Snowdrift Vanilla Porter

It was always my plan to review the staples from Leinenkugel before I got into their seasonals, but when I saw Snowdrift Vanilla Porter in the store, that plan was foiled.  I never had any of the darker varieties from Leinenkugel before this, so I didn’t know what to expect.  To be honest, I went into Snowdrift expecting a winter beer that didn’t deliver on flavor and underachieved, characteristics I often find with beers from this brewery.  What I found was a very tasty winter beer that matches up to other top-notch varieties.Snowdrift Vanilla Porter

Snowdrift meets all the standard characteristics of a porter, and while not the best I’ve ever had, will not disappoint.  Dark as you’d expect, this porter delivers smooth, rich and savory flavors.  You’re met with creamy vanilla from the beginning, which peaks in the middle and tapers off towards the end, leaving almost no aftertaste. Throughout each sip caramel and coffee notes seem to flow seamlessly from the vanilla, which only enhances.  The only flavor that lingers is a soothing and warming vanilla flavor that is nothing but tasty.  At no point is the flavor imbalanced, too weighty or out of sync with the mouthfeel, and the only quality it lacks is a smoky component (which is always an added bonus anyways).  This beer is as light as you’d expect a good porter to be, of course matched with nice flavor, and because of this it is very drinkable.  The warming the beer imparts is not inhibited by the weight.  Another reason this porter is easy to drink is due to it’s refreshing nature, in this case a lighter feel due to what some would call watery.  Every Leinenkugel beer I’ve ever had has this “watery” component, sometimes appropriate and sometimes not.  In this case it’s neutral. Some might say, due to the style, it’s a detriment, but for me it makes this beer that much more refreshing.  Most importantly, it doesn’t take away from the flavor.

Because Leinenkugel is now a staple in the Chicago area, I will give more of a background on them the next time I review one of their beers.  I’ve had just about each Leinie’s variety, and Snowdrift is my new favorite.  Some beer geeks might shy away from buying anything Leinie’s, which I understand, but this one must be tried.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    9
Thickness            4
Hops/Malt          8
ABV                       6.0%

Hometown Blonde

I always have high expectations for any beer from New Glarus, especially a style as simple as a pilsner.  This is not your typical pilsner, however, but if you’re fan of rich ones, you’ll love Hometown Blonde.

For starters, this pilsner is on the heavier side, at least as pilsners go.  Hometown Blonde uses four varieties of German hops to achieve a richer and creamier “Old World” style pilsner.  Hops clearly comprise the backbone, a concept I’ll never argue with, but from a person who’s not the biggest pilsner fan, they’re a little much at first.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say they tasted stale, but their strength clashed with the light and creamy texture.  I wasn’t used to this, as it’s been a good long while since I’ve had a legit pilsner, but Hometown Blonde grew on me.  Hops add meat to the normally-bland pilsner, and this is one I would willingly pick up again.

If you like a good pilsner you’ll love Hometown Blonde.  The flavor is consistent and finishes clean without an aftertaste, but the middle was a little much for me at first.  If you’re not used to thicker pilsners, don’t pass judgment quickly; if you know you’re a pilsner fan, this is for you.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    3
Thickness            4
Hops/Malt          4
ABV                       4.8%

Two more from New Glarus

I was in Wisconsin a few weeks ago, and of course I was looking forward to having some beers from the New Glarus Brewing Co.  I more than satisfied my Spotted Cow craving, and in addition was able to enjoy many other of the brewery’s offerings.  Though I’m not prepared to review them all, I am ready to discuss two.  The first is Fat Squirrel, a brown ale; the second is Hop Hearty, a seasonal IPA.  Both are very good, so remember to grab some next time you’re in Wisconsin.

Fat Squirrel

This year-round nut brown ale is very refreshing, something you don’t always find with nut browns. Many times nut browns, intended to produce a distinct malt character, can be overpowering. It’s not uncommon for nut browns to be too thick, not smooth and have a nut flavor that is unbalanced and leaves a stale residue.  Fat Squirrel doesn’t have any of these problems.  Sitting on the lighter end of the malt and mouthfeel spectrums, yet still providing full flavor, is what sets this nut brown apart.  From the beginning of each sip the lightness sets the tone.  The malt component follows suit with a mild sweetness that isn’t overpowering or stale, and doesn’t change intensity during the sip.  The nut element emerges about halfway through each sip, matching very well with the malt sweetness.  A slightly sweet and mild nut flavor, reminiscent of hazelnuts, fuses with the malt.  Even though the flavors don’t hit you right away, by the completion you’re satisfied, and at the end of each sip you’re left with a sweetness that’s not overpowering, but enough to let you know you’re drinking a brown ale.

What is especially unique about this nut brown ale is the refreshing aspect.  Every time the malt or nut flavors emerge, refreshment comes with it.  Most times bursts of malt flavor are accompanied with weight, not lightness.  It’s a nice change of pace from traditional brown ales, and is done very well.  Because of it’s lightness Fat Squirrel is very drinkable.  While this nut brown deserves all it’s accolades,  I would still prefer a slightly stronger flavor.  Too much would throw off the balance, but a touch more would add a little more creaminess and body.  Overall, though, this is a brown ale you can enjoy any time of the year, and if I lived in Wisconsin, I would.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    8
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       5.8%

Hop Hearty

For some reason I didn’t have high expectations for this American IPA.  Whatever the reason for my skepticism, it disappeared quickly after trying Hop Hearty.  This is a fantastic take on the classic American IPA.  It won’t “wow” you with an incredible amount of hops and doesn’t use a random, interesting ingredient to make it special.  Instead, Hop Hearty is a simple, yet wonderful, take on the style.

