‘Tis the season

For dark, dank brews. In this blog post, I’ll discuss two that I’m especially enamored with.

One — which I’ve had several times but tried against last night — is the Deschutes Black Butte XXVI Anniversary. The first time I had this one was at the Abilene Beer Summit, and I was blown away.

After trying it on tap several times, I had it in a bomber against last night, and I’m still really impressed.

At 10.6 percent ABV, the American porter hides its booziness behind a complex interweaving of cocoa nibs and fruit. This year’s offering is slightly less alcoholic than last year’s, which weighed in at 11.3 percent.

I drank this one out of a brandy snifter to get the most aroma possible. Head was the color of milk chocolate and stood up for a decent amount of time.

Sweetness from the dried fruit and pomegranate molasses makes up most of the aroma. The fruit flavor, accompanied by some tartness and acidity, is significant without being overpowering.

I got this bomber at Barley-Hoppers. I think they still have a few left.

The other beer I want to tell you about is Avery’s Mephistopheles, an imperial stout with a whopping 17 percent ABV. This one really ought to come with a disclaimer, as it’s a step away from being liquor.

But man, is it good.

Unlike the Black Butte Anniversary, the hot booziness of this stout is front and forward both in the aroma and taste. But I don’t think the high alcohol content overwhelms the other flavors in Mephistopheles, including charred wood, bourbon, vanilla, chocolate and roasted malt.

Give this one a try if you can, but trust me — sip slowly.


I’m in the wrong county

Not that there’s anything wrong with Taylor County. Really, there isn’t.

But for beer, right now, I need to be in Bourbon County. If you follow the craft beer industry even casually, you’ve likely heard of the Bourbon County products made by Goose Island Brewery in Chicago.

Probably the best known is the Bourbon County Stout, described on the brewery’s website as “A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel.” In fact, the stout is aged in bourbon barrels and weighs in at a whopping 14.2 percent ABV.

A coffee stout, a vanilla rye stout and a barleywine are also made in this line.

I cannot understate this fact: people go crazy for this beer. It’s only released once a year — about this time — and supplies are limited. So when it’s shipped to stores, a mad dash ensues to grab up whatever’s available.

I’d tell you my thoughts on it, but I can’t. I’ve never had it. Though Goose Island sells its mediocre 312 Urban Ale in Abilene, none of the Bourbon County products are available here.

But if the brewer’s website is accurate, a plethora of stores in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area received stout shipments. Guess it’s time to take a road trip.

Like a rolling Stone

I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with Stone Brewing Co.

The ubiquitous brewery based in Escondido, California, makes some of the first craft beers I ever tried, including their IPA and Arrogant Bastard. I’m not sure I liked them back then (“This is so bitter! Yuck!”), but I kept at it and now they’re two of my favorites.

Some Stone critics will say that too many of their products, often their IPAs, taste too much alike. Kevin, my favorite bartender at Cypress Street Station, is one of those people. To a degree, I agree with him, but at the same time, it’s like the old saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Luckily, one Abilene bar — it starts with a “B” and ends with “hoppers” — keeps plenty of Stone products on tap, many of which are new releases. While none of them have ascended to my list of favorites, I do think they’re worth a try.

1. The Quadrotriticale, part of the Stochasticity Project: 9.3% ABV

Poured dark-reddish and had a slight smell of fruit. It lacked the typical Stone hop bitterness, replaced instead by a cherry fruitiness that is synonymous with the quadrupel style. I think this beer was interesting in that it was a divergence from anything else I’ve had from this brewery, but it doesn’t seem to stand out from the pack in this particular style. But if you’re a Stone fan, give this one a go.

2. RuinTen IPA: 10.8% ABV

The RuinTen was made by Stone to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Ruination IPA. In my opinion, this is one of the best IPAs out there — perfect floral aroma, decent body and devastating bitterness thanks to the egregious amount of hops used. If you look “IPA” up in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a picture of this next to the definition.

3. Go To IPA: 4.5%

At 4.5% ABV, the Go To IPA is part of a larger trend in the craft brewing industry to make beer that tastes good but won’t knock you on your ass after drinking one or two. All the IPA flavor is still there, but a discernible lightness exists. From what I can tell, this is comparable to Lagunitas’ DayTime Ale and Founders All Day IPA (though I don’t really care for the Founders). This is a great option if you’re looking for a good session beer but don’t want to drink the dirty dishwater known as Bud Light.


You need to try Pappy Slokum’s beers

Seriously, you do.

On Tuesday, I sat down with retired APD cop Jeff Bell, who is the owner and brewer of Pappy Slokum’s Brewing Co. in Abilene, to discuss his burgeoning business on the city’s south side.

The brewpub opened about a month ago at their South Treadaway location and has seen steady foottraffic on Saturdays since, Jeff said. I was there opening day, and virtually had to push through a crowd to try the Hopsession, a fruity, bitter IPA with a modest 4.5% ABV.

When I visited the brewery on Tuesday, Jeff was finishing up a batch of his McPappy’s 80 Shilling, a semi-sweet, semi-bitter Scottish ale. As luck would have it, he already had some kegged — I liked the notes of wood, peat moss and lightly roasted malt.

