7 Swans-A-Swimming

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One of the simultaneous strengths and weaknesses of American craft beer is its relationship to traditional style, or lack thereof. On the one hand, if it can be brewed, it's probably being brewed in America somewhere. Want a braggot? Sahti? Grätzer? Someone in America is keeping these obscure styles alive. Want a beer brewed with goat brains? We got you covered. On the other hand, who are we kidding? IPAs and Stouts are mainstays and they're where the buzz is at (I suppose sours can be included in that these days). And to be honest, it can get a bit tiresome to wade through all of the "off centerd", "genre-tilting", "innovative" beers that are continually being thrust our way. That goat brain beer? I think it's both awesome and a little gross that it exists.

The Bruery is one of those breweries that straddles the line. They do some (more or less) traditional stuff, but then, they also like to put big twists on traditional styles. Their 12 Days of Christmas series, in which they release a new beer every year that is meant to last until the release of 12 Drummers Drumming (making for one heck of a vertical), started off with some traditional stuff. Partridge In A Pear Tree was basically a Belgian Strong Dark, 2 Turtle Doves was a little more adventurous, a sorta Belgian Porter made with cocoa nibs, toasted pecans, and caramelized sugar, and aged in bourbon barrels (seems to be the best received entry), 3 French Hens was another straightforward Belgian Strong Dark, but it was partially aged in French Oak, 4 Calling Birds was a sorta Belgian Winter Warmer (almost a stout, if I remember correctly), 5 Golden Rings went way off the reservation, being a Belgian Strong Pale Ale made with Pineapple juice (and, quite frankly, the worst in the series so far), 6 Geese A Laying returned to the Belgian Strong Dark formula, but incorporated Gooseberries. For the most part, this has been a series of diminishing returns and escalating weirdness (or "off centeredness" or "innovative" or whatever you want to call it). I've not had the first two entries, but they have decent reputations. The 3rd and 4th entries were quite nice. All the ones up to that point were pretty straightforward. The 5th was... not bad, per say, but not particularly good either, and that pineapple juice made it a little too weird. The 6th was better, but not quite up to par with the rest of The Bruery's output, and the gooseberries made it a little weird.

And now we come to 7 Swans A Swimming, which returns to traditional brewing tactics land. It's basically a straight up Quadrupel, period. No weird adjucts or additions, just traditional Belgian Strong Dark beer. Not having had Partridge in a Pear tree, they seem similar, but I can't say for sure. So how does this fare?

7 Swans-A-Swimming

The Bruery 7 Swans-A-Swimming - Pours a dark brown color with hints of amber when held up to light and a nice finger or two of head. Smells nice, bready belgian yeast, spice, dark fruits, plums, and the like. Taste is also nice, lots of dark fruits, plums, a little raisin, plenty of yeast spice to cut through it. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated (but not quite as perfect as top tier quads), and a little sticky in the finish. Overall, its a very nice, on-style take on the quadrupel. Drinking a whole 750 makes it feel a bit one note, and I feel like the complexity sorta fades as it goes, but it works nonetheless. I'll still give it a B, but it's a high B and I like it better than the last couple entries in the series (ratings inflation continues unabated).

Beer nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a goblet on 12/13/14. Bottled 11/10/14.

At some point, I thought it would be cool to save up all the 12 days of christmas beers for a big vertical (which is coming up fast), but I basically only have 4 Calling Birds in my cellar. This is the first time since then that I'm seriously considering grabbing another bottle for the cellar, even if it wasn't particularly spectacular (it seems like it could age well). I guess we'll see.

Liquid Confidential

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Most of the time, when you're talking about beer aged in a wine barrel, you're talking about a sour beer. The wild yeast and souring bacterias seem to produce something that works harmoniously with the acid and tannin character of wine. My experience with non-sour wine barrel aging is somewhat more limited, but also quite variable. When it comes to red wine barrels, you've got something like Victory's Red Thunder, which was fine but unremarkable, and Dock Street's Barrel Aged Prince Myshkin RIS, which had a fabulous barrel character that didn't really give much red wine, but lots of oak and vanilla (unfortunately, also a distinct lack of carbonation, which really put a damper on things for me). Two very different beers (though in fairness, the Dock Street barrel was on its third use, which does make a difference).

