I went to visit one of my oldest friends, bartender extraordinaire Justin Roads, in Pensacola. We got together to go geek out at the Pensacon, but I knew that if I was coming in town I needed to find some good local craft beer, so I asked my bartender buddy what’s there. He pointed me to Pensacola Bay Brewery. I contacted them via their website – the day before I would be in town – on the slim chance I would get in touch with someone about doing a review. To my surprise, I got a return email in not long at all from brewmaster/co-owner Mark Robertson telling me he’d be glad to show me around. The day before the con, Justin and I went over to PBB and were met by Mark who was kind enough to give us a personal tour of the brewery and serve me up some beer to try. I love this job.
Pensacola Bay Brewery, Pensacola, FL
About the Brewery (from pbbrew.com/history/):
Once upon a time, two guys who had never met, had a glass of beer.
Who knew that years later, their love of beer would bring them together.
Elliott Eckland and Mark Robertson started this journey in 2009, and in October 2010 opened the doors of the Pensacola Bay Brewery. Focusing on local Pensacola landmarks and lore, the Pensacola Bay Brewery mixes a little Florida history in each pint.
About the Beer (from pbbrew.com):
Refreshing and tart. Made with Bohemian pilsner malt, white wheat, and Mt. Hood hops. Napoleon himself dubbed the Berliner Weisse Ale the Northern Champagne. You will create your own endless summer with a pint of our DeSoto Berliner Weisse Ale brewed with raspberries.
Style: Raspberry Berliner Weisse
Let’s just get this out of the way right up front: I love sours. They are seriously one of my favorite styles of beer (which is kind of a misnomer, because you really can “sour” any “style” of beer) and I don’t get to put them in my face often enough. When I got to PBB and saw they had not only a sour, but a raspberry sour, I did a little happy dance in my mind… and maybe with my feet whilst they hung from the barstool. You don’t know, you weren’t there. Seeing the DESOTO fill that glass with coral deliciousness topped by a tiny white cap that quickly disappeared to only a faint halo, I did another happy dance. It was beautiful, and it was going in my face.
Yes. Yes it is.
Taking a whiff of DESOTO, it was pretty much what I was expecting it to be. Berliner Weisse is one of the least-sour sours, so I wasn’t anticipating a face full of lemons or anything like that. What I got was a slight tartness accentuated by a hint of raspberry that brought it back from smelling truly sour. Taking that first quaff, I was actually a bit surprised, as the bouquet and the flavor did not really go hand in hand. DESOTO actually comes off more sweet than anything else, which was really unexpected. It starts off with a nice fruity floral sweetness, and on the backend of the swallow is where that sour I was expecting pokes its head up. Berliner Weisse is often very mildly sour, but I believe DESOTO to be the mildest sour I’ve had so far. Which makes it a great introduction to the idea of messing up perfectly good beer with random yeasts and bacteria for those people considering getting into this odd offshoot of beer. The flavor on this one is very delicate, and the sweetness is a little strong, but mostly balanced by the slight tartness on the exit, and would be pretty easy to enjoy for most people… this might even be the beer to get your significant other that only drinks wine into drinking beer.
DeSoto Raspberry Berliner Weisse
At 3.4%, DESOTO is almost the definition of a session beer. Truly, this would be a great beer in a can at the beach, or outside while grilling, or sitting on the porch after mowing the lawn in Florida (or Texas) heat. The flavor is very crisp and clean and would beg your palate to imbibe more. This is the beer version of a Lay’s potato chip, and there’s no way you can just have one. The thin, sprtizy, lightly carbonated body makes this one easily drinkable. Hell, this one would be easily chuggable, and I don’t chug beer. But if I HAD to chug a beer, pass me a DESOTO.
Overall 8.5 / 10
Beer page: http://pbbrew.com/beer/desoto/
About the Beer (from pbbrew.com):
Dark and delicious, made with malted, roasted, and chocolate barley with a soft finish.
I am so glad that as a beer drinking society here in the US, we are no longer defining what a Stout should be based on imported, not fresh, bottled or canned Guinness. Fifteen years ago, if you asked anyone other than the most hardcore of beer nerds, they would be tough-pressed to name three other stouts I think. Now, when I have friends that are just starting to dip their toes into the wonder that is the world of craft beer, I can offer them hundreds of options to that Guinness that they normally drink… and they are all going to be better. Don’t get me wrong; in Ireland, fresh, on tap, I know we are talking about a completely different beer than what we get on this side of the pond, but here there is no reason to settle for a Guinness when there are options like BLACKBEARD at your fingertips.
The bartender. Well, the bartender’s assistant.
