W’11 KGB Imperial Stout (Widmer Brothers Brewing Company) 3/5

Almost no head. Pours an extremely dark brown, almost black. Aroma presents strong coffee. Taste is the same, heavy on the coffee and some smoke, with a moderate hop finish that lingers on the tongue to balance things out. Even the coffee lingers on the tongue and breath. Not a terribly complex beer, but, then again, you’re getting a Russian Imperial Stout six pack for $7.99. (Use caution: 9.30% ABV)

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Skookum Creek Ale (Cascade Lakes Brewing Co.) 4/5

Not much aroma, a little sweet and caramel-like, which nicely matches the honey color. Tastes mostly of sweet malts, with a fair amount of hoppy aftertaste. Light carbonation makes it highly drinkable. Don’t drink it too fast, though: the 6.80% ABV will go to your head fast.

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Fireside Chat (21st Amendment Brewery) 3/5

Aroma’s sweet, earthy, and dank. Pours a pleasing dark amber, with respectable head and lacing. Well-carbonated, with a quite malty, but balanced, flavor. The aftertaste lingers a touch too long for me, but I could be tasting the alcohol too (at 7.9%). The peppery spices are apparent but not overbearing.

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Ellie’s Brown Ale (Avery Brewing Company) 3/5

Sweet, slightly roasty aroma with a hint of chocolate. Color’s a pleasing dark red brown. Mouthfeel is well-carbonated. Taste is roasty. Aftertaste is surprisingly bitter and crisp for the style, but not unwelcome, and has a faint wood smoke to it. A little too smokey and roasty for me, veering into porter/stout territory, but overall not a bad beer. 5.8% ABV.

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Velvet Merlin (Firestone Walker Brewing Co.) 4/5

Aroma is a little smoke and a lot of coffee. The head’s not especially thick, but microbubbles do persist. Presents an almost impentetrable, dark red color. Mouthfeel is exceptionally smooth and creamy, from the added oats. Low bitterness, a malty treat that’s perfect for a chilly fall or winter evening.

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Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale (Anderson Valley Brewing Company) 5/5

Recommended by a coworker who knows his beer, so I had to try it. There isn’t much aroma, a sweet, faint coffee. Color is a dark amber, and not much head retention. Taste reminds of a doppelbock or, perhaps, a brown ale. Brown sugar sweetness hides the alcohol well. Aftertaste is clean, with essentially no hop bitterness, and mouthfeel is exceptionally smooth. Malts are the focus here. Exceptionally easy drinker. It’s much more in the spirit of a winter warmer than some of the too-hoppy west coast warmers I’ve tasted recently. This is the first 5/5 I will have awarded a beer since the Yeti Stout!

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Drifter Pale Ale (Widmer Brothers Brewing Company) 4/5

Sweet, tangerine hop aroma smells delicious. Taste is likewise fruity. Color a dark orange. Aftertaste is considerably clean — no lingering hop bitterness, only a touch of pine — making it highly drinkable. I find it hard to detect the malts, but, nevertheless, it somehow feels like a balanced beer; it’s not overly hoppy at all (32 IBUs).

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Pilsner Urquell (Plzensky Prazdroj, a. s.) 4/5

Aroma is grassy and fresh, slightly metallic. Pours a deep straw color with hardly any head retention. Strong carbonation and well-hopped taste with a clean mouthfeel. Very little malts present, perhaps a slight woody taste on the finish. Quite possibly the epitome of the style. A perfect “gateway beer” to give to a friend who’s only experienced adjunct lagers (i.e. cheap, mass-produced beer that substitutes rice or corn for barley). Only 4.4% ABV, so you can have a few of these and hardly notice. The almost-skunky smell and the weak alcohol content are the only things keeping this from being a 5/5 beer.

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Hibernation Ale (Great Divide Brewing Company) 4/5

Deeply sweet coffee, gingerbread, and chocolate aromatics. Little head, but that which does form is thick with micro-bubbles. Aftertaste is alcohol, with some hop bitterness. The warming effect of the alcohol in the throat and chest is immediate. I’m disappointed that, despite the lush and complex aroma, the malts don’t come through. There’s a hint of sweet rye bread, but it’s subtle and only detectable after the beer’s warmed considerably.

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Full Sail Amber (Full Sail Brewing Company) 3/5

It’s unremarkable, but inoffensive and highly drinkable. Pours with no head and a perfect amber color. Smell is earthy and metallic. The hops are more assertive than I expected, with a clean, piney finish. Let it warm up a little to bring out the malts, which are slightly smoky. There’s not much sweetness present. Better and more drinkable ambers exist.

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