Then there's Mikkeller's Red Wine BA Black Hole, which is probably most relevant to this post, as To Øl are basically the spawn of Mikkeller. They've got the same freewheeling gypsy brewer mentality going on, and indeed, both Mikkeller's Black Hole beers and To Øl's Liquid Confidential beers are brewed at De Proef in Belgium (given such, I have to wonder if the De Proef folks were involved in some way, perhaps contributing a house yeast or some such that lends such a familiar character). Both use a large imperial stout as a base that is then released on its own or aged in a variety of barrels. The only real difference is that the Liquid Confidential beers incorporate Chili peppers into the mix. The result? Let's find out:

To Øl Wine Barrel Aged Liquid Confidential

To Øl Liquid Confidential (Wine Barrel) - Pours a black color with a finger of light brown colored head that sticks around for a bit. A very nice nose, some roasted malt, adobo and chipotle chiles, and lots of vanilla. Taste has a nice roasted malt character, some sweetness, followed by some chocolate and spice in the middle, not quite as prominently as in the nose (or as identifiable), with just a hint of that wine barrel in the finish. No sourness, just a light fruity note in the aftertaste. As it warms, the barrel and wine tannins come out more, but it's not quite as harmonious a combination as, say, bourbon would be. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, and a little sticky. As it warms, there's an astringency that emerges in the finish as well. Overall, it's a decent beer. It's definitely interesting to try a non-sour red wine aged stout, but I can't say the price tag for these is really worth it. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12.3% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/12/14. Label has a number stamped on there: 11161310 (November 2013?)

Oddly, RateBeer and Beer Advocate don't list this variant, instead only mentioning the Cognac and Sherry barrel versions. Not sure what's up there, and it does look like the Sherry label is at least similar... Regardless, I have to admit that I'm not all that interested in exploring more of To Øl's catalog. I could see myself trying something of theirs again, but I won't be going out of my way after two decidedly mediocre experiences...

Double Duckpin

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A couple years ago, a friend invited a bunch of folks over for a barbecue and, naturally, beers were involved. Everyone was to bring cans of beer, and flush with a couple cases of Heady from the original Operation Cheddar, I naturally opted to share the wealth. Much beer was had, I ate some great pulled pork (courtesy of The Dogs of Beer), a French press and full leaf hops appeared, and merriment was had by all.

Believe it or not, the most memorable beer I had that day was Duckpin Pale Ale from a relatively small Baltimore brewery called Union Craft Brewing. Clocking in at a svelt 5.5% ABV, it was refreshing and quaffable in the extreme. Juicy citrus hops and tropical fruits all over the place, crisp and refreshing (perfect for the backyard barbecue setting). It was a great beer and would be a total go-to if I was closer to Maryland (even as it is, I try to keep my eyes open whenever I'm there). Tickers on certain sites have no idea what they're talking about (not that it's rated badly, per say, but still). So when news hit that they were releasing Double Duckpin, an amped up DIPA version of Duckpin, I was immediately on board. Thanks to the diligence of a friend, I snagged a can and the rest is history (thanks Danur!) The fantastic semi-local DIPA game has been getting pretty crowded of late, but that's a good problem to have, right? So let's set up our Double Duckpins (which, come to think of it, would probably just be regular bowling pins, would they not?) and go ten frames:

Union Double Duckpin

Union Double Duckpin - Pours a very nice golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some spotty lacing as I drink. Smells nice, juicy citrus, tropical fruits, and floral hop aromas, I'm thinking Citra is involved, maybe Amarillo (and yep, it looks like Columbus, Mosaic, Citra, Amarillo, and Simcoe are the culprits here). Taste is fantastic, nice sweet malt backbone, huge citrus and floral hop flavors, a hint of dank pine lingers in the well balanced bitter finish. Mouthfeel is perfect, well and tightly carbonated, medium bodied, surprisingly quaffable for a DIPA. Overall, we've got another top tier semi-local DIPA on our hands. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/5/14.

Between this, 077XX, and The Shape of Hops to Come (not to mention old hats like Victory and the one-off masters at Tired Hands) we're in pretty good shape with the DIPAs over here. Between Tired Hands and Forest & Main, we're hitting the saisons and sours pretty hard too. Now we just need to step up our bourbon barrel stout/barleywine game, and we'll really be rolling in it.

