Man/Beer Love fires off a few beer recommendations this Valentine's Day.

If you haven’t heard, it’s Valentine’s Day. Now, before you run out to get that chocolate heart, dial up the folks at FTD, and/or spring for that weekend ski trip, we here at Man/Beer Love have an even better idea: give your special someone the gift of craft beer on this 14th day of February. There’s no doubt this breaks from the traditional array of gifts you might bestow upon your sweetheart, but if anyone knows how to open up the book of love (besides Mister Mister, of course), it’s three guys who have the word “Love” in the title of their blog. Trust us, we know what we’re doing.

With so many good beers out there to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. But since the author of this post resides in the Green Mountain State, we’re gonna keep things local to Vermont with today’s offerings. Below are my thoughts on a Valentine’s Day top-five for your significant other, representing a few of my current favorites in VT. Not all of these are going to come in 12oz bottles, and you may have to travel to obtain a few of these, but I’ve heard good love is worth traveling for, and so is craft beer. Enjoy!

Beer #1: The Alchemist’s Heady Topper

Good beer can come in a can, you say? Indeed it can (pun intended)! In the fall-out from Hurricane Irene and on the heels of the closing of their restaurant, the the folks at the Alchemist have concentrated their efforts on the canning and distribution of their flagship double IPA. If you haven’t tried it, by God, go out and get yourself a four-pack of their 16 oz. tall boys! And please read the fine print: this beer is meant to be consumed straight from the can. If you’re keeping Valentine’s casual, this is an excellent choice.  Want a line one where to find this sweet nectar? I could tell you, but the Alchemist has you covered.

Beer #2: Hill Farmstead’s Edward

Besides having one of the sweetest logos I’ve seen among breweries (I appreciate how minimalist it is), Hill Farmstead has been cranking out some ridiculous brew in Vermont’s Northeast corner.  Edward is their American Pale Ale, and if you’re headed with your sweetheart to the Farmhouse Tap & Grill in Burlington for Valentine’s dinner, I recommend ordering Edward off the menu.

Beer #3: Fiddlehead’s IPA

Vermont’s newest microbrewery, located in Shelburne, will be opening to the public soon.  In the meantime, head to Three Needs in Burlington for a sample of Fiddlehead’s IPA (it was on the menu as of last Thursday).  Mighty tasty, I says!

Beer #4: Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Fayston Maple Imperial Stout

If you’ve been to a recent Vermont Brewer’s Festival, you’ve likely realized that Lawson’s is a hot commodity in this state, and for good reason.  It was awfully difficult for me to choose just one of their beers, but the Fayston Maple Imperial Stout tastes like liquid love to me.  If I could bathe in it, I probably would, and then I’d drink the bath water.  Check out their website for a list of locations where you can figuratively bathe in the wonder of Lawson’s beer.

Beer #5: Otter Creek Brewing’s 20th Anniversary Ale

Take  OCB’s Cooper Ale and try to imagine the ultra-imperial version, with an almost vinous flavor to it hearkening back to Otter Creek’s Quercus Vitus Humulus (a beer, incidentally, that I really miss!).  The 20th Anniversary Ale is a real treat for anyone who enjoys savoring their beers in a brandy snifter.  You’ll find this on tap at some Middlebury eateries (Two Brother’s Tavern, for instance) and I’ve seen their 4-pack specialty boxes on sale at a number of beverage stores in an around VT.

Got a few suggestions you’d like to see added to this list?  Send ‘em along!

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Great Divide Old Ruffian

I received this bomber in a beer trade back when I didn’t readily have access to Great Divide’s offerings (thanks, Kilted Texan!). It traveled with me from North Dakota to Chicago, and I finally cracked it open for both celebration and tasting purposes. The little bit of extra aging certainly didn’t do it any harm…

Appearance: Old Ruffian pours a hazy deep brown/amber color with an immediate thick, silky, tan head that recedes quickly. The lacing stays right there, though, all the way to the bottom of the little barleywine snifter (although I admit I’m downing this one a bit faster than I should be, haha). Beautiful color.

Nose: The aroma pops right out as I pour it−a heavy syrupy, caramel-y bouquet. This one isn’t one of the most subtle barleywines I’ve tried…lots of alcohol and hops right in the nose, along with the sweet malt. Some swishing bring out a distinct bit of pine sap and delicious brown sugar.