BLACKBEARD slinks into my glass as a deep inky black oil with a relatively think khaki head on top. While there wasn’t a whole lot of whipped cream on top of this sundae, the bubbles that were present stuck around for a good long time, and left very definite mile markers of where my beer had been in my glass. As the volatile bits rise up and pillage my nose, I get what I hope to get from a good stout: a nice deep roastiness that is heavy but not burnt or smoky, some good coffee hints that go with that roast, and even a hint of semi-sweet chocolate hiding in the back. Really, classically, stout.
Once that wave of darkness finally assaults my palate, I get what those buccaneers in my nose foretold. BLACKBEARD brings to my mouth a very nicely roasted by not burnt malt base, interwoven with chocolaty goodness (more on the dark chocolate than the semi-sweet spectrum). While this is not a Sweet Stout or a Milk Stout, it does have a nice underlying sweetness from the malt that rounds out the beer and balances that dark roast very nicely. I was also happy to find that BLACKBEARD doesn’t bring much of the bitter, which is how I personally prefer my stouts. This would be amazing with a scoop of ice cream floating in it, preferably a strong vanilla bean flavored dollop. Looking at the beer itself, it comes off as bigger and badder than its body actually is; it seems like it would be a very thick beer, but it is actually somewhat thin with a lightly milky/oily feel to it. As I consume a bit more of it, the heaviness builds on my palate, and the bitterness does a bit as well, but that scoop of ice cream could easily remedy that. So, PBB: beer cream float days?
Overall 7 / 10
Beer page: http://pbbrew.com/beer/blackbeard/
About the Beer (from pbbrew.com):
Made with seven different grains, this beer is smooth with a slight chocolate flavor and the aroma and taste of whiskey. One or two of these and our may think you’re in Tennessee sitting next to Jack Daniels himself.
Style: Imperial Porter aged in Whiskey Barrels
I like Imperial Porters (ok, let’s be honest, I like Imperial Anything’s), I like whiskey, I like dark beers; I was really expecting a lot out of BLACK TREASURE. While everyone likes to age their stouts in bourbon barrels, the idea of a porter in a whiskey barrel intrigued me. What’s so different, you may ask; and to you asking I would say: a lot, ya dumb jerk. No, I’m not really like that (unless of course it’s on the end of the tasting day), but truly there are some big distinctions in these related styles. First off, whiskey is a spirit made from distilled grain (could be corn, barley, rye, wheat, etc.) aged in oak. Bourbon is a distilled spirit made from AT LEAST 51% corn, and aged in new, unused, charred oak barrels. It’s that corn that gives you the sweetness that bourbon is famous for, and that charred oak that imparts all of those vanilla/caramel type flavors. Porter vs. Stout is a similar discussion, they are both dark roasty beers, but have their own slight differences as well (that I think I have discussed before so I’m not going to go into them again on this review.) So, Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout would have you expecting sweet, vanilla like notes in your beer. I had never had a Whiskey Aged Porter, so I had an idea of what I thought would be there, but it was just an idea.
The list for my day at PBB
Looking into the void, BLACK TREASURE is a deep heavy brown with a very thin top that very quickly reduces to a cordon worn on the breast of this noble pirate. But that corona that tops BLACK TREASURE leaves behind very nice lacing, and helps to remind you that you have drank how much of this beer?! After a couple of these, you may need reminding. Taking a sniff, that whiskey scent is prominent and even dominant, which I expected but not really to that intensity. Behind the spirit, I get sweetness that I did not expect from a Porter.
Black Treasure Imperial Porter
Once I finally submit to my urge and take a sip, the BLACK TREASURE hits me right in the face with the whiskey. Seriously whiskey. If you like whiskey, this is the beer for you type whiskey. The body of BLACK TREASURE is a nice middle ground between a thick stout and a lighter porter, and balances that body well. As that initial liquor fades, BLACK TREASURE brings a very heavy sweetness that really makes me think more Barleywine than Porter. I know some of this is because we are talking “Imperial” here, but still it is not at all what I was expecting from this beer. Which is not necessarily a bad thing (I love Barleywines, one of my favorite styles), just an odd turn of events. This was followed by another odd turn of events, a flavor I have run into many times in the past and it always turns my palate in weird ways: “band aid.” There is really no other way to describe it, other than band-aid, and it is not a good thing. I have had this in Adroit Theory’s TENEBRIS (here), I have had it in Dogfish Head’s IMMORT ALE, and there have been other offenders along the way. It’s just not a pleasant pungency to find in my beer. There is a saving grace though: this flavor usually diminishes with age… too bad for me I was having this fresh on tap. This beer is most certainly a sipper both from that elevated ABV (and it tastes even stronger than it is with that heavy whiskey essence), and with that unfortunate wallop of the plastic variety in the backend of the palate.
