Tröegs has a series of experimental Scratch beers that are always interesting, sometimes confounding, and occasionally fantastic. Rare offerings have graduated into the standard lineup, like Flying Mouflan. Some have come and gone, and still others have made repeat appearances, but only in the limited Scratch series batches.

¿Impending Descent? was first made back in 2012 in honor of (or perhaps to spite) the (long since lapsed) Mayan apocalypse, and I absolutely loved that initial offering. Each subsequent year (on Black Friday), they've released another Scratch beer called Impending Descent, though each appears to have been a tweaked recipe. Last year's version, for instance, only clocked in at 9.3% ABV (while the original was 11.9%). Regardless, in accordance with my insatiable desire for local Bourbon Barrel Aged stouts, I've been pining after a BA version of this beer ever since that first taste. With the expansion of Tröegs' Splinter program, I've finally gotten my wish.

So we've got the standard Impending Descent base (which I'm assuming was the same batch as the 2015 Scratch release) with vanilla bean and cocoa added and then aged in Bourbon Barrels for a year. I didn't take notes, but I happened to have one of the regular 2015 Scratch beers on hand, so I tried that earlier in the week. It's held up well, with the major change being that the hops have gone piney and resinous, as they tend to do with age. This follows through on the barrel aged version, which is quite nice, but let's take a closer look, as this descent has been impending for quite some time:

Tröegs Bourbon Barrel Aged Impending Descent

Tröegs Bourbon Barrel Aged Impending Descent - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells quite nice, barrel aging apparent, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some caramel, some roast, and some piney, resinous hops (which is definitely a result of aging - Impending Descent doesn't have that note when fresh). Taste hits some rich caramel notes, lots of roast and chocolate, with the barrel lending the typical boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla character, and again you get those aged, piney, resinous bittering hops. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, well but appropriately carbonated, a good amount of booze. Overall yep, it's really good! Maybe tone down the hops a bit, but I like it a lot as is... Not going to be a BCBS killer, but would be curious to see how it develops. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/16.

Glad I made the trip out to Hershey to grab this stuff, though I'm pretty sure it will hit distribution. Worth seeking out, and the price is certainly right (especially compared to that other Black Friday release everyone goes bonkers over, even if I don't think this one quite defeats BCBS). Certainly looking forward to future iterations on this, and the continuing expansion of the Splinter series. Nothing on the immediate horizon, but I'm sure it won't be long before we're reviewing more Tröegs...

I have been woefully neglectful of my homebrewing hobby, but it's no use crying over spilled milk and there's no time like the present, so let's get this show back on the road. Enough idioms for you? Good, let's get to it:

Beer #18: Kaedrin Christmas Ale
Full-Batch (5 gallons)
November 28, 2016

1 lb. Crystal 40 (specialty grain)
2 oz. Roasted Barley (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Golden Light LME
4 lb. Amber DME
1 lb. Golden Light DME
1 oz. Comet (Bittering @ 9.3% AA)
1 oz. Hallertau Hops (Flavor)
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 tsp Fresh Orange Peel
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Coriander
2 Cinnamon Sticks
3 Whole Cloves
Wyeast 1272 - American Ale II Yeast

Christmas Ale Rebrew
(Click to Embiggen)

So this is basically the same recipe as Beer #6, brewed way back in 2011. Most of the differences stem from availability rather than any sort of meaningful consideration. That original batch turned out fantastic and may be my overall favorite batch of homebrew, so I didn't want to change much. I'm cutting it a little close in terms of timing this year (started about 3 weeks earlier back then), but it should be ready to go by Christmas, which will be good enough for me.

No changes to the steeping grains. I added one extra pound of Amber DME because I thought I was a little under target last time (as it turns out, I probably wasn't). I am using Comet hops instead of Northern Brewer, mostly because the homebrew shop didn't have the latter and the former has a comparable (slightly higher) Alpha Acid percentage (which, since I'm using more malt, should work out). I'm using fresh orange peel (I peeled it off an orange myself!) because I forgot to get the bitter orange peel when I was shopping and fresh is probably better anyway, amirite? Finally, I went with American Ale II yeast this time, again because homebrew shop had just ran out of regular 1056 American Ale yeast (which is actually pretty surprising).

Original Gravity: 1.072. Hoo boy, I miscalculated something with this beer (target was 1.060, I'm guessing the use of LME is screwing up my normal calculations). Refractometer readings were 17.5-18 Brix. That being said, assuming 75% attenuation, this puts the beer at about 7.3% ABV, which should be fine by me.