December Beer Club

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For reasons outside of my control, I was unable to attend the November Beer Club. I am, myself, doubting my commitment to Sparkle Motion, but I managed to pull it together and attend this month's beer club. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which is not optional). This month, we hit up our favorite local pizza joint (and a regular delivery option here at Kaedrin HQ), America's Pie. Most attendies partook in the off-menu Pizza Pocket Pie option, a delightful deep-fried stromboli-like concoction that I have certainly devoured on occasion. Oh yeah, and we had beer too:

December Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some completely unreliable thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply, if you disagree, you're probably right and I am wrong. It has long been established that I am totally the worst. Stop harping on it, ok? In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose - Salty and sweet, with lots of that tart blood orange character making itself known. Not a mind-blower, but very nice nonetheless, would make a great summer beer. Decent way to start the night though! B+
  • SoChesCo Marianne IPA - A homebrewed IPA from one of our regular attendees, this is part of pair of IPAs brewed as one batch, then split in secondary. This one is straight up IPA. The other was does with fresh chopped ginger (it would be titled Ginger IPA, get it?) As IPAs go, this is pretty standard stuff, clearly using Chinook somewhere in the recipe. Very nice! B+
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - My homebrewed Christmas Ale... from 3 years ago! It's holding up reasonably well. Much of the spice character has faded away, but the base was robust enough to make for a decent light drinking option. When fresh, this was probably right up there with my favorite batches of homebrew. After 3 years, it's definitely degraded a bit, but it's still worth drinking. B
  • Maredsous 8 - Brune - Pretty standard Belgian Dubbel stuff, though this seems much more raisiny than I remember. B
  • Spring House The Martians Kidnap Santa! Egg Nog Stout - Wonderful nose, milk stout with a heaping helping of vanilla and a light spice. The taste doesn't quite live up to that, though it's certainly fine. Definitely worth trying. B+
  • Jack-O-Traveler Shandy - I'm not much of a shandy kinda guy, but this is bad even for a shandy. Something about the Pumpkin mixed with the lemon just doesn't work. As noted at the table, it kinda tastes like Lysol. I'm feeling particularly ungenerous at the moment, so we'll go full F
  • Earth Eagle Puca - A pumpkin porter, this had a fabulous, spicy nose, though like the Spring House beer above, the taste just didn't hold up to the nose. It's certainly a fine beer though, and worth trying if you like that sorta dark pumpkin option. B
  • Shiner Bock - Tastes like Texas! Obviously nothing special, but it still holds a nostalgic value with me. B
  • ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier - Despite yesterday's disappointing, mildly infected Bourbon Barrel Porter, I shared this beer with everyone, and they seemed to love it, just like I did. B+
  • Hardywood Gingerbread Stout - I've heard many things about this sucker, and now that Hardywood is distributing up here, I'm starting to see these things show up more often. Alas, I have to admit that amongst the typical Pumpkin/Holiday spices, Ginger is probably my least favorite, so this was good, but not quite the mind-blower I'd been lead to believe. (Oddly, I love gingerbread cookies and gingersnaps, but I guess this just had the wrong proportions). I'm sure I could easily drink an entire bottle of the stuff, but I'm glad I got to try it in this tasting atmosphere. Now, the Bourbon Barrel version of this beer is another matter entirely! That's something I really want to try. B
  • Victory Earth & Flame - A collaboration with a tiny local brewery called Earth+Bread brewery, this is a smoked Scotch ale aged in Bourbon Barrels. The smoke is pretty well muted by the Bourbon Barrels, leading to a nice fruity, bourbony character. Not quite top tier (and not quite at the level of Otto in Oak, another BBA smoked Victory beer). Something I'd definitely like to revisit in more detail. B+
  • Vicarus Winter 2013 - This is great up front, Belgian Strong Dark, highly carbonated and very dry up front, with some raisiny character apparent in the finish (which is not as dry as the initial taste would have you believe). That being said, I can't help but feel that this would probably have been better if it were fresher. Still quite decent B
  • Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout - Holy coffee, Batman! My ambivalence to coffee in beer is legendary, though I've grown to appreciate some of the more subtle varieties that have a lot of other things going on. This one is almost pure coffee grounds, which I imagine folks who love coffee would be really into, but which doesn't translate well to me personally. B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) - The latest incarnation is as good as ever, and if anything, it's not as hot as the past couple years (it's actually "only" 13.8% ABV this year, apparently an artifact of a cool spring and summer). The great satan of AB/Inbev or not, I love this beer. A
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to January.

Commenting Woes

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For the five of you who read this blog and feel like commenting, I have an issue. The Google login doesn't seem to be working. There's no obvious solution to the problem, but I'm working on it. I posted more details at my generalist blog, but I just wanted to let you know that if you want to post a comment, Google isn't working. Wordpress and the other options seem to still work fine, if that matters. I apologize for any inconvenience and promise that the person or persons responsible will be sacked.