Overall 5.5 / 10
Beer page: http://pbbrew.com/beer/black-treasure/
About the Beer (from pbbrew.com):
Napoleon never set foot on Florida’s shores, but if he did, we’re sure he’d be looking for a way to conquer the land from coast to coast. He’d probably have some supporters – after all, the French helped settle Pensacola. Our Li’l Napoleon ® was christened in the name of all short bastards – the good, the bad and the infamous. Strong and hoppy, Li’l Napoleon ® can sneak up on you if you let it. With a smooth caramel and honey finish, you’ll want to have a second. And probably a third. Take time to savor the good ole days, when the French had power and Florida was a territory waiting to be developed. We reckon Napoleon would be proud of the IPA that bears his name. (Aside from his hatred of all things English, naturally).
For anyone that regularly reads these reviews, you are probably painfully aware that I loves me some IPAs. While it might not be my very “favorite” style, it is most certainly my most prolific one. I love that hop aroma, and I don’t mind the bitterness (though I’m much more about the late addition/dry hops than the early addition ones). It’s just an amazing style, and there is good reason that it is continually one of the most popular to many a beer geek. As a matter of fact, I may or may not be drinking one right now as I type these words… you’ll never really know. Ok, I am.
Some of PBB’s award winning beers
Seeing that PBB had two different plays on the same beer (I assume by nomenclature), I was excited to get in and play. LI’L NAPOLEON is the smaller of the brothers, so let’s start there I thought. In the glass, The Little Corporal is a peachy apricot hue topped by a brilliant white bicorne that is quickly swept away in the wind and leaves behind just a whisper to remind you it was once there. When The Ogre pushes forward into my nasal cavity, I am a bit sad to say that what he brings with him is a regiment of malt, which sorely lacks the hops hit I hope for. It’s a lot of malt sweetness, and very minute amounts of floral goodness on the far, far back end of the sniff.
Li’l Napoleon IPA
When ol’ Boney finally reaches his destination, what he threatened in La Vallée du Nez comes to fruition on the battlefield of La Langue. LN is a very malt-forward, malt heavy IPA with just a touch of hops on the backend, but what those flowers bring is just bitterness and very little aroma to match. The body on the LN is not too thin and not too thick, but the very heavy malt and bitter without the nose to go with it makes this not the easiest IPA for me to put down. Talking to Mark, he said he likes Midwest IPAs… apparently I don’t. But I know that’s not 100% true, because I can easily rattle off a list of Midwest IPAs that I DO like, so I’m not sure where the disconnect comes in here. But I don’t like this. Way too malty, too bitter without the balance of the aroma, and overall just doesn’t read as an IPA to me. What I would call it, I don’t know; but not an IPA from what I have had before (many, many times before). However, as I have said many times, that’s what’s great about beer: what I hate you may love and vice versa.
Overall 3.5 / 10
Beer page: http://pbbrew.com/beer/lil_napoleon/
About the Beer (from Mark Robertson):
Big Napoleon s a scaled up version of Lil Napoleon with a slightly different dry hopping due to it’s increased alcohol level.
Style: Imperial IPA
After the LN, I had to step up to his elder statesman, the BIG NAPOLEON. As much as I like a good IPA, I like an Imperial IPA even more. Like I said earlier, Imperial Anything almost always equals happy me. So after being a bit disappointed in the LN, I was hoping the BN would be more my style. In the glass it is obvious that this is a much beefier beer than it’s li’l brother. Instead of the pale orange previously presented, BN pours a deep ruddy brown with a touch of orange on the edges to remind you where it came from. While the bicorn quickly escaped from the LN, the BN has a much bigger noggin to affix that cap to, so the not-so-brilliant white cap sticks around a little bit longer, but not an extended time by any means. The halo left behind when that cap does take off persists throughout my experience, and leaves much more evident lacing than its little brother’s does. Smelling this one, the malt backbone still dominates. Sweet and more sweet (unlike Mr. Bonaparte) dictates, but there is a distinct but not overly pronounced bitterness (like Mr. Bonaparte) that does accompany this bouquet.
Where beer comes from, if you didn’t know.
When the Bigger Corporal assaults La Langue, it is a more pleasant experience than what I got from his little friend. Still, BN is much more malty and much less hoppy than I would prefer, it is easier defined as an IPA to my palate. There is a nice spicy hop bite, some citrus notes (as I’d hoped from a Florida IPA), but seriously heavy malt holding all of that up. Hard-pressed, if this was put to a blind taste test, I’d guess it was a light-bodied Barleywine. The body on BN is smooth and silky and a bit thick, as I’d hope from a beer of this gravitas. In the end it is not the easiest IIPA to drink for sure, as what it builds to is very hoppy and very malty, but missing that third element of the aroma hop to balance those dichotic instances.
Big Napoleon Imperial IPA
As a side note, while I was at Pensacon I had a PENSACON IPA which was made by PBB, and I enjoyed it much more than either of these two I reviewed… I wish that had that one at the tasting room so I could have written it up!
Overall 5 / 10
Beer page: https://untappd.com/b/pensacola-bay-brewery-big-napoleon/468671
Brewery site: http://pbbrew.com