around with. They have created everything from chocolate peanut butter porters to a Colossus beer at 17.3% that drinks wayyyyyy too easily for that gravity. It was also a random time that a few mango IPAs were being put out by Maryland staple Frederick and DogFish Head. Interested to see how those go over because they are new takes on IPA from both breweries. I am curious when breweries bow to the market trends because I want to know if they put it together because they wanted to or because it sells. I also threw a few darker high gravity beers in because we have not gotten to try many dark beers and that season is quickly drawing to a close. I also had to throw in some 3 Star to fly the DC flag. Hope these go over well, cheers!
York: Sooooo many flavors here! Peanut butter, habanero, coffee, mango, peach, caramel, coconut, bourbon, apricots, more and more. That’s not even including the tastes pushed from the hops & malt! This huge-spectrum style selection is exactly what I tried to go for in my first batch. Everything from a bright White IPA to a Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with a whole mess of beers in between. I’ve got a soft spot for 3 Stars since they’re in DC proper so I’m hoping the Ghost White IPA provides a good drink. I’ve had a bunch of beers from DuClaw and think they are one of the better brewers of wacky flavors and intense dark beer flavors. I also miss the wide distribution of Flying Dog and Dogfish Head from my days on the east coast so I’m glad to have a rep from each of them. I’ll put it out there ahead of time - I’m yet to enjoy a spicy beer. I’m a bit nervous that my distaste for peppers in beer may overtake my appreciation for the Fever Dream, but will do my best to separate the two.
Shane: York said it best: this is a truly impressive array of flavor blends. I’m even more excited for this group of beers than I was for the last DMV offerings, because it hits a little closer to home. DuClaw, Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, Union Craft, 3 Star Brewing...so many breweries from right in the heart of the DMV. I have many fond memories of attending Heavy Seas events with Pete during my time in DC, and since Heavy Seas beer is almost impossible to find in New England, I’m pumped for the opportunity to sample them again. But the beer I’m looking forward to the most is probably the Ghost White IPA. I specifically asked Pete if he could get ahold of that beer because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 3 Star Brewing has gained a lot of traction since I left DC, and I’m ready for a taste.
Pete's Thoughts: So spicy IPAs have scared me since the Habanero Sculpin sampler I tried that burned me so badly I swore that I had consumed a plate of hot wings the night before. I have heard people try to say “this beer is hot but fruity.” They are lying, you just taste peppers in those. This one is really wonderful because you get the sweetness from the mango and the hops on the first sip, and a slight burn but nothing bad on the back end. Some pepper flavor but nothing that hurts. The beer also manages not to build in intensity as you drink it, so you get this refreshing fruit forward IPA with some slight spicy on the end. It tastes like mango, citrus fruit roll- up and peppers.
Shane's Thoughts: This is where I start to feel like Scott Conant judging a particularly challenging episode of Chopped, because I’m just not sure what I wanted out of this beer. I’m all over the map. On the one hand, I like this beer a lot. On the other hand, the flavor is not really what I wanted. On the OTHER other hand, I’m not sure if what I WANTED from this beer would actually work. Let me back up and explain. I’m a big mango hab’ fan. Mango habanero wings are one of my favorite snacks. And when you promise me habanero...I kind of want habanero! The mango really shines in this beer, and there’s a tiny bit of peppery goodness on the back end, but all in all I’m not sure I’d pick habanero out of this if you gave me 100 tries. Now. That said. I’ve had Ballast Point’s Habanero Sculpin, which does feature a hefty amount of habanero...and it’s almost undrinkable. So hey, does this beer fulfil its promise of habanero flavor? Not really. But in the end, that’s probably a good thing, and I enjoyed this beer quite a bit.
York's Thoughts: Not for me. I can’t seem to acquire a taste for spicy brews. I love me some hot wings with a good cold beer, and I completely buy into pairing beers with spicy foods. I have tried a few of the habanero or other chili style beers and just can’t get on board. It’s actually so far out of what I like taste-wise that I struggle to even give a good analysis of what I’m drinking here. It definitely has a more rounded palate than most in its genre, but the lingering burn is right about the last thing I want from beer. I really like Flying Dog and really miss having a wide variety of their brews available since moving out of the DMV. I’ll take the other guys’ word for it that this one is good as far as rating it goes and just leave it at the idea that it isn’t for me.
