Allagash Brewing Company: Farm to Face (2016) 11/26/2016

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!  I hope you all managed to find good beer in between having awkward political conversations with your family!  Despite all the craziness that is happening around us, we all have a lot to be thankful for, and, as usual, I am thankful for good beer!  This Thanksgiving I decided to treat myself with a beer from one of my all time favorite breweries in the world: Allagash Brewing Company.  Farm To Face is a fantastic sour beer brewed with local New England peaches and is perfect for the sour beer lovers out there.  Pucker up for the scoop:

Beer Name: Farm To Face (2016)

Brewery: Allagash Brewing Company

Brewery Location: Portland, ME

Beer Style: American Wild Ale

ABV: 6.2%

IBU: N/A

Appearance

Farm To Face pours a golden yellow color with a thick white head.  There is a slight haze to the beer, but it is otherwise crystal clear.

farm-to-face

Aroma

Right off the bat, you can tell this is a sour beer.  An earthy-funk dominates the aroma (akin to a sort of barnyard-like aroma), accompanied by a light acetobacter aroma (vinegary) as well as some light fruit notes.

Taste & Aftertaste

For a beer that is advertised as a peach sour, the peach/apricot type of fruitiness in the taste is more restrained than I expected (though it’s definitely present).  The earthy funk that I perceived in the aroma is not as present in the taste and is dominated by the fruit character and sourness.  I also picked up light sourdough-like qualities in the malt character, alongside some grass-like flavors (reminiscent of fresh lawn clippings).  The sourness in this beer is prominent but not too overbearing.  I mentioned in the aroma that I detected some acetobacter, but this beer does not taste like that.  There is a soft lactic acid character present in the beer blended with a much more pungent and complex sour character.  Very simply, to easily differentiate the difference between lactic sourness and acetic sourness (which are very common in many sours), think of the difference between orange juice (a soft, tart lactic sourness) versus vinegar (mouth puckering acetic sourness).  There are other types of acids and sourness that I could get into, but for the sake of simplicity, I will leave it at that.  In short, when people say they dislike sour beers, this is the type of beer they are thinking about- this beer does not hide the sour.

Overall Impressions

This is a phenomenal sour beer.  Honestly- I know that this is not a “beginners” beer, or a beer that is particularly easy to find…but it’s Thanksgiving and I had to treat myself.  This is the perfect beer for sour beer lovers.  The sourness is very prominent, but not overbearing (the enamel on your teeth can rejoice).  Furthermore the fruitiness in this beer is very pleasant, and makes for a very enjoyable sour beer.  If you are a fan of sour beer, and you see this beer on the shelf- grab it! Don’t even think twice about it.

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21st Amendment Brewery: Lower De Boom 11/17/2016

While I have been studying for my Cicerone, I have been trying to sample as much of every beer style as I possibly can.  I have been finding that barleywines are one of those under-represented styles that I find I don’t usually drink very often.  Lo and behold I find perhaps the tiniest can of beer that I have ever seen on the shelf at my local beer store: Lower De Boom Barleywine by 21st Amendment Brewery.  My brain (for whatever reason) immediately thought of Chris Farley in Tommy Boy: Fat Guy in a Little Coat (beer bottles included in picture for scale, Chris Farley included for fun).

lower-de-boom-scaled  lower-de-boom-fat-guy

But don’t let the small packaging fool you- this is truly a big beer in a little can, and you won’t need more than 8.4 oz.  Check it out:

Beer Name: Lower De Boom

Brewery: 21st Amendment Brewery

Brewery Location: San Francisco, CA

Beer Style: American Barleywine

ABV: 11.5%

IBU: 92

Appearance

Lower De Boom pours a nice, clear ruby color with white lacing that fades very quickly (most likely because of the high alcohol content).

lower-de-boom-glass

Aroma

Caramel is the predominant aroma perceived in this beer (almost candy-like), followed by a distinct scent of strong alcohol.  Minimal hop aroma detected- which I expected because I bought a can that has already been aged for nearly a year (Canned on 12/17/15).  This is one of those styles that can stand up to some aging

