Stillwater Artisanal Fear of Ghosts Smoked Sour Farmhouse Wheat Ale

Stillwater Artisanal is a "gypsy brewer" à la Evil Twin, Mikkelar, and Pretty Things (here's a great piece by Clay Risen on gypsy brewers). Founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 2010 by former techno DJ Brian Strumke, 2015 alone saw fifty new Stillwater releases brewed across twelve countries.

Today's offering was recommended to me by the ever wonderful Lauren at my local bottle shop, Midtowne Bottle Shop. Fear of Ghosts was brewed in collaboration with Crazy Mountain Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado.

Stillwater Artisanal Fear of Ghosts Smoked Sour Farmhouse Wheat Ale, 6% alc., 22 oz. bottle

C: Bright gold with a foamy white head and decent lacing

N: Quite grassy in the mouth with sour grapefruit notes, etrog peel, and a hint of nutmeg all the while remaining deliciously yeasty

P: Very apple-y (crisp Granny Smith and tart crabapple), freshly mopped hospital floors with subtle floral notes around the edges of the palate 

F: Pleasantly astringent with hints of nutmeg and salt

In conclusion: I recommend searching out a bottle or two of this. While the smoke doesn't do too much (it manifests as the hospital floor note for me) the tart fruit and subtle floral notes really work for me. That hint of nutmeg that can be tracked from the nose to the finish also makes me happy.

Oskar Blues Death By Coconut Irish Porter

Known for their Old Chub (often found on nitro!) and their Dale's Pale Ale, Colorado's Oskar Blues brewery has grown quickly since 2002 to now include breweries in North Carolina and Texas. Pioneers of craft beer in cans (they're "infinitely recyclable and portable") Oskar Blues now push Crowlers (32 oz. single use cans filled and sealed in front of the customer) as a way to take beer home from your favorite tap room. Death By Coconut sounds like something I won't enjoy...but I trust Midtowne's Lauren.

Behind door #11: Oskar Blues Death By Coconut Irish Porter, 6.5% alc., 12 oz. can

C: Black with a foamy caramel colored head (that quickly dissipates to leave a little head trim around the edge of the inside of the glass)

N: Leads with the coconut (does it ever!) then chocolate notes come in behind -- sadly lacks any discernible malt note

P: Coconut, chocolate, and almonds (like drinking an Almond Joy bar)

F: Sweet with ongoing coconut flavors, starts to dry out towards the back of the palate

In conclusion: If drinking Almond Joys is your thing you're on to a winner here. Personally, I would have liked more malt influence to give it more of a porter presence that could play off the coconut and chocolate sweetness but it remains eminently drinkable, if a little on the sweet side.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout

We have a winter classic on our hands as we enter the final quarter of the "Twelve Beers of Christmas" dark beer pack from Midtowne Bottle Shop (Harrisonburg, VA). Young's used to brew at the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth, London until their 2006 merger with Wells. Sadly, at that point, the Ram Brewery was shuttered (ending a brewing history on the site that dated back to the mid-1500s). Wells now brew Young's beers at the Eagle Brewery in Bedford. Containing both brewers chocolate and chocolate extract the chocolate influence is usually high in this offering.

Behind door #10: Young's Double Chocolate Stout, 5.2% alc., 11.2 oz. bottle

C: Black with a creamy, caramel head

N: Both milk chocolate and dark chocolate elements lead the way with roasted malt notes and vanilla around the edges 

P: Abundant rich, sweet chocolate notes, subtle roasted malt notes, and just a hint of licorice 

F: Lingering sweetness with drying roast malt and dark chocolate notes

In conclusion: Always a crowd pleaser, the rich chocolate notes and full body never disappoint. A very easy drinking dark ale.

Ommegang Oatmeal Stout Winter Ale

Home to more than just the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY, is also home to a farmstead brewery that has occupied 136 acres since 1997. Ommegang is known for its big Belgian beers and has earned quite a reputation over the years. Annual outturn currently runs at 35,000 barrels.

Behind door #9: Ommegang Oatmeal Stout Winter Ale, 5.3% alc., 12 oz. bottle

C: Black with a caramel colored foamy head

N: Belgian yeast twang (that beery fruitiness with sweet spice behind) with roasted coffee and dark chocolate notes around the edges 

P: The Belgian yeast twang from the nose is unmistakable across the palate, some dark malt notes behind

F: Short to moderate with lingering fruitiness and some sweetness

In conclusion: Much more of a winter ale than an oatmeal stout. I think this would be disappointing coming from another distillery but Ommegang is well known for its house style and a Belgian twist isn't that much of a surprise. Still needs more Oatmeal Stout notes, though.

New Holland Cabin Fever

Founded in 1996 by friends Jason Spaulding and Brett Vander Camp, New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, Michigan has an annual outturn of approximately 30,000 barrels. They started distilling spirits in 2005. Cabin Fever is a traditional brown ale brewed with three barley variations (2-row, Munich, chocolate), wheat, and rye and fermented using American Ale yeast.

Behind door #8: New Holland Cabin Fever, Brown Ale, 6.5% alc., 12 oz. bottle

C: Darkest brown with a creamy white head

N: Abundant roasted malt with hints of vanilla around the edges, quite yeasty

P: Yeastiness transfers to the palate with more roasted malt and building chocolate notes

F: Shorter than anticipated but some of those roasted malt notes linger as does a little of the yeastiness, hints of coffee in the distant background

In conclusion: An easy drinking, very pleasant brown ale. I could happily knock back a few of these in an isolated cabin somewhere in the mountains.