During this ski season, a tradition has developed between myself and a pal – picking up a mixed 12-pack of beer to enjoy before our Sunday trips. It has been a joy to find breweries to share, especially since my ski buddy is not quite the beer geek that I am. While there have been a lot of great finds and no real disappointments, the pack we’ve enjoyed the most is the “Sunken Sampler” from Clipper City Brewing Company. Given the number of ski weekends we’ve had (and 12-packs we’ve shared), you should know that this pack faced some stiff competition. Among a field of East Coast craft breweries, the mix from Clipper stood above the rest.
Clipper City Brewing Co. (based in in Baltimore) was started in 1995, although founder Hugh Sisson had started a brewpub years earlier in 1989. The stated mission of the brewery is to “bring back the local brewery” and Clipper City has taken this to heart, brewing over a dozen styles of beer in an effort to appeal to any palate. In addition to the classic styles of the “Clipper City” line (gold, marzen and pale ales, and “pre-prohibition” lager), the brewery brews a line of organic beer (Oxford Organic Ales) and the “Heavy Seas” extreme line – bottle conditioned beers, extreme in style and usually over 7% alcohol.
The ‘Sunken Sampler’ collects four of the eight beers released under the Heavy Seas brand. Each pack always has Small Craft Warning (a pilsner-style bock) and Loose Cannon (an American IPA) inside, and the other two included brews vary from pack to pack. In the pack we grabbed from Whole Foods this weekend, the two wild cards were Below Decks (a barley wine) and Peg Leg (an imperial stout). Clipper City has distribution in about 20 states along the east coast, and the 12-pack set us back just over sixteen bucks.
Created to celebrate Clipper City’s 10th Anniversary – extremely limited and “vintage” dated – this extravagantly malty barley wine will show well upon release but continue to evolve for years.
This barley wine came out of the bottle with a dark copper pour and a thick off-white head. The fruit and molasses smells in the nose can be found if you look for them, but a strong alcohol scent is front and center in the aroma; no question that this is an old-fashioned barley wine. Intense and complex flavor, mostly from the rich and flavorful malts – Below Decks is a “malt bomb” in the way the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is a “hop bomb”. Thick and carbonated in the mouth, with some super-obvious alcohol warmth. A bit unbalanced (the alcohol could be much better masked, for example) but a rich brew that can be sipped and would probably mellow fantastically if cellared for a few years.
Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale
Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale – called Hop3 (hop cubed) ale to reflect the enormous amount of hops in this beer: over 3 pounds per barrel! Also the beer is hopped 3 ways – in the kettle, in the hop back, and dry hopped.
Pours the lovely orange-gold of an American IPA, with the rocky head to match. Sweet grapefruit citrus smell of West Coast hops, mingling together with a touch of alcohol and Munich malt scents. Even with the style in mind, Loose Cannon has a surprisingly strong hop punch, but has a full-bodied hop flavor without the finish being overly bitter or grassy. Perfection in terms of mouthfeel – slightly warm, but full and crisp and wonderfully smooth. Really a textbook example of the American style of brewing IPAs.
Peg Leg Stout
ABV: Approx. 8.0%
A dry Imperial stout with rich black color and aromas of roasted coffee, molasses, dark chocolate, toffee and caramel. Rich, powerful, and lingering.
If you looked at this beer in a mug, you’d probably mistake it for a latte – opaque black with a khaki-colored head. The coffee theme continues in the nose, although chocolate, caramel and a surprising amount of hops peek through as well. Fully rounded stout taste with chocolate, coffee and earthy flavors (maybe a bit of tobacco?) with a touch of sweetness and a (again surprising) bitter hop finish. A bit of a disappointing mouthfeel – thin and light for an imperial stout, but saved a bit by a nicely creamy finish. Complex and rich enough to warrant another, and dangerously drinkable for a high-ABV imperial stout.
Small Craft Warning Über pils
ABV: Approx. 7.25%
We call this beer an Über Pils – a pilsner style bock lager. Rich, malty, and well rounded but with a firm structure of noble hops. Surprisingly pale in color for such a powerful, complex beer.
Pours straw yellow, with a bright white, patchy head. Not a strong nose, but the malt and grain come to the forefront – the Pils malt gives an unmistakeably “German beer” aroma. The German-ness continues in the flavor, with a grain malt taste strongest, followed by some bready yeast and a bite of hop bitterness to finish. Light and dry mouthfeel, but crisp and nicely balanced. Although a solid malty take on a pilsner, the Small Craft Warning is probably the weakest beer of the pack. Not bad by any stretch, but it doesn’t grab and shake your taste buds like the other three brews.