- Mike Riedel
Typically, when we celebrate the coming of the new year, champagne and sparkling wines tend to be the beverage of choice as the clock strikes midnight. Those are fine options, and they have their place, but let's face it: It's an old-school approach to celebration. It doesn't matter if they're dry or sweet, you still get those tired old vinous flavors that have been around for centuries. Instead, I invite you to look for beers with more celebratory qualities—ales that are less common and rare that will stimulate your palate and your party. Consider beers like these this New Year's Eve.
2 Row Dark Alley: It pours a very viscous opaque black with some copper highlights on the edges. The head is also copper-hued, making it resemble sudsy coffee. There's a lot going on in the aroma: Chocolate and fudge push out immediately, followed by some boozy alcohol and subtle dark fruits. Barrel notes include fairly big bourbon and a peat-like character. While I expected a lot of alcohol heat, I'm pleasantly surprised by the sweet flavors of charred oak, roasted malt and chocolate, with tons of bourbon barrel notes complementing the otherwise cloying sweetness of this imperial stout's base. There's some boozy ethanol to round out the palate. This is maximum bodied, with medium to low carbonation—smooth but a bit syrupy, and the 15.1 percent alcohol is noticeable without becoming hot.
Overall: I can confidently say that I've never had a beer that's so significantly improved by barrel-aging. I do like the standard Dark Alley, but the Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Alley is simply delicious, and definitely worth a trip out to 2 Row Brewing to pick some up.
Epic Common Interests: There's a pale straw color here with some gentle haze to it, topped with a shallow but active white head. As I get my nose on top of the foam, the honeydew melons are obvious. It's natural, ripe and juicy with a bit of dusty tartness. These notes are present in the flavor as well, but the tartness is restrained. I was concerned that some of the acidic bite from the sour would overwhelm the fruit, but it doesn't. A little oak dries out the melons just enough, with some wheat crackers and saison-like yeast rounding out the flavor profile. The finish is cleanly acidic, with a bit of melon rind bitterness.
Overall: This is a phenomenal brew to say the least, not to mention that it's unlike any other beer out there right now. The honeydew melon never disappears from your palate, and the more sour aspects are kept in check. I've had a lot of good beers lately, and this one still stands out.
Red Rock Reve: This beer pours a peach color with some straw highlights and the head is a sturdy two fingers in my broad-rimmed chalice. The nose has orange flowers, honey, clove and some spicy woody notes, while much more oak character is brought out in the flavor. Upon first sip, it's a bit peppery, with candied sugar and clove emerging first. Big unripened peach and apricot flavors come next, driven by the doses of wild yeast. Some banana and honey-like notes emerge from deep down in the ale's base. The finish is subtly dry with some lingering sweetness.
The bottom line: The beer is quite well balanced between sweet and fruity notes along with its oaky character and fermentation-derived tartness. It's quite enjoyable; the harmony between the sweet-base beer and barrel-enhanced tartness really works here.
These are just recommendations. Nobody knows your tastes better than you. As long as you choose something personally special, your celebration will be perfect. As always, cheers!