Faithful readers know that I’ve all but given up on writing tasting notes. In the early days of Aleheads, I cranked them out with reckless abandon. It was a fun way to keep a running catalog of the beers I was consuming and it made for a quick and easy post when the site didn’t have much new content.
Over time, I started seeing tasting notes as a bit of a chore. For starters, I’m not very good at them. I LOVE craft beer, but I don’t have a particularly refined palate or sense of smell. My wife can pick out about 10 times the flavor and aroma notes that I can. Hell, I let my three-year-old take a whiff of an Imperial IPA the other day and she picked out some lemon scents that I hadn’t even noticed. Beyond that, tasting notes get mind-numbingly repetitive when you write them in volume. There are only so many times you can write about “toffee notes” or “a touch of grapefruit in the nose”. Craft beer might have a seemingly infinite number of variations, but we seem to always go back to the same few descriptors when writing about it (or at least I do).
More importantly, our readers don’t really come to Aleheads for tasting notes. If that’s all you’re looking for, there are two massive databases available on-line which are far superior to our site. We’re more like the half-drunk color commentator on your local baseball broadcast. We don’t provide much in the way of “facts” or “well-reasoned arguments”. We mostly exist to spout half-assed opinions and snarky analysis of craft beer stories.*
*We’re Jerry Remy, basically.
Nevertheless, occasionally I’ll come across a beer that, for whatever reason, I feel obligated to describe to Alehead Nation. My last tasting note was on the Founders CBS which had caused so much of a stir in the beer blogosphere that I felt it was my duty to write a post about it.
Today, I’m writing tasting notes on a delightful duo of beers provided to me by fellow Alehead Smiley Brown: the Kern River Citra DIPA and the Närke Kulturbryggeri Kaggen! Stormakts Porter.
While Smiley is one of the newest and least prolific Aleheads (seriously Smiley…write more!), his passion for craft beer goes back a long ways. When he jumped on board our little bandwagon, Smiley decided it was time to truly dedicate himself to exploring the fermented arts. For those of us that know him well, the results were predictable. You see, Smiley is a rabid “collector” (comic books, artwork, quadruple-amputee porn, etc). He’s also got a huge competitive streak. So when he decided that craft beer was going to be his new hobby, he didn’t just dip his toes…he jumped into the deep end.
Within a few months, Smiley’s checklist of prestige beers dwarfed the other Aleheads. He had sat in a bistro in San Francisco sipping Pliny the Younger and a month later found himself playing hooky from work to crack into some Kate the Great in Portsmouth, NH. Even more impressive than his frequent jaunts to taprooms and breweries was his ever-expanding beer cellar. When he sent the Aleheads a list of the brews aging in his cellar, we were dumbfounded. CBS, Kate the Great, Abyss, Westy 12, Dark Lord, Heady Topper, Hunahpu…basically, if it was on Beer Advocate’s Top 100 list and wasn’t a draft-only offering, there was a pretty good chance Smiley had a bottle or two of it.
Even better, despite the seeming evidence to the contrary, Smiley is NOT a hoarder. He’s really not trying to impress anyone with his collection (well, OK…maybe just a little). He actively wants to share his wares with fellow Aleheads, but never has the time do so. When he’s not trekking to various beer-dispensing institutions to sample their suds, Smiley has an obnoxiously time-consuming job AND a lovely wife and two adorable daughters. The simple truth is, his collection has become ridiculous because he NEVER has time to drink his beer! Plus, like most Aleheads, he wants to share his “best” stuff with friends and such get-togethers are few and far between when most of us have little ones.
Fortunately, during this past weekend’s jaunt to my homeland of New England, Wifey and I decided to pack up the girls and trek out to the Brown Homestead. We got there just in time for breakfast, so Smiley naturally busted out a bomber of Kern River Citra DIPA. I was pleased.
The Citra DIPA’s reputation has become legendary amongst Aleheads. It currently sits as the #8 beer in the world on BeerAdvocate and it has received glowing reviews from everyone who has sampled it. Alas, this tasty treat has always managed to elude me…until Smiley cracked open his bottle.
The Kern River Brewery is located in picturesque Kernville, California. You haven’t been there. It’s a small town located hours inland from Bakersfield at the Southern extreme of the Sequoia National Forest. Despite its small size and remote location, Kern River has been making waves in the craft beer world. And the biggest wave of all has been their tsunami-esque Citra DIPA.