Shane: Good and drinkable. Only the tiniest hint of pepper on the back end, which is probably for the best. 7/10
York: Better than most spicy brews I’ve had, but that is the wrong scale to be on. 5/10
Pete: I was petrified that I would not like this but this beer was really good. 7/10
Union Craft Brewing (Baltimore, MD)
Beer Style: Double IPA
Hops: Cascade, Mosaic, CTZ, Amarillo, Galaxy
Description from the Brewery: “When we first brewed Duckpin, our little session-style pale ale, it really hit the spot for a go-to, anytime refresher. But we soon felt like we were just practicing. Knocking down all those little Duckpins just made us thirsty for something bigger! So we went back to the brewhouse and doubled down on malts and hops. The result is a double IPA that’s danker than a rental shoe and rolling with ten frames of juicy, resinous hops down a solid lane of malted barley and wheat. When it’s time to bring your A game, reach for a Double.”
Pete’s Thoughts: This is really a nice IPA in the area. Probably one of my favorites because it has that good fruit character of peaches and mango that I like, but it also has some nice bitter earthiness in the mid-palate that cleanses on the end. Really balanced without being overly fruity or bitter.
Shane’s Thoughts: I actually tried Double Duckpin the last time I was in DC, and I wasn’t overly enamored with it. However...I just happened to grab it as part of a mixed six pack and drank it along with several other beers, so I didn’t really stop to consider it. On my second pass, I actually like this beer quite a bit. The flavor is pretty mild, so I was surprised to see it clock in at 90 IBUs. I’m so used to the citrus-heavy New England IPAs that drinking something more on the earthy side is a welcome departure. I could drink a sixer of these easily, although since it clocks in at a hefty 8.5%, I probably won’t be looking to do that anytime soon.
York’s Thoughts: This is a great beer. Great citrus up front and a smooth earthiness during the drink. Good finish that leaves a little bit of stick, but the good flavor makes that far less of an issue than normal for me. It lands somewhere between the West Coast style IPAs I’ve been selecting and the NE style from Shane. More hops like the West Coast, but sticks that that thicker NE style body. This beer doesn’t have much wow factor, but sometimes simplicity and sticking to what works is best. Definitely a brew I plan to repeat when I’m back in the DMV.
Shane: It’s an interesting counterpoint to the New England IPA. Lighter on citrus, heavier on hops. I like it. 8/10
York: Excellent all around. Everything I want in the style. 8/10
Pete: Solid balanced IPA with good fruit character and good bitterness. 8/10
Pete’s Thoughts: This is really shocking by Dogfish Head because they have been very set in their ways for their seasonals. This year, they have tossed all the seasonals except for the Punkin Ale. This brewery is always going to have a special place in my heart, but they can miss sometimes. The sense is maybe they have no seen the robust growth they are used to, and this is their attempt to push for the beer trends. Overall a very good beer. Really juicy but not really IPA. You get some nice mango and some fuzzy apricot notes that give you a peach flavor. But the ginger in this appears to provide more of the bitterness than the hops. I would not call this an IPA, it is good but just not hoppy. The fun part of these fruit IPAs has been accent to fruit undertones from the hops, not dominance of the hop flavor. Maybe the ginger was too much or maybe they needed more hops.
York’s Thoughts: Kind of a strange beer in my mind. It tastes good and drinks pretty well, though is nothing at all like the description of it. I know I’ve said this a lot already, but dry hopping is always on of my favorite finishes for a beer. This one says it’s dry hopped and “hop-forward” but I honestly don’t get much of that. On a high note, as much as I love dry hopping, I also dislike ginger in beer and this one doesn’t allow the ginger to dominate over the fruit elements - it seems to actually compete more with the hops. The apricot sneaks through and this beer drinks more like a craft lager to me with the full bodied feel and lack of hops. Definitely miss being near the brew houses for these guys, glad to have a new beer from them in my life.
