Pete: So, as the one of the three of us who still resides in the DC area, I had a little bit of a challenge on my hands to contribute to the beer discussion because Shane and Brian had lived in the area for a while. They know the "heavier" hitters in DC Brau and Port City, and a lot of the smaller breweries in the area that are in the stage of development where they only offer draft and growler beer, no cans or bottles. Luckily, there is a DC law that allows bars and beer stores to purchase beer from anywhere and pay a separate tax on it to import it without using a distributor with a more limited list. This can help the area get some strange and wonderful beer that would not normally be available in our market. The area has also been a hotbed for older craft breweries like Bell's (Hopslam) from Michigan and Ballast Point from California (Pineapple Sculpin) to send a lot their newer or more popular releases to DC before many east coast markets get them. I also got lucky because Hardywood in Richmond has grown to a point that they are supplying local Whole Foods with their special releases. I was able to grab their Gingerbread Stout and their Bourbon Sidamo Coffee Stout for everyone to try. I hope that I can get some more cans soon as many of the breweries in the area are expanding.
Shane: It's been a little more than a year since I left DC, and in that time I've had my eyes opened by a lot of great New England beers. I've also been keeping track of the beer scene in DC, and I've noticed with more than a little irritation that quite a few breweries have started popping up. Where was this when I was living there? Why was I subjected to nothing but (actually pretty drinkable) DC Brau? Whatever. This batch of beers only has a few that are local to DC, but that's okay. I've been eager to try some of Hardywood's offerings, and I can’t exactly complain about the area getting Hopslam.
York: I spent a long time in DC. Admittedly, most of that time did not include an appreciation for beer. Pete was a big part of my getting into beer and finally acknowledging that Rolling Rock and Highlife left a bit to be desired (I will defend those beers 'til I die though). Pete held a few tastings at his place and invited a few of us over to sample some rare or unique brews, and then did a batch of homebrews for his wedding that really turned my attention to trying new craft brews. The timing was perfect, and right as my interest grew, some great breweries popped up in the DMV. I got exposed to sours at Right Proper and Denizens, some great full bodied beers at Port City, and also made a point to give the DC Brau (among others) selection a comprehensive sampling. I have had a few of the Hardywood brews before, but nothing quite as specialized or impressive. Looking forward to those, and hope to have some more DMV representatives in later exchanges as more of those breweries start bottling/canning.
Shane's Thoughts: Wow. I wish I had been able to drink this beer a couple of months ago, because it really is the perfect Christmas beer. The flavors really come through well and the beer is rich enough to stand up to the spices used. I would drink this again in a heartbeat. My only reservation is that there is a somewhat unwelcome bite of alcohol on the back end. Maybe that’s just par for the course with a beer this strong, but I was surprised that the beer's richness doesn't stand up to the alcohol content as well as it does to the spices.
York's Thoughts: Hardywood crushed it with this beer. It tastes like adult christmas and definitely beats cookies and milk in my book. The issue with a beer that is so prominently seasonal is that having it out of season definitely takes away from the experience a bit. Without a doubt the best ginger flavor I've ever had in a beer, and the milk sugar component makes this smoother than I even thought possible at this ABV and with so many flavors going on. The finish has a noticeable bite compared to the smoothness of how it drinks, but I suppose that is the homage to the bourbon component.
Pete's Thoughts: This is the most hyped Xmas beer I can think of and the most palatable seasonal style for me. Sometimes you run the risk of getting some spice beer that just isn’t that great, or a brewery just makes another random stout which doesn’t really make you think of the season outside of the story they give it (but the brewer stole all the spices from a mall Santa!). This is a fun beer because it does invoke the memory of a gingerbread cookie. I get that more on the back end. This year’s batch is very balanced while past years have had too much ginger or too much sweetness that overpowers. You will taste ginger then some sweetness that will blend to give you a nice mix of ginger and sweet spices like vanilla and cinnamon.
