Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Limited Release Episode 9: Surly Darkness, Steel Toe, Fulton!

Here is a link to my friend's show Limited Release.  This month they visit Steel Toe and Fulton breweries, culminating in Surly Darkness Day!  Including a cool interview with one of the best MN brewers Jason Schoneman of Steel Toe, and with Alvey from the Four Firkins.  I'm not in this episode but you should watch it anyway! Catch up on old episodes if you haven't seen them yet!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Fistmas!

Ok, so I've been radio (blog) silent for the past week or so--not typical for me at all!  I've been busy with the pre-Christmas holiday shopping, and very busy at work, so bear with me.  I have several longer homebrewing posts already in the can for the coming months and hope to continue my series of interviews for the upcoming year. 

So this week I thought I would talk about (and drink) a few holiday beers to celebrate!  I have always been a fan of holiday spiced beers, and look forward to this time of year.  One year I tried to do the 12 Beers of Christmas, but due to scheduling issues I didn't manage to have one each day.  Maybe I'll attempt that again next year.  Over the past few years I've noticed a lot of new holiday beers that are not spiced: many are double IPA's, Imperial versions of regular beers and just odd-ball beers that don't fit a category.  To some extent I think this trend is fine--as long as breweries are giving us good beers.  However, I'll admit I'm still a little morose when I find just another IPA or brown ale masquerading as a special holiday beer.  And let's not forget all of the Belgian Christmas beers that range from strange spiced concoctions to simply strong versions of regular Belgian style ales.

Ok, so here is where the Merry Fistmas comes in!  On a recent trip to Chicago I was able to visit Revolution Brewing and get the awesome big black fist tap handle pictured above.  I was sad that their fabled Christmas ale was not out yet, but then my best friend Bryan saved the day when he brought a couple cans for me at my birthday party!  This is really an aggressively hopped brown ale with definite spruce flavors...and very tasty.

Santa likes his malt liquor!

Last week Matt and Anna came over for a spirited game of Cards Against Humanity, and brought along a 2006 vintage Samichlaus.  This beer was originally brewed by the Hurlimann Brewery in Switzerland from the early 1980's through 1997.  At that point the beer was out of commission until it was resurrected by Schloss Eggenberg in Austria in 2000.  The beer itself is named after Santa Claus and is supposedly brewed every year on December 6.  It is based on a Dopplebock style, and for a while was the strongest commercially available beer, clocking in at about 14% ABV.  Because of its rarity and strength, this was one of the first popular beers to cellar.  Digging into my stash on this fine Friday evening, I found a dusty bottle of 1996 and 2000 to make a little vertical tasting for us.

The 1996 bottle was deep brown in color with almost no head at all.  Strong cardboard and sherry notes dominated the aroma--and the flavor.  Some alcohol was certainly in there.  The oxidation was a bit too much for me to really enjoy it, but trying a beer that is 17 years old is pretty interesting!  The 2000 bottle (from the new brewery) was very similar with more raisin character.  Still very little carbonation.  I think this was my favorite of the three.  The 2006 was much lighter in color and lacked the complexity that the previous beers had.  We felt that the recipe had been significantly changed somewhere along the line--but it was interesting that this did not happen on the first move to the new brewery in 2000!

Moving on to Christmas Eve's festivities.  I took this time to open last year's St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, and man that beer has aged nicely!  Belgian yeast character is pleasant, but not overwhelming the subtle dark sugar notes.  Carbonated to well above typical American Belgian ales, this beer ends very dry and drinkable for it's 10% ABV.   I then dug out a special bottle I've been holding onto since our 2012 trip to Belgium: Kerkom Winterkoninkske.  This is a dark strong that we bought during our tour of the brewery, and was already a year old at that time.  The flavors of this beer have changed a bunch since I had it last, with incredible notes of Belgian chocolate.  I'm sad we can't get their beer in Minnesota, but I did pick up another bottle the last time I was in Illinois!  To pair with this latter beer I cooked up a steak and lamb kidney pie with puff pastry topping.  This is a dish I used to love from Sherlock's Home brewpub and I haven't had a really good one since they went out of business.  Since I was able to buy a whole yearling lamb through True Cost Farm (our meat CSA) and had the required tasty organ meats, I thought I'd give it a try!  I was pretty close considering I cobbled together a few recipes from on-line and added some of my own ideas.  The pie was bursting with flavorful thyme gravy, cremini mushrooms and of course steak and kidney bits.  A good pairing, but after sharing those large two bottles of strong ale, Sj and I both fell asleep while trying to watch Iron Man 3.