Shane’s Thoughts: I seem to have had a completely different experience drinking this beer than you guys. I thought it was perfectly drinkable, and each of the fruit flavors promised by the label come through in subtle (but still easily detectable) ways. I like Dogfish Head quite a bit, but they’ll probably never top my list of favorite breweries because they tend to be so hop-forward. Normally I don’t mind the bitter bite of Dogfish beers, but it’s beers like Romantic Chemistry where I feel like it actually can have a detrimental effect on the beer as a whole. If the fruit flavors were allowed shine just a little bit more, I think they’d have a great beer on their hands. As it stands though, it’s a beer that has just a touch of fruit flavor cresting over a hop tsunami. I don’t want to knock it too much, because I know that’s Dogfish Head’s style, but this beer could have used just a little bit more balance.
York: Agree with Pete’s confusion about style here but really drinkable and intricate flavor. 7/10
Shane: I’m a fan. I could drink a few of these during the summer, but the hops overwhelm the fruit a little too much. 7/10
Pete: Good but would not call it an IPA. It has good flavor but I need some more hop character. 5/10.
Pete’s Thoughts: Some breweries will make a beer and come up with the flavor profiles before tasting the beer. “It tastes like peanut butter cups!” This may come off this way because it sounds like a lot….Chocolate, Caramel, AND Coconut? No way it tastes like all of those things, it’s gonna be so unbalanced, blah blah blah. This is not one of those beers. You taste everything from coconut to caramel to a nice flavor or almond joys from the coconut. This might seem like a lot, but it’s really wonderful. If you like fun beers, you will enjoy this.
Shane’s Thoughts: I don’t know what to make of this. It’s interesting, and Pete is right when he says is a strange departure from style. For me though, there’s just too much malt. I feel like I’m drinking a liquified malted milk ball, with a little coconut milk thrown in for measure. I agree with Pete that you definitely taste every element in this beer. The chocolate, caramel, and coconut are all clearly defined. But the maltiness gets to me, and while the flavors are distinct, to me that also means that they aren’t blended well. I admit to being a little disappointed in this beer.
York’s Thoughts: I said in my intro that I’m always impressed with DuClaw’s ability to pump HUGE flavor into their beers. This certainly fits that trend. Tons of Coconut and easy to pick out caramel notes throughout. This is a beer I’d only ever want one at a time, but that one makes for a damn good end of the night brew. Used as a dessert or with the right kind of food pairing this beer makes for a really neat experience.
Shane: It’s alright, but the over-malted flavor gets to me. 6/10
York: Really unique--more of a dessert than a beer but nothing wrong with that sometimes. 7/10
Pete: One of my favorite oddball interpretations of a style. 8/10
Pete’s Thoughts: This is the Imperial version of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter made by DuClaw. That beer is awesome, this one had a lot of hype about it because they did such a good job on the porter. I would say I really do enjoy this but it is also very light bodied for what I was expecting. Still has that great chocolate peanut butter cup flavor going on. Real sipper and great dessert beer.
Shane’s Thoughts: Yep. That’s a peanut butter cup beer. That’s exactly what it is. I cracked this beer open next to my girlfriend, who is gluten intolerant and has never tasted a beer in her life. Within two seconds, she said “what is that? It smells like chocolate and peanut butter.” So pretty much anyone can tell that DuClaw achieved EXACTLY what they set out to achieve with this beer. Is it an amazing beer? No. It’s candy, really. It’s tasty, but it’s sweet and it’s rich and after a few sips you’re just about ready to be done. But man do I respect the hell out of it, because it goes bold with its flavor instead of just letting a little of that chocolate roundness sit on the back end. It may not be a “great” beer, but it’s definitely a success.
