Probably Ommegang’s most accessible beer, Hennepin remains the strongest and freshest American Saison I’ve had to date. The brew, named for Father Hennepin who informed Europeans of the beauty of Niagara Falls, mimics the monstrous and crisp sound of Niagara’s cascading beauty. Hennepin pours a beautiful golden yellow with a white foamy head. The light aromas of sweet pear and honey bubble off the glass. When it hits the tongue, the beer tastes sharp and full, with an earthy yeasty body, and notes of coriander, lemon, and spice. It cleans the palet and infuses the senses with a fruity, doughy, and herbal vigor. Hennepin is very drinkable, even with its deep complexity and spicy accents. It’s an excellent beer which has helped Ommegang continue the astounding success of their Belgian-style Brewery in Cooperstown. At ten to twelve dollars a four pack (eight dollars for a 750 ml long neck bottle), I’d also give Hennepin an A for price. You won’t find many cheaper Saisons, and none of them are as good as this one (even the Belgians). If you’ve never had an Ommegang, this is a great way to start a relationship with one of America’s best craft breweries.
In Conclusion: Perhaps the greatest American Saison, a fresh, earthy addition to any meal, and one of Ommegang’s best brews. This is a wonderful beer for late evenings in the summer and early fall, with good friends and light conversation.
Food Pairing: Spicy asian dishes, especially those with seafood and ginger.
“Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.”
Shawneecraft-Bourbon Entire Porter
Place: The Mint in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Shawneecraft’s porter proves to be an extremely smooth and clean porter for a good price. The draft pours a beautiful cloudy dark brown (almost opaque), with a small head. It smells of roasted malt, coffee, and smoked wood. On tasting, the malt is really light for a porter of this strength, and there’s wonderful touches of bourbon. Inside the bourbon are notes of smoked oak and a hint of coffee. However, my main complaint about this porter, is that all of these tastes fade too quickly. The lack of lasting aromas makes this beer very drinkable, but also lowers the strength and complexity of the brew. For price, it’s even with other porters of it’s caliber, so I’d give it a B.
In Conclusion: A great porter, but lacks the lasting complexity of the best. However, this is a fantastic beer for bourbon drinkers (like me), who also enjoys porters and stouts.
Food Pairing: Rich and creamy foods. Duck, or roast pork, and sweet cheeses.
On an additional note, the Mint in Bethlehem, PA is a great place to go for dinner or drinks. They have a huge selection of craft beer (draft and bottled) and also offer inspired gastropub dishes at good prices. I thoroughly recommend stopping by if you’re in the area, and if you see Chef Mimmo, talk to him about the food and beer. He’s very friendly and knows as much as anybody about food/beer pairings.
“The roots and herbes beaten and put into new ale or beer and daily drunk, cleareth, strengtheneth and quickeneth the sight of the eyes.”
Dogfish Head-120 minute IPA
This is the greatest IPA that is readily available on the US market. It’s rare and a bit overpriced, but the complex hops and effervescent aromas are unrivaled. 120 minute pours golden orange, with a medium head. On first taste, it’s sweet like a barley wine, but sharper and tangy. It doesn’t taste that alcoholic, despite it’s extremely high ABV, which is unusual. If you’ve had Dogfish’s Fort or World Wide Stout, you’ll know what I mean. The only sense of how strong this brew is comes from the warmth inside, like the best whiskeys. The striking hops, which taste of grapefruit and pine trees, mixed with the sweetness of the brew, create a unique IPA experience without overpowering the senses. If you’ve had 90 minute, you’ve got to at least try this. There is absolutely nothing like it. The quality of this beer is so amazing that Dogfish Head threw out a batch in 2011. As they said at the time “each and every batch of beer we brew at Dogfish Head goes through over 40 Quality Control check points and while this batch passed many of these check points we decided with the results of the final sensory panel, days before packaging, that we dont feel this batch of 120 Minute IPA is up to par.” Remember (“because remembering is so much more a psychotic activity than forgetting”*), this beer is very alcoholic (more so than wines), despite how mild it tastes. Sip, don’t swallow. And you may want to share this with a friend, as finishing a glass by yourself can confuse the senses. Despite how good this beer is, at ten dollars a bottle, I have to give it is a B+ for price. I’m not sure any beer is worth a dollar an ounce, no matter how good. That being said, I buy a bottle of 120 minute whenever I can. If you’re interested in IPAs and you see 120 minute, you should buy it quickly. Some places sell out in less than half an hour, and this is a fantastic beer for aging.In fact, buy a few bottles (if they let you). Place one in the fridge for drinking, and save the others in a pantry or cellar. It’ll be worth it, trust me.
In Conclusion: The best IPA in America, but also only for those who can handle the high alcoholic content. Great for IPA and Whiskey fans, and also those who enjoy citrus hops. Wonderful, but a little too expensive. Save for special events.
Food Pairing: The best Charcuterie and/or Tapas you can find.
“I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.”
