The panel, for its January theme Basement Beer Tasting, tackled six winter seasonals. Caramel and smoke dominate taste among brews released for winter — with one notable exception.
Panelists: Jon Graney, Mike Festi, Rick Czapla, Bob Bowden
Captain Lawrence Frost Monster . . . 83 points
This imperial stout from Elmsford, NY, boasts a ton of malt and a whopping 12% ABV. The panel thought it was a spectacular brew, with a gorgeous appearance and a sweet, smooth, smoky taste. But the consensus was also this was a one-and-done “showcase” beer — a beer you could use to impress friends; not a beer you could drink all night. The label itself is worth a trip to the package store.
Appearance 9.75, Smell 7.75, Taste 26, Aftertaste 18.25, Drinkability 20.75
Brooklyn Winter Ale . . . 79 points
Another New York offering, this time a Scottish ale. This underrated beer impressed the panel with a light, toasty caramel taste and outstanding drinkability. Its aroma was light, being malty and not hoppy. But the panelists agreed this was a winter beer that could be enjoyed, one after another.
Appearance 8.75, Smell 5, Taste 24, Aftertaste 16, Drinkability 25
Traveler Jolly Shandy . . . 76 points
The Traveler Beer Co. is headquartered in Vermont, but contract brews through a famous company in Boston. This identity crisis extends also to its Jolly Shandy. The panel loved this wheat ale, but agreed that this should be offered as a summer beer — not in the dead of winter. The juicy, fizzy ale is a refreshing blend of orange and pomegranate, and with a low 4.4% ABV, it’s a drinker.
Appearance 7, Smell 6.75, Taste 23.25, Aftertaste 15.75, Drinkability 23
Berkshire Brewing Co. Cabin Fever Ale . . . 73 points
This English pale ale was rich with caramel and smoky taste. But the panel was divided on whether they would want to drink it all night long. Some found the aftertaste bitter, while others judged it as light and rich with caramel. But overall, Cabin Fever was judged to be a smooth and enjoyable winter seasonal.
Appearance 8.5, Smell 5.5, Taste 22.25, Aftertaste 15, Drinkability 21
Anchor Winter Wheat . . . 68 points
Wheat beers are traditionally light, so when the panel poured this black brew into a glass, appearance marks shot through the roof. But the overwhelming sweet taste of malt and wheat took over. The panel noted bread-like toasty, chocolaty and slightly smoky taste. Anchor Brewing released this as a new beer in 2014, and while it certainly wasn’t bad, it needs taming.
Appearance 7.75, Smell 6, Taste 19.25, Aftertaste 15, Drinkability 20.25
Harpoon UFO Gingerland . . . 61 points
The panelists approached this unfiltered wheat beer with intrigue, but quickly found that it was a rare swing-and-a-miss from Harpoon Brewery. While it definitely had strong gingerbread overtones, the panel felt that it needed a sweetener to balance the ginger bite. It certainly wasn’t offensive, but it’s a beer you’ll get sick of before you even finish the bottle. This was another new offering for 2014, so perhaps Harpoon can tame it for next year…or shelf it.
Appearance 6.5, Smell 7.25, Taste 15.75, Aftertaste 13, Drinkability 18