Lowes’ Beer Den

The Beer Den

The Beer Den

Earlier this year the Lowes near my house in Holly Springs started remodeling. For weeks, one area of the store next to the Chicken Kitchen remained veiled in plastic sheets. But it’s bar-shaped layout and location adjacent to the beer/wine section intrigued me. Soon enough, this new area had a name; the Beer Den.

Craft beer has been making head way in the grocery store market over the past few years (and truly for longer than that). Here, in NC, some groceries have started letting you “mix a six,” something previously only found in the bottle shops. And now, with the Beer Den, you can buy your beer in freshly-filled growlers.

With nine taps and the ability to try before you buy (they offer free samples), you’re sure to find something to fit your taste. If you can’t quite decide, the “Beer Den Master” (Matt Phillippi at the Holly Springs location) is ready to offer advice. You can also bring your own growler in and skip the growler deposit ($4.99 otherwise and your growler has to match their standard cap size).

Currently there are seven Beer Den locations in NC and SC. Three more Lowes Foods in the Triangle area (Apex and Cary) are in the process of upgrading as well. This is just another example of how craft beer is gaining ground by leaps and bounds these days.

Have you been to a Beer Den? What’s your take? Leave a comment!

Highland Brewing Company Little Hump Spring Ale

 

Highland Little Hump Spring Ale

Highland Little Hump Spring Ale

Continuing in the NC theme for NC Beer Month, today I’m drinking a Highland Little Hump Spring Ale. This American Pale Ale is one of six seasonal offerings from the brewery, located in Asheville (Beer City USA).

Presentation
The label features rolling hills from, I’m guessing, the foothills of NC. It’s a little different than the standard Highlands label, but I like it. It speaks to their location (which they’re obviously proud of) and is a visual representation of Little Hump (all of Highland’s seasonal beers are named after parts of the Southern Appalachian Mountains).

Color
Little Hump pours a clear, pale straw color (the picture is a bit misleading as it was taken around dusk, it’s actually a more yellow). It has about two fingers of big head which leaves a good lacing.

Smell
Scent of grain and pine resin, with a touch of a sweet floral.

Taste
A light bready-malt flavor mixes things up with some subtle sweet floral notes. There’s a little bitterness  towards the middle and finish. It’s not a big beer, light and simple.

Mouth Feel
Light body and crisp carbonation keep things moving.

Overall
4-out-of-5. What a great beer for a post-yard mowing refresher. Clean and simple, you could easily have a couple and go right back to mowing without risking life and limb. I’m not 100% sure why they went with this beer as a spring seasonal, it feels more like something I’d drink in the heat of the summer. Really though, regardless of when you drink it this is a really nice light beer that easily serves as a tasty session beer. In fact, it won “2012 Best Session Beer” by the USBTC.

Carolina Brewing Carolina Spring Bock

 

Carolina Brewing Carolina Spring Bock

Carolina Brewing Carolina Spring Bock

I’m a little late to the party, but happy NC Beer Month! All April long, I’ll be celebrating NC Beer Month by featuring beers from across this fair state I call home. Today, I’m starting things off with Carolina Brewing Company’s Carolina Spring Bock. Carolina Brewing has been doing their thing since 1995 in Holly Springs. The Carolina Spring Bock is one of their seasonal offerings and a lot of people in these parts look forward to it.

Presentation
The label takes a break from Carolina Brewing’s standard lion head label. This one features an angry looking goat.

Color
A dark golden almost amber color. Not quite a finger of head, but it lingers for a while.

Smell
Smells malty sweet with a little grain.

Taste
The taste follows the smell with a good dose of malty sweetness and corn undertones. There’s a touch of baked bread as well. It’s not overly complicated and there’s not a big hop character to it.

Mouth Feel
A medium, creamy body. Not a whole lot of carbonation. Despite being on the thicker side, I found it to be pretty drinkable.

Overall
3.75-out-of-5. Carolina Spring Bock is a pretty good bridge from the heavy beers of winter to the lighter beers of summer, finding a good point in between. It might not wow you with complexity, but it has great flavor and proves to be very drinkable, especially if you shy away from some of the hop-heavy IPAs and what not. A very good start to NC Beer Month!

Dave’s Gourmet – Cool Cayenne Pepper

Cool CayenneWelcome to day 8 of 11 in my Dave’s Gourmet Sampler Pack taste test. Dave’s is one of my favorite brands of hot sauce, and I’m excited about taking this hot sauce journey. The variety of different sauces and primary flavors that came in the variety pack I purchased was staggering, with each bottle offering something new and unusual. Let’s take a look at what the masterminds of mouth melting have in store for us this time.