*Quote by Speed Levitch, Waking Life
River Horse-Tripel Horse
As a traditional Belgian Tripel, Tripel horse is about average for the field. It pours golden brown, with a full head. On first taste, the beer is sweet and alcoholic. There are notes of butterscotch, caramel, and almond. As the aromas linger, there’s also a hint of orange and banana. There are even some slight herbs, but the sugary thick alcohol of the sweet yeasts dominates the palate. In fact, the beer is a little too alcoholic without providing the complex base of a true Tripel. However, for twelve or fourteen dollars a six pack, it’s a really good buy for a strong Belgian ale. As a result, it earns an A for price. In fact, I buy this beer a lot for small get togethers. If you’re interested in the Tripel style, you can easily find more definitive brews in presentation and originality. However, for casual drinking, you probably won’t find a better deal.
In Conclusion: There are better Tripels out there, but River Horse’s Tripel Horse is a lot cheaper than most of those.
Food Pairing: Spicy and creamy pork or poulty dishes, Greek food, and pungent cheese like Limburger or Taleggio.
“Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer.”
The Alchemist / Ninkasi / Stone – More Brown Than Black IPA
Finally started taking pictures!
I realize I’m kind of in the minority here. Most people consider this to be an A. I just didn’t find it to be nearly as complex as most. It pours dark brown, with a medium head. The hops definitely have a lot of citrus, and you can taste the stone fruit, but it finishes dry and bitter. The malt give a solid base, while remaining light and allowing the hops to take control. However, beyond the citrus, I didn’t really find that much complexity for the variety of hops that went into its creation. For several dollars a bottle and as a special collaboration, I expected more. This would be a great standard IPA to have in your fridge, if it wasn’t so expensive. That being said, all the proceeds go to Waterbury Good Neighbor Fund, a non-profit that helps family’s affected by Hurricane Irene (which also destroyed the Alchemist brewery). For that, the beer gets an A+ for price. Who can feel bad drinking a beer that genuinely helps people?
In Conclusion: Not the best IPA in the world, but definitely worth trying for the cause. Everyone should buy at least one bottle to help Alchemist and the people affected by Hurricane Irene.
Food Pairing: Pungent and strong cheeses like Cheddar and Gorgonzola, fruit, particularly stone fruit, and sweet breads and meats.
“If the beer finishes a little bit dry, it makes you kind of thirsty. It makes you want to drink it again.”
-Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing Co.
Founders-Breakfast Stout-Double Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Stout
A rich and creamy Stout, brewed with flaked oats, bitter and sweetened imported chocolates, Sumatra and Kona coffee, all of which somehow taste through in the brilliant notes. Pours black and thick, with a warm brown head. When it first hits your tongue, you immediately taste the rich chocolate and Kona coffee, the aroma tantalizing the tongue with its contrast of creamy sweet and robust bitter. Then the beer slows down as the thick fullness of the oatmeal settles, and Founders still finds time to round out the whole experience with some very slight hops and herbal flourishes. This is by far the best stout I’ve ever had. That’s not to say I won’t have a better one in the future, but I’ve never tasted anything more full and scrumptious. For price, I also have to give this beer an A+. At around twelve dollars a four pack, it may be the best deal on a rich imperial stout you’ll ever find.
In Conclusion: This is the king of breakfast stouts. Founders has really made a masterpiece.
Food Pairing: Creamy Cheeses like Gouda and Brie and Smoked Meats.
“They who drink beer will think beer.”
Dogfish Head-Midas Touch
Made from a 2700 year old recipe found in the tomb of “King Midas”, this beer is nearly liquid gold. Midas Touch is a barley based brew with honey, grapes, and light saphron. It pours a hazy golden yellow, with a medium head. The beer tastes mostly of the honey and grapes, which is why dogfish head describes it as “between wine and mead”, but behind that is the grainy and creamy barley. Miraculously, Dogfish has found a way to balance the sweet fruitiness of this beer with savory spices. That was the real “Midas Touch”. For price it’s a B+ at about twelve dollars a four pack. As one of Dogfish’s ancient specialty beers, it’s pretty cheap, considering the others are only available in more expensive champagne bottles.
In Conclusion: A great beer for special occasions or special meals. Buy if you’re having a dinner party and you have friends who like white wine.
Food Pairing: Sweet and Succulent dishes with a lot of fresh herbs and spices. Pork, Fish, Risotto, Curry, and Goat Cheese.
“Beer, it’s the best damn drink in the world.”
Flying Dog-Raging Bitch-Belgian IPA
As a Belgian-IPA, it’s not the best, but also definitely not the worst. Pours Clean Red Amber with a full head. Tastes a bit like a Belgian Blonde for a millisecond, but then the hops take over. If you don’t like hops, you won’t like this. There’s an assault of complex hops, acidic, piney, and pungent, with only a waft of Belgian style. That’s the reason why this beer gets a B+. It doesn’t quite live up to its Belgian title. Flying Dog makes a fairly good Tripel (Kerberos), and you think they could have brought a little more of that styling to this beer. That being said, as far as price goes (it’s something like twelve or thirteen dollars a six pack), this is definitely the best of the canis majors, and perhaps the best tasting. For price, this beer deserves an A.
In Conclusion: For price, one of the best beers you can hope to buy. It’s not really Belgian, but as a refreshing IPA, it’s almost perfect.
Food Pairing: Hearty and spicy foods. Steak, pork chops, lamb, savory breads, and bleu cheese.
“He was a wise man who invented beer.”