Justin Crider

Stout Tasting at Top Hops

Top Hops

After having a wonderful time at the Trappist tasting class last week at Top Hops, I decided to sign up for their Stout tasting class. Certified Cicerone Justin Crider took the class through a tasting of 19 stouts and porters from Europe and the USA. Full disclosure: I don’t enjoy the taste of coffee which tends to be the dominant flavor in many stouts. So I tend to stay away from those flavors. Chocolate forward stouts, on the other hand, are a delight. One of the main reason I took this class was to open up my palate to the world of stouts.

Port City Maniacal IPA

Having arrived early, I decided to have a Port City Maniacal Double IPA before the class started. A delicious and smooth DIPA, this beer had a pleasant hop flavor with very little bitterness at an ABV of 8.5%.

Fuller’s London Porter

First beer of the night was a classic brown porter, Fuller’s London Porter. This 5.4% ABV porter is brewed with Brown, Crystal and Chocolate malts which gives it chocolate and coffee flavors. Mild bitterness with a dry finish.

Central Waters Mud Puppy Porter

Next up was Central Waters Mud Puppy Porter. With aromas of bitter chocolate, this Wisconsin born beer has flavors of caramel and bready malts with hop balance on the end. This weighs in at 5.5% ABV.

Orkney Dragonhead Stout

A dry stout that hails from the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland, the 4% ABV Orkney Dragonhead Stout hits the nose with aromas of coffee and chocolate. Roasted malt flavors shine through with coffee notes.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

The traditional Guinness Stout is surprisingly light at a low 4.3% ABV. The Foreign Extra version comes in at 7.5% ABV with the help of a generous amount of hops which helped preserve this beer for export to foreign markets. Toasted malt and toffee aromas are followed by the flavors of bitter chocolate and coffee with light caramel. It ends with a slight hop bitterness.

Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout

Oatmeal stouts use oats to enhance fullness of body and complexity of flavor, both of which can be found in Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. A milky smooth body that gives way to earthy, nutty tones from the oats. At only 5% ABV, this stout tastes heavier than it appears.

Founders Breakfast Stout

Founders Breakfast Stout is one of the most popular stouts in the US due to it’s rich and intense coffee flavor. An imperial stout that is 8.3% ABV which could easily be mistaken for a cold cup of coffee. There are bitter chocolate undertones which compliment the coffee.

Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout

This American stout gets its name from its creamy texture, not the ingredients used. Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout comes to us from Michigan and the brewery has only been distributing to NYC since February of this year. This beer highlights the espresso and cocoa flavor of its roasted malts. This has an ABV of 6.1%.

Southern Tier Crème Brûlée (2012)

“Candy in a glass” is the way I described this beer when I first had it earlier this year. This 2012 Southern Tier Crème Brûlée came from the cellar of Mr. Crider and the 2 year aging has intensified the insanely sweet flavors. Heavy vanilla flavors dominate this 9.5% ABV Imperial Milk Stout. I wouldn’t recommend drinking more than a few ounces of this delicious dessert beer, unless you want go into sugar shock.

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

I first tried North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout last month at Barcade’s Tenth Anniversary celebration. They had a 2004 version that had been aging in their cellar for 10 years. I was expecting it to have an intense flavor profile, but the first sip left me feeling meh. Tasted like a low carbonated, thin stout. Fortunately the fresh brewed version of this stout is wonderful. Chocolate forward with the support of roasty malts at an ABV of 9%. A good Winter beer.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

One of my favorites of the night. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout uses a combination of chocolate malts with real dark chocolate for a smooth and creamy beer. Slight hop flavor comes from Fuggle and Golding hops. This delicious stout comes in at 5.2% ABV.