Taste: There are tons of bitter hops right at the onset. The first taste is strangely almost primarily hops and alcohol, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s kind of filthy and aftershave-like for a second before a wave of caramel sweetness rolls in to balance everything out nicely. There’s a prominent resiny flavor, and some burnt toast, and even some fruitiness in the center of it all that I can’t quite define because my tastebuds are dancing around too much. Quite amazing. I’ve been getting accustomed to drinking more subtle barleywines like Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot…this one doesn’t wrap you in a blanket like those do. It kind of kicks my ass and then commences with the loving, and finishes by leaving a nice aftertaste of resin, bitter hops, and burnt sugar…leaves me wanting more.

Mouthfeel: Old Ruffian is thick and smooth, and envelopes the mouth nicely like a good barleywine should. There’s a mild carbonation, perhaps a bit more than I’m used to with this style. It works.

Overall: This is not my favorite barelywine, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting ones, and it’s damn tasty. Complex to no fault and really pretty dirty and mean like it’s moniker suggests, with the kindness of grampa shining through in the end. I have finished the bottle, and I’m very relaxed now…good job, Great Divide! I’ll come back for more soon enough.

9.2/10

Availability: Early-mid winter in WA, MN, MI, FL, GA, AL, TX, AZ, CA, OR, CO, OK, KS, NE, MO, IL, IN, OH, SC, VA, NC, PA, MD, NJ, CT, NY, and MA.  Get better coverage in New England, guys!

Be sure to stay tuned for Jim’s food pairing for this beer as part of a regular one-two punch!

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While the Men have been busy moving and traveling, we’ve also been keeping notes on beers and bars which will soon grace these pages.

Personally, I finally managed to procure some very fresh bottles of Russian River Pliny the Elder. A full review is in the pipeline, but in short it absolutely lives up to the hype, It’s everything you’d want from a big American IPA, which is not to say that it’s the only game in town, but it certainly is in the upper echelon.

I also made a trip up to visit the newly opened Lot on Tap at the end of the recently expanded north end of the High Line here in Manhattan. The Lot on Tap is an unassuming temporary beer garden replete with food trucks and a “family-friendly art installation” (I guess imaginative playgrounds can now be called art installations). Appropriately for the season, The Lot On Tap served several summer and wheat beers, although the Brooklyn High Line Elevated Wheat, brewed specially for the Lot, was evidently quite popular upon its release and was not on tap when I dropped by. The chill vibe and spacious environs–not overly crowded, at least on an early Friday evening–can make you forget that you’re in Midtown. Seven dollar beers can help remind you, though.

A friend forwarded me a tip on where to score Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout in an undistinguished bodega, and sure enough, there they were. I acquired a couple and look forward to tasting and reviewing them soon.

Last night we stopped in at the Blind Tiger for their Smuttynose festival. The real gem for me was the Smuttynose Double Dry-Hopped IPA served on cask. While I often can’t get enough hops, there were definitely enough hops in this brew, so much so that I couldn’t easily have had more than one. Pouring an unfiltered cloudy light orange, the beer was dominated by the hops, tempered ever so slightly by a subtle malt sweetness which was however no match for the powerful hops’ grassy bitterness. While there, we met a fellow from Troy, who once again recommended we check out The Ruck on our next visit.

Coming up: many more reviews, plus a trip to the Vermont Brewers Festival.

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Kelso of Brooklyn recently began offering Saturday afternoon tours of their brewery, and, as I live mere blocks away, I jumped at the first opportunity to survey the operations and taste the suds of a truly local brewery (distribution is currently limited to the New York metropolitan region in kegs only).

Inconspicuously tucked away on a warehouse block just north of the heavily trafficked Atlantic Avenue, the brewery is marked only by diminutive signage for Kelso and Heartland Brewery, for whom Kelso also brews by contract. The brewery is as low-key and unassuming on the inside as it is on the outside, replete with a picnic table for seating and an ad hoc bar. Furthermore, truck parking is evidently available inside the building.