Cool Cayenne Pepper

Presentation: Each of the Dave’s labels remains consistent. A red pepper sunning itself on a beach somewhere. This pepper is sunning itself with its Cayenne Pepper friend.  The primary differences in labels come in the color, hot sauce name, single sentence description, and heat level. The label for Cool Cayenne Pepper is burnt sienna (yeah, I pulled out some Crayola terminology on you), featuring the tagline “So Cool, It’s Hot!” On Dave’s own heat scale this ranks 3 out of 5 and is considered “warm”.

Color: This sauce has a bright creamy orange hue.  It is reminiscent of their Scotch Bonnet sauce, but just a shade or two darker in comparison.

Smell: The acidic smell couples nicely with the sweet smell of the Cayenne pepper itself.  On occasion I make my own dry rubs, and this sauce smells just like opening up a bottle of Zatarain’s Cayenne Pepper seasoning.  It captures the smell very well.

Taste: The cooking process, at times, can alter the flavor of a pepper.  Habanero’s sweetness is enhanced by carrots.  Jalapenos, when smoked, become a Chipotle and exhibit whole new traits.  Roasted peppers taste different from their unroasted, and dried from their un-dried counterparts.  So, when a sauce captures the original flavor of biting into a particular pepper, it’s worth noting.  Having eaten raw Cayenne peppers before (on a dare, as most raw pepper eating takes place), I think this flavor is near identical.   

Mouth Feel: I get the feeling that the “warm” category for Dave’s sauces is its most broad range of heat.  I think this label encompasses everything from “barely not mild” like its Ginger Peach to a “that’ll wake you up” like this Cool Cayenne Pepper sauce.  That shouldn’t be surprising.  The Cayenne has varying degrees of heat in and of itself.  (i.e. Frank’s and Louisiana)    This sauce captures the hotter side of the Cayenne and is on the upper end of the warm scale.

Overall: I love a good Cayenne sauce.  I feel like they are entry level hot sauces for those who are interested in getting their feet wet in the world of mouth ignition.  This sauce steps up the Cayenne game.  I don’t think the “Cool” part of its title refers to its heat level, but rather its “leather jacket wearing, leaning up against the lockers at school wearing sunglasses inside” attitude.  I give this sauce 4.5 out of 5 for being an excellent Cayenne sauce with a nice heat level and great pepper flavor.

Dave's Collection

 

Dave’s Gourmet Ginger Peach – Ice Cream

 

Dave's Ginger Peach - Ice Cream

Dave’s Ginger Peach – Ice Cream

The other week, when Reid reviewed Dave’s Gourmet Ginger Peach, Dave’s questioned if we had really put the sauce to the test;

It was Reid’s suggestion that perhaps I give this a go since I like to try unique food combinations (i.e. I’ll try most anything on a dare). So I gave it a go.

I was pleasantly surprised that, despite this being a hot sauce, this went really well the vanilla ice cream I had. I think the sweetness of the peach that Reid mentioned does well in helping this make a good ice cream condiment. It almost tasted like just a peach topping on top. But it was a bit more than that. I personally didn’t notice the ginger as much as the peach, but it was still present and made things interesting (in a good way).

This has my mind gears turning. I wonder what other hot sauces would go well with desert…

New Holland Dragon’s Milk

 

New Holland Dragon's Milk

New Holland Dragon’s Milk

Here’s my issue with bourbon-barrel-whathaveyou; it tastes like bourbon. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good bourbon. And I like a creative beer. But with bourbon beers I find that usually the bourbon overpowers all other characters and flavors. I’ve had a few friends urge me to try out New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk, so here it goes.

Presentation
A pretty cool dragon graces this label. Not much else to say.

Color
Dark, opaque brown/black. A thick, two fingers of head. Once things settle down, there’s a thin bit of head that stays around.

Smell
Smells like boozy oaky bourbon primarily. Just a hint of sweet dark malt slips in there.

Taste
I hope you like bourbon. That’s the biggest flavor here. To my pleasure though, New Holland retains some chocolatey sweet / roasty malt quality you would expect to find in a stout. It’s somewhat hidden, but it’s there.

Mouth Feel
Medium body. A crisp carbonation cuts through and livens things up.

