Photo by Brian Goodman
I’m no cicerone, but I’ve had a lot of beer in my life and know what I like. I also know what I don’t like, but have learned to be objective. Some of my favorite beers have been from DuClaw Brewing Company, so it’ll come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to review some of their creations.
When I visited their website to make my choices, I realized there was an astonishing array of drinks available, in addition to the ones I already knew and enjoyed. So I threw out a few that sounded intriguing and waited to see what would come of it. To my delight, I checked my mail one day and found ... beer! I lovingly unpacked my new treasures and set them in the fridge, resisting the temptation to head straight to the back porch as soon as they’d chilled. When the time was appropriate — a late, breezy summer afternoon after a hard day’s work — I got out my camera, grabbed a few small canning jars, and set to sipping. I’ll discuss what worked for my palate in the following honest reviews, and I hope to provide objectivity for those who have different tastes than mine.
Strawberry Letter 23
Photo by Jereme Zimmerman
Described as a brew that “blurs the lines between IPA, Sour Ale, and Fruited Ale,” Strawberry Letter 23 is brewed with mosaic lupulin powder (lupulin is a powder formed from the flavorful oils and resins inside of a fresh hop flower), soured with Lactobacillus delbrueckii (a lactic acid bacteria commonly used in dairy products), and fermented on top of ripe strawberries. At 7.1 ABV and 17.5 degrees Plato, it wouldn’t seem to be a light sipper, but one could be forgiven for having more than a couple in a sitting. Although Strawberry Letter 23 is described as an IPA, its IBU is only 12; standard IPAs can often be 70 or higher.
When fermenting with fruit, most of the sugars in the fruit are converted into alcohol, and thus very little of the fruit flavor remains. However, the strawberries are added post-fermentation for this beer. Hence, the strawberry flavor has a more pronounced presence in the final brew. I have to admit that my palate isn’t particularly suited for tart or sour flavors, and I tend to avoid beers with those descriptors. This isn’t a beer I’d drink several rounds of, but it has a nice refreshing taste that would be enjoyable to sip slowly after yardwork or with a light summer meal. Bright, refreshing, and light, despite its high ABV. Give it a try!
Haze of Glory
Photo by Jereme Zimmerman
I’ll admit that I was hesitant about Haze of Glory. I’ve enjoyed some IPAs I’ve tried in the past, but many IPAs overdo the IBUs for me. However, New England IPAs may just change my mind. Only recognized as an official style by the Brewers Association in 2018, NEIPA is a veritable newborn on the craft beer scene. The style stands out from other IPAs for a few reasons stemming from the unfiltered and unpasteurized brew, which makes the final product cloudy and hazy with a viscous mouthfeel. In brewing, the earlier hops are added, the more they contribute to bitterness. If added later, more of the oils from the hops stick around, contributing more to aromatics than bittering. While most American-style IPAs focus heavily on the bitter aspects of hops, NEIPA draws more heavily on its aroma. And Haze of Glory is double dry hopped, meaning the hops are added not only during the boil, but also “dry” (during fermentation and after fermentation ends). The type of hops make a difference too. Haze of Glory contains ‘Citra’ and ‘Amarillo,’ both hops with a strong citrus profile.
On my first sip, it took me a moment to decide what I thought. My mouth wasn’t numbed by hops as with most IPAs, but rather received an immediate rounded feel with malt, fresh hop aroma, and other less-identifiable flavors mingling nicely. DuClaw describes Haze of Glory as “juicy” and “hazy.” And it is. The haziness and orange coloring almost made it look as though I’d just poured a glass of orange juice, and the overall mouthfeel and citrusy flavor enhanced the illusion. The bitterness was just where it needed to be, lingering somewhere on the back of the palate like a pleasant afterthought. I think I’m a fan of this NEIPA thing.
Sweet Baby Jesus!
Photo by Jereme Zimmerman
When I first came across Sweet Baby Jesus! Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter several years ago, I was wary. Those are all things I enjoy, but together they sounded like a bit much. I was still a drinker of traditional no-nonsense beers at the time: straight-up porters, pales, lagers, and the like. But eventually I gave in and bought a six-pack. I took it home, poured a pint, and took a long, lingering sip. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that my eyes rolled back in delight at the smorgasbord of flavors that rolled across my tongue while the warming 6.2 ABV hit the rest of me. I may or may not have exclaimed its name on that first sip (as you’re encouraged to do on the label).
Since I’d had this beer before, it was time to see if I still felt the same way about it. On a first pour it looked like a porter should: dark and roasty with nice head retention. Taking a whiff, I got hints of chocolate, peanut butter, and roasted malts. Then I took a slow sip and let it dance about my tongue before swallowing. While some may describe this beer as sweet, I wouldn’t call it overly so. Personally, I don’t care for more than a bit of chocolate cake, but I do enjoy the flavor, and this is like having my cake and drinking it too. Just the right balance of chocolate and peanut butter, with the roastiness of malts and the mild bitterness of hops leading to a harmonious close. And then there’s the swallow, which is an effect all its own: All of those flavors mingle on the way down, while the warming notes of the ABV help spread them around. And let’s not forget the body. During both the initial taste and the swallow, the full-bodied creaminess provides a luxurious mouthfeel. Verdict: still one of my all-time favorites!
Learn more about DuClaw Brewing Company and its creations:
Jereme Zimmerman is a traditional brewing revivalist, homesteader, and speaker at nationwide natural living events, including the Mother Earth News Fair. He lives in Kentucky with his wife and daughters.