I have high hopes for this. I loved the original beer, but I haven't really attempted to make the same beer very often, and this one has more variables than normal. Regardless, I'm sure I'll end up enjoying this stuff.

Up next, I've been meaning to do a Scotch Ale aged on oak cubes (that are currently soaking in Aberlour A'Bunadh) for a while, so that's certainly a candidate. Crom Approved might be up for another at bat soon as well. And I also want to do a funky saison, brewed mostly with Brett. Will I get to all of these this year? Probably not! But I'll give it a shot.

Fantôme Artist 2

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This is the second in a series of beers meant to highlight a young Belgian artist, Gaelle Boulanger. There are five planned bottlings, each featuring work from Gaelle. Once the bottles are gone, the art will be auctioned off for her benefit. I don't know any details about this particular piece of art, but it looks like a chart of some kind. I shall dub this piece "Stock Market". I'm sure Gaelle would be appalled, so let's move on.

The beer is, well, who the hell knows? (Serious knowers know!) Dany describes it as a "Strange beer". It's dark, it's funky, might as well just call it a saison because lol, style definitions don't matter. But hey, it's a great looking bottle, fancy foil too. Here goes nothing:

Fantôme Artist 2

Fantôme Artist 2 - Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown, with several fingers of bubbly light tan head. Not a gusher, but hugely carbonated, and I poured very carefully so as to minimize head and still ended up with a lot. Smells beautiful, sweet, fruity funk, a little musty earth, spicy, maybe even some chocolate, like chocolate covered fruit. Taste hits those sweet and fruity funk notes up front before hitting spice and earthy funk in the middle along with some mitigated dark malt notes and returning to that fruit in the finish, which adds a nice tart note. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, medium bodied, relatively dry, though the tart note keeps things sweet enough. Absolutely does not taste like a 10% ABV beer, alcohol hidden well. Overall, this is fabulous, one of the best dark saisons I've had. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/18/16.

As always, Fantôme is an experience. Maybe one more bottle in the pipeline. And hopefully more Artist bottles will show up soon...

Victory Java Cask Rye

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After last year's Dark Wednesday introduction of Java Cask (a top tier bourbon barrel aged imperial coffee stout, at least when it's fresh - the coffee drops off a cliff after a few months or so, which is actually a welcome development for coffee ambivalents like myself, but I digress), they decided to let it ride with another batch this year... plus a variant! Alas, not the "non-coffee" variant I dream about, but rather a Rye barrel aged version.

At first glance, this seems like a pretty minor tweak. Rye whiskey can be very different than bourbon, but it's not that much of a leap, especially considering that it will have to stand up against strong adjuncts like coffee. It turns out that Victory used a different strand of One Village coffee for this one, and the use of Bulleit Rye casks does genuinely impart a distinct character. The resulting beer is almost 2% lower in ABV, but still fabulous. Just to signal my neckbeardedness, it's a brewpub exclusive, and limit of 4 bottles per person. Bill Covaleski was even signing bottles! Let's do this thing:

Victory Java Cask Rye

Victory Java Cask Rye - Pours a dense, very dark brown color, almost black, with almost no head. Smells of, yes, roasted coffee, but also chocolate, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts off sweet, caramel and dark malt, coffee comes out in the middle followed by a nice, spicy rye character that is actually distinct from regular Java Cask. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy (if perhaps a little less so than regular Java Cask), moderate carbonation, plenty of warming booze too. Overall, it's another winner... perhaps not quite at original Java Cask level, but close enough and a worthy variant. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/16. Enjoy By: 17 Nov 2017.

Supposedly, Java Cask original recipe is making the distribution rounds, so if coffee stouts are your thing, make the effort. I hold out hope that Victory will do a non-coffified version someday. As it was, they had a fabulous firkin of Java Cask with vanilla and cacao that was, well, fabulous. I believe I said that already. Jeeze guys. Anywho, Victory has also been teasing something called Victory Red, a Flanders Red style beer that's been in the works for three years. Color me interested. Stay tuned.

A Trip to Hidden River Brewing Company

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Hidden River brewing opened its doors a little over a year ago. So many local breweries have opened recently that I'm having a hard time keeping up, but I'd been hearing some buzz about these beers of late. These guys aren't in the most convenient location (Douglassville, PA, not quite the middle of nowhere, but far enough from me), and I'm the worst so it took me a while to get in gear, but now that I've been there, I will most definitely be making return trips.