Overall
3.75-out-of-5. New Holland is cutting it a little close here. But they managed to pull off a bourbon stout without overdoing it on the bourbon. I found this stout to be pleasing with enough stout quality to keep it from feeling like I’m just drinking a bourbon. Personally, I’d like to see a “bourbon stout” that was heavier on the stout with just a hint of bourbon. Maybe bourbon is too powerful of character to be held back though. At any rate, if you like stouts and you like bourbon, give New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk a go.

Dave’s Gourmet – Hurtin’ Jalapeno

Hurtin' JalapenoWelcome to day 7 of 11 in my Dave’s Gourmet Sampler Pack taste test. Dave’s is one of my favorite brands of hot sauce, and I’m excited about taking this hot sauce journey. The variety of different sauces and primary flavors that came in the variety pack I purchased was staggering, with each bottle offering something new and unusual. Let’s take a look at what the masterminds of mouth melting have in store for us this time.

Hurtin’ Jalapeno

Presentation: Each of the Dave’s labels remains consistent. A red pepper sunning itself on a beach somewhere. This pepper is sunning itself with its little green Jalapeno friend.  The primary differences in labels come in the color, hot sauce name, single sentence description, and heat level. The label for Hurtin’ Jalapeno is dark green, featuring the tagline “So Green, it’s Obscene!” On Dave’s own heat scale this ranks 3 out of 5 and is considered “warm”.

Color: This sauce has an interesting olive-green color.  It’s quite opaque, and truly gives the visual impact that this is certainly a Jalapeno sauce.  It looks very creamy and smooth.

Smell: The Jalapeno is celebrated in the smell of this sauce for sure.  Coupled with a rich acidic note, this might as well be a Jalapeno scented Yankee candle, as it does incredible justice to the pepper itself.

Taste: As I expected from the smell of it, the Jalapeno flavor is rich and robust in this sauce.  A lot of people who are tentative about hot sauce but enjoy a little bit of spicy foods may not realize exactly how much Jalapeno permeates their diet already. This Jalapeno sauce just screams “Mexican Food” at me and is reminiscent of some Salsa Verde I had in Mexico once… but creamier and not chunky. And it is free of Montezuma’s Revenge…  There is more going on in thFarfetch'de flavor than just the Jalapeno, but that is its shining star.  According to the label, there is Leek in this tiny bottle.  The only experience I’ve had with leek is from Farfetch’d off Pokemon. (God, I hope someone gets that reference…)  There are lots of additional spices going on in this sauce that add to its flavor, but jalapeno still reigns king.

Mouth Feel: As another “warm” sauce from Dave’s this is meant to be used as a table sauce.  I disagree with that premise.  I think this is a fantastic cooking sauce, as it gives a hearty Mexican Jalapeno/peppery flavor to chicken without having to buy, dice, and sauté actual Jalapenos.  The burn is warm in my book, a great entry-level heat for the novice and it hits you in the back of the throat.

Overall: This is another extremely flavorful sauce from Dave’s.  It’s hard to tell whether their time making pasta sauces spills over into hot sauce or their time in hot sauce spills over into pasta sauces, but they come up with some great flavors.  Hurtin’ Jalapeno is great at retaining its flavor when you cook something in it and can add a nice Mexican zest to any poultry meal.  I give this sauce 4 out of 5 for its Jalapeno flavor and its unique camouflage color.

Dave's Collection

Back Forty Naked Pig

 

Back Forty Naked Pig

Back Forty Naked Pig

One thing I like to do when visiting other states is to sample some of the local beer. Recently, I was fortunate to have some local flavor from Alabama come my way. Back Forty Beer Company is a fairly young brewery located in Gadsden, AL. Up until fairly recently, some fairly strict alcohol laws in AL made the environment for up and coming craft breweries very inhospitable. Recently though that all changed, opening up the doors for breweries like Back Forty. Back Forty has some really fun names for their beers, today’s beer being a perfect example; Naked Pig Pale Ale. This is the first beer that they came out with when they opened in 2009.

Presentation
Back Forty’s labels have a very simple country style to them. I like it a lot. The added illustration of a naked pig (who looks pretty proud with his nudeness) is funny.

Color
A nice amber color with a little more than a finger of head. Decent head retention.

Smell
Smells of pale malt and citrus.

Taste
Pale malt provides the base. There’s also a mild sweetness, sort of caramel and a little bit honey. A good, not over powering, hop bitterness rounds things out.

Mouth Feel
Light to medium. Drinks pretty easily.