Seriously, tastes better than it sounds!

For Christmas Day itself Sj and I followed our usual pattern of consuming much needed coffee and sweet rolls while unwrapping the presents in our stockings.  I got lots of Magic cards and candy in mine...along with a single much prized bottle of 2013 Bourbon County Stout!  Sj got lots of beads and even more candy.  Sj and I then got into the glory of tearing into our regular presents and flinging wrapping paper balls around for the cats to rampage in.  Not having kids, we tend to spoil each other at Christmas time and buy way too many presents for each other.  I'm not complaining!  I discovered some cool homebrewing equipment like the Fast Rack and the Big Mouth Bubbler hiding under the tree--more on those in a future post.  I also received a couple of really cool Belgian beers and a whole slew of new clothes.

Merry Christmas to me!  Thanks Sj and thanks to the Four Firkins for pointing her in the right direction!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pumpkin Beers 2013: The Finale!

OK,  This is my last word on commercial pumpkin beers (at least for this season!)  For the past two months I have been slogging my way through as many pumpkin beers as I can, reviewing each to the best of my ability.  Please check out my previous posts on the matter if you haven't done so already. My total (pumpkin) head count was 35, 37 if you count both versions of the homebrewed Pumpacolypse Brau. Over the season of this strange experiment I have discovered a few things about said pumpkin beers. 

1) Quality: Like other beer styles, the majority of them are mediocre, with a few being disgusting and a few being amazing.  The old bell curve strikes again!  Having come into this experiment believing that I loved the style, I was a bit surprised at how many of the beers didn't really do it for me!  I've stated before that pumpkin beers are very polarizing: people love them or hate them.  I'm wondering if the haters may have tried some of the nasty beers and are basing their hatred on this. 

2) Spicing: This is really the key to the style.  My favorites of the season had recognizable spicing, but erred on the subtle and balanced side.  Too many of the beers I tried were over the top spiced and ended with a harsh bitterness that was off-putting.  So if you are going to try this yourself use a light hand on the spices.  Nutmeg dominates when combined with the other pumpkin pie spices of ginger, allspice, clove, and cinnamon, so maybe cut that down a bit to get a better rounded spice mix.  Top choices for doing this well were Wasatch, Brooklyn Post Road and Town Hall Petunia's.  Also some of the beers I tried had strange additional spices like lemongrass and cardamom--with varied results.

3) Malt:  The best of the beers were ones in which there was a malty backbone to balance the potential bitterness from spices and pumpkin itself.  ESB, Octoberfest, and Imperial's were all the best base styles for these.  I enjoyed a couple of the porters, but the roast malt astringency tended to exacerbate the bitterness from the spices.  Best of these was Town Hall, Terrapin Pumpkinfest, and Pumking.

4) Pumpkin:  Most pumpkin beers have little to no recognizable pumpkin flavor.  Some of the beers I tried had no actual pumpkin in them at all.  The few that I felt had true pumpkin flavor where Southern Tier Pumking, Terrapin, and Indeed Sweet Yamma Jamma (OK yam, not pumpkin for that one!)  From my own attempt at pumpkin beer, (tried before spicing,) I did get a hint of pumpkin flavor, but not much considering the huge amount of pumpkin we put into that beer!

5) Weird:  I enjoyed trying some different styles of pumpkin beer, like sours, cider and shandy--just to mix things up.  There is only so much you can say about the flavor of nutmeg and malt when judging pumpkin beers!  However, none of these unusual beers scored very highly in my final tally. 

6) Overall favorite?  Town Halls Petunia's Pumpkin, due to perfect balance of malt, mild spicing and easy drinkability.  Glad I have a growler of this in fridge right now!  Second place was actually The Punkacolypse Brau that Mike Lebben and I fought so hard to create.  Having tried so many commercial examples I was frankly shocked at how well this beer turned out.  I want to try brewing it again next year with a bit less pumpkin and a lot more rice hulls!

