Phineas DeMink and Allen Yahn founded Southern Tier in 2002 in Lakewood, New York--out on that "Southern Tier" of upstate New York counties just north of the Pennsylvania border. With their hefty brews often clocking in over seven percent ABV, the two prove that small towns are capable of producing big--and wildly popular--beers.
At the moment, Southern Tier is busy cranking out 50,000 barrels per year, but they're quickly wrapping up their latest brewery expansion, which will triple their output to 150,000 barrels annually. That means more Pumking and more Creme Brulee stout is on its way for the brewery's fans across an impressive worldwide distribution area that reaches from North America to Europe, Asia and Australia. Pretty impressive for a couple of guys from a town of 3,000.
We're pretty careful about ordering our 2 O'Clock Tastings from lightest to strongest, so rarely, if ever, do we get to start things off with a nine percent brew. But such is the Southern Tier way. The brewery has now retired this imperial pilsner, but the remaining bottles are worth grabbing if you can find them. True to its stylistic roots, Farmer's Tan is straw yellow with a perfectly white head, translucent save for some scattered haze resulting from the inclusion of wheat malts in the grain bill. But despite its looks, this one is no dime-a-dozen crisp lager. A nose of sweet pear joins additional sweet malt flavors, while the beer feels surprisingly thick and smooth on the tongue.
This Imperial IPA packs a lot of flavor while remaining easily drinkable. It pours a hazy amber color with a light, foamy head that leaves behind some clinging lace, making for a beer that is just as attractive as it is tasty. Sweet malts and pine enter the nose, while oak-like notes and a sweet but light caramel taste are also present. Four different types of hops provide a balanced bitterness; it's an excellent choice for hopheads who like IPAs with a pronounced malt backbone.
As the astrological name suggests, Gemini is a blended pairing of Southern Tier's twinned Double IPAs--the year-round Unearthly and now-retired Hoppe. This winter seasonal was an opaque strawberry-blonde with a thin and quickly vanishing head. Like its Unearthly progenitor, Gemini's bready caramel malt aromas yield to similar flavors of malt sweetness and caramel candy, but the six hop varietals that make it into this beer leave a lingering bitterness that adds critical complexity to the finish.
Like Farmer's Tan, Southern Tier's imperial amber offering is no longer brewed, but we've still been able to find the remnants of the last few batches on our bottle shop's shelves. In the glass, this beer is nearly indistinguishable from Unearthly, but Big Red's complex nose includes aromas of chocolate and nougat alongside the malt sweetness. Once it hits the palate, the beer is at once spicy and smooth, with candy flavors that balance the subtle hoppiness. The circle of beer life might be inevitable, but we'll be particularly sad once this one disappears forever.
Skip the Halloween candy and go for this instead--you'll thank us. This always popular seasonal ale pours a deep copper color with a medium head. It smells of your favorite Halloween treats, and it's hard not to think of an indulgent pie when it hits your nose. Vanilla, sugar, pumpkin (of course) and various spices come together to round out the taste of this delicious brew.
Southern Tier blends its Jahva and Choklat stouts to produce this alcoholic take on the coffee-and-chocolate cafe classic. The opaque dark brown liquid sits beneath a healthy one-finger tan head, and before you can lift the glass to your nose, you can detect the unmistakable aromas of mocha, coffee beans, dark chocolate and chocolate syrup. The expected coffee bitterness, while present, is relatively understated alongside the sweeter chocolate flavors that dominate this imperial stout. We would have loved to top off our glass with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but we'll save that indulgence for another day.
Another beer reminiscent of our favorite desserts, Creme Brulee does not disappoint. This Imperial Milk Stout contains vanilla and four different types of malt, which explains why our taste buds were so happy after this one. It pours a very dark brown with an decent head that lingers for a while before gathering into the middle of the glass. Brown sugar and vanilla enter the nose, and tastes of custard, sugar, and vanilla are balanced perfectly to create this rich, decadent brew. Like Mokah, it would make for a great beer float, but does just as well on its own.