Overall
4-out-of-5. For a youngish brewery, Back Forty really has their ducks in a row. And Naked Pig Pale Ale did not disappoint. A really solid pale ale that I think does a good job of mixing some malt sweetness with a mild hop bitterness. Enough complexity to keep things interesting. Very drinkable. If you’re in their neck of the woods, definitely check them out.

Dave’s Gourmet – Roasted Red Pepper & Chipotle

 

Roasted Red PepperWelcome to day 6 of 11 in my Dave’s Gourmet Sampler Pack taste test. Dave’s is one of my favorite brands of hot sauce, and I’m excited about taking this hot sauce journey. The variety of different sauces and primary flavors that came in the variety pack I purchased was staggering, with each bottle offering something new and unusual. Let’s take a look at what the masterminds of mouth melting have in store for us this time.

 

Roasted Red Pepper & Chipotle

 

Presentation: Each of the Dave’s labels remains consistent. A red pepper sunning itself on a beach somewhere. The primary differences in labels come in the color, hot sauce name, single sentence description, and heat level. The label for Roasted Red Pepper& Chipotle is maroon, featuring the tagline “Fire Roasted Flavor That Won’t Quit”. On Dave’s own heat scale this ranks 3 out of 5 and is considered “warm”.

Color: The coloring of this sauce is dark brown.  It has tiny flakes of spices floating  in it that are barely visible when the sauce thins out around the edges.  It reminds me quite a bit of a barbecue sauce, at least visually.

Smell: The first thing that catches my nose is this sauces’ smoky scent followed up by a distinct vinegar base.    The smokiness is definitely its primary quality and that continues the trend of reminding me of a barbecue sauce.

Taste: This sauce primarily consists of roasted sweet peppers (or bell peppers for those who know them under that name) and this flavor shines through.  Since it is a sweet pepper, carrot is added as a base that allows its sweetness to shine through, but the roasting of the pepper caramelizes some of the sugars in it leading to a smoky sweet flavor.  Despite the onion content being very low, that is also the other flavor that stands out to me.  The Chipotles themselves mix well with the roasted sweet peppers, but don’t seem to stand out as a discernible flavor on their own.

Mouth Feel: This sauce was rated “warm” by Dave’s, just like their Ginger Peach, however this one’s heat is back up to what I would consider a warm sauce as well.  This sauce hits you mid tongue but doesn’t ignite, despite the presence of habanero pulp in it.  However it’s that same habanero pulp that must be giving this sauce its bite since the sweet pepper isn’t known for anything more than a super mild sizzle. The smokiness is there, even in the way it feels on your tongue.

Overall: This sauce definitely lives up to its label in that the “roasted flavor” or smokiness, permeates the sauce thoroughly.  The recommended uses include burgers, tacos, sandwiches, pizza and pasta.  I, however, would say this flavor would match burgers the best as it can lend even a George Foreman Grilled burger a hint of smoky charcoaled flame-broiled goodness.  I give this sauce a 4 out of 5 due to its rich smoky flavor and rarely used bell pepper primary ingredient.

Dave's Collection

 

Lager Series Wrap Up

 

Unita Baba Black Lager

Unita Baba Black Lager

So, to wrap up the lager series, what did I learn? Lagers are a varied bunch, just like their cousin the ale. They’re not all just pale yellow fizzy stuff that the big guys are pushing. Also, something I didn’t know before but learned while doing a little research, lagers tend to be cleaner, simpler (flavor-wise) versions of their ale counterparts. This is due to the colder-fermenting yeast used in lagers (warmer-fermenting ale yeasts tend to impart more character to beers than lager yeasts do).

So let’s break it down a little. Here’s a recap of the scores:

  • Joe’s Premium American Pilsner (Avery Brewing Co.)
    3.5-out-of-5.
  • Amber Lager (Abita)
    3-out-of-5.
  • Lager of the lakes (Bell’s)
    3.5-out-of-5.
  • Baba Black Lager (Unita)
    4-out-of-5.
  • Third Shift Amber Lager (MillerCoors)
    3-out-of-5.

For the lighter lagers, I really liked Avery’s Joe’s Premium American Pilsner. Light and refreshing with some good hop character. Third Shift from MillerCoors’ “Band of Brewers” was the surprise out of the bunch as it was able to hold its own when compared to the other comparable craft beers. But my favorite overall was Unita’s Baba Black Lager. A well-executed black lager with roasty flavors in a very drinkable package.

Looking into the very near future, we’ll have another series coming up featuring NC beers. This will be all April long in celebration of the first annual NC Beer Month. Now go drink some beer!