Citra is the “it” hop varietal of the moment. Providing a pungent, citrus aroma (as the name implies) with a ton of bitter alpha acids, Citra hops, if used properly, can make a hop-forward beer absolutely extraordinary. And I know I’m not alone in stating that the Kern River Citra DIPA uses the Citra hop about as well as any beer on the planet.
The beer pours a hazy, vibrant gold with a pillowy, long-lasting white head and excellent lacing. The aroma is out of this world. The beauty of Citra is the incredibly complex aroma that it can produce even in a single-hop application. It perfectly marries a big, brash, tropical fruit (think grapefruit, mango, and tangerine) aroma with a dank, pine resin, cannabis smell. If you’re someone that likes a big bowl of fresh fruit with your big bowl of weed, then you’d probably dig the Citra DIPA.
The taste belies the bold aroma and is far more delicate and subtle. It’s hop-forward, with those citric tropical fruit flavors taking center stage. But it’s not bitter in the slightest and those alpha acids are perfectly married with a beautiful candy apple sweetness. It’s got a nice, smooth medium body with ample carbonation to keep it fluffy on the tongue. It’s crazy-drinkable thanks to its low astringency and was beloved by even Wifey McHops and Goody Brown…neither of whom generally love brash DIPAs. I give this beauty…umm…wait…*
*Barley: Do we still do hop rankings?
Slouch: What? Yes. Why wouldn’t we?
Barley: I just…I mean…how do they work again?
Doc: Goddammit, Barley. It’s YOUR stupid system? Seriously?
Barley: No, I know. I was just…umm…making sure YOU knew how it worked. What’s the…umm…”best” rating?
Slouch: Fuck you.
Doc: Four hops. Four hops is the best. Idiot.
Barley: Totally. I knew that. Four hops. Right.
I give this beauty Four Hops. Damn it was tasty.
After hanging with the Brown and McHops girls for awhile, Smiley finally took me down to his epic beer cellar. His collection did not disappoint. Particularly incredible is his set of vintage Ballantine Burton Ales, some of which date back to the early 60s. Smiley offered to open any bottle in the cellar. My eyes immediately lit upon a small, dark bottle from Örebro, Sweden.
The Kaggen! Stormakts Porter burst onto the scene a few years ago when it was named the best beer in the world by RateBeer. While it no longer tops their list, it still sits pretty at #12 on BeerAdvocate. The beer, which can only be purchased in Sweden, is a mythical beast. Plenty of folks (including myself), assumed its legend was mostly due to its scarcity and difficulty to obtain. But despite this skepticism, I wasn’t above requesting that Smiley crack open one of his two Stormakts Porter bottles. While his cellar was full of rarities and one-offs, I suspected that the Närke offering might be the one I’d never have a chance to sample again.
Smiley popped the top on the small bottle and poured the contents into two small glasses. Like many aged, prestige Imperial Stouts (this was a 2007 vintage), it poured an oozy, abyssal black with the barest hint of a dark brown head and utterly no lacing.
The aroma was impossibly rich and rewarding with huge notes of dark chocolate and coffee and some faint hints of well-aged whiskey. The taste was even better. While incredibly complex, everything was perfectly synthesized and harmonious. The dominant flavor up front was dark chocolate with roasted espresso in the middle and a delightful amount of smoke and toasted oak in the finish. The mouthfeel was oddly thin. Normally, I’d consider that a drawback for such a big, flavorful beer, but for whatever reason, it worked with the Stormakts Porter. It didn’t overwhelm or destroy my palate. In fact, it was strikingly drinkable considering its boozy heft and rich melange of flavors. It was good is what I’m saying. Five hops for this one.*
Right, four hops for this one. Four. Whoever gets to share Smiley’s second bottle with him is a lucky Alehead indeed.
While Smiley offered as many other beers as I’d like to split, I had a long drive with the family ahead of me and I had taken enough advantage of his hospitality by then. Fortunately, the McHops and Brown clans are planning a trip together this summer…and I suspect a fair amount of Smiley’s beer cellar will be traveling with him. I’m sure there will be at least a few tasting notes that come out of that debacle.