Shane: Very solid beer, though you’d really only want it in the winter. 7/10
York: Very seasonal but a great experience. Respect for how well flavored HW got this. 7/10
Pete: Big full flavored Xmas beer, may be a little thin for some but I like it. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: I love this beer. It’s everything I want in a bourbon aged stout. I differ from Pete in that I don’t want a really assertive bourbon flavor in a stout like this--I just want something really subtle. I want to taste it, but I don’t want it to beat me over the head. This beer is heavy on the coffee flavor, but it’s incredibly well incorporated into the overall richness of the beer. I originally intended to drink a glass of this and review it before finishing...but instead I found myself polishing off the entire bottle and wondering what the hell happened.
York's Thoughts: I could not have underestimated this more, and that includes an already high expectation. I saved this thinking it would be a very good, but not quite great beer. I'm not a coffee fan in general which is a major sticking point for me with a lot of good stouts. This however, somehow tastes like dark chocolate got melted into coffee and then rounded out with bourbon. Delicious on every level, and that word is so rarely used in my vocab it almost makes me uncomfortable. I dock it the one point only because I think it needs to be had extremely cold, and conflictingly, the nature of this sort of beer lends itself to big bottles and slow drinking.
Pete's Thoughts: This is the other beer that Hardywood does that I consistently enjoy. The Sidamo coffee is nice, the beer has a nice sweetness, but I think it really needs that bite of bourbon to cut that sweetness that evens it out for me. The bourbon note can be a little assertive sometimes but I tend to enjoy that. It’s a good full bodied stout that will obviously give you a nice hit of coffee, roast chocolate, and some caramel notes for the barrel.
Shane: Love this. My favorite of the bunch. 9/10
York: This beer fundamentally altered my ceiling both coffee and bourbon stouts. 9/10
Pete: The bourbon can sometimes cut too much, and it’s tough will all the bourbon stouts out there. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t expect this beer to be nearly as good as it was. I understand the place that Hopslam has in beer history, but I expected it to taste more like a relic of the past than a modern trend-setter. Boy was I wrong. You can absolutely taste the part that this beer played in inspiring breweries like The Alchemist to go all in on similar brews. I appreciate the slight grapefruit flavor that Hopslam carries--it isn’t overwhelming, just enough to taste--and it’s less hoppy than I imagined a beer called "Hopslam" would be. I went into this expecting something along the lines of an upscale Sierra Nevada, but what I got was much better.
York's Thoughts: So pleasantly surprised on so many levels with this. First--and I mentioned this in my post on the Flat Tail beer--the dry hopping is what really seals the deal for me. I was expecting something that just tasted like pure hops (admittedly, I just ignorantly judged by the name) and was met instead with a ton of flavor and lots and lots of layers here. 'Complex' is the best and only word you need out of Bells’ description to cover this beer. Grapefruit at the front, sweetness in the middle, and that perfect dry hop finish. Excellent work.
Pete's Thoughts: Ah, the legendary Hopslam. Beer geeks traveled far and wide to pick up every last six pack that they could of this beer a few years ago. A lot of people still come out for this beer, and deservedly so. It is a huge beer with great grapefruit and passionfruit flavor. Smells great, and it has that nice balance of fruity notes and bitterness making it a very rounded IPA. The problem is that the world has passed this beer by in a lot of respects. In 2010, this beer was one of the only hop bombs out there, and I would like to think it pushed other brewers to create bigger and more aggressive hoppy beers. Everyone should try this beer if they can because it is an important piece in the evolving history of craft beer. Get it while you can, because it only comes out once a year.
Shane: I think I’m actually going to rate this higher than Pete, which surprises me. 8/10
York: Great beer--fits pretty much everything I want in an IPA. 8/10
Pete: Nostalgia gives this a bump for me. I always want this beer but am also glad I usually don’t get more than a 6 pack. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Kind of funny that this California beer is in Pete's post instead of York's. I’m not sure what to say about the Pineapple Sculpin, honestly. Ballast Point has never let me down with a beer, and the Grapefruit Sculpin is probably my favorite grapefruit beer I’ve ever had. As a beer, the Pineapple Sculpin is fine, but it is hampered by the fact that pineapple is just a harder flavor to smoothly integrate. Sometimes the flavor can be hard to pick out, other times it can feel a little assertive. The beer is very drinkable, but it’s possible that Ballast Point has set the bar too high with their other Sculpin offerings.