Hidden River Sign

It's still a tiny operation, located in the beautiful Historic Brinton Lodge. It's a deceptively large facility though, broken up into a small bar area, several dining rooms, and a pretty great outdoor bar. The lodge is supposedly haunted and the owners apparently run various events along those paranormal lines, which I'll most certainly have to take advantage of next Halloween. So it's a great space, and the decor works too.

Charcuterie Plate

The food menu is somewhat limited, but everything I had was great (charcuterie plate and a panini, great bread too). A solid and ever-rotating taplist helps things along (more on that below). All in all, it reminds me a lot of the original Tired Hands location, before the hype and expansions.

I've now been there twice, and while I didn't take formal tasting notes, I'll give you a broad overview of what I got:

Hidden River Green Mass

Green Mass - A 5.9% pale ale made in the Northeast IPA mold, super cloudy, juicy hops, and so on. Would love to try a higher ABV version of this, but this was quite a nice first impression.

Hidden River Fresh Press

Fresh Press - A 6% dry-hopped saison, very nice. Again with the super-cloudy beer (does look like orange juice) and juicy hop character, along with some nice saison yeast character. Definitely a highlight.

Hidden River Kings Watch

King's Watch - An 8% Baltic Porter that really impressed me. I've often noted that many local breweries aren't great at dark beer, but this is a really impressive take. Not quite HF Everett or Maine King Titus, but along those lines. Fantastic.

Hummingbird High - A 9.5% DIPA, this one doesn't quite live up to the expectation built up by my first three tries. It's certainly a fine beer, but not a top tier DIPA (and, perhaps tellingly, seemed like less of a Northeast IPA style).

Golden Oak Magic - I suppose if they were really aping Tired Hands, they would have named this "Golden Oak Magick", heh. A 4.8% saison brewed with Shiitake and Black Poplar mushrooms, cilantro, and a bunch of lime zest, this one appears extremely clear, and has a more traditional saison yeast character too it, with some savory earthiness (but not really funky and you can't exactly pick out the mushrooms...)

Melt Banana Face - A 7.6% IPA made with, you guessed it, bananas. And they do come through strong, though that means they sorta overwhelm the Northeast IPA base. All in all, a very interesting beer, would drink again, but sorta one-dimensional...

Hidden River Rum Barrel Aged Mapping the Past

Rum Barrel Aged Mapping the Past - An 11% English Barleywine aged on coconuts in Rum Barrels. My initial reaction was of sugary, rum soaked raisins, but once I figured out the coconut component (didn't see that in the description before ordering), I really started to get that too. Not sooper boozy or anything, and could probably use a little more malt backbone, but it's still a pretty fantastic offering that I enjoyed immensely...

So there you have it, everything was very good to great, one of the better hit to miss ratios I've seen at a new(ish) brewery in a while. I greatly look forward to sampling more of their wares in the future. I do not look forward to making the trek out there, but the results do seem worth it!

2SP Rummy Sticks & Bourbon S.I.P.

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I've generally enjoyed 2SP's offerings, but their limited bottlings have been a bit less consistent for me. This is partly due to style choices that just didn't quite align with my general preferences. Hardly a crime and it's been amply established that I'm the worst, so I've been lagging behind on their releases. Enter these two bottles, much more to my taste.

The first is an English Strong Ale aged in rum barrels for 12 months. This is the longest they've managed to barrel age a beer to date, and it sounds delicious. The second is a bourbon barrel aged imperial porter. Aged for 10 months in Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and apparently a single barrel 1792 bourbon barrel that originated from local Kaedrin favorite Teresa's Cafe (I've never gotten the 1792, but I've had some of their other single barrel picks and they've been good!) These both sound delicious, lets dig in:

2SP Rummy Sticks

2SP Rummy Sticks (Rum Barrel Aged English Strong Ale) - Pours a very dark amber brown color with a quarter finger of fizzy head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge which manages to stick around a bit longer. Smells of... banana? Definitely rum, oak, dark fruits, molasses, but yes, banana too, interesting. Taste is a little less complex than the nose would have you believe, but it hits similar notes, just not as hard. Sweet, dark fruit, rum, oak, molasses, and sure, banana, why not, maybe some noble hops going on too, not really bitter, but the finish balances out some of the upfront sweetness. A little more rummy booze shows up as it warms too. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, finely carbed, perhaps a bit too thin for a Rum barrel-aged approach, but it comports itself well. Overall, a definite improvement over recent bottles, but still not quite a home run... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/19/16. Bottle No. 470. Batch Date: 8/8/15. Released: 11/4/16.