Taste & Aftertaste

Up front, you get a rich flavor of caramel- but quite honestly I feel that this particular description is almost too simplistic.  It’s not merely a simple, sweet caramel flavor.  Instead, it’s a complex caramel quality with lots of different layers to it that I struggle to find the right words for it.  It’s almost like caramel that’s been lightly burned, but still has it’s rich candy-like quality.  Each sip is followed by a prominent afterburn from the high alcohol.  I am also detecting some light cherry notes (maybe from the hops in tandem with the malt?), and a red-wine-like characteristic that I suspect comes from the aging process (I perceive the latter quality after breathing out through my nose with each sip).  There is a sourdough-like bready quality in the background of this beer, which is easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention- the caramel and alcohol flavors are very in-your-face.  I would like to emphasize at this point that this is a sipping beer- the alcohol does not hide in the background at all (think of the intense burn you get when you drink hard liquor too quickly).  However, while the alcohol is up front and prominent, it’s not overbearing or abrasive- you just need to enjoy this beer slowly.

Overall Impressions

Holy schnikes, this beer is a big boozy monster!  I enjoyed it immensely. It’s definitely the “fat guy in a little coat” of beers- don’t let the small package throw you off.  Seriously though, all Chris Farley references aside, this beer is very enjoyable and well brewed.  The caramel character is complex, and also very well rounded.  You don’t need to drink a lot of this beer to enjoy it fully, though if you want to crack open a second one- go for it, you’ll feel great (and warm…and maybe hungover the next day).  This beer is definitely for people who are both a fan of malt forward beers and not afraid of a little extra alcohol.  It’s also a perfect cold weather beer.  It packs a huge punch both with alcohol and flavor, and I really enjoyed it.

Oskar Blues Brewery: Death By Coconut 11/10/2016

With the election finally over, I think everyone, regardless of who you voted for, could use a break from the drama and enjoy a beer.  I suspect most people’s fridges, regardless of political affiliation, are low in stock after this most recent election cycle.  I am no exception to this.  So whether you are celebrating the results or drowning your sorrows in alcohol, it’s time to restock your fridge and remember that beer tastes fantastic no matter who is in office.  With this in mind, I went out shopping for beer and spotted something on the shelf that I could not ignore- Death By Coconut.  Released every fall by Oskar Blues Brewery, Death By Coconut is one of those beers that has a lot of hype behind it, so I decided to grab myself a can and offer my insight.  Here are my thoughts:

Beer Name: Death By Coconut

Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery

Brewery Location: Longmont, CO

Beer Style: Porter

ABV: 6.5%

IBU: 25

Appearance

Death By Coconut pours a very deep brown, almost black, color with a thick tan head that dissipates to a thin tan lace that follows the beer down the glass.  It looks very inviting.

death-by-coconut

Aroma

As one would expect, toasted coconut is the dominant aroma, followed by light hints of sweet chocolate.  When I close my eyes, I could imagine myself enjoying this beer over Thanksgiving Dinner (or dessert).

Taste & Aftertaste

As one would expect by the name, a rich coconut flavor is most prominent up front.  Each sip is followed up by a distinct smooth chocolate flavor- not quite as sweet as milk chocolate, but also not bitter-sweet enough like dark chocolate (but close).  The beer starts off sweet on the palate but dries out in the finish.  This beer is a bit more thin-bodied side than I expected, but is by no means a watery beer.  There is not much in terms of roasty or ashy qualities to this beer, which for me is a good thing because I hate it when a beer tastes like ash and nothing else.  This beer is smooth!  There is no perceivable hop character (appropriate for the style), and the dry finish paired with the moderate alcohol level makes this beer very easy to drink.  My main issue with this beer is that there is a lingering bitterness/astringency that remains on the palate after every sip.  It’s the kind of bitterness where you kind of just want to scrape your tongue to get the bitterness off.  A pretty good beer overall, though.  I could see myself enjoying this as a dessert beer after a hearty meal (I’m thinking Thanksgiving), maybe with a side of pumpkin pie.

Overall Impressions

This beer has good coconut and chocolate flavor, but truth be told, I kind of think that it’s a little overrated.  Honestly, once you get past the coconut and chocolate flavors of this beer, I find myself struggling to report on much else flavor-wise…I think, overall, it kind of lacks complexity.  Also the lingering bitterness that I get from each sip was kind of a turn off for me.  But like I said before- the dominant coconut and chocolate flavors of this beer are very satisfying and delicious, and if you are a fan of those flavors, then I strongly urge you to try this beer.