Shawneecraft Bourbon Barrel Porter

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It was just a few weeks ago that I was jonesing for more local bourbon barrel aged beers, and as luck would have it, this hefty 10.5% ABV bourbon barrel porter from ShawneeCraft has been making the rounds in the Philly area. I thought ShawneeCraft's Frambozenbier was quite nice, so I was really excited to check this one out. Alas, I think I got a bad bottle (and I'm not the only one) that had veered a little too far into infection land. Not a super nasty metallic beast that hurts or anything that bad, but enough to mute the typical barrel aged elements:

ShawneeCraft Bourbon Barrel Porter

Shawneecraft Bourbon Barrel Porter - Pours a very dark brown color with a cap of quickly disappearing head. Smells of toasty malt, liquorice, a little vanilla and a hint of bourbon. The taste has and odd note too it, I think it's what I called liquorice in the nose but that's not quite right, it feels kinda fruity and maybe even harsh... Almost infected? It didn't seem so blantant at first, but it's getting worse as I go. This is not particularly pleasant, not as full bodied as it should be, with none of the richness from good barrel aging, and a too much acidity... Very disappointing. The base doesn't come through very much, so it's hard to get a good read on what an uninfected version would be like. I managed to get through a glass of the stuff, but couldn't really handle the rest of the 750. D

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/5/14.

A disappointing development from a beer I had high hopes for. In truth, infections happen to the best of them, so if this comes around again next year, I'll probably give it another shot. And what the hey, I'll probably be drinking more Frambozenbier too. Keep your chin up, ShawneeCraft!

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

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The conventional beer nerd line about lambic seems to indicate that only Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen are worth buying. That may be unfair (both make wonderful beer), but try finding a bottle of either that is not absurdly overpriced at a bar (and they'll make you open it at the bar too - no takeout). I would also put Guezerie Tilquin in that upper tier and I'm pretty sure that the only reason it's not is that people are so sick of overpaying for Cantillon and 3F that they don't want to acknowledge Tilquin's greatness, least they fly off the shelves, never be to seen again. Because I have, like, three regular readers, I have the luxury of not worrying about such things.

Regardless, the notion that only those three brands are worth checking out is patently ridiculous. It's true that most anything you get from them will be fantastic and worth the stretch (and even worth, sometimes, the price gouging you get at restaurants), but there's a pretty reliable second tier of lambic producers that are worth seeking out. Think Boon's Marriage Parfait line or Girardin's Black Label, amongst others. Oud Beersel certainly fits that mold as well.

Perhaps one thing that holds these breweries back a bit is that they put out younger, blander versions of their beer (with fruited varieties relying more on syrupy adjuncts than actual fruit). Boon's Marriage Parfait Gueuze is fantastic, but their regular gueuze doesn't quite stand up to the big guys (the Marriage Parfait tends to incorporate more 3 year old lambic into their blend than the regular). The blending process is key, and indeed, Drie Fonteinen still gets a significant portion of their wort from Boon (I'm pretty sure they are gradually decreasing their dependency on Boon and have expanding their own brewing operations, but it's pretty clear that the difference is aging and blending). Oud Beersel has a similar line of younger lambics and a line of "Vieille" lambics which seem to incorporate more mature stocks into the blend. While I wouldn't put this up there with Cantillon's fruited sours, it's still a pretty darn solid Kriek:

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille - Pours a striking ruby red color with tons of fluffy pink head. Seriously, that image doesn't quite capture the striking appearance of this beer... I shall endeavor to take better pictures (I know, I'm the worst.) Smells of tart cherries, oak, and some dusty, musty funk - definitely a different house character than the other lambics I've had. Taste hits with tart, jammy fruit up front, moves quickly into some oak, that dusty, earthy funk in the middle, and a quick quick sour kick in the finish. When cold, its got sharp edges, but it smooths out a little as it warms. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, dry up front but sticky in the finish, not as much oak as expected, but it gets fuller as it warms. Overall, a nice cherry lambic, certainly not top tier, but perhaps top of the middle tier... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Charente glass on 11/29/14. Best Before: 18.04.2032.

Not bad for a brewery that's been operating since 1882 (with a brief blip about a decade ago where it was ownerless), at this point I'd certainly like to check out their Oude Gueuze Vieille

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA

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"West Shore IPA" is not some sort of mutated take on "West Coast IPA", it's actually a reference to the Western shore of the Susquehana river near Harrisburg, PA, where Pizza Boy Brewing is located. Of course, depending on how you define the hallowed West Coast IPA (and let's not get into that Holy War right now), this is also a decent take on the style. As such, it appears to be Pizza Boy's flagship beer, such that when opportunities for bottling and distribution came about, this was one of the first brews packaged. And indeed, it's a pretty standard take on the style, well worth checking out:

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA - Pours a standard golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus hops, grapefruit, a hint of pine in the background. Taste starts sweet with a very nice citrus and hefty pine hop character, yielding to a dry, bitter finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, on the lower end of medium bodied, and dry. Overall, a very nice, if a bit typical, take on an IPA. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/28/14.

