A few weeks ago we wrote about our plans to name the best seasonal beer in the Albuquerque area for the month of January. Well, the month is at an end, and while we prep for a Super Bowl that no one really cares about (seriously, football gods, Ravens and 49ers? Is this some sort of punishment?!) (E-Rock’s Note: Stoutmeister is a diehard Steelers fan, so this Super Bowl is his worst nightmare. Go Niners!) but a full-on beer battle beforehand, we remembered to take the time to write up our picks.
Now, this is a totally subjective analysis of the best seasonal. It reflects the variances in our respective tastes, as well as how much each of us got to get out and sample the new beers this month. For some of us, January was extremely busy with work (Franz Solo) and/or being back in college (Shilling, Brandon). For the other three of us (Stoutmeister, E-Rock, Derek) work was sporadic, and thus we dealt with dwindling finances. None of us really had that perfect balance between making money and free time to drink beer.
After some thought, I (Stoutmeister) have actually divided this between regular beers and imperials. It’s not very fair to lump them together, though obviously there are a lot fewer imperial choices. We include barley wines with imperials due to the alcohol content (we’ll set the minimum at 8-percent ABV).
So here are our picks for the best regular seasonal, followed by the best imperial/high ABV beer we had in January. Honorable mention picks are listed at the discretion of Crew members.
Stoutmeister: Man, this was a tough call. It came down to a final battle between five different seasonals. I flip-flopped back and forth on a lot of these. In the end, though, I felt it had to be a beer that fits best with the cold month of January. Chama’s tasty Me Llamo Lodo and Turtle Mountain’s sweet Celtic Brown could pop up any month and be a good fit. I really enjoyed the second batch of Bosque’s Scotia Scotch, too, but it was clearly not solely a winter beer. That left two final contenders, one that is still available on tap and the other that was a small batch and has sadly come and gone. So, using the ultimate scientific method — a coin flip — it came up with Tractor’s Turkey Drool edging out Nexus’ Chocolate Porter. The first Turkey Drool, introduced last winter, was almost overwhelming in its crazy mix of flavors. This year’s version was an improvement, more subtle at the outset but still flavorful at the back end. I am sad that it has already come and gone, but there is always time for Dave to brew up another batch before the weather gets warm. Right, Dave? I’ll also throw in some honorable mentions to Bosque’s California Commons, Il Vicino’s Sasquatch Scotch, and Turtle Mountain’s Ironman Black IPA.
E-Rock: For my favorite non-imperial beer of the month, I would have to pick the Groping Gnome Belgian IPA from Il Vicino. The Groping Gnome is a refreshing beer with just a hint of a bite.
Shilling: He is busy studying to be a paramedic while also working almost full-time. In other words, he did not get out much this month.
Brandon: This is always my favorite time of year for seasonals, so there was definitely prime competition for yours truly. But the two top seasonals that immediately come to mind are Tractor Brewing’s Turkey Drool and Noche de Paz from La Cumbre. For anyone who knows me, you know I was having fits waiting for word of Tractor to have Turkey Drool on tap … and it didn’t disappoint this year. The flavors were not as potent this time around and I consider that a good thing, considering the bounty of malts contained there. A very drinkable ale overall and incredibly delicious. As for the Noche de Paz, well you just have to taste the greatness. Several different malts all coating the palate at once with caramel and chocolaty goodness, with just a bit of sweetness at the end; La Cumbre knocked it out of the park again with this brew. I have to give a special mention to the Ironman Black IPA from Turtle Mountain as well, as the hoppy bite and middle with malty finishing was blissful.
Franz Solo: I can’t say I’ve had any locals under the 8 percent (ABV) which I loved this month … apart from the Broken Bottle Anamole Stout. The only red chile beer I’ve ever had, it was delightfully spicy and smooth.
Derek: Well, he tried and tried to think of the last seasonal beer he tried and guess what he came up with? La Cumbre’s Witches Tit back in November. In Derek’s defense, he has his own home-brewed beer to drink. We will get him out of the house more in February.