Brewery Ommegang: Three Philosophers (Two Year Vertical) 11/3/2016

This week, I’ve decided to give myself a little treat!   One year ago, I bought a four pack of one of my favorite beers of all time, Three Philosophers by Brewery Ommegang.  I promptly drank one bottle and stored the other three in my cellar.  One year has passed, and it is time to open another one to compare it side by side with a fresh bottle.  So after a year of waiting very patiently, today is my own personal holiday, Three Philosophers Day (I suppose I should throw a hashtag in there?).  Beer tends to change as you age it (as one might expect), so I was excited to see how this beer would compare with a fresh bottle of it.   I’m eager to share my notes with you.  Check it out:

2016 Vintage    

three-philosophers-2016 three-phils-2016-glass

Beer Name: Three Philosophers (2016)

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang

Brewery Location: Cooperstown, NY

Beer Style: Belgian Quadrupel

ABV: 9.7%

IBU: 19

Appearance

Three Philosophers pours a hazy deep ruby color with an off-white (almost red!) creamy head.  The beer is highly carbonated and effervescent, and the head follows the glass all the way down as you drink it.

Aroma

This beer has a ton of dark fruit characteristics.  The main ones that I detected were black cherry, plums, raisins, and figs, along with some light alcohol notes that stung the nostrils, and some caramel/toffee.

Taste & Aftertaste

Up front, the beer had a very sweet toffee flavor that might be a bit cloying to some, but after a few sips, the beer dried up on the back of your palate.  The sweetness and thick consistency of the beer was vaguely reminiscent of molasses.  The main flavors that I detected were consistent with the aroma- I picked up plums, raisins, cherry, a hint of raspberry (though not tart).  But when you combine those notes with the toffee-like sweetness, it reminded me of a Fig Newton (which was really pleasant).  The caramel-like characters are present, but the dark fruit characters are the star of this beer.  Clocking in at a whopping 9.7% ABV, there is some definite alcohol warmth to this.  The beer has a thick, creamy mouthfeel- each sip completely coats your mouth, and the hop character is very minimal.  The beer does not change a ton as it warms up.

Overall Impressions

This beer is definitely a cold weather beer- that said it is (ironically) my desert island beer (because it’s that awesome).  When enjoyed fresh, this beer is thick and creamy with complex dark fruit esters that make it really enjoyable.  Personally, this is the type of beer I would enjoy with my Thanksgiving dinner or during a snow storm.  And considering the ABV, it can stand up to some aging (spoiler alert: it ages really well).  In the next section, I’ll compare notes with the fresh beer, but also point out how the beer has changed after being aged for one year.

2015 Vintage

three-philosophers-2015  three-phils-2015-glass

Beer Name: Three Philosophers (2015)

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang

Brewery Location: Cooperstown, NY

Beer Style: Belgian Quadrupel

ABV: 9.7%

IBU: 19

Appearance

After a year of aging, Three Philosophers still pours a deep ruby color, however the haze has cleared up a bit.  The head is still thick and creamy, and laces the glass all the way down.

Aroma

There is less alcohol perceived on the nose in the 2015 vintage of this beer (almost none was detected).  The beer also smells less assertively fruity, and the caramel/toffee notes are much more apparent.

Taste & Aftertaste

This beer tastes less sweet up front (unlike the fresh version) and finishes much drier, making it easy to drink a lot (which is scary considering the high alcohol).  Furthermore, the alcohol warmth that is very present in the fresh beer is also subdued greatly in the aged beer, adding to the beer’s increased drinkability.  The dark fruit esters are still present- I still taste the cherry, fig, plums, and raisins; however those notes are more subdued compared to the 2016 vintage.  Those fruity notes are much more in balance with the caramel/toffee notes from the malt.  There is also a red wine-like character in this beer (which is really nice!) that is noticeably absent in the 2016 vintage.  In terms of mouthfeel, the beer is less creamy, and there is less perceived sweetness.

