Sampling Duclaw Brewing Company’s Range of Beers

(click photo to see my flickr album of photos from my visit to Duclaw)

On June 25, 2012 my older brother and I set out on a day trip to Flying Dog Brewery (Frederick, MD). Upon finding out that our tour guide, a.k.a. Flying Dog brewmaster Matt Brophy couldn’t meet us till 3pm we decided to leave home a bit early and check out Duclaw Brewing Company’s Belair, MD location. Once we arrived and sat down at the bar we were told that our beer flight (sampler) options were to either pick 6 specific beers or try all 16 beers on tap that day (15 Duclaw beers plus 1 from Flying Dog). Rather than each of us picking 6 beers, we decided to get all 16 and share the 5oz sample glasses. Each of the beers was poured and then placed on an individual coaster with information specific to that Duclaw beer. Then before digging in the bartender basically read our minds and asked if we’d like glasses of water to cleanse our palates between each beer, which we happily accepted.

We started off by sampling their  “staple” beers and then moved on to the seasonal / special release beers. Having already brought along a notebook to write down tasting notes etc. at Flying Dog, I took it out and did the same for all the Duclaw beers that I sampled. The following are those tasting notes…

This American Blonde Ale (5% ABV) poured a pale golden color with a white head that left a nice amount of lacing on its glass. Its aroma consisted of tart malted wheat and lemon. Following into the taste I immediately sensed that while this beer tasted similar to other beers of its style, its medium body and full flavor made it a more interesting beer to drink. To quote directly from my notes, “finish is semisweet, full flavor, not too light”. Rating:  7/10

With the addition of some roasted barley this Amber Ale was dark amber in color. Its German hops lent a balanced floral and earthy component to the aroma and taste. While many current American Amber Ales feature a big bitter and citrusy hop profile (which I’ve come to prefer), the Duclaw brewers chose to restrain the hops (23 IBUs) in order to highlight the caramel and toffee flavors from the malts and increase drinkability. Rating 6/10

Sporting the hop character and body of an India Pale Ale, this American Pale Ale (5.6% ABV) was light gold in color and had an off white head. As is common with the use of Columbus and Cascade hops, the aroma consisted of juicy notes of orange and grapefruit backed up by a slight malt sweetness. The citrus fruit hop profile followed through into the taste and was joined by some sweet bready malt and moderate bitterness. Rating: 8/10 

This 5% ABV Toffee Nut Brown Ale (English in style) represents yet another example of the ability of Duclaw’s brewers to pack a lot of flavor into a lower ABV beer. With a light brown (almost amber) color, aromas of toffee, hazelnut, and coffee were practically jumping out of the glass. Moving onto the taste, my palate was met by a light-medium mouthfeel and sweet toffee and milk chocolate flavors. Though the sweetness of this beer could leave some craft beer drinkers seeking a bit more roasted malt character. In the right setting and at the right time (e.g. dessert), I feel this beer could cause a true state of euphoria to set in. Rating 8/10

Over the past few years the Black IPA style has really taken off, and I have to admit that for me finding examples that stand out has begun to become a little difficult. With 6.4% ABV, 65 IBUs, and a pitch black color and khaki head, I was excited to dig in. True to style the aroma featured a mixture of citrusy and floral hops and hints of dark chocolate. Upon taking a couple sips of Black Lightning I knew I had found an outstanding example of a Black IPA. Upfront were the dark malt flavors, but they quickly blended with juicy citrusy hop flavors at mid palate. This blend continued into the finish and was joined by earthy hop notes and moderate bitterness. Rating: 9/10

Moving along with the “staple beers”, we tried this beer in two forms. First as usual with CO2 carbonation and next poured from a nitrogen tap. Starting with the original version (Robust Porter, 5.1% ABV), a dark brown color was topped with a tan head. Notes of slightly astringent roasted malts and some coffee made up the aroma. On the palate roasty flavors were balanced by sweet coffee and a medium mouthfeel. Overall, I found that this beer was not complex enough in flavor to be called a “Robust Porter”. However,  I did find it to be a quite drinkable porter. Rating: 7/10 Next was the nitrogen version. Its color was a tad darker than its original version, and as typical of beers poured using nitrogen its head was tan and creamy. It was on the palate where notable differences were most apparent. The mouthfeel was softer and I was able to pick up some nutty malt flavors. In the end I liked this one a little less than the original version. Rating 6.5/10

Going from the malty to the hoppy I next tried Serum, a Double IPA clocking in at 9% ABV with 80 IBUs. Before admiring its light orange color I analyzed the beer’s aroma and picked up notes of pine, citrus fruits, and a considerable malt sweetness. Following into the taste I was concerned about the beers freshness because it was quite sweet. However, I was still able to pick up and enjoy orange and pineapple flavors from the hops (columbus, cascade, and amarillo). Rating: 7/10

With two staple beers left I chose to try Duclaw’s year round India Pale Ale (7.5% ABV). It poured light orange (straw) in color with an off white head. As with the previous beer I picked up a sweetness in the aroma that is usually present when a hoppy beer’s hop character has begun to diminish. Along with the sweetness was an inviting hint of tart lemon from the hops (Motueka, a NZ hop). As I sipped on the lemon notes brought some balance to the sweetness and I picked up some bitterness (85 IBUs) in the finish. Though I do not have access to Duclaw beers, I hope to try a fresher batch of this beer in the future. Rating: 6/10

