Black Eye 2014
Avery Brewing Co.
We’ve figured out the trick with Avery’s ultra-high-octane ales: Stash ’em in the cellar. This rum barrel-aged imperial stout was screaming hot when it first hit shelves in late 2014, but time has cooled the fire and the full force of its 18.8% ABV can now hardly be felt. Its aromas and flavors have merged beautifully as well; dark, sugary rum, brown sugar, marshmallow and rich chocolate syrup are all easily picked out. Hints of the smoldering campfire linger at the edges of the flavor, but don’t distract from the perfectly paced chocolate, graham cracker, rum, vanilla, espresso and molasses. Rum ties everything together (as it does in life), while the finish dries out with lingering peanut shell and ashy espresso. If you have a bottle aging, crack it open. But maybe share the love with a friend or two—this thing’s still almost 40-proof.
Like intense, jammy red wines? This blood-red mead made with blackberries, blueberries and raspberries is for you, champ. Each sip is like a berry-vanilla smoothie poured from a leather mug, and the twiglike, grape stem quality of the finish is an incredible terminus for the multilayered flavor. We recommend pouring some even if you don’t plan on drinking it—the aroma, dominated by blackberry jam, grape must and earthy tobacco leaves, is as pleasant as any candle.
Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce
Yards Brewing Co.
Benjamin Franklin was the original American badass. He invented bifocals; he flew kites in the middle of thunderstorms; he helped found a country. He was also, if this beer based on one of his recipes is any indication, an accomplished brewer. The ale incorporates spruce tips—added right to the kettle, as you would hops—and molasses into its list of ingredients, which lend the aroma a pleasant, soap-like quality that swirls with baking spices, lavender, lemongrass and lime leaf above a bready base. Minty, woody spruce emerges on the tongue and is accentuated by a dry, twiglike finish. It’s quite complex—just like Ben.
Homemade Apple Pie
Cigar City Cider & Mead
With most pie-flavored beers and ciders, the focus is on the spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. This can from Cigar City Brewing Co. offshoot Cigar City Cider & Mead impresses because it puts the focus on an overlooked portion of the pie: the dough. You get it first in the nose, where squishy dough mingles with notes of custard, almond paste and marzipan. Then comes the flavor, where vanilla and apples blend to give the impression of apple pie a la mode and a finish of flaky crust and nutty butterscotch complete the illusion.