But my favorite Pappy beer has to be the Tom 23, an imperial red ale that gets its name from the call sign of Rodney Holder, an Abilene police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2010. A huge bitter bite is underscored by floral notes from the Amarillo and Simcoe hops used to make it. At 8.8% ABV, it’s also Pappy’s strongest beer.

Jeff, who refers to himself as a “yeast herder,” said he’s not one for complacency, especially when it come to brewing. The Ya Mon, a light Jamaican ale made with mango, coconut, pineapple and habanero, is a testament to that.

The 5.5% ABV beer is a light yellow with a sweet taste that avoids being sickly. The coconut is stronger in smell than in taste, and the habanero is just barely noticeable.

The brewery has eight beers on tap right now, and has been opening from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jeff said he may change those hours to cater to the light night crowd. It shouldn’t be long until you can buy Pappy’s stuff from your local bar, too.

Twitter: ChrisCollinsARN

Adventure in apricot

The apricot hefeweizen hit me in the taste buds and just kept punching.

For this blog entry, I visited the landmark of craft beer in Abilene, Barley-Hoppers Drafthouse, 721 S. 1st St., to get a few sips on the new suds they’ve got on tap.

On Tuesday, Owner Priscilla Gonzales navigated me through the ever-revolving inventory at the drafthouse, which has about 45 craft beers on tap at any time. One of her favorites at the moment — which is now one of my favorites, too — is the Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen, served in a tall pilsner glass.

Wasatch, one of the founding members of the Utah Brewers Cooperative, is based in Park City, Utah.

The hefe is poured with about a half-finger of head that dissipates pretty quickly. The first thing I noticed as I went to take a drink was, predictably, a strong aroma of apricot, which is mirrored in the taste. It has a light touch of wheat with a hazy yellow color.

Not a ton of lacing, but the hefeweizen has a pretty good mouthfeel for a wheat beer. This is an easy-to-drink, uncomplicated summer beer. I recommend you grab one before the keg runs dry.

At Priscilla’s urging, I also tried New Belgium’s Floyd’s Gratzer, part of the company’s Lips of Faith series.

The Gratzer is probably easier for an experienced beer taster to describe than I, but I’ll give it a shot: this one is complicated, with sweet, coffee, smoke and sour notes.

It pours brown or dark red and leaves an excellent lacing on the glass. The sweet aroma it gives off belies the actual taste of the beer — though it does offer some sweetness, the main factor at play is the counterbalance of smoky coffee and sour notes.

As one bar patron put it: “That’s very strange. I don’t dislike it at all.”

The sweet smoke hits your taste buds at the beginning of a drink and terminates with a sour aftertaste, which is interesting enough to be palatable. I’m not sure if I’d order it again, but if you’re looking for something different, you should try this one.



Dallas brews at Abi-Haus

I didn’t have to look far to find the subject matter for my second “A Boozy Blog” post.

In fact, all I did walk out the back door of the Reporter-News building and cross Pine Street to Abi-Haus, which hugs the corner of Pine and North Second streets. The bar and restaurant boasts its “cool vibes, good service and pleasant people,” but it has another bragging point — an interesting and varied selection of regional craft brews.

This week, I met barkeep and manager Drew Garison, who schooled me on a handpicked selection of the restaurant’s ever-revolving selection of craft beer taps. He suggested these Dallas-made products, all of which I greedily gulped down:

  • Lakewood Brewing Company’s Til and Toil
  • Community Beer’s Ascension Coffee Porter
  • Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Rye Pils
  • Peticolas Brewing Company’s Great Scott

After a quick tutorial in how to taste the stuff (you swirl it around in the glass, smell it, take a sip, let it sit on your tongue and breathe through your nose before swallowing), I was ready to begin. Here are my — and some of Drew’s — impressions of each one. I want to qualify these descriptions and opinions with this:

I am not a professional beer taster (if any such thing even exists) and my knowledge of these products is limited. Your opinions may differ from mine, and that’s totally cool.


1. Lakewood’s Till&Toil (Spring Seasonal)

Style: Farmhouse Saison

ABV: 6.4 percent

When I first tasted the Till&Toil, I mistook it for a pale ale, not a saison. The confusion is understandable, Drew explained — the lightness of the beer, combined with a distinct hoppy bitterness, made it reminiscent of a pale ale. It also has a hint of citrus.

Since I’m not familiar with saisons or farmhouse ales, I figured some of you might not be either. This is how beeradvocate.com describes the style:

 “Saisons are sturdy farmhouse ales that were traditionally brewed in the winter to be consumed throughout the summer months. Not so long ago it was close to being an endangered style, but over recent years there’s been a massive revival, especially in the US.”

Sarah Harris, who blogs about wine for the Reporter-News, tried this one with me, calling it “a nice springtime beer.”

2. Community Beer’s Ascension Coffee Porter

Style: Porter

ABV: 6.9 percent

Drew said this is one of his favorite beers right now, and I can see why. Community Beer partnered with Ascension Coffee, another Dallas company, to make this excellent coffee porter. As both a coffee and craft beer junkie, this is a brew I can really get behind.