A cheerful guide gave us an informal tour of the facilities and poured us several of the beers on tap, including their IPA, brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand, giving the moderated beer a fresh, bright, and crisp flavor. (Note: a few days ago I sampled Kelso’s new “Version 3″ IPA, which was astonishing; I’ll have a review of that beer soon.) Also on tap was a Quad Bock that Kelso brews for the local chain of Heartland brewpubs. (Apparently, brewmaster Kelly Taylor worked for Heartland before deciding to set out on his own. Upon informing Heartland of his desire to go solo, Heartland encouraged Kelly to continue brewing for them but also use the existing facility to brew his own offerings.) The Quad—brewed with ten malts and ten hops and weighing it at 10% ABV in celebration of Kelly’s 10th anniversary working for Heartland (compare with Dogfish Head’s new Centennial offering Hellhound On My Ale)—was malty and slightly sweet yet not quite cloying, very drinkable, with the alcohol really hidden.

But enough drivel, check out the pics. Dig, in particular, the row of beers being aged in different types of liquor barrels.

 

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Southern Tier Unearthly Imperial IPA

This is a guest post by Devon Press, musician and blogger at Pongo and Perdita

I think I’ve finally found the IPA I’ve been looking for. The last couple weeks I’ve had a fever for the hop heavy beers. Nothing could quench it. When Brady first asked me to write a guest post here I felt like I hadn’t found a beer that inspired me enough.

That’s all changing as I write this. I’m sitting on the train on my way back into the city from Westchester. I have with me a 22oz Unearthly Imperial IPA and a craving for a super hoppy, bitter beer that rips apart my taste buds without reservation. From sip one I knew this was it so now I’m writing this review mid-trip…my palette isn’t finely tuned enough to give you great details…but this beer is kind of sweet at first taste and then gives way to a really strong bitter and hoppy bite. And unlike a lot of other IPAs…that bite doesn’t diminish after the first sip.

This drink is making this train ride heavenly!  I definitely don’t mind not having a glass if it means I get to look out the window and watch this sunset.  There’s a bunch of young and extremely noisy college kids playing asshole behind me and a couple making out in front of me and everyone else on the train is talking very loudly on their cell phones…but I’m drinking this beer, listening to Delicate Steve, watching the sun go down over the Hudson river and feeling truly transcendent…or should I say…Unearthly.

Feeling beer-inspired and want to write a post for ManBeerLove? Contact us and let us know!

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Ayinger Celebrator bottle

All right, I know this is often considered one of the best beers in the world.  Sooo, maybe it doesn’t need another review…but I’m going to do one anyway. I spent enough money on this 4-pack, so I might as well sit down for a slow-sipping, casual tasting and take some notes along the way.

Appearance: Celebrator pours a deep, rich, dark brown, and light shines through a bit with a blood red hue. There’s a nice one finger off-white head that sticks around for a bit, and moderate lacing. I can tell by the pour that this has a bit more body than most doppelbocks, even with an alcohol level on the low end for the style. Pours a little like low-viscosity motor oil. It’s a good sign!

Aroma: Deep roasted malts and a thick caramel sweetness pops out right away. There’s also a bit of chocolate, and maybe a little maple syrup or molasses in there…as it warms, the alcohol becomes more present in the nose, too. Deeper whiffs bring in some figs and plums as well…mmmm.

Taste: Where do I begin?  This is easily the most complex lager I’ve ever had, and it’s still as mellow and easy drinking as a beer can possibly be.  There seem to be layers and layers of roasty malts wrapped in a very present hop bitterness.  Burnt sugar and figs, raisins…maple syrup and caramel, too.  The amazing thing is that the sweetness is perfectly balanced by the biting hops, and the beer finishes off with a long lingering essence of brown sugar and residual bitterness.

A tall, semi-cool glass of Ayinger Celebrator

Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is very smooth, with just a bit of carbonation.  It’s also full and round, and spreads to every inch of the palate–perfectly balanced. Light to medium body.

Overall: This is easily a top ten kind of beer, the best example of the style I’ve ever had and one that I could easily drink a four-pack of.  It goes down with the ease of a session beer, but packs a little extra punch with the 6.70% ABV (which is fairly mild for a doppelbock), and deserves to be savored. I will try to always keep some in the fridge in case a celebration calls for it!

9.8/10

I believe this is available almost anywhere in the US.  Go out and grab a bottle−you won’t be sorry you paid a premium for it.

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