Overall Impressions

Age did this beer a fantastic service.  I love the intense and complex fruity notes in the fresh 2016 vintage, but they’re still present in this beer despite being somewhat subdued.  If anything, those fruity characters are now more in balance with the malt character of this beer, and the beer is less sweet than its younger brother- making it much more crushable.  I have been waiting to try this vertical for a year now, and it was very much worth the wait- I can’t wait to do a three year vertical on this same beer next year!

ommegang-cap

Heretic Brewing Co: Shallow Grave 10/27/2016

So this is my last review before Halloween, so I figured I ought to pick out a beer with an ominous and spooky sounding name- Heretic Brewing Company’s “Shallow Grave” porter seems to fit that bill just fine.  Not only that, but this beer won a Silver Medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival- so you know it’s good.  Heretic was opened in 2011 by Jamil Zainasheff- a legend in the homebrewing world for being the most award-winning homebrewer of all time.  Just about every person who gets into the hobby of homebrewing at some point thinks to themselves “I should open a brewery!” (I am included in this statement).  The realities of opening up a brewery, however, are much more daunting (or scary…you know- for Halloween), but Jamil is basically living the dream of most homebrewers, and he is killing it with his beers.  Check it out:

Beer Name: Shallow Grave

Brewery: Heretic Brewing Co.

Brewery Location: Fairfield, CA

Beer Style: American Porter

ABV: 7%

IBU: 33

shallow-grave

Appearance

Shallow Grave pours an opaque dark brown (near black) color with an off-white/tan lacing that fades gradually over time.

Aroma

Dark chocolate is the most prevalent aroma that I detected along with hints of coffee and molasses.

Taste & Aftertaste

A lusciously smooth, dark chocolate character coats your tongue on the first sip.  A distinct flavor of coffee is present, though not overpowering, along with a slight nutty flavor.  I also get very mild hints of a molasses-like character that, when I focus hard on that characteristic, reminds me vaguely of licorice.  When I close my eyes and breathe out through my nose after each sip, I am almost reminded of freshly baked brownies.  As the beer warms up, the caramel/molasses character pops more  This beer finishes semi-sweet, but dries up on your palate a second or two after swallowing.  There is some alcohol warmth that tingles the tip of your tongue, but is by no means excessively boozey.  There is no detectable hop character- which is appropriate for the style.  Furthermore, this beer is ridiculously smooth.  Unlike many porters and stouts, this beer is not ashy or acrid from the use of dark malts- which I absolutely love in a porter because it makes for an easier drinking dark beer.

Overall Impressions

Shallow Grave is stellar because it has everything that I want in my ideal porter.  It is smooth; sweet but not overly so; and has a perfect balance of chocolate, caramel, and coffee notes without being too “ashy”.  Personally, it turns me off when a porter or stout tastes overly “ashy” because it makes the beer taste unpleasantly bitter and gritty.  This beer does not do that- it is dangerously smooth, and I think it would pair well with some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on a cool autumn night.  For me, this beer is basically candy.  Shallow Grave is one of those beers that, as a homebrewer, gets me thinking about how I could make a beer similar to this at home- it’s that good!  Go out and grab this beer!  I’ll be busy designing my next homebrew recipe.

Beervana Highlights: Long Live Beerworks + Cantillon: Classic Gueuze 10/20/2016

Another Beervana has come and gone, and I think everyone who attended can agree that it went off without a hitch!  The event took place at the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, and was host to brewers from around the country bringing their best beers to wow the festival goers.  For those of you who are not familiar with the event, Beervana is a beer festival that features (though is not limited to) strong beers, sour beers, hoppy beers, barrel aged beers, and rare beers.  The festival also featured bands, dancing groups, and a guest speaker (this year it was Phil Markowski from Two Roads Brewing Co).

rhodes-pawtuxet beervana-line

 

I decided to try and review as much as I reasonably could while still enjoying the festival- which, admittedly so, is a very difficult task when you’re engulfed in a crowd of beer enthusiasts.  But I managed to find an empty table in the balcony area of the building and I decided to, first, showcase one local brewery who killed it at the festival and, second, dissect a rare beer that I have had my eye on for a long time.

