A few months back I was at Yia-Yia's for Avery night and tried several of their fines beers. It seems like it's one of those breweries where you'll never find a bad beer. Out of Bounds Stout is just a stout, nothing fancy, no added flavoring, no unnecessary amounts of hops in order to call it a stout IPA or some such nonsense. A good stout doesn't need a hyphen, it just is. Out of Bounds Stout pours, as you might expect, an impenetrable black with a one-finger beige head. But even though there's no added flavors, the malt and hops add all kinds of aromas and flavors: chocolate, coffee, toffee, caramel. Some sweetness (is this a milk stout maybe?) and a creamy thickness. Everything that you could possibly ask for in a stout. Bring me more!
Not bourbon barrel oak ages, but oak-aged nonetheless, Snow & Tell pours a maple syrupy hue, with a one-pinky tan head. Heavy, almost chewy mouthfeel, with malty character and oak as well (probably from the oak-aging!). Slight smokiness, but not as much as you'd expect from a Scotch ale. However there's some dark fruit overtones. There's some caramel peeking out as the temperature rises, however I'd classify this as a "training wheels" Scotch Ale. What I mean by that it's a version of the style that isn't as strong as a really good version, so it won't run off the neophytes. Overall, not bad, but not as good as I'd expected.
As I discussed in the last article, winter ale, aka winter warmers, are a broad category and cover a lot of ground. Zipline opted to go back to basics and present a stripped-down, no frills version of this winter favorite. They added rye to the malt and let that and the hops give the illusion of added spices...brilliant! The brew pours a hazy nut brown, with a scanty head. Floral/piney hops predominate, but dark fruit peaks out shyly from behind the IBU's. Zipline has never let me down, and this ale is a definite keeper for the cold nights around the Winter Solstice. Check it out if you see it on tap somewhere.
"Winter Ale" is a very broad category and generally refers to a pale ale or blonde ale which is jazzed up with spices. Bifrost clocks in at 58 IBU's, pretty respectful for a pale ale, and maybe even an IPA. There's some citrus notes right up front, possibly orange zest, with some muted cinnamon and caramel as well. There's also some alcohol heat, like you might get from a Bareleywine or a Belgian Quadruppel, understandable at 8.3% ABV. Referring back to my characterization of winter warmers as a "broad category", Bifrost is well outside the norm for warmers: the color is a golden, rather than the usual brown, there's more citrus than spice, and a lot more hoppy than I would expect. Great tasting, but in my opinion incorrectly labelled.
Blue Moon, as a pretend craft beer (it's always been owned by Miller-Coors, unlike existing crafts later bought out by the big kids) has had a mixed record with beer styles - some are top of the line, others are bottom of the barrel. The Cappuccino Oatmeal Stout is one of the better ones. Pouring a deep, dark brown with a one-finger head, this is a good representation of an oatmeal stout, thick and creamy. The coffee flavor predominates, but there are also some less evident chocolate and caramel notes. At only 10 IBU's the hop character is subdued at best. If you're a stout fan, you'll enjoy this.
Sam Adams had a white IPA before Hopflake IPA - it was called Whitewater IPA. I believe the difference in this one is that it has lemongrass added for flavoring. Oh, that and the hops arranged in the shape of a snowflake on the label. To remind my fellow beer geeks, a white IPA is typically a Belgian or Farmhouse Style ale with a high IBU count (i.e. lots of hops). I like the white IPA style, despite its bandwagoney use of "IPA" as shorthand for anything with more than 35 IBU's. Typically, and Hopflake is no exception, the style melds the smoothness of the Belgian/Saisson/Farmhouse style with hoppiness resulting in a refreshing brew. Hopflake is an okay white IPA, absolutely nothing wrong with it, but one of my criticisms of their seasonal variety packs in the past has been a lack of actual associate with the season - sometimes the same beers show up in the winter and the summer sampler packs. That makes no sense. That all being said, I'll enjoy the rest of this one, and even the second one, and surely someone will be convinced that it's Christmassy due to the festive label.