The coffee porter tastes like choclatey iced coffee and goes down smooth. Its color is so dark that, when held up to the light, you can barely see through to the other side of the glass.

“I like how easy it is to drink,” Drew said.

This is a limited release from the company, so who knows how much longer it’ll be around. Long enough for me to get another glass, I hope.

3. Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Rye Pils

Style: Pilsner

ABV: 4.8 percent

My palate had just gotten adjusted to the Coffee Porter when Drew threw a screwball my way — a rye pilsner.

I’ll be honest here. I don’t like pilsners. I never have. There’s just usually not enough body or personality there for me, I guess.

Thing is, I actually liked the rye pils. It had some body to it, and almost sour, tart twang at the end definitely ratcheted up its personality. With a transparent, honey-gold color, it’s made with Liberty, Mt. Hood and Sterling hops and Pilsner, Rye, Vienna and Munich dark malt.

Like the Till&Toil, this one should also make a great springtime beer, and I’ll make sure to try it again.

4. Peticolas Great Scott

Style: Scotch ale

ABV: 6.8 percent

My tour of Dallas-brewed beers was rounded out with Peticolas’ Great Scott, which was nearly as dark as the Coffee Porter but was significantly sweeter. Another smooth Dallas brew, this one carries with it a nutty, caramel flavor and a healthy punch to the liver at nearly seven percent alcohol per volume.

Thanks to the great folks at Abi-Haus for helping us do this week’s blog. I’m still fishing for story ideas to get this weekly project off the ground, so if you have an ideas, hit me up.

Twitter: ChrisCollinsARN

Email: christopher.collins@reporternews.com

Phone: 325.676.6721

An Introduction …

When the Abilene Reporter-News head honcho (read: Doug Williamson) first approached us reporters about our website’s new, local-interests-oriented venture, I thought it was a pretty good idea.

After all, who wouldn’t enjoy a easy-to-navigate, all-inclusive guide to the fun things that occur in our fair city?

I sat at the rectangular meeting table on the second floor of our Cypress Street building, vigorously nodding my head in agreement.

Sounds like a good project, I thought. People will like this.

Later, Head Honcho announced that the reporters’ contribution to the project would be producing a weekly blog post on a subject of their choosing.


My head stopped nodding. A sour expression overtook my face. I didn’t like this plan anymore.

I’ve never written a blog before. I don’t even know how to write a blog.

Wait — is “blog” a noun or a verb? Is it both?

My professional writing experience has been contained almost solely to the style in which you normally see my byline associated — that is, in the style of the Professional Journalist, in which The Associated Press Stylebook is the Bible, and the use of “I” or “me” or “you” is tantamount to a cardinal sin.

What Doug Williamson was asking us to do was like asking a 100-meter sprinter to run the 3-mile race, or asking a pianist to pick up the tuba, or asking a haiku poet to match Stephen King word for word.

It’s just… different.

In the meeting, my head started to pound and swim. I thought what I normally think while trapped in a mandatory work meeting: I could really go for a beer right now.

And then — voila! The proverbial light bulb lit above my head.

I like beer. No, I love beer! I’ll write about beer!

More specifically, I’ll write about craft beer, a complex, fizzy creature which is produced by a small-but-growing faction of American craft breweries.

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as “small, independent and traditional.”

“Small” is defined by an annual production of 6 million barrels or less, “independent” is defined by being at least 75 percent owned or controlled by a craft brewer, and “traditional” is defined by at least 50 percent of a brewer’s production volume being all-malt beer.

If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is, kind of.

Depending on which beer-head you ask, certain larger craft breweries, such as Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada, shouldn’t be considered craft breweries at all, even though they cater to a more esoteric and experimental crowd than say, Bud Light does.

Others wouldn’t consider anything you could buy at Albertson’s or H-E-B to be craft beer. But as with any hobby, there are casual participants and, on the other end of the spectrum, there will those who are far more fervent, whom some of us would refer to as “snobs.”

And they might even agree with that designation.

I would place myself in the middle of that spectrum. I’ve tried my fair share of craft beers, I’ve driven out of town to pick them up, I’ve made special orders from distributors.

I’ve tried a few of them that I loved, many more that I liked and just a few that I didn’t care for.

Stone IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the Dogfishhead 90 Minute are probably my three favorites.

You’ve already heard me ashamedly admit that I have no clue how to write a blog. And for other admission: I also have no clue exactly what I’m going to write about.

But I do have a few ideas.

I want to talk to people who are interested in partaking in craft brews, and it’d definitely be interesting to talk to some local folks who produce the stuff (I know you’re out there!). If you consider yourself to be an expert on the subject, I definitely want to talk to you.

Come see me at the bar — I’ve been hanging out at Barley-Hoppers Drafthouse a lot lately — and have a sit-down with me.

If you’re feeling antisocial, send me an email (Christopher.Collins@reporternews.com) or hit me up on Twitter. I’m flexible.

Now, if I can just get the newspaper to pick up my bar tab …