Imperial/high ABV beers
Stoutmeister: My favorite that I tried this month is not eligible, since it is not from the ABQ area (it was Blue Corn’s Imperial Porter, in case you missed my WinterBrew recap). So of the ones I had down here my favorite was the Marble Imperial Stout. Compared to its counterparts at La Cumbre and Il Vicino, which are both excellent beers in their own right, Mable’s 2013 version is not gonna pound your palate with too much bourbon flavor. A lot of the barrel-aged beers just have too much non-beer flavor, but Marble found the right balance. It is smooth and comfortable without being overpowering. I also pass along honorable mentions to Broken Bottle’s Barley Wine and Goat Head’s Imperial Red.
E-Rock: I was out of town for a nice chunk of this month, so I didn’t get to visit as many breweries as I would have liked. That said, the one beer that stood out in my mind this month was Goat Head’s Imperial Red. This beer is a little less hoppy than Marble’s Imperial Red, but it still has tons of flavor and packs a punch. I tend to vacillate between which breweries interest me the most at any given time. Right now I’m really excited about the beers that Goat Head has been producing at Back Alley. In fact, my top three favorite beers from this month all come from Goat Head. Their Barley Wine is an interesting take on the genre. This gem also has a hint of hops that rounds out its flavor in a way that make it an easier drink than most barley wines. Finally, their new Java Stout has a very distinct roasted flavor that is perfect for beer lovers who also love a strong cup of joe.
Shilling: See above (though he did enjoy the Goat Head Imperial Red during our anniversary party at Back Alley last weekend).
Brandon: This is an easy one for me: Marble Brewing’s Imperial Stout. Marble always impresses me with their bold flavors, and the oak and bourbon flavors from aging really made this a smooth beast to indulge in. It’s a burly big beer though, so enjoy it at your own pleasure/risk!
Franz Solo: Goat Head Coffee Stout, a beer as dark and delicious as the winter solstice, guaranteed to incite visions of glorious conquest in Scandinavia as yet as smooth as honey as you finish each sip.
Derek: See above.
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But wait, we did not want this to just be our favorites. We want this to be an interactive post, so we asked readers on Facebook to chime in. Here are some of the responses:
Travelin Man: Too many tough choices. I’d say the bottom-line is stouts and porters dominated. Marble’s Imperial Stout, Reserve and one other whose name I’m blanking on, plus IVC’s St. Bob’s and Baltic Porter and Nexus’s Chocolate Porter were all the stuff deserving of many a superlative. Tractor’s Turkey Drool and La Cumbre’s Noche de Paz get honorable mentions.
Josh “Be a Hoptimist” Sanders: Full Nelson from La Cumbre. Big, dank, no nonsense. A true hophead beer. Also IVBC’s Groping Gnome Belgian Style IPA. On the more quaffable but still interesting Bosque’s California Common. A rare attempt at a steam ale here in ABQ.
Alex Sutton: Not sure how seasonal/January it is, but I’ve been all over bourbon barrel chicken killer lately, everytime I see it, I either fight the temptation or indulge. Took a couple drinks to get used to but it’s right up my alley. Look forward to ur reviews, generally gives me a reason to try a new brew. Unfortunately I don’t make it to breweries often due to time and family restrictions
Aaron Schreier: Marble Imperial Stout is potent and potable. Sits well on the palate and doesn’t have that gnarly “alcoholic” taste that most imperials do. I could drink it all day everyday if my liver would allow it.
Phil Kjelland: Groping Gnome at IVC is pretty nice and the Amber Bock at Nexus is a nice malty treat.
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All right, that’s all until the end of February. If you would still like to sound off on January’s finest seasonals, leave a comment below or let us know on Facebook or Twitter. We will compile any and all responses in a future Beer Notes.
As for our weekend plans, we’ll be rematching the metro area’s best regular stouts before the Super Bowl on Sunday. Look for more on that very soon. And beyond that, of course, we have the New Mexico Cup in a couple weeks and we will have some more news stories and interviews in the works.