Pete's Thoughts: This is the classic with another new twist. Some have thought that Ballast Point has pushed this whole fruit and beer thing a little too far for commercial purposes with their mango, ginger, and watermelon offerings with their hoppy beers. These are the people who made the grapefruit IPA mainstream, and they don’t miss here either. This is a little more subtle than the Grapefruit Sculpin. The pineapple takes a backseat and helps to build this fruit quality in the beer so you get more of a combined fruit flavor with some pineapple dryness at the end. I really like the nose and the fact that they didn’t overdo it. It’s a crisp and refreshing take on their classic west coast IPA.
Shane: Drinkable, but disappointing when compared with the Grapefruit Sculpin. 6/10
Pete: While I don’t think Ballast will start a Pineapple IPA revolution, this is nice, 6/10
Shane's Thoughts: I'm a big Sam Adams fan. I know it’s trendy for craft beer drinkers to hate on Sam Adams now, but I will still happily try anything they put out. The Rebel series has been particularly rewarding to drink, but I’m not sure the Rebel Grapefruit lives up to it. Like I said about Ballast Point with the Pineapple Sculpin above, Sam Adams suffers from the simple fact that there are better options on the market. The grapefruit flavor is VERY assertive here, and while that isn’t necessarily a negative, it makes it taste more like a shandy than a beer.
York's Thoughts: I've always been one of the Sam Adams 'haters' that both Shane and Pete not-so-ambiguously refer too. I think they pump out a ton of different labels that don’t have a wide variation of flavor. That said, there is nothing wrong with that consistent flavor they have. This beer was impressive to me because it broke away from that same-old SA taste that I’ve come to expect from everything out of their brewery. I think it’s got some good flavor and is a solid one-at-a-time beer. Unlikely to go back for more, but certainly didn’t drink the bottle under protest.
Pete's Thoughts: Some have accused Sam Adams of copying other IPA trends which is where some craft beer snobs lose me. Listen, if something makes money, it is because the market wants it, this is business, and the business is selling beer to the market. Plain and simple. Sam Adams has missed on a few of their offerings in my opinion and they have had to tweak some recipes with the Rebel Rouser and Rebel Raw. But this one they hit out of the park. These hops pair beautifully to give you a rich juicy drinking experience. Bitterness is low and they used peel and juice to really give you a great fruit juice sensation. This is more balanced than Grapefruit Sculpin, for me, because the Sculpin has a lot of peel bitterness on the back end. My one other argument for this beer is the cost. Sam Adams puts this to market in around $10/$11 a six pack, while the Grapefruit Sculpin is anywhere from $14 to $20 a six pack depending on the store. While you shouldn’t stop drinking Sculpin, I will say that this price point makes it more attractive to buy into the Sam Adams offering.
Shane: Delicious, but almost more juice than beer, which makes it tough for me to judge. 6/10
York: Pretty unobjectionable, but not something I get excited about. 5/10
Pete: Great rendition of the grapefruit IPA, using some of my favorite hops was just fiendish. 7/10
Best of the Bunch
Shane's Top Pick: Hardywood Bourbon Sidamo. I thought the Hopslam would be my favorite of this batch, but wow. I came away loving this one. Just couldn’t stop myself from drinking it.
York's Top Pick: The HW Bourbon Sidamo is the winner for me. I was impressed beyond expectations by the Hopslam as well, but the Sidamo is perhaps the best tasting beer I’ve had.
Pete's Top Pick: Gingerbread Stout. I base this solely on the fact that when I saw this at the store, I did not consider the fact that I did not have the required cart to hold all these bottles and carried 6 bottles of it in my arms because I was scared of other people stealing the beers from me if I put them down. The store had a display made out of 20 full cases of this beer. All you need to know.
Drink With Us
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