At the beginning of this year, Long Live Beerworks opened its doors to the public on the West Side of Providence with a focus on delicious hop-forward ales.  So because they are the new kids on the block, I was interested to see what they would bring to the table at Beervana.  Owner and head brewer, Armando DeDona, brought it strong this year with three offerings to festival-goers: a pale ale with wild yeast, a Double IPA, and a cask conditioned coffee stout with bourbon (all of which fit right in with the rest of the offerings at the festival).

long-live-beervana

His first beer was a beer called Wyld Cat- a version of his “Black Cat” pale ale (which was one of the brewery’s first beers) that he inoculated with wild yeast.  Truth be told, the beer (to my palate) did not exhibit many of the characteristics that one traditionally finds in wild ales (earthy, sometimes sour, and funky notes), however this was a fantastic beer.  The beer poured a nearly opaque pale gold color, and it smelled like pineapple and mango juice.  The taste of the beer matched the aroma- pineapple and mango, but I also picked up hints of grapefruit as well.  The hop bitterness was firm, but not as intense as an IPA- which made for an extremely crushable beer.  Very well done!

wyld-cat

The second beer offered was a Double IPA called Snakes (followed by a hiss from Armando as he poured your beer).  This beer poured a beautiful golden color that was hazy, but not opaque.  There was some fruity aroma, but surprisingly not a ton of dry hop character (dry hops add to the aroma of beer, and is extremely common in IPA’s).  The taste of this beer was on point– it was dank, citrusy, had notes of tropical fruit, and a firm bitter backbone (so that you knew you were drinking a DIPA).  Overall, a really nice Double IPA.  Did I mention that Armando knows what he’s doing with hops?

But in my opinion, I saved the best beer for last- his third offering “Rough Hewn” stole the show.  Rough Hewn was his coffee stout that was cask conditioned with bourbon (boom!).  For those who are not familiar, cask conditioned beers are served warmer- which is great for darker beers because many of their more complex malt characteristics begin to shine as the beer warms up.  This beer poured jet black and opaque with a tan head.  The beer smelled like coffee and smoke, with light bourbon notes in the background.  And to say that this beer was smooth is an understatement.  It was chocolatey with strong notes of coffee and smoke that were not overbearing.  Just as a side note- smoke is one of those characteristics that is extremely easy to overdo in beer (and it can get unpleasant when overdone).  Armando has managed to find a fantastic balance in every beer to which he adds smoke, and this ability is rivaled only by his skill with hops.  The beer finished sweet with the light notes of bourbon to round out the beer.  It’s scary how good this beer was.  If you find yourself on the West Side of Providence, go to Long Live Beerworks.  Considering this is only their first year, they are already producing killer beer!

Now no recap of Beervana would be complete without one review of a “whale” (a rare beer that might require a change of pants for beer nerds).  I was lucky enough to get one of the last pours of Cantillon’s Classic Gueuze (I know I was one of the last because when I went for a second pour, they were all out).  Cantillon is a Belgian Brewery that brews lambic-style beers exclusively.  Gueuze (pronounced goo-z) is a style of sour beer that is traditionally a blend of one, two, and three year-old lambic.  Cantillon’s Gueuze is basically the gold standard for the style, and is also extremely difficult to get (particularly in the United States).  I have been trying to get my hands on this beer for awhile, and now I get to share my experience with you.  Check it out:

Beer Name: Classic Gueuze

Brewery: Cantillon

Brewery Location: Anderlecht, Brussels, Belgium

Beer Style: Gueuze

ABV: 5%

IBU: N/A

cantillon-beervana

Appearance

This beer pours a crystal clear golden color with a white lacing that persists down the glass as you drink it.

Aroma

As one would expect with sour beers, I picked up a lot of earthy and grassy notes.  One common characteristic used to describe these types of beers is “barnyard” (sort of part of the “earthy” category…if you’ve been inside a horse stable you might be able to relate).  I also detected some acidity in the aroma which stings the nostrils.

Taste & Aftertaste

This beer is more than just tart- it’s full on sour.  With my first sip, I get an almost strawberry-like fruitiness to the beer (but way, way more sour than a strawberry).  The beer’s sourness has some inexplicable complexity to it- it’s more than just a lactic-like sourness (think like Orange Juice).  There are just some qualities from the sourness that I cannot put into words.  The yeast gives off some earthy-grassy notes (almost mushroom-like), which I like in my sours (and some other Belgian-style beers for that matter).  There is also a sort of dusty aged quality to the beer (as though it has been lying around a cellar for ages), which sounds negative, but actually adds to the overall complexity of this beer.  This beer is dry as a bone (zero lingering sweetness) and there is no hop character whatsoever from this beer (which is traditional).  Overall, a very complex and great-tasting sour beer!