2SP Bourbon Barrel S.I.P.

2SP Bourbon Barrel Aged S.I.P. (Stigz' Imperial Porter) (Teresa's 1792 Bourbon Barrel) - Pours a dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of off white head. Smells of roasted malt and fudge, a little oak and bourbon. Taste is sweet, hints of roast, bourbon, and oak, a little vanilla. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, pretty easy going for a bourbon barrel aged porter. Overall, it's pretty good, but not top tier. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/19/16. Bottle No. 075. Batch Date: 10/14/15. Released: 9/30/16.

So these are definitely more to my taste than the past couple releases, but still haven't quite breached that top tier. That being said, these are certainly good enough to continue hunting down...

Fantôme Desert Ghost

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Good news for Fantôme dorks! It appears that Dany is looking to step up operations, maybe invest in a new brewing system, and start putting out creative new offerings on the regular. Dany being Dany, his wording struck a chord, and now there's a new facebook group called Serious Knowers (of all and nothing) and memes about Master Knowers and I didn't think it possible to love Fantôme any more. As per usual, I'm always on the lookout for more Fantôme, and I've recently come into a few new bottles of stuff. Most exciting. Someday I hope to be a Master Knower.

This beer is a collaboration with Arizona Wilderness, who recently visited Belgium and brought along some ingredients foraged from the Sonoran Desert to brew with Fantôme. Of course, Dany won't tell you what these ingredients are; will probably just respond with the typical "Secrets Secrets" answer. I guess we'll just have to go and drink the sucker and see if we recognize anything:

Fantôme Desert Ghost

Fantôme Desert Ghost - Pours an orange hued gold color with half a finger of head that quickly fades to a cap, then sticks around for a while. Smells great, that pear-like earthy funk is back, some sweet floral aromas too. Taste is quite nice, sweet (perhaps some residual sugars hanging around), that fruity yeast feel, pears and the like, a little bit of earth, some spicy yeast too, with a tart bite towards the finish but not really sour. Fantôme's yeast is still distinct, but really doing well these days. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little low on the carbonation (could really use more), no real acidity. Overall, would like more carbonation, but otherwise fantastic. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/11/16.

Always an experience. I've got another interesting new Tome in the pipeline, and frankly the recent bottles of regular Fantôme and Dark White were fantastic. Really looking forward to wider availability of their stuff. You will most certainly be seeing more about Fantôme in the future of this blog...

Lambickx

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Hardcore lambic nerdery incoming. Take cover! So there have been some attempts to classify the different styles of lambic. The most common is to separate Gueuze (blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic), fruited lambic (exactly what it sounds like), and unblended lambic (lambic that is not part of a gueuze blend or fruited lambic, and is usually near still or flat).

As it turns out, the usage of "unblended" is mildly inaccurate, but persists due to its widespread usage in English-speaking publications (N.B. this includes writings from Michael Jackson and other highly respected authors, so this isn't meant as a slight). While "unblended" lambic does exist, it seems to be rare. Most beers categorized as such, like Cantillon's Grand Cru Bruocsella or De Cam's Oude Lambiek, are actually blends of various old lambics. Since they are all older lambics, they still don't qualify as gueuze (which is a blend of old and young) and they don't experience any refermentation in the bottle and thus lack carbonation. Locals in lambic regions tend to refer to these beers as simply young or old lambics (The terms "jonge" and "oude" in Dutch and "jeune" and "vieux" in French translate to "young" and "old" respectively).

I have, of course, been guilty of using "unblended" in the past. Frankly, it's never been my favorite approach to lambic. I tend to be sensitive to carbonation issues and thus haven't been in love with the few examples I managed to snag. That said, I'm told that this approach does allow you to get closer to a given brewery's "house character" than a gueuze, and with this Lambickx offering sourced from De Troch, I think I may be catching on to the style.

This is all well and good, but it would be nice to know the carbonation state before opening a bottle and just calling something "lambic" seems like too big of an umbrella term for that. Maybe instead of "Unblended" you could use "Still" or "Pure" or "Straight" (all of which I've seen used in differing capacities). I mean, I knew what I was in for when I popped the cork on this bottle, but from the label alone one could easily assume it would be carbonated (like most other lambic or beer). Regardless, as hinted at above, I ended up enjoying this much more than I would have thought. Then again, that very "pure" nature of this offering also leads to more variability, so maybe I just got a particularly good bottle. Or maybe Vanberg & DeWulf's barrel selection is just on point.