Crazy Mountain Rocky Mountain High Pumpkin Pie Beer: That is a mouthful!  Located in Vail Valley, Colorado this is a brewery I haven't really heard much about prior to this.  I had this beer the other night on draft at The Happy Gnome with a charcuterie plate prior to a Laphroaig tasting upstairs. 

Aroma: Nutmeg up front, followed by pumpkin and a hint of caramel.  Slight apple or pear ester to it.  Cinnamon as it warms up.
Appearance: Orange to copper color (but it was dark in the restaurant!) Medium sized white head that persisted well.  Small bubbles.  Excellent clarity with no haze.
Flavor: Malty but not overly sweet, a bit of caramel in flavor.  Strong nutmeg and allspice flavors really dominate this beer.  Medium body, but the residual harsh astringent and chemical burn from the spices make this seem to end thin.  Like sucking on a clove or allspice berry this has a tongue coating medicinal burning to it, even after done with the sip. 
Overall:  I like the aroma and initial taste, but that lingering harsh finish kills this for me.  Simply too much spice that isn't in balance with the base beer.  3/5.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin:  This brewery has been around Minnesota for a few years, but honestly has not really had much presence in the beer scene.  No special events, few rare beer releases, and what I see as a basic lack of support in this market.  Every once in a while I'll pick up one of the beers with mixed results--sometimes I love it (Tiny) and other times I don't (Double Simcoe).  This beer clocks in at 8% ABV, and is made with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. 

Aroma:  Rich nutmeg and cinnamon on first whiff.  On deeper inhalation I get a lot of sweet sugar and some carmelized malt.  Hint of fruity pear and apple as swirled.  Slight earthy notes as it warms.
Appearance: Deep ruby in color.  Very clear with no haze.  Medium fine off-white head.
Flavor: Maltiness up front (unsurprisingly).  A hit of nutmeg and cinnamon after the initial malt bomb.  The finish fades to a strong cardamom flavor and astringency that stays with you.  Because of this the beer ends very dry and almost puckering.  There is some real pumpkin hiding in there.  Also some of the fruity esters from the aroma come through as it warms up.  Body is medium.  Very slight alcohol warming present.
Overall: The first sip is appealing, but the finish is just so harsh that this is difficult to keep drinking.  This is one that (to me) isn't worth the calories.  2.5/5.

Southern Tier Warlock: A pumpkin Imperial stout from the fine folks who brought you Pumpking!  I wanted to have both of these beers at the same time, but with both being higher alcohol beers, deemed it unwise.  So we tried this out after dinner, as a desert unto itself.

Aroma: Powerful roasted pumpkin flesh and vanilla at first, reminding me very strongly of Pumpking.  Ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg all play about in the aroma.  The combination of pumpkin with ginger and vanilla reminds me strongly of pumpkin pie with gingerbread crust.  Smells very sweet.  No hop aromas.  Very little roast malt.
Appearance: Deep brown with ruby highlights, not as opaque and black as most Imperial stouts.  Large tan head that is persistent.  Fine bubbles and lacing on glass. 
Flavor: Sweet vanilla and pumpkin/malt up front--like pie!  This initial sweetness fades to a ginger and alcohol heat on the palate finished with a mild roasty finish.  A slow updraft of nutmeg and cinnamon with lingering vanilla at end.  As it warms I get some lemon zing that might be hop character.  There is a definite bitterness to the beer, seemingly from hopping.  Medium bodied.
Overall: A very interesting beer, getting higher marks than expected due to its uniqueness.  I don't get as much of the dark malt and roasty notes that I expect in an Imperial stout and was a bit disappointed in that.  It seemed like a regular pumpkin beer brewed with a little debittered black malt to add color without flavor...like a schwartzbier.  The lemon and ginger really made this taste more like a gingerbread cookie than a true pumpkin beer.  Worth a try.  4/5.