Overall Impressions

Maybe I’m just waxing poetic because this beer met the highest expectations that I had for it- but I’m telling you right now that this beer is amazing, and there is a reason that it is the gold standard for sour beers.  The earthy-grassy notes of this beer compliment perfectly with its dusty/aged qualities, and there are no words to describe the complexity of the sourness.  In short- this beer made me happy.  This is the part where I would tell you to go out to your store or bar and get this beer- good luck with that.  It is rare that stores or bars have this beer readily in stock (and only a select few would).  In my opinion, you will likely have better luck going to some of your better craft beer bars, namely the ones that have a beer cellar/beer aging program.  That said, most stores and bars won’t have it (even the better ones).  This beer is not impossible to find, but do your research– only a select few will have it.   This is a prize worth having if you manage to find it.  This beer was the top highlight of my night, and it helped to make Beervana that much better (and the festival gets better every year).  I can’t wait to see what is offered next year, but until then- Cheers!

beervana-crowd

Revival Brewing Co: Double Black IPA 10/13/2016

It’s Day 4 of Providence Craft Beer Week, and my last post before I venture into Beervana tomorrow for…*ahem*…important research (I’ll post on that later).  So for my fourth post in my blogging binge, I decided to bring things back home to Rhode Island with Revival: Double Black IPA.  I think Black IPAs (or Cascadian Dark Ales if you’re a style snob) are very underrated and underdone.  Quite truthfully, I wish there were more of them because, when they are done correctly, they make for a very flavorful beer.  Black IPAs combine the roasted malt attributes of a stout and the hop flavors and bitterness of an IPA into one beverage.  I would say think of a “hoppy stout”, but I also don’t want to oversimplify things.  Revival’s Double Black IPA is probably my favorite beer in their lineup, so for this next post, I thought I would share this beer with you.  Check it out:

Beer Name: Double Black I.P.A.

Brewery: Revival Brewing Co

Brewery Location: Providence, RI

Beer Style: Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale

ABV: 8.5%

IBU: 85

Appearance

Double Black IPA pours deep black and opaque with an off-white, cream colored head that, despite the alcohol strength of this beer, manages to follow the glass down as you drink it.

double-black-ipa

Aroma

Medium roasted coffee is the first thing that I pick up on the nose.  I do detect some herbal and piney notes in the background of this beer, however I think they play more of a supporting role to the roasty character of this beer.  Contrast this to a regular IPA where the hops are the star, this beer brings the hops back into balance with the malt character while still being a “hoppy” beer.

Taste & Aftertaste

Just as was perceived in the aroma, a distinct roasted-coffee-like flavor is the star of this beer with some hints of chocolate to compliment.  There is an ashy quality to this beer that is reminiscent of a stout and provides some bitterness, but I think a lot of the bitterness in this beer actually comes more from the hops (and the bitterness, as in any good IPA, is very assertive in this beer).  Just like in the aroma, the hops are present, but again, they play more of a supporting role to the malts.  I pick up more of those grassy and herbal flavors that I got from the aroma, but I also pick up a faint lemony fruitiness that I did not get from the aroma, which is a really nice compliment to the coffee character of this beer.  There is a little bit of alcohol warmth, however it does not come across as overly boozey and, actually, if you’re not paying attention, the alcohol is actually dangerously well hidden.  Just as dangerous is how dry this beer finishes- I don’t get much sweetness on my tongue with each sip, which means that I want to take another sip of this beer (and another, and another…).  The alcohol in this is not crazy high, but the dry finish and great flavors make this highly crushable (meaning that alcohol will catch up to you quick).

Overall Impressions

Overall, this is an excellent example of what a Black IPA should be.  This particular beer actually balances the hop character with its strong malt character while, at the same time, still being a “hoppy beer”.  The coffee and chocolate notes pair well with the herbal, piney, and faintly fruity flavor of the hops.  This beer drinks like a hoppy stout and while I think this is a very “niche” style of beer, it’s definitely worth trying at least once- especially if you can appreciate a good IPA and a good stout wrapped into one beer.