Lambickx De Troch

Lambickx De Troch 2012-2014 - Pours a honey gold color, no head, no carbonation. Smells great, light funkiness, tart fruit, sour twang. Tastes quite nice, sweet, nice tart fruit character, a little oak, moderate to low sourness, very well balanced. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, still (no real carbonation), moderate to low acidity, again very well balanced. Overall, this is much better than I was expecting. I've not been particularly enamored with unblended lambics in the past, but this is quite nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.75% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/6/16. Brew Year: 2012. Bottle Year: 2014. Number of Bottles: 2667. Source: De Troch. Barrel Type: 600 liter French Oak.

So I may have to snag some more Lambickx vintages and variants, maybe even age some further. Other Still Lambics might get on my radar as well. Funnily enough, while I have a category for Gueuze, I pretty much put everything else in a generic Lambic category. Now that I've got a couple of these Pure Lambics, I should probably

I'm not always great about aligning my drinking up to the occasion, but Halloween is one holiday where I try to make the extra effort. I embark upon a six week horror movie marathon and generally attempt to drink some seasonally appropriate beers (or, at least, rationalize completely irrelevant choices). Halloween night always begets something special. Last year, I watched a duo of Wes Craven movies and paired with beers inspired by his work.

One of those beers was Crooked Stave's Nightmare on Brett, a series of sour baltic porters (all of which clock in at the vaguely antichristian ABV of 9.666%) aged in barrels. There are tons of variants, but the one I had last year was aged in Leopold Bros. whiskey barrels with cherries. This year, we take on their newest variant, which is basically the same thing, but aged with blueberries instead of cherries. Sounds glorious, so let's grab our fedora and knife-glove-thingy and haunt the dreams of some beer:

Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett with Blueberries

Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett with Blueberries (Leopold Bros. Whiskey Barrel-Aged) - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells great, hints of roast and chocolate, I don't know if I get blueberries specifically, but it's definitely got a nice chocolate covered berries sort of feel, maybe a note of whiskey and oak too. The blueberries actually do come out in the taste though, their distinct flavor inflecting the sourness, which is pretty substantial (I want to say moreso than the cherry version I had last year, but who knows?) Less in the way of roast or chocolate, as the balance has flown towards the blueberries, but this is still very clearly a sour stout and you kinda get that. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, medium bodied, with a sharp but pleasant acidity. Moderate richness from the barrels, and a bit of warming booze too. Overall, this is great, but I want to say that the one I had last year was better. I guess I need to do a taste test with both at some point. Woe is me. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.666% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/31/16. Batch: January 2016 (pretty sure it was only released in September though).

Crooked Stave does it right, as per usual. Will always be on the lookout for more of their wares. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Danur for procuring this bottle and smuggling it back to PA for me.

Russian River Defenestration

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Defenestration is literally the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. Sounds cathartic, especially since the best known objects of such treatment are unwanted politicians. The label sez it perfectly, so I'll just let it speak for itself:

Some of the most famous and notorious defenestrations occurred in Prague in the 15th and 17th centuries. These defenestrations were done in an effort to remove government officials by throwing them out a third story window. The result was either sudden death or serious bodily injury. Either way, mission accomplished!

In the spirit of this 2016 election year, we hope you enjoy our hoppy Belgian-inspired blonde ale named for the act of removing politicians by throwing them out the window - literally!

The picture on the label is also quite apropos, though the 2016 election probably deserves a more gruesome visual. Lots of people are struggling right now and while it might be fun for defenestration to make a comeback, that's probably not the answer. Probably. In the meantime, maybe beer can provide some small measure of comfort:

Russian River Defenestration

Russian River Defenestration - Pours a straw yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells quite nice, musty Belgian yeast, a little bit of spice, and a slight aroma of citrus hops. Taste mostly hits those Belgian yeast notes, spicy phenols, light on the fruity esters. Mouthfeel is light bodied, highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, quite dry too, goes down very easy. Overall, this is a very nice, pretty straightforward Belgian pale ale, with just a hint of hops for added fun. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/8/16. Bottled on: 091616.

Not Russian River's top tier, but a rock solid Belgian ale. Many thanks to fellow Beer Nerd Gary for securing the bottle and slinging it my way!

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