Lakefront Pumpkin LagerThis is a fun beer from Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, WI.  I tried this last year when in town for my cousin's wedding and really liked it.  I'm happy to say that we now get Lakefront beers in Minnesota and I found a bottle at the Four Firkins.  They did put out a 25th anniversary Imperial version of the beer this year but I never found one to sample. 

Aroma: Surprise!  Nutmeg and cinnamon, with a light ginger aroma after some deep sniffs.  Mild pumpkin aroma as swirled.  Some sweet malt.  No hop aroma. 
Appearance: Light orange in color.  Brilliantly clear and sparkling.  Small white head with fine bubbles, mostly from the nucleation site on the bottom of my glass.
Flavor: Malty but not overly sweet, more like a Vienna lager.  A good mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger that is not overwhelming but does stay with you after the sip.  No astringency.  No hop flavors.  Finish is crisp and lagery with a hint of pilsner malt.  Mouthfeel is a bit light.
Overall: Not a bad beer.  I like the crispness of it and the well balanced spices.  3.5/5.

Jack-O Traveler Shandy: This is a shandy, half lemonade and half beer.  The Traveler Beer Company jumped into the scene a few years ago (possibly on the coat-tails of Leinie's Shandy) and has started putting out some seasonal varieties.  I believe that this company is owned by Boston Beer Company, but it does not say so anywhere in their on-line information (then again neither does Angry Orchard).
Aroma: Lots of ginger and lemon in the initial aroma.  A light nutmeg aroma arrives as this is swirled.  Sweet and tart battle it out on the nose.
Appearance: Deep orange in color.  There is a slight haze, but not much.  Large off-white head that persists well.
Flavor: A tart lemon flavor fades to a sweet classic pumpkin pie finish.  I get nutmeg at the back of the tongue and a dry sweet-tart finish.  No hop at all.  Mouthfeel is just a bit more than light.  The spicing is perfect--bringing out the pumpkin pie flavors well.  As it warms though, this beer gets a bit flabby and loses its edge.
Overall:  A good experiment that I didn't think would work.  Better than expected, and refreshing.  Drink it fast, though because it is best cold.  3/5.
New Belgium Pumpkick: This is a new seasonal offering from the always experimental New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado.  This is an unusual beer that is made with pumpkin juice, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, lemongrass, and cranberry juice. 
Aroma: Malty sweetness blended with nutmeg and allspice.  There is a tart zing in the aroma like lemon and grape tannin.  A bit of fruitiness, perhaps from hops.  As this warms I get more cinnamon.
Appearance: Deep gold to nearly orange in color.  A very mild haze is present.  Large white head that sticks around.
Flavor: Maltiness up front, but not really sweet.  There is a tart finish from cranberry and lemon that dry the end of this up.  A mellow nutmeg and cinnamon are left at the end.  Excellent balance between the sweet malt and the spices.  Not much true pumpkin picked up.
Overall:  This was a nice way to end my experiment in pumpkin beers.  This one has some unusual flavors, but everything is so well balanced that it rises to the top of my list.  4/5.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kathy Stock Benefit! Bid High, Bid Often!

This is just a quick post to alert anyone who hasn't already heard about Kathy Stock's upcoming cancer benefit.  I met Kathy around 2007 or so, at a mead dinner at The Happy Gnome, along with her husband Curt and a bunch of other amazing mead makers.  Since then, I consider her a friend--as does nearly everyone who has ever met her!  Kathy and Curt are fixtures in the Minnesota homebrewing scene and seem to know everyone.  Both have always been welcoming to people getting into the hobby, and were instrumental in my entering into the local homebrewing and beer judging community.

Each year at the Upper Mississippi Mash Out Kathy and I get into good natured bidding wars at the silent auction, so this fund raising event really strikes me on a personal level.  I'll be donating some cool beers from my cellar (Goose Island Juliet, Bramble Rye, Bourbon County Stout, and Surly Darkness all from 2012,) for the auction in the hopes of raising some money for her.  I have seen a preliminary listing of the amazing beer and wine related stuff that will be available and plan on bidding strongly!  There will also be non-beer items in the auction, as well as some food, and good drink from some of the best homebrewers in the country.  I'm really looking forward to supporting the Stocks in their time of need, as well getting a chance to hang out with a bunch of friends.

