All posts by Jon Graney

Co-founder of The Basement Beer Tastings.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead

rating_verygood71 points

At some point along your pumpkin beer travels, you’re going to grab a Shipyard Pumpkinhead. It’s inevitable.

You’ll find yourself standing in the aisle of a liquor store, overwhelmed with the array of pumpkin beers.

shipyardpumpkinYou’ll stand there, bewildered, with one hand on your chin and the other folded across your chest under it, quietly muttering, “I just don’t know, there are just so many pumpkin choices,” as a dude in a ratty baseball cap and a weathered T-shirt with the arms ripped off walks by with a suitcase of Bud Light and calls you a “lady boy.”

Let him enjoy his canned urine. This is a difficult decision for you.

But deep down, you know Mr. Ready For Anything™ has a point, so your eyes dart back and forth until you say, “Screw it,” and reach for the six pack adorned with the guy riding a horse with a creepy jack-o-lantern for a head. That’s the one that first caught your eye, anyway, wasn’t it? Congratulations, you just chose Shipyard Pumpkinhead.

Pumpkinhead is our social media manager’s favorite pumpkin beer. And no matter how many other, better pumpkin beers she’s enjoyed — and no matter how many times we’ve fired her — she and her penchant for Pumpkinhead endure.

She’s not off-base, though.

Pumpkinhead is unimpressive on pour. It looks like apple juice, with as much carbonation as…well, apple juice. Our panel struggled to produce a head on this beer.

But, it has a nice light scent of spicy cinnamon aroma with floral notes. Mouthfeel is a light combination of sudsy and fizzy.

Our panel found the taste light with more of a cinnamon apple cider taste than a strong pumpkin flavor. Pumpkin is detectable, but very light.

A couple of panelists noted the aftertaste as slightly metallic with a sweet, malty finish.

Because this beer is light, and the flavor is pleasing, drinkability was rated fairly well. It’s a very good beer, but it lacks the pumpkin flavor that makes the style popular. As one panelist noted, “if you’re looking for a pumpkin beer, though, this might not be it.”

(Appearance 6., Smell 6.33, Taste 21.83, Aftertaste 14, Drinkability 23.17)

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Foolproof Revery

rating_excellent86 points

Just north of Providence, on the banks of the Blackstone River, sits Pawtucket, Rhode Island. And unless you follow the Boston Red Sox’ farm system — or fancy textile manufacturing history in the Industrial Revolution — you may have never heard of this small city in the smallest state in the U.S.

foolproofreveryBut Foolproof Brewing Company may put Pawtucket back on the map as part of the craft brewing revolution, because our panelists discovered a stunning Russian imperial stout with their name on it: Foolproof Revery.

What first struck our panelists was the design of their 12-ounce can, a black-and-white design in translucent shrink-wrapped plastic over gleaming silver aluminum. This makes for a subtle black-and-silver backdrop of library books around the entire can.

The appearance continued to “wow” our panel on pour — deep black with the slightest reddish tint and a thin, tight head. This beer rated near-perfect for appearance.

Smell also garnered nearly flawless scores. Revery smells sweet and malty, with huge scents of dark chocolate and light notes of coffee and a hint of smoke.

Mouthfeel is slightly syrupy with a bit of fizziness, but very smooth. Revery impressed our panelists with its caramelized malty character highlighted by flavors of molasses, and light notes of chocolate with a slightly smoky finish. There’s also a light, pleasing estery character to the beer.

Smoke lingers into the aftertaste, with a slight bitterness and a light sourness. While our panel agreed the sourness was the beer’s least-impressive characteristic, it didn’t sway the panelists from rating this an overall outstanding beer.

Revery received high marks from our panelists on drinkability, as the beer was a long sipper, perfect for sitting around a campfire or to warm the soul on a cold winter’s night. But it’s also full-bodied, filling, and packed with an impressive 9% ABV. So after one or two, you may feel like it’s time for bed.

So while Foolproof puts Pawtucket back on the map, navigate to a store that sells Revery, because as far as Russian imperial stouts go, this Rhode Island native is nearly….foolproof.

(Appearance 9.6, Smell 9.8, Mouthfeel 3.8, Taste 21.6, Aftertaste 16.2, Drinkability 24.8)

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Tree House Bear

rating_worldclass90 points 

The Latin word for “bear” is “ursa.”  The Tree House word for World Class beer is “Bear.”

Before you assume we’ve completely lost our minds, that opening statement was inspired by a bit on Comedy Central’s now-defunct Jeselnik Offensive with comedian T.J. Miller playing a bear expert.

treehousebearWhat isn’t offensive and yet no less defunct is Tree House’s Bear brown ale. To our knowledge, Tree House no longer brews this fantastic beverage. We’re hoping this review changes that, because to date, it’s our highest rated beer overall.

