A new season means a new tide of seasonals, and they have been washing up on my doorstep with delightful regularity (I mentioned the scrumptious Redhook Winterhook already). For consideration today, Ninkasi's new Imperiale Stout and two from Widmer. With alacrity, since I know many of you resist reviews....
Ninkasi Imperiale Stout
I have spent three years trying to like Oatis, Ninkasi's longtime oatmeal stout. It is well-loved by many trustworthy stout fans, and I consider it a strange personal failing that I don't enjoy it more. (An overwhelming roast bitterness spoils the experience.) The new Imperiale, sold in the seasonal 22-ounce four-pack with Total Dom, Believer, and Sleigh'r, is the stout for me. The modern world of imperial stouts is one of unnecessary excess--gargantuan beers soused in bourbon and thick enough to lose a race with molasses in pouring speed. It need not be so. A stout brewed at 8-10% without bourbon-aging can actually be a beer of balance and subtlety, and so it is with Imperiale. With a grist of eight malts (including flaked and roasted barley), Imperiale achieves a layered palate that I absolutely swore had a dollop of rauchmalt. Nope, it's the roast, vamping as smoke and giving the beer a satisfyingly antiquated quality. Lots of plum and dark fruit, too, of the kind found in aged beers. But since I got the smoked malt bit wrong, I won't assert that the brewery's been letting this beer ripen. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised, either. An excellent stout.
Widmer O'Ryely IPA
You have to hand it to Widmer: they like what they like. And what they like are Nelson Sauvin hops, which the brewery embraced a few years back and have become sort of a house character. They are intense hops that run a continuum from fruity to musky and they're as difficult to ignore as a sweaty linebacker: you like 'em or you don't. I don't, so there you go. O'Ryely is the third in the series of Rotater IPAs, and a definite departure from the old-school Falconer and new school X-114 (made with Citra). What I will say is that the rye malt adds a welcome earthiness that does cut back on the musk. If you're a fan of Nelson Imperial IPA, you'll enjoy his little brother, O'Ryely.
Brothers Reserve Lemongrass Wheat Ale
The newest entry to the boxed, one-time-only Brothers Reserve series is a nicely experimental beer made with muscat grapes, lemongrass, and champagne yeast. The aroma and initial taste suggests a wheat wine, but then the grapes arrive, sweetly, sending the beer off in an entirely different direction. To my tongue, lemongrass doesn't taste like lemons--it's a more herbal flavor, a light complement that doesn't overwhelm a beer. Where the beer didn't thrill me was in its wet, heavy finish. The use of grapes, so sweet already, in a delicate, wheaty ale, tend to amp up the sugars. The thick alcohol notes accelerate the effect. I wondered what a version of this brewed to about 5% would have tasted like--or a version without the grapes. It's an interesting beer, and one worth investing ten bucks in, but its conceptual promise may leave you wishing for a version 2.0.
Widmer also sent me Brrrbon, the barrel-aged version of Brrr, but it's really not for me. I was never a fan of the base beer, which is in a style I'm also not a huge fan of, and bourbon-barrel aging it (a practice with which I've developed a love-hate relationship) didn't help matters. There's a reason they're bringing it back though: most people disagree with me. So go enjoy.
We also have the issue of the new Jubelale, with its reformulated recipe. But that deserves a post of its own.