May 23 2009

Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale Review

This time around I’m trying the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.  Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery is located in Farmville, NC and they call themselves “The Dark Beer Specialist”.  

I tried a couple their beers while in the Outer Banks last summer, but I honestly wouldn’t have tried them if the owner of the shop hadn’t recommended them to me.  Word of mouth, or in this day and age good reviews on the internet, is still a huge factor in how we all figure what we want to try next.  The Duck-Rabbit symbol is the old image that was used by psychologists to reinforce that what we perceive is not only a product of our senses, but also our current mental processes and state of mind.

Honestly, it’s a cool concept that isn’t played up in the marketing I’ve seen.  And without that, just having that image and the packaging they use, the beers of Duck-Rabbit just don’t jump off from the shelf at me.  Luckily, I got some shop advice.

I remembered liking them, so it is good to see that they are expanding and now available in Virginia.  I picked up a few of their brews the other day and the first to get the formal review is the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.

It pours a half inch dirty, brown head which dissipates quickly, but clings nicely to the rim of the glass.  The beer is a deep red with cherry highlights. It is very clear for a brown ale and striking.


The aroma is slightly sweet, with hints of caramel and nuttiness that brings pecans to mind.  What really jumps out at you is the smell of the roasted grains.  Usually roasted grains come across in beers as a coffee flavor which can be complex, but mostly end up being overwhelming and boring.  This smells exactly like the actual roasted grains I use when homebrewing.  I taste everything I put in the mash and the pot, and to me roasted barley is warm bread with a slight astringency.  They nailed that, and I loved that smell.

The good news is that that pure roasted flavor comes across in the taste, too.  The mouthfeel is full and there is a hint of toffee.  The bitterness becomes sharper as the beer warms and seems to come from the grains as much as the hops.  Duck-Rabbit says they use Amarillo and Czech Saaz hops in this, but the presence of both was muted at best.  The citrus of the Amarillo was a no-show, but I did get some of the spicy of the Saaz.  Unfortunately, it seemed like the Saaz only helped to make the swelling bitterness even more pronounced.  I wish I had checked the bottling date on this one to see if it was an older bottle.

In the end, I liked this beer and thought the authentic roastiness was amazing, but it puts some wear and tear on your palate.  Solo, it would be really hard for me to drink this all night.  But, with the right foods, it would probably become amazing.  This brown ale with a thick burger, or ribs, or just about any red meat off the grill, would enhance those caramelized flavors and the meat, in turn, would mute the bitterness.  

Try this out, but do so with food.  The Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale is good, but it needs a copilot to really get off the ground.


Apr 14 2009

Stone Brewing’s Levitation Ale Review (or Flight of the Bumblebee)

I’m going to have to revisit the beers of Stone Brewing.


I was a big fan of Stone from the start.  The first beer of theirs I tried was the Arrogant Bastard. (I’ve got an old Arrogant Bastard t-shirt that I used to wear A LOT.  In retrospect, me wearing that shirt might have been a bit redundant.)   It was a really big, malty beer and it came in a big bomber bottle.  The marketing silk screened on the bottle was amazing:


This is an aggressive beer.  You probably won’t like it.  It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.  We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory – maybe something with a multi-million dollar as campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal.  Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better.  Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this. ” – Arrogant Bastard Ale


I’m older and a little more jaded, but I think I would have loved anything that was in THAT bottle with THAT attitude back then.  As it turns out, it was a good beer, too.  Since that time, I’ve tried just about every beer of theirs that makes it out to the east coast. Most of it good, but almost all of it stepping just a little over the line into overwhelming. 


I really want to love Stone, but their beers are a little too big, a little too sweet, and they depth charge your palate for the evening.  These are bumblebee beers.  Their bodies are way too big for their wings, but somehow they still fly. 


I’ve collected a few of their Vertical Epics and seasonals, and I’ve laid them down to cellar and mellow, but I’ve largely ignored Stone over the last few years because they felt like extremely good one-trick-ponies.  But then I came across their Levitation Ale.



Levitation is a session ale from Stone (4.4% alcohol), which feels like an oxymoron, so I had to pick up a six pack.  Since this a low alcohol (lower original and final gravity beer), the Levitation name is obviously a play on that, and it is categorized as an American Amber Ale hopped with columbus, amarillo, simcoe and crystal hops.


This one starts out with a solid hop aroma.  The simcoe is center stage with a nice, clean pine smell, and the citrus of the amarillo and spice of the crystal are the back drop.  The beer is a deep ruby with light red highlights.  The head is wispy, but persistent.  The body is thin and approaching the gravity of water, but I’m not viewing that as a bad attribute.  That comes with making a session beer.


The taste follows the aroma to a diminished degree.  It is not as intense, but the citrus steps up and the pine falls behind.  The bitterness is the thing that gets you.  It is a full, deep bitter that coats and sizzles on the top of your tongue.  Halfway through the glass, it lessens, but only because it has cut off your ear at this point and it is dancing around you to Stealers Wheel.


Is this one drinkable?  Definitely.  The bitterness is tough, like the first dip into a cold swimming pool, but you get used to it after a while.  I could drink this all night and live to tell the tale, but I don’t think I’d switch back and forth between this and other beers.  Levitation will ruin your taste buds.


It has that extreme….thing that Stone always has.  They made a session beer, but they give it to you with 45 IBUs.  Those bitterness units hit the low end of the style guidelines for an American IPA.  Once again, it is one made on their own terms, and I can respect that.


I look forward to finishing the 6-pack and going back to some of their older beers.  I expect that my tastes have changed, and I will think they are overwhelming and extreme.  But, with the marketing messages that they use, at least they are walking the walk.  Making a session beer hasn’t changed my impression of them, but the way they did it feels like an extension of who they are rather than bigness as a shtick.


I fully expect to take it all back with my next Stone review.