Southern Tier Choklat Stout 2012

Another highlight of the night, this 2012 Southern Tier Choklat Stout also came from the cellar of Mr. Crider. This Imperial stout pretty much tastes like a melted chocolate bar with the aroma to match. If someone doubled everything that is great about Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, the result would be this beer. Even the ABV is doubled at 10%.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout 2013

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout is another extremely popular stout garnering pretty much perfect scores over on Beer Advocate. Beer stores even have special release events for Goose Island’s Bourbon County line up. This stout has big smokey bourbon aromas and flavors and a high ABV of 14.2%. Unfortunately for me, I’m not a fan of bourbon aging. I find it overpowers most of the flavor of the beer. I’m happy to let others wait in line for this one.

Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout 2013

Bourbon aging with coffee? This Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout definitely isn’t for me. If you love those kinds of flavors, then you will absolutely love this 13.1% ABV stout. Another one that people go crazy for, but just give me an IPA.

Odell Fernet Aged Porter

I never heard of Fernet before this year until I overheard someone talking about it at a bar. Then I found out that my friends from San Fransisco loved the stuff. The Odell Fernet Aged Porter displays its Fernet barrel aging well. Chocolate malts are supported by the herbal, spicy, and minty flavor of the liquor. This American porter has an ABV of 9.8%.

Deschutes Black Butte XXV

Deschutes Black Butte XXV is brewed with dates, figs, and cocoa nibs and then aged in bourbon barrels. This 11.3% Imperial Porter has a strong bourbon flavor supported by the dark fruits. Slightly bitter and tart, it has a warm finish.

Perennial Artisan Ales Abraxas

Brewed in my home town of St. Louis, MO, this imperial stout is a favorite of mine. The intense flavor comes from a combination of cocoa nibs, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and ancho chiles. The vanilla, cocoa, and cinnamon support each other well. Meanwhile, the ancho chiles come up from behind with a nice lingering heat. I suggest that everyone seek out this 10% ABV beauty.

The Bruery Tart of Darkness

This 7.2% ABV oak barrel aged sour stout comes from Orange County, California. Bruey’s Tart of Darkness is dark and roasty, but with a underlying tartness that comes from souring bacterias and wild yeasts. A very interesting combination of flavors that I wish more breweries would explore.

Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top

Having one of the longest beer names I have ever seen, the Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top has flavors of coffee, almonds and chocolate. Hints of cherry peak through this 11.5% imperial porter.

Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops 2012

The final beer of the night was Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops. This is aged in bourbon barrels then fermented in the bottle with champagne yeast. Vanilla, oak, and bourbon flavors come through at the front. Nice alcohol warmth from the 10.5% ABV.

Another great night of tasting excellent beers at Top Hops. I want to thank Cicerone Justin Crider for being an excellent teacher. I am looking forward to the Saison tasting next month!


Cicerone Justin Crider


Trappist Tasting Class At Top Hops

Top Hops

Last night I had the pleasure of partaking in Top Hops Trappist tasting class. It was a great night of tasting many beers I have never had before. Also tasting beers that cannot be bought in the United States. Certified Cicerone Justin Crider guided the enthusiastic group of beer drinkers through the world of Trappist breweries from Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, and the US.

Cicerone Justin Crider

Having arrived a little early, I decided pass the time with a pint of Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale. This was Smuttynose’s debut beer back when they opened in 1994 in New Hampshire. An English Style ale using Cascade and Galena hops. Slighty fruity with a malty back end.

Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale

Starting off the class, we dived into the oldest of the Trappist breweries, Brasserie de Rochfort. Located near Rochefort, Belgium, they have been brewing beer since 1595. We got the chance to try all three of their beers.

Rochefort 6

Rochefort 6 is a Belgium Dubbel with an ABV of 7.5%.. Malty, sweet, hints of caramel and fruit.

Rochefort 8

This is a Rochefort 8 Belgian Dark Strong beer and one of my favorites of the night. Smooth, sweet with sugary maltiness, and with nice fruit flavors as well. 9.2% ABV.

Rochefort 10

This Belgian Dark Strong ale can also be called a Quad since it comes in at 11.3% ABV. Thick maltiness with caramel tones. This would be great on a cold Winter’s day.

The Next brewery we got to sample was Brouwerij Der Trappisten van Westmalle. This brewery is located in Westmalle, Belgium and has been brewing beer since 1836.