This is pretty emblematic of all the stuff I've had from Pizza Boy - really solid and well worth trying. I need to get out there someday and sample their sours, which seem to have a pretty good reputation. Until then, I'll just have to make due with their distributed offerings!

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

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Beer has a reputation. It's the drink of the working class, and as such, many of the craft beers out there play up subversive or lewd aspects in their marketing. Indeed, this is part of the appeal of craft beers, an indicator of non-snobbery. Unfortunately, this often translates into horrible names or sexist labels, but Firestone Walker managed to walk a fine line with this one.

As the story goes, Firestone Walker had frequently released a tap-only oatmeal stout called Velvet Merkin back in the day. They changed up the recipe frequently and once they settled on something they really wanted, they had trouble getting the label approved (for the uninitiated, a "Merkin" is a pubic wig!) So in 2010 they pivoted and released the beer, a svelt 5.5% ABV Oatmeal Stout, as Velvet Merlin. However, they continued to try and get the Velvet Merkin name approved, this time applying it to an amped up, barrel aged version of Velvet Merlin. What we end up with is the current incarnation of Velvet Merkin, an 8.5% ABV oatmeal stout aged in a variety of barrels (the 2014 vintage used Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels as well as some Rittenhouse Rye barrels). So yes, a little crude, but Firestune's packaging is it's usual classy self, and the inclusion of a little grey triangle is actually quite brilliant - this is my kinda lewd and subversive.

This has long been on my list of beers to catch up with, ever since I missed out on it back in 2012 (and had to settle for, gasp, Parabola), so I was most excited to secure a bottle. In truth, this might be the lowest ABV bourbon barrel aged beer I've ever had. Does that work? Only one way to find out:

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light tan head that sticks around a bit. The nose definitely goes light on the barrel character, lots of roast and coffee aromas, maybe some chocolate and hints of caramel and vanilla. The taste hits a little harder on the barrel character, faint bourbon, a nice amount of vanilla, a little roast in the middle yielding to a bit of caramel, some milk chocolate, and coffee in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth and almost creamy, not as heavy or rich as your typical bourbon barrel aged beer, a little drier too. This makes it less of a sipper, though it's not really something you want to chug either. The barrel character really is rather light. Overall, this is an expertly crafted, well balanced barrel aged beer. There are some who would prefer this sort of thing to Parabola, but alas, those people are not me. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/14. Vintage 2014.

I can't say as though I'm disappointed by this beer, but it's definitely not quite the amazing I was hoping for and expecting. That being said, Firestone Walker's barrel program is still held in high esteem here at Kaedrin, and you'll be seeing a couple more barrel aged wonders form these folks in the near future. Stay tuned!

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood

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We're big fans of Truckee, CA's FiftyFifty Brewing, particularly the barrel aged variants of their Eclipse stouts. Each uses the same base stout recipe, but is then aged in a different expression of bourbon (or rye) barrel. There's a surprising difference in each variant and it's a fascinating (if wallet lightening) exercise to work through them.

Given the success they've had with Eclipse, it's only natural that they have started to expand their barrel program into other styles, like this American Barleywine called Old Conundrum. The base beer is one of their staples, and they've been releasing it aged on different whiskey expressions (Eclipse style) on tap for a while. I believe this is the first year they've bottled it, though it just says "on wood" and does not seem to indicate which barrels were used (presumably a blend). So, will this live up to the example set by Eclipse? Only one way to find out:

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood - Pours a murky brown color with a hint of amber (or some color more fancily named, like garnet or something) and a finger of smooth tan head. Smells great, lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some dark fruit, caramel, molasses, maybe some booze. Taste starts with some dark fruit, but moves quickly into bourbon territory, hitting the caramel and molasses notes, vanilla, and a little more boozy bourbon towards the finish. Mouthfell is rich, full bodied, and chewy, tight and low but appropriate carbonation, a pleasant hint of warming booze. Overall, rock solid BA barleywine. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/22/14. 2014 vintage.

They also make a blonde barleywine aged in bourbon barrels called Annularity, though I have not secured one of those bottles (and to be sure, I've found that lighter colored beers and bourbon barrels are not always the most enticing prospect for me... not that I'd turn it down, to be sure!) Here's to hoping I get to snag more Eclipse variants this year!

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

Recent Comments

  • Mark: I didn't check the dates on Dark Penance or Wookey read more
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