Looking at Bear, you wouldn’t expect much. Unlike Tree House’s staples, which are canned in professionally screen printed tall boys, our 16-ouncer was in plain aluminum, affixed with a drab, light brown label adorned with a simple, snarling bear’s head.

But like the mighty brown bear, this beer has some claws! Oh my God. Beer claws. Pastries made with beer. Why is this not a thing?

Okay, I’ve strayed way off target. Back to Bear.

Though the can looked somewhat plain, the beer was anything but.

Bear pours a rich mahogany brown color. Its carbonation was light, but enough to produce a nice tan head our panelists loved.

Smell was judged near perfect — a malty aroma laden with strong notes of coffee and hazelnut. One panelist noted that the smell is so good, “you just know the beer is going to taste great.”

And Bear’s taste does not disappoint. Coffee dominates this malty brew, with notable flavors of hazelnut and vanilla. Our panel marveled over the layered flavor, coupled with a smooth, syrupy, coating mouthfeel.

Aftertaste was rated slightly lower than the initial flavor, but still very strong, with a light smokiness developing as the beer trails off. Our panel also detected a slight ashy note, and several panelists said the aftertaste could have been a little stronger — as it tends to fade quickly.

But the light finish made this beer a drinker that was both complex, yet refreshing. Our panelists rated drinkability very high, with several commenting that they could drink this beer frequently.

Frequently? Well, the unfortunate footnote to this story is that since we reviewed our 2015 can or Bear, we have yet to see it again roll off the canning line at Tree House Brewing’s Monson, Massachusetts, brewery.

So please, Tree House, consider reintroducing Bear, sharing with your fans a truly World Class beverage.

We miss it, and its absence is just far too much for us to…well, you know.

(Appearance 9, Smell 9.5, Taste 27.5, Aftertaste 16.5, Drinkability 27)

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Tree House Green

rating_verygood79 points

“Green” is a pretty powerful word. It’s synonymous with making money, being young, or being in tune with the environment.

And while all three accurately describe Tree House Brewing, they took a much more literal approach when naming this hop-heavy IPA. According to its website, “green” described what brewers saw after boiling their initial batch — wort heavily laden with green hop particles.

treehousegreenAfter trying a few of Tree House’s beers, our panel was no longer “green” on rating the offerings of this Monson, Massachusetts, phenom. How would Green stack up with its other fine IPAs?

Green pours a vibrant yellow/orange color (no, not green). It is extremely cloudy and somewhat thick, releasing a bright apricot scent with notes of pine and slight pineapple. Hops are, of course, pronounced…but not overtly so.

Our panelists knew right away this beer was not lacking the ingredients for a heavyweight IPA.

Green has a smooth mouthfeel with some sudsiness and a bit of fizziness. Taste was judged well, with our panel noting the beer’s crispness. Flavors of piney hops, apricot and grapefruit are dominant.

The beer is packed with flavor, but considering how heavy the beer looked and smelled, our panel was pleasantly surprised at how crisp it was.

The panel rated aftertaste fairly well, but felt it was a bit more bitter than it needed to be, with a slightly metallic edge. It certainly doesn’t ruin the experience — this is a solid IPA — but a bit less “bite” at the end would have earned it a few more points.

It certainly didn’t detract from strong points for drinkability from our panel. As mentioned, the beer is a looker, smells great, and is jammed with flavor while maintaining a refreshing crispness.

In summation, I suppose we could close this review with a clever line about Green making other IPAs “green” with envy. Or how this beer proves that Tree House surely isn’t “green” when it comes to brewing craft beer. Or we could tell you that plunking down some “green” to purchase it would be worth your while.

But perhaps it’s best to take the same literal approach Tree House did when they named the beer:

Try Green. It’s a pretty powerful IPA.

(Appearance 6.5, Smell 8.75, Taste 23.75, Aftertaste 14.75, Drinkability 25)

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Tree House Julius

rating_excellent80 points

We started our tour of Tree House Brewing’s beers with Alter Ego, which the Monson, Massachusetts, brewer describes as an altered recipe of its “Julius” IPA.

So it stands to reason that we should continue our tour of Tree House offerings with a review of the original, juicy staple.

treehousejuliusTree House describes their flagship IPA as filled with a variety of tropical and citrus flavors. They go so far as to use the word “melange” on the can. Oooh, fancy!

It sounded fancy, juicy and flavorful…and our panel soon discovered that those weren’t idle claims on the side of the can.