Westmalle Dubbel

The Westmalle Dubbel is only one of two beers commercially available from Westmalle Abbey. This Dubbel is fruity and herbal with a crisp bitterness on the end. It has an ABV of 7%.

Westmalle Tripel

The other beer released by Westmalle Abbey is their Westmalle Tripel*. At an ABV of 9.5%, this tripel is slightly bitter with a fruity aroma. *Westmalle brews a paterbiers called Westmalle Extra, though it is only available at the monastery.

Next up is the highly sought after Brouwerij Westvleteren. Located in Saint Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren, Belgium, this brewery has been operating since 1838. Their beers are not available outside of the Abbey, so finding them in the States is next to impossible unless you have friends in Belgium (even then it takes months of reservations). Our tasting class was lucky enough to try all three of the beers they produce.

Westvleteren Blonde, Westvleteren 8, and Westvleteren 12. All three bottles were label less, I should have taken pics of the caps!

First off was the Westvleteren Blonde. This was my favorite beer of the night. A Belgian Blonde at 5.8% ABV with a beautiful floral flavor and a crisp, dry finish. I’ve read that this is the “least sought after” of their beers, I hope so because that means there will be more around for me!

Next was the Westvleteren 8. This is currently the #72 most popular beer in the world according to beeradvocate.com. Sweet malt with hints of chocolate and toffee, this Dubbel weighs in at 8% ABV.

Then there was the legendary Westvleteren 12. A Belgian Dark Strong Quad that is considered to be one of the best beer in the world. Beer nerds have heaped praise upon this beer, but I have to say it wasn’t a party in my mouth. With an ABV of 10.2%, this beer was filled with dark fruit flavors, caramel, and bready flavors. This is a world class beer with out a doubt, but it’s not meant for my palate.

World Famous Chimay was the next Trappist brewery we sampled. Bieres de Chimay has been brewing since 1862 in the Scourmount Abbey located in Chimay, Belgium. They are one of the largest Trappist brewers in the world producing approximately 3.2 million gallons of beer annually. They currently make three beers for commercial sale, but they also make a patersbier that is for sale in certain EU markets.

Chimay Premiere (Red)

The Chimay Première is Chimay’s most well known and widely available beer. Even corner bodegas carry this beer among all the BMCs. This Dubbel is 7% ABV, slightly fruity, malty, and silky smooth. A classic beer that everyone should try due to it’s availability.

Chimay Tripel (White)

The Chimay Tripel was another stand out of the night for me. With a nice balance of sweetness and bitterness, this 8% ABV tripel had notes of apples and grapes with no alcohol astringency. A smooth beer that goes down easy.

Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue)

Chimay Grande Réserveis Chimay’s version of a Belgium Strong Dark ale that has an ABV of 9%. Full bodied with large malt and yeast flavors with dark fruit undertones.

The 5th Trappist brewery on the list was De Koningshoeven Brewery also known as La Trappe. This brewery has been in operation since 1884 in the the town of Berkel-Enschot, Netherlands located inside the Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven monastery. The class got to taste six of the nine beers they produce.

La Trappe Dubbel

La Trappe Dubbel is a dark brown ale that uses caramel to enhance it’s sweetness and malty character. It has an ABV of 7%.

La Trappe Isid’or

Next up was an impromptu beer that wasn’t initially on the menu for the night. By the suggestion of a smart class participant, we go to try La Trapp Isid’or Blond Ale to compare and contrast to the next beer on the list which was the the Oak Aged version of the same beer. This beer was named for brother Isidorus who was Koningshoeven Abbey’s first brewer, and was first brewed for the 125h anniversary of the Abbey in 2009. This 7.5% ABV unfiltered blonde ale is light and fruity with a slight, crisp bitterness on the end. I found this to be another very enjoyable Trappist beer.

La Trappe Isid’or Oak Aged Blond Ale

Here is the Oak Aged version of the Isid’or. This has the same 7.5% ABV and flavor profiles in addition to a nice oak flavor from the barrels.