York’s Thoughts: 7’s from both of you eh? Come on, where’s your sense of excitement for things different! Get pumped about odd beers done right! I’ve long been a fan of the Sweet Baby Jesus from DuClaw and this one is essentially SBJ+. This beer is AWESOME. It’s not something I’d ever try to sit down with a 6 pack of, but damn is it a fun one to have around for after dinner or with a good weekend breakfast. Terrific chocolate and peanut butter flavors without tasting like a melted cupcake. I actually like the relatively light body this beer has that Pete mentions and think it makes this brew something I’d crave more often. They also remedied the slightly burnt taste that I think the SBJ had on the finish. Plus who can hate a 9% dessert beer?
Shane: Tasty. But overall a beer I wouldn’t have more than one of at a time. 7/10
York: Top notch execution. A very different 9 than my others, but still deserves it in it’s own right! 9/10
Pete: Great flavor, DuClaw gets a bump for truth in flavor description. 7/10
Pete’s Thoughts: So, KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) by Founders is the gold standard for many people when talking about heavy dark coffee bourbon stouts, and I think this one gives it a run for their money. I would put Bourbon County in that discussion but I think their has a more balanced body. This beer hits the mark with that straight engine oil mouthfeel and loads of bourbon and roasted coffee just hit your palate. You get back flavors of vanilla and roast from the malt that really linger on your palate after you finish it. The reason that I call this a KBS killer is partially because it is very modestly priced for the type of beer that it is (around $17/4 pack). And also that it is widely available when released in the spring. It is all over DC and you can usually find it on tap at a bar near you. I can’t even tell you about the price compared to KBS because honestly I have never gotten to buy more than one at a time because stores get so little of it. If it was around more, this might be an easier call. Personally, I like being able to grab a pack and sit to enjoy a beer rather than fighting people for a 10 oz. pour. I hope this is the future where we can get comparable brands so these special types of beer are more available.
Shane’s Thoughts: It’s rich. It’s delicious. It’s got the coffee and bourbon notes I’m looking for, but I’m going to have to disagree with Pete when he puts it on the same level as the Kentucky Breakfast Stout. I’m probably going to sound like a broken record with some of these beers, but over-malted beers just don’t do it for me. Sunday Morning Stout is rich, but it doesn’t have that velvety goodness that KBS boasts. Instead, it has a malty finish that isn’t necessarily unwelcome...it’s just different, and it doesn’t cater to my personal taste. To be clear, I’m not sitting here telling you this beer is bad. In fact, I think it’s very, very good. Where I think Pete hits the nail on the head is that you can probably drink a few of these and get away with it, as opposed to the impossible-to-find, lead-weight-in-your-stomach heaviness of KBS. But I can’t justify putting it on that level, however good it may be.
York’s Thoughts: This is a meal in and of itself. Brunch in a glass with coffee, molasses, tons of malt, chocolate and of course, some bourbon. Sunday Morning Stout is in my mind, the very definition of what a breakfast stout aims to be. While the heavy coffee and intense bourbon components aren’t my personal go-to for a beer, I know a good stout when I taste it. I know this is a particularly fond genre of Pete’s so I’m glad he included this to follow up on the Hardywood stouts from the last set. This one lands right in between those two for me. I’m last to try this beer and don’t pick up quite as many layers as the other guys, but I absolutely agree with the slickness-as-opposed-to-velvety descriptors that they use. At such a high ABV, you’d be brave to take down a few of these (especially with breakfast), but it drinks light enough that you could definitely try.
Shane: Not bad at all, but KBS it ain’t. 8/10
York: Excellent beer in a tough genre. 8/10
Pete: I will gladly say this gives KBS a run for its money. 9/10
Pete’s Thoughts: Heavy Seas is one of my favorite breweries in the area. They were the first brewery that taught me to love hoppy beers, they were the first brewery I got to visit in the area. They have some of the best valued events in the region. Their Burger and Beers, Chili and Cheese, Baconfests, etc. are some of the most fun and affordable drinking events I have been to. $40-50 gets you all you can eat or drink, modest lines, and specialty casks. They are the best cask brewery in the COUNTRY. Period. No debate. Have a glass of Loose Cannon on Wooden Cask and it will blow the top of your head off. I write all of that in build up because this is clearly an off batch. It got delivered the week I got it, label dates indicate freshness, it has that great flavor up front of juicy fruit and then fades into all malt and bitterness. I have had this beer before and was really impressed so I am calling a mulligan on this. I know they can do better with this beer, maybe I got a bad bottle. I say this because I know what this brewery can do.