Julius immediately asserts its uniqueness on pour. It’s thick, cloudy and deeply honey-colored — akin to apricot juice. It’s carbonation is best described as a subtle fizziness, generating a low, foamy head. It wasn’t particularly impressive looking in the glass, but certainly not off-putting. Definitely intriguing.

The strong points of Julius reveal themselves as soon as your nose approaches the glass. The beer has aromas of caramel malt, sweet with definite notes of citrus and hops.

Mouthfeel is full-bodied, falling somewhere between buttery and sudsy. There’s a fair amount of fizziness as its juicy flavor develops. Taste is citrusy and hoppy, balanced with caramel malt notes.

Complex flavor lingers well into the beer’s aftertaste, as flavors of peach and apricot develop. A slight bitterness develops as the flavor quickly drops off, but our panel wasn’t put off by it. In fact, our panelists unanimously praised the consistency of the brew through the entire experience.

Drinkability is where this beer gets some serious points. It was solid through-and-through, and, as one panelist noted, “I could drink this for a LONG time.” It’s a drinker with a great balance between hoppy and juicy.

When we visited Tree House to purchase this beer, we neglected to inquire about the origin of its Julius name. But whether it’s named for 1970s beverage purveyor Orange Julius — or NBA great Julius “Dr. J” Irving — this beer’s bright, citrusy flavor makes choosing it as your next IPA a slam dunk.

I thought that was the perfect way to end this review, but as I read it back, co-founder Mike Festi reminded me that it could also be named for Julius Caesar. So let’s try this one more time:

If you’re planning to purchase Julius as your next IPA, be careful — because if this delicious beer lives up to its namesake, your friends may stab you in the back just to get their hands on one.

“Et tu, Brew-te?”

(Appearance 6.75, Smell 8, Taste 23.5, Aftertaste 16.5, Drinkability 25)

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Tree House Alter Ego

rating_verygood72 points

We all know some famous alter egos. Superman had “Clark Kent.” David Bowie had “Ziggy Stardust.” Andy Kaufman had “Tony Clifton.” Anthony Weiner had “Carlos Danger.” And Jared From Subway has “Colorado Inmate Number A3875559.”

treehousealteregoAs you can see, not all alter egos necessarily represent your better half. We found this to be the case with Tree House Brewing’s Alter Ego.

Don’t get us wrong. It’s a solid brew that we rated “Very Good.” But compared to other Tree House products we sampled, we preferred Alter Ego’s…alternatives.

As the name suggests, Alter Ego is an altered recipe of Tree House’s similar IPA, Julius. And on pour, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish its golden honey-apricot color from its citrusy sister. Our panel liked the hazy appearance and lasting foamy head.

Smell is crisp floral hops with a lighter nose and less citrus overtones than other Tree House offerings. Still, our panelists rated it fairly well.

Alter Ego’s sudsy mouthfeel was welcomed by our panelists’ palates, but the taste that accompanied it was a bit less impressive. Taste is hop-heavy and well-balanced, but with much less citrus flavor than its sibling, Julius.

A bitter, somewhat metallic aftertaste didn’t “wow” our panel either. As a result, drinkability was…decent…but none of the panelists lamented on a particular desire to drink more than one.

That lack of “wow” is Alter Ego’s weak spot. While it’s much better than most IPAs out there, Tree House doesn’t brew “most” IPAs. They brew exceptional IPAs, and I guess we just weren’t expecting an exception.

(Appearance 8, Smell 7.5, Taste 21.25, Aftertaste 13.75, Drinkability 21.25)

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Stone Coffee Milk Stout

rating_excellent82 points

Coffee Milk Stout. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Coffee. Milk. Stout.

The combination of those words together soothe the soul, conjuring images of relaxing in a comfy chair beside a warm fire.

stonecoffeemilkstoutThey’re in sharp contrast to the three words that make up the jarring name of one of our local liquor stores — “Liquor Wine Discount.” I guess you have to give them credit (“or debit?”) for cutting-to-the-chase with that name. But that’s just a terrible name for a store. Dreadful. But I digress.

Coffee. Milk. Stout. Ah, now we’re back on track.

Stone’s take on this sweet stout impressed our panel from the initial pour. It’s black as night and super thick, with a nice light tan head with decent lacing. The head dissipated quickly, causing one panelist to dock it a point on appearance. I guess when you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you start to get picky.

Smell was also judged very high, with strong notes of smoke, cream and molasses.

Taste was very good, with a strong flavor of coffee with smoky overtones coupled with a smooth, coating mouthfeel.