La Trappe Tripel

Though the La Trappe Tripel is at 8% ABV, the body is very light. Fruity and spicy with soft malt character. An easy drinking tripel.

La Trappe Quadrupel

La Trappe Quadrupel is is the brewery’s Belgian Strong Dark Ale. This amber 10% ABV Quad is rich, yet balanced. Very malty with dark fruit flavors. Aromas of bananas and nuts.

La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged

The official name of this beer is La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged Batch #8 Whisky. This was the 8th batch of La Trappe Quadrupel to be aged. Each batch is aged differently. Batch #8 was blended in October of 2011 using whiskey barrels and New French Oak. The aroma and flavor of whiskey is at the forefront of this 10% ABV beer. I’ll fully admit I’m not a whiskey fan, so whiskey aged beers don’t do much for me, though I can appreciate the quality.

In 1931, in the city of Luxembourg, Belgium, Brasserie d’Orval started brewing a golden ale that uses Brettanomyces lambicus yeast and is dry hopped for three weeks. This Trappist Ale is brewed at the Abbey Notre-Dame d’Orval.

Orval Trappist Ale

Crisp with a slight lemon-like tart fruitiness, this 6.8% ABV ale was another favorite of the night for me. Fresh hops flavor from the dry hopping came through which I enjoy. I need to drink more of this.

Located within the Saint Benedictus Abbey in Achel, Belgium, Brouwerij der St. Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis has been brewing their Achel Trappist beers since 1998. They brew a total of 6 beers, though only 3 are commercially available outside the Abbey.

Achel 8° Blond

First up from this brewery was their Achel 8° Blond, a Tripel that is 8% ABV. Dry maltiness with hop balance and slightly fruity with a light spice.

Achel 8° Bruin

A very nice dubbel that I gave high marks, the Achel 8° Bruin has a great fruit flavor of plums and raisins with bready maltiness. Caramel flavors round out this 8% ABV beer.

Though the Engelszell Abbey was founded in 1293 in Engelhartszell, Austria, the Stift Engelszell brewery has only been producing beer since 2012. This is the only Trappist brewery located in Austria and only has 7 monks who produce their 2 styles of beer.

Stift Engelszell Benno

The Stift Engelszell Benno is a good example of the Saison style. Crisp, clean, fruity, peppery, with some cloves. The ABV is 7.2%, though very little alcohol flavor comes through.

Stift Engelszell Gregorius

A slight contrast to the Benno Saison, the Stift Engelszell Gregorius is a strong 9.7% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Heavy dark fruit flavors with candied sweetness and bready malts. Slight hint of cherry is noticeable.

We now come to the first Trappist brewery to be located outside of Europe which Spencer Brewery located at the St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. They have been brewing since 2013 and were officially inducted into the International Trappist Association in December of 2013. One caveat of being inducted is that they can only brew one kind of beer for the first 5 years of production. This beer is known as Spencer Trappist Ale.

Spencer Trappist Ale

Spencer Trappist Ale is a Patersbier that is at 6.5% ABV. This sessionable Belgian Pale Ale has a golden hue and is unfiltered and unpasteurized. Fruity with a slight hop bitterness, this beer goes down dry and crisp.

Finally we reach our last Trappist brewery of the night which is also the youngest Trappist brewery of the 10 that exist. Located in the Brouwerij Abdij Maria Toevlucht in Zundert, Netherlands, the De Kievit Trappist Brewery started brewing in 2012 and was officially inducted into the ITA in late Decmber 2013, just after Spencer Brewery. They also only produce one beer which is a Tripel.

De Kievit Zundert

The De Kievit Zundert is a 8% ABV tripel. Malty with dark fruits, caramel, and slight alcohol astringency with medium body. A decent way to end a night of Trappist beer tasting.

The haul!

I can not recommend this class enough. I can’t think of anywhere else where one could try all these beers in one sitting. For more information about classes at Top Hops please click here.

I have to give a big thanks Cicerone Justin Crider for guiding us though all these wonderful beers. A great teacher who makes learning interesting and tasty!

A Happy Justin