Shane’s Thoughts: Bitter. Bitter, bitter, bitter. Like Pete, I am a HUGE Heavy Seas fan. In fact, when I lived in DC, we used to go to food and beer events at their brewery all the time, including a few of the ones he mentioned. So when I express my disappointment with this beer, I do it with love. It’s not great. It’s overly bitter, and the fruitiness I have always loved about the regular Loose Cannon beer has been almost completely drowned out. Like Pete, I am absolutely prepared to give Heavy Seas the benefit of the doubt here. If I picked this beer up off the shelf, I wouldn’t hate it. I would just think it’s an average IPA. It doesn’t live up to the expectations that its DIPA billing generates, and that’s too bad. Like Pete said, let’s give them a mulligan.
York’s Thoughts: I’m the last to try this one and I’ll echo what the other guys said. No need to repeat the points about appreciation for the brewery and the assumption it’s an off batch. This tasted like a barleywine to me. Predominately flat and extremely bitter with a lot of stick to it. I miss these guys and they’ve certainly earned the right to a second go at this beer for me.
Shane: A beer I had high hopes for turns into an average IPA. I wanted so much more. 5/10
York: It’s a rare miss from Heavy Seas. Will seek it out again to compare. 5/10
Pete: So I am going to chalk this up to an off batch, because I bought it fresh and it did not impress me. 5/10
Pete’s Thoughts: This selection was a shout out to the area and respecting a brewery that started as draft only and has moved towards canning. This is one of the two beers that they have started canning. I really like this brewery because they have not played it safe with mild flavor. The really hit you with big bold flavorful beers. I have visited it before and one time I was there and none of the growler beers were under 8% ABV. This beer is a great citrus hop bomb with some good bitterness on the end while not being too overpowering. The style uses wheat so it has a really nice mouthfeel. Overall a great sessionable beer that is available in the area year round in cans.
Shane’s Thoughts: I asked Pete to grab a few of these for us this time around because I wanted to learn a bit more about the local DC breweries. I didn’t explore too many of them when I lived there, and I figured this was a good opportunity to make up for it. And I have to say, if Ghost is representative of what DC’s breweries are doing, I am a big fan. There is some BIG citrus flavor in this baby, and the hoppy bitterness is balanced out incredibly well by the also-bitter fruit rind. It’s a cloudy beer, which I personally like, and Pete is right about the wheat adding a really nice mouthfeel to the beer. I’m not sure I would have been able to put my finger on that myself, but he nailed it.
York’s Thoughts: I, like Shane, unfortunately never got to experience 3 Star while in DC and am thrilled to have the true local brew in this batch. There aren’t a ton of breweries in DC proper, and even less that offer anything in a can or bottle. This beer explodes with citrus from the get go and measures up pretty well with a lot of the NE IPAs that we’ve had. I’m in the minority of the group about the haze and wheat element but the drinkability of this brew is top notch. The front end is so impressive, it kind of makes the finish a bit lackluster however unfair that may be. I drank this one pretty quick trying to get a good read on it and wish I had a couple more to come back to. 3 Star will definitely be on my list to visit on my next DC visit and this one will be high on my list to try again.
Shane: I like this quite a bit. Hoping more DC breweries follow this trend. 8/10
York: Great multi-glass beer with a really impressive first taste. 7/10
Pete: Really big bold citrus forward IPA for the ABV, I love the body to this beer. 8/10
Best of the Bunch
Pete: Sunday Morning Stout, really impressed me with the bold flavors.
Shane: Ghost White IPA. Maybe it’s a surprise selection, but this beer lived up to my expectations and then some.
York: I know I rated For Pete’s Sake higher and that a few others got the same, but the Double Duckpin is my vote for BoB here. That's the one I am craving more of after going through these brews.
Drink With Us
Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
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