Clear your schedule and make it out there!  And if you can't make it to the event, then feel free to just make a donation! 

Addendum 12/12/13: 

Sj and I trekked out in the -4 F temperature night to get to Kathy's benefit last night.  Our trip took a bit over an hour (in rush hour traffic) but was well worth it!  I was amazed at how packed that hall was with Kathy's work mates, family and tons of friends.  There was a large showing of homebrewers from many different clubs, (Tom and Nancy even drove all the way from Fargo, making my hour commute seem irrelevant!)  In a back room they had several jockey boxes full of homebrew and many, many dangerous meads available as well.  Chris Smith's meads in particular were wonderful...no wonder he wins so many medals with them!  There was a huge spread of snacks and sweets to munch on as well. 

There were so many silent auction items that it was difficult to move between the tables!  Some amazing stuff went for well above market price--a testament to the love people have for Kathy Stock!  Sj and I successfully drove up prices on several items, but actually got skunked on winning anything this time.  It looks like the silent auction from Mash Out this year may be going toward this cause as well, so I have a second chance next month! 

Keep Kathy and Curt in your hearts this Holiday season, and thank everyone for putting on such a wonderful event.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Blichmann Hop Rocket In Action

Let's do a product review today!  Two years ago Santa left a fine gift beneath out tree: the Blichmann Hop Rocket.  I was very excited at the time but admit that I didn't find a time to use it until the following summer.  I dug it out again this fall and decided to document the process. 

The idea behind this contraption is to mimic the whirlpool addition of late hops that many commercial breweries use.  This adds a bright hop aroma and a little taste to the finished beer, and is really only appropriate for hoppy beer styles like IPA and pale ales.  Since I don't tend to brew many of those, I don't break out this toy very often.  The secondary use for the rocket is to act as a secondary filter for your beer (through the leaf hops and screen) before entering your plate chiller or carboy.

1) Place the rocket upside down to begin the preparations.

2) Insert the filtering apparatus into the inverted rocket.

3) Add leaf hops.  This will fit from 1-3 ounces of hops, but not more.  Keep in mind that hops will expand when they soak up hot wort.

4) Add rubber gasket and cap off with the large stainless bottom piece.

5) Tighten with included tool.  (No wise cracks now...)

6) Turn upright and ready to hook up!

7) Hook up heat tolerant silicone tubing from the brew kettle --> the pump --> the Hop Rocket --> the plate chiller --> the waiting sanitized carboy.  Yes, you are going to need a pump to push that wort through the rocket!

8) Fill 'er up!  Note my need to prop up the silicone tubing so it does not kink.  The Rocket is pre-chiller so it gets very hot.  Make sure to use gloves for all of this. 

Final results were 10 gallons of IPA, heavily hopped in the last 15 minutes of the boil, then run through an ounce of Cascade whole hops.  I really should have used more but this was a thrown together brew with what I had in the freezer.  I ended up dry hopping in the primary once the fermentation was slowing as well.  Did the Hop Rocket really change the brew?  Hard to tell with all the other hop action going on in this beer.  It would be worth doing this again, but only running half of the wort through the Rocket and tasting the final beers side by side.  Next year!  I did note that far less trub made it into the carboys and this was certainly my clearest wort ever.  I also flushed very little debris out of my plate chiller this time, so much of the hop bits and trub were caught in the Rocket. 

One can also hook this up to a jockey box and use it as a Randall to infuse fresh hop character into a kegged beer, but I haven't tried it yet.  Has anyone else?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

James Page Reboot...Sometimes Dead Is Better

As most people know, in the late 1980's craft beer began its slow rise to prominence.  In Minnesota, Summit really led this trend, but another small brewing company started by attorney James Page also opened at that time, and made a name for itself.  James Page Brewing Company was very small and local, coming into its own in the early 1990's, like many other craft breweries at the time.  It was probably the first American brewery to sell a wild rice beer, and was one of the first craft breweries to can its beer.  I remember the Boundary Waters lager being pretty good, but didn't really try many of the beers. 