The final “staple beer” was also the most unique. Akin to a winter ale this beer, a Belgian-Style Spiced Ale (5% ABV) was brewed with Belgian candied sugar, chamomile, grains of paradise, and cardamom. It poured a cloudy golden color with a sweet spicy aroma with hints of toffee. In the taste hints of fig and toffee combined with the spices and a nice graham cracker flavor in the finish. While I think this beer is best suited for a cool winter evening, I was able to enjoy its complex flavors and smooth body on a warm summer day. Rating 8/10

To start off the six seasonal / limited release beers I went for the one with the highest ABV (alcohol by volume). At 14% ABV this beer, a “Belgian Pent Ale”, or in my opinion a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, was big on all counts. According to the beer information booklet that the bartender gave us to read as we tried the beers, this batch clocked in at 100 IBUs from the use of Galena and Calypso hops. Immediately its aroma reminded me of Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA in that it had huge notes of pineapple and peach and big yet complementary sweet bready malt. In the taste I enjoyed the notes just mentioned from the aroma and how the belgian yeast peaked through in the finish. While this beer is definitely a sipper, it was one of my favorites of the tasting. Rating 9/10

Next up came two variations of Venom Pale Ale which are part of an appropriately named single hop series called Anti-Venom. The first one used the Citra hop which has recently become one of my favorite varieties. This American Pale Ale (5.6% ABV) poured pale orange in color and had an off white head. Its aroma was quite inviting, especially for me, a huge fan of hoppy beers (a.k.a. hophead). Upon taking a whiff I was met with juicy notes of grapefruit, peach, and apricot. In turn I assumed there would be a sweet yet moderately bitter hop character in the taste. Along with the juicy hop notes from the aroma I enjoyed some floral, lemony, and dank hop notes in the taste. All of which were balanced nicely by some sweet bready malt. As I assumed the bitterness was moderate in intensity. Rating 8/10

The second Anti-Venom pale ale that I tried used a hop variety from New Zealand that I had never tried or heard of before this tasting called Green Bullet. As the first beer in this single hop series (not sure of release date) the aroma gave me the impression that the hop character had begun to fade. Meaning, I picked up malt sweetness along with some floral hop notes and faint traces of tropical fruit in the aroma. This followed into the taste and was accompanied by some earthiness and a nice bitterness that added to the beer’s drinkability. Rating: 6/10

Before moving onto yet another Duclaw special release series (see below) I chose to dig into one of the beers that I was looking forward to trying from the start of the tasting. This Russian Imperial Stout’s (7.5% ABV) appearance was true to style with an opaque black body and a creamy khaki head. Its aroma was just as appealing with hints of smoke (smoked malts are not used in this beer) and big notes of roasted malts and semi-sweet chocolate. These characteristics followed into the the taste which also included some espresso coffee. In terms of mouthfeel this beer was medium (almost full) bodied and had just the right amount of sweetness for the style. I should note that the smokiness diminished considerably after a few sips. Rating 8/10

As mentioned above, the last two beers of this tasting are part of a Duclaw special release series called the eXile series i.e. “from the minds of our resident mad geniuses comes a series of brews designed to flex our brewing muscles and explore the limits of our creativity.” The first of the two was the most recent release called X-5, an IPA brewed with Sorachi Ace hops and flaked rice. Being that many mass produced beers are brewed with rice, I was a bit skeptical about how this beer would taste despite being a big fan of Sorachi Ace hops. In the aroma and taste I picked up the flaked rice which on some sips dominated the beer’s flavor profile leaving the lemony hop notes in the background. At 72 IBUs this IPA was quite balanced and drinkable. Though as with many experimental craft beers, I feel this one may be an acquired taste (due to the rice). Rating 5.5/10

As the final beer of the tasting my brother and I tried the first beer released as part of the the eXile series, an Imperial Chocolate Rye Porter (7.7% ABV). With a name/ style like that I was quite excited to try this beer. In both the taste and aroma I picked up flavors that could mean that I was drinking an oak aged version of this beer e.g. notes of whisky and vanilla. Luckily, after confirming with Morgan, a Duclaw employee (marketing), I was able to confirm that this it was indeed oak aged. In addition to those flavors I enjoyed flavors of sweet milk chocolate, roasted malts, and a hint of coffee. While I did not pick up much of the rye, I was not left expecting more from this creamy and medium (close to full) bodied beer. Rating 9/10

Overall this was an awesome tasting which included an eclectic and flavor packed range of craft beers. Luckily I was able to pick up a bunch of bottled Duclaw beers when I went shopping later that day. I hope to visit Duclaw’s production brewery and other locations in the future. If you’ve yet to try their beers I’d recommend seeking them out. Even if that means trading for them. Lastly, I’d like to thank Morgan and the Duclaw Brewing Co. staff for their amazing hospitality. Cheers!


About Barry W

Israel (formerly NJ) based sourdough baker and fermentation enthusiasts sharing his baking, fermenting, cooking, and brewing adventures on
This entry was posted in Beer Reviews, Craft Beer Advocacy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s