The panelists were slightly less impressed with the beer’s aftertaste, though. While the flavors of smoke intensified after the coffee taste trailed off, a couple of panelists noted the flavor as bitter and somewhat ashy. Still, the panel overall felt the aftertaste was good.

Stone’s offering is not a session drinker due to its rich body and intense flavor. But while some may classify it as a “one-and-done,” it is a smooth sipper that you’ll enjoy to the bottom of your glass. Because of this, our panel judged drinkability favorably.

So kick your feet up, relax by a cozy fire, take a deep breath and a long sip, then repeat after me.

Coffee.          Milk.           Stout.         Ahhhhhhhhhh.

(Appearance 8.86, Smell 8.29, Taste 25., Aftertaste 15.29, Drinkability 24.43)

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Dogfish Head Theobroma

rating_excellent83 points

Calling Dogfish Head Theobroma “unique” isn’t doing this brew justice. This brew is a head-turner, steeped in an ancient past.

According to Dogfish Head’s website, Theobroma is “based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras that revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink.”

dogfishtheobromaWe call that doing your homework.

Theobroma is a limited edition release from Dogfish Head’s “Ancient Ales” line, and is brewed with cocoa, honey, chilies and annatto. And if you think those ingredients are supporting characters, think again. Each has a starring role in this production.

For a chocolaty beer, you’d expect a dark color, but Theobroma surprised our panel, pouring a bright honey-amber, almost orange color with moderate cloudiness and a fair amount of suspended sediment. Carbonation was low, producing a minimal head.

But what it lacked in suds, it more than made up for in aroma. The panel was impressed by its sweet smell, dominated by sugary floral, chocolate notes. One panelist noted the smell was reminiscent of a Tootsie Roll candy, while others detected overtones of bourbon.

Next up was taste…and this is where I have to invoke personal privilege. The taste of this beer was amazing. I rated it 28 out of 30, and many others on the panel rated in the upper 20s.

However, one — and only one — of our panelists rated the taste under 20 points.  But we suspect that had less to do with the actual taste of the beer, and more with the fact that she (and we kid you not) dunked her nose in the glass and accidentally inhaled the beer when attempting to smell it.

After her coughing fit — and relentless torment from fellow panelists — died down, she couldn’t taste a thing…and rated the beer’s taste lower than anyone else on the panel.

Hey, it’s not the beer’s fault you don’t know how to drink, you rookie.

Anyway, the rest of us loved the complex flavor dominated by honey and chocolate — truly intense flavors that were further enhanced by a mouthfeel perfectly balanced between syrupy and sudsy. Panelists also picked up notes of coffee.

Theobroma continued to impress on aftertaste, earning high marks for a finish dominated by a slightly-spicy, peppery flavor imparted by the chilies. The finish was smooth, however, with a warming sensation in the esophagus and a light burn with overtones of bourbon.

This beer has a lot of complexity…from its sweet scent, to its cocoa taste, and its peppery finish. It’s also a very smooth drinker for a 9% ABV heavy hitter. So, as you might imagine, we rated drinkability extremely high.

We were quite impressed with not only Dogfish Head’s creativity and craftsmanship, but with the ancient Hondurans for pairing the flavors together in the first place.

And because Theobroma is so complex, this ancient ale beautifully reintroduces itself with each sip…provided you don’t suck it through your nose like some savage.

(Appearance 7.71, Smell 8.43, Taste 24.57, Aftertaste 18, Drinkability 24.57)

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Fantome DMD

rating_fair59 points

As you develop an expertise in beer and hone your tasting skills, the one thing you’ll learn is to always trust your judgment over someone trying to sell you something.

But we all make mistakes from time to time. This review is a story of one of those times.

phantomedmdIt was late summer 2015, and I had wandered into Parker Pie Company in northern Vermont.

After some great pizza and a couple of draught pints of delicious Hill Farmstead beer (Edward and George, if you’re wondering), I wandered over to the package store side of the building to purchase something nice for the road.

I told the kid behind the register I was looking for something unique. Looking back, I should have been more specific.

I walked out that day with a bottle of Fantome DMD — a “Cascadian dark ale,” which is just a fancy name for an American black ale.  (You’ll sometimes hear these referred to as “black IPAs” as well.)

Fast-forward to our recent tasting. The beer garnered attention before we even opened it, because underneath the bottle cap was a wine cork. And caked inside the bottle was an inordinate amount of sediment.

Open uncorking — and despite careful handling — the carbonation exploded from the bottle as if we triggered a chemical reaction.

As we quickly filled the tasting glasses, our panelists marveled over the energetic carbonation and generous, lingering head produced by this brew.

Picture a Fourth of July fireworks display where they set off the grand finale first, because DMD’s initial impression was more impressive than anything to follow.