In 1995 the brewery fell victim to the dreaded craft beer bust that pruned down the then burgeoning craft beer scene.  That is a whole separate story, but the base problems were too many crappy breweries, too much contract brewing with fly-by-night labels, and too many get-rich-quick schemes by investors and business men who knew nothing about beer.  James Page ended up selling the company, which put a lot of money into marketing, but made some bad decisions over the next few years resulting in poor yield.  Apparently the draft beer was produced at the brewery, but the bottles were contract brewed at various other places (including Schells, who hadn't yet really embraced the craft style for itself).

In 2005 the brand was sold to Stevens Point Brewing in the Wisconsin town of the same name.  That company has a storied past beginning in 1957, brewing mostly American lagers, and is the 5th oldest continually run brewery in the country.  For those from Wisconsin and Minnesota they have a somewhat less than stellar reputation, (think Old Milwaulkee, Olympia, etc.)  A few years back they attempted to re-brand themselves with new packaging and some "crafty" beers that rode the line between mass-market and craft beers.  They did have a runaway hit with their Whole Hog Imperial Pilsner at that time, and recently have expanded the name into a series of higher gravity beers (mirroring fellow Wisconsin brewer Lienenkugel's Big Eddy series). 

As of right now the James Page brand has been re-imagined by Stevens Point and I was given three of the beers by a friend to try.  When handed the cans I had no idea what they were.  These have snuck into the local beer marketplace with minimal fanfare, and I was unaware of their existence.  The cans all sport colorful design and each have a bold statement of individuality at the top.  There is a small logo of JP's up near the top of the can, which seems like a waste of buying a known brand only to shorten it into obscurity.  Only by looking at the small print on the side of the can could I discover that this was James Page and brewed in Stevens Point.  Looking at the website, it mirrors the logo along with the tag-line "Adventurous brews with a twist." 

A white stout?  Ludicrous!

Casper:  Sporting a pretty cool looking white buffalo on the can with the words "Stand apart" rolling across the top of the can, I had high hopes for this one.  A self proclaimed white stout, this is the first such beer I've ever tried.  The website describes it "Distinctively golden in color with big pilsen malt flavor, and a touch of hops."  It clocks in at 6% ABV. 

Aroma: Lots of corn!  Corn and more corn.  Loads of corn.  Also a hint of noble hop as it warms.  There is some light cocoa and medicinal aroma as well. 
Appearance: Straw or light gold in color.  Huge foamy white head that takes 5 minutes to fall enough to drink.  Excellent clarity.
Flavor: Sweet malt up front that fades to a corn syrup based cheap candy sweetness.  Sj described the flavor as Necco Wafers--and I think she hit it right on the head.  There is an imitation (read chemical) chocolate finish that is interesting but fairly off-putting.  A bitter finish.  Mouthfeel is borderline creamy--slick feeling.
Overall: I was intrigued by this beer and really wanted to try something unique: a white chocolate stout!  But the flavors were not good in this at all.  The base beer honestly tasted like a malt liquor...and I have some personal experience with Mickeys!  The corn flavors may be from pilsner malt, but could also be DMS which can give a strong creamed corn flavor and a slick mouthfeel.  My suspicion is that both are involved here.   If they had used a wheat beer base this may have been better.  Maybe.  The imitation flavors are terrible.  Blech!  I give this a 1.5 of 5 stars.

Some things are best left undiscovered?

Yabba Dhaba: This is a porter spiced with a chai tea mixture of spices including ginger cinnamon, cardamom, clove and anise.  I have had a couple of homebrewed examples of this style while judging competitions and have been tempted to do my own version, but it hasn't hit my rotation yet.  With the tag-line "Discover" on the label, along with an adventurous fictionalized James Page exploring the wilds of India, this is also an attractive package.

