Tree House Septuple Feature

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I keep thinking that I'll visit Tree House up in Massachusetts someday, but on the other hand I'm blessed with friends who not only go up there who also buy way too much beer and are anxious to unload, for example, a mixed set of 13 beers from their spoils. At this point, I've been lucky enough to have a pretty wide swath of Tree House's offerings, but one thing I appreciated about this batch was the inclusion of some *gasp* non-IPAs. And I didn't even have to wait in their infamously long (but apparently very well organized and snappy) lines. We've got a lot to get through here, so let's buckle up:

Tree House Snow

Tree House Snow - An IPA with a significant amount of wheat in the malt bill, hopped with Citra, Centennial, and Sabro. Drats, I'm getting out of touch, I don't recognize that last one; Sabro was formerly known as HBC 438 and hails from New Mexico (pro tip - most hops, even ones grown here in the US, have their origins in Europe). It appears to be a typical new world flavor hop, lots of citrus and fruit characteristics which naturally dovetail with the juicy Northeast IPA profile. Pours a hazy pale orange, almost yellow color with a solid finger of head that has good retention and leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of juicy citrus, pine, and readily apparent wheat. Taste has a nice lightly sweet touch up front, followed by citrus and pine hops, and a nice balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed, low to medium bodied, with a reasonably dry finish. Overall, it's a rock solid NEIPA, not going to blow the hazebois away, but a real nice beer to pair a meal with. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/15/19. Canned: 01/17/19 (OUR SNOW IS BETTER, HARPER).

Tree House Sap - Originally brewed as a Christmas beer, utilizing mostly Chinook hops for their infamously piney character. Pours a hazy pale yellow color with a finger of head that has good retention and leaves lacing. Smells of citrus and pine, some floral and spice notes, not quite as intense as other Tree House beers, but it works. Taste has that same old-school citrus and dank, resinous pine expression, with more of a wallop of bitterness towards the finish than your typical NEIPA (but nowhere near the bracing levels of some West Coast IPAs...). Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, and quaffable. Overall, another rock solid IPA... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/16/19. Canned: 01/31/19 (GOIN' DOWN THE CAN LINE FEELIN' BAD)

Tree House Super Sap

Tree House Super Sap - Imperialized version of Sap, also apparently brewed in the holiday spirit and presumably using the same Chinook-heavy approach. This is going to get repetitive, it looks much like Sap, hazy, pale, yellowish, well retained head and lacing. Smells like Sap, only moreso - citrus and pine, some floral and spice notes, a little more intense. Taste hits the same old-school note as Sap. Mouthfeel is a bit bigger, but similar. Overall, yup, it's really good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Snifter on 2/16/19. Canned: 02/06/19 (BOILING HEAT MAPLE STEAM)

Tree House Haze - One of the more popular Northeast DIPAs that Tree House makes, and thus one of their regular rotational beers. Yeah yeah, pale and hazy with good retention and lacing, like the others. Smells great though, much more juicy citrus, sweet, tropical fruit hops. Taste has that same juicy citrus character, lots of tropical fruits, with a well balanced bitterness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, relatively dry. Overall, yup, similar to the others, but maybe one tick above. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip glass on 2/17/19. Canned: 02/01/19 (IF THE JULES DON'T GRONK YA, THEN THE TOMMY BILL)

Tree House Ma

Tree House Ma - A hoppy imperial amber, a style I enjoy, but which doesn't always work out. Named after one of the brewers' Irish grandmother, it's a