In fact, things got downright…weird.

Despite the nice head, DMD’s appearance is somewhat off-putting.  It’s opaque and dark brown…a shade of brown that our panelists noted as intriguing, but as the same time, not particularly appetizing.  Weird, right?

Let me explain it this way:  it’s kind of like looking at a chocolate soda. It’s chocolate! And it’s soda! But at the same time…it’s chocolate soda.

The confusion continued on smell. Our panelists looked at each other in bewilderment, noting aromas of clay, dirt, peat and even vinegar.

Things got more complex on taste. The panel rated it only slightly above middle-of-the-road, with its tastes of earthy, roasted malt, and traces of coffee and a Belgian funk that one panelist described as a “dishrag” funk.

Mouthfeel proved to be the downfall of DMD in our ratings. Panelists noted the intense amount of suspended clay-like sediment sucked the moisture from their mouths as they drank it.

“Very confusing,” one panelist noted. “Not a bad brew, but I disliked it a LOT.”

See? I told you it was going to get weird.

Aftertaste was judged as ashy and earthy, with some bitterness. But the panel felt the sediment made the beer gritty and almost chewy — causing them to lose interest in drinking much of it.

That muddiness, and its mouth-drying effect limited drinkability to only average, with one panelist noting, “It seems like a lot of work to get through the glass.”

So while Fantome DMD isn’t a bad product, it is a strange, perplexing brew that will challenge most of your senses.

For me, though, it most challenged my faith in the judgment of that kid that sold it to me, and made me realize I should trust my own judgment, first.

(Appearance 7.43, Smell 6.29, Taste 17.29, Aftertaste 12.57, Drinkability 15.43)

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Augustiner-Bräu München Edelstoff

rating_verygood71 points

Look, I don’t like to be confused when I’m drinking my beer. And this Helles lager from Munich is downright perplexing.

It has a label that is just God-awful, printed in light blue and gold with confusing German text set in a font only someone in lederhosen could read. The label is adorned with a drawing of an elderly monk in an apron, standing in front of a cinder block wall, surrounded by drawings of medals and hop flowers. What the fürchterlich?!

augustinerbraumunchenThe label reads “Augustiner-Bräu München Münchner Bier Edelstoff.” With a random set of German words like that, we had to take to the Internet just to find out what the hell we were drinking.

On top of that, you have to remove a sheet of aluminum foil from the neck just to drink it, and when you do, you only get 11.2 ounces — not a full 12.

Everything about the packaging of this beer begs you not to purchase it. But you know us — we’re always up for the challenge.

Besides, Augustiner has been around since 1328, so we trusted that whatever the hell we were drinking, it would probably be decent. We were right.

Let’s clear up the mystery behind this horribly-marketed beer. Despite the lack of any useful information on the label, it is a Helles lager — a malt-forward light lager developed in Munich, Germany, in the late 1800s. “Helles” means bright, so it’s meant to be crisp and refreshing.

Basically, our panel felt it was Munich’s version of a light beer. So that’s how we judged it.

Edelstoff pours a pale, almost-neon yellow, which immediately sent our panelists into a whirlwind of urine jokes.  But aside from its off-putting color, the panel enjoyed it’s big, bubbly carbonation and short, sudsy head.

The panel felt the smell was better than average, with strong notes of grain and cereal, with a noticeable lemon overtone.

Edelstoff’s taste is dominated by malt, with strong flavors of lemon and raisin. Some panelists noted a bit of a tartness that is reminiscent of the sour yeast of Belgian whites.

Mouthfeel is smooth and a bit sudsy — what you’d expect for a typical lager — but our panelists mentioned that Edelstoff has more flavor than a typical lager.

Aftertaste is average, falling off quickly and leaving behind a bit of the lemony tartness, accompanied by a hint of Hallertau hops.

This beer makes its points on drinkability. It’s a light drinker, best served cold. Even panelists who were underwhelmed by the brew admitted they could drink several.

However…this beer is $12 per six-pack. It ain’t cheap. And when you factor in the 11.2-ounce bottle size, you’re actually paying the equivalent of $12.86 per standard 72-ounce six-pack.

That’s way, way more than a typical light lager.  While Bud Light might not be a good beer,  for $12.86, not only could you buy  a case of it, but probably the dolly the distributor used to deliver it.

All told, though, if you can get past the high price of Augustiner-Bräu München Münchner Bier Edelstoff — and the mouthful of words it takes to say its name — you’ll be rewarded with a mouthful of solid, light summer lager.

(Appearance 5.29, Smell 6.86, Taste 21.29, Aftertaste 13.71, Drinkability 23.57)

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