Aroma: Lots of things going on in the aroma on this beer.  Lemons, cardamom, white pepper are strong.  There is a slight roasted grain burnt aroma.  Allspice and cloves as it warms up a bit.  Some sweetness from malt is present as well.
Appearance: Deep brown, but not black.  Held up to light you can see through the edges and clarity is excellent.  When poured has an enormous light brown head that fills the glass.  I poured this into 2 separate 12 oz glasses and foaming was such that I still had a third of the beer in the can afterward.  It was several minutes before I could get a legitimate taste of this beer.
Flavor: Not as sweet as expected from the aroma.  Very mild roast malt.  Spices are very strong in this one, and too much of that lemon flavor present.  A muddled mix of cardamom, liquorice and cloves.  The mouthfeel on this is a bit watery and thin.  There is a strange flavor in the finish that tastes a bit like imitation vanilla extract that stays with you.  To use a wine term, this is flabby.
Overall: This is pretty disgusting.  I have no idea where the lemon flavor was coming from, but it clashed horribly with the light roasted malt flavors.  Some of the spice flavors seemed very fake and medicinal, and the spicing in general was too over-the-top to leave a balanced beer.  The base beer for this didn't seem to have enough body, sweetness or mouthfeel to hold even out that extreme spicing.  2.5/5.

Ould Sod:  "A road less traveled."  Described as an Irish Red IPA, this beer uses high hopping rates of East Kent Golding, Fuggles and Hallertau hops. 

Aroma: This one has a lot of hop aroma--seems like a mix of cascade and the earthy English hops.  There is a bit of vegetal, green character that cuts down the citrus.  Light fruity esters are present, along with a sweet caramel malt.
Appearance: Deep orange to almost red color.  Huge tan head that persists, but not as extreme as the other JP beers.  Very clear beer.
Flavors: Strong hopping up front, hint of citrus and a fair amount of musty earthy hop.  Mellow caramel maltiness into the finish.  Ends with a bit of vegetal astringency.  Mouthfeel is aquous and not as pleasing as I would like. 
Overall:  The best of the three JP beers I tried, but still not quite right.  The watery mouthfeel hurts this one, I think a bit more here and this would be higher in score for me.  I like the concept of an English hopped red ale, and this was close to fulfilling that goal.  The vegetal character hurt it though, a risk with high hopping rates.  Drinkable, but I wouldn't order another.  3/5.
I try very hard not to be a hater.  I am usually of the camp that says "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it."  But I also like to be honest, so this sometimes puts me a bit of a conundrum.  Should I just not write up this beer/brewery/pub at all?  With this particular group of beers, I had some personal history with the brand and felt it would make a good story, so I decided to go ahead and give my honest opinion.  After trying three of the four new James Page (JP's) beers I spotted a couple of trends.  First off, the beers were all over-carbonated.  I'm not sure if this was a process issue (though Point has been canning beers for ages without problems) or intentional.  Second, all were perfectly clear--and when using extracts, dry hops and spices this is rare; so they are likely filtered.  Third, all were a bit disappointing, not living up to their potential.  I freely give this (hard-won) wisdom to all new homebrewers and pro brewers: start with a good solid base beer, then add odd ingredients and tweaks to your recipe.  You can't polish a turd.

I like the concept: take a known old brand and update it for modern times, appealing to the nostalgia crowd as well as the new-fangled craft beer crowd.  However there are some miss-steps here.  Why pay for the James Page brand and then not have that brand front and center on the can?  Then they fall into the major problem that most of the larger macro-breweries have--trying to appeal to the craft beer drinker without really having any understanding of what they really want out of a beer.  In mind of the executives behind this brand: "Crazy ingredients!  Check.  Unusual styles!  Check.  Funky art and labels!  Check.  Those craft beer drinkers won't know what hit them, and we'll be richer than our wildest dreams!"  However, craft beer drinkers now-days have changed from those wild-west 1990's folks who were just dipping their toes into the pool.  Now many of us are better educated about beer styles, beer and food pairings, even homebrewing.  We know how to spot a brand that is "Crafty" rather than "Craft."  This line is thinning with breweries like Goose Island being bought by AB-InBev and still putting out legitimate craft beers; but plenty of others still can't get it right.  In the end (for me at least) it is about taste and not about merchandising, focus groups, and appealing to the lowest common denominator. 

For me this re-boot is a pure fail.  Not an Epic Fail, but close. Could they fix it?  Yes, there are some easy changes to the beers that could improve them.  Will they?  I doubt it.  They will likely be confused as to why those craft beer suckers are not emptying the shelves of these beers.  If they put as much time and effort into the base beers as they did on the packaging, they really could have had something here.