A nice reddish-golden color greets you with a fresh hop aroma.  The bouquet leads you through each sip, which is smooth and evenly-hopped.  Light in mouthfeel in the beginning and only slightly heavier on the back end, the citrusy sweetness of the hops is consistent throughout.  The hop sweetness that starts you off remains on the tip of your tongue as the sip progresses, and as the back end approaches, the sweetness begins to wane and gives way to savory and somewhat syrupy caramel notes.  It might sound like a drastic change, but it’s not. Hops are the clear focus here, and they form a solid backbone.  The new sweetness only emerges just enough to end each sip smoothly and without any bitterness, yet without compromising any of the great hop flavor from earlier in the sip.  You come for the IPA, and as a bonus get some sweet, darker notes.  The only issue is that after a while the slightly syrupy consistency can become a little much.  This is definitely a beer you can enjoy many of in one sitting because it’s not very heavy, but the back end might become a little much after too many.

If you’re looking for hops that will blow you away, you won’t like Hop Hearty. This IPA isn’t extreme in any way, but for me, that’s one of the reasons it’s so good.  It’s simple and understated, yet still delivers enough hops to meet an IPA craving. You won’t be disappointed with this beer, and if you’re looking for a standard IPA, you’ll love it.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    5
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          3
ABV                       6.1%

Supper Club

I was originally drawn to this beer, from Capital Brewery, because of the label.  A nostalgic image complements the brewer’s description of a simple, American lager from a time when it was all there was to drink (i.e. before craft beers existed).  Aside from reminding me of Mad Men, I was curious and decided to give it a go.  This beer does a good job of fitting in the classic American lager mold, but it could be better.  Supper Club reminds me a lot of Coors (The Banquet Beer, not light), but not as good.  It is light in flavor, mouthfeel and color, but doesn’t offer a whole lot.  A slight sweetness reminiscent of Coors is the main flavor, but it’s not as smooth as Coors and not as easy to drink.  The malt element is too pronounced and leaves a bitter flavor at the back end.  This is supposed to be an easy-to-drink comfort beer, and while it follows the traditional flavor for this style, it should be smoother.  Supper Club would be fine in the early morning hours, as the box description mentions, but not very pleasant earlier in the night.  If you want to drink what Supper Club should be, have a Coors to see how it’s done.

Overall                 4/10
Color                    3
Thickness            3
Hops/Malt          6
ABV                       5.0%

A taste of Wisconsin

I was in Wisconsin last weekend, which meant two things: I was going to eat great cheese and make sure I had some Spotted Cow.  Spotted Cow is made by the New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus, Wis., and epitomizes a conundrum with the craft beer world.  On one hand, New Galrus can’t be found outside the state of Wisconsin, which is unfortunate because they make some great products.  On the other hand, its rareness adds to it’s mystique.  When going to Wisconsin you look forward to having it as one of the main perks of a trip.  It’s not uncommon to stock up before crossing back over the border.  Because it can’t be found everywhere, New Glarus beers (and Spotted Cow in particular), is put on a pedestal and idealized and made that much better in your mind.  Luckily for me, the wedding I was at had a keg of Spotted Cow at the reception and four New Glarus beers to select from at the rehearsal dinner.  Not only did the bride and groom have good taste, but they were smart to anticipate the craving people have for Spotted Cow.  Spotted Cow is one of my favorite beers, and last weekend I focused on it and New Glarus’ summer seasonal, Totally Naked.  Both were excellent and I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Wisconsin.

Spotted Cow

As I already said, Spotted Cow is one of my favorite beers.  Last weekend I was able to try it the best way possible, straight from a fresh tap, and it never tasted better.  In reality, Spotted Cow is a simple beer, yet offers so much to savor.  It is a cream ale that is mild on malt and hops, with no strong, predominant flavor.  It is sweet, but not wheaty or fruity, and gets it’s subtle sweetness from corn that is used in the brewing process.  At first it’s tough to put your finger on, but after thinking about it, corn is what comes to mind.  It seems an odd ingredient, but Spotted Cow utilizes it perfectly. The corn combines with what malt is present and yields a smooth, creamy and refreshing lighter ale.  It has a very light mouthfeel throughout the entire sip.  The flavor never changes and is consistently delicious the entire time.  At times it feels like you’re drinking water, not in a gross light beer way, but in a completely refreshing, light drink that doesn’t weigh you down and keeps you wanting more.  In this aspect, Spotted Cow is perfect.  It is light enough for any occasion yet full of flavor, always keeps you thirsting for another and is incredible easy to drink.

After much thought, I decided I have to give Spotted Cow a 9 out of 10.  I thought about giving it a perfect score, but I’ll have to try it again to be sure.  Obviously, though, I’m OK with that.  I do know, however, that I’ll never want to have it out of a bottle if I can avoid it.  It was better on tap, as all beers are, but after my recent fabulous experience, I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    4
Thickness            4
Hops/Malt          6
ABV                       4.8%

Totally Naked

This summer seasonal is a simple, plain beer, but is very good at it.  It’s a lager that has every characteristic lagers should: clean, crisp, light mouthfeel, golden in color and refreshing. Totally Naked is very easy to drink and, most importantly, doesn’t become bland after a few like some plain beers can. In fact, I can’t describe any notable flavor, it just tastes like a beer.  This is perfect if you want to quench your thirst.  It’s light and will satisfy you with one or many more over the course of a night.  To me, Totally Naked is what American light beers should be.  It doesn’t fill you up, it doesn’t compromise taste and is completely refreshing.  Although Totally Naked doesn’t bring any complex flavors or try something interesting, I gave it a high rating because it’s a great lighter beer with great drinkability.  Sometimes that’s what you’re looking for, and Totally Naked does a great job with it.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    3
Thickness            2
Hops/Malt          5
ABV                       4.2%

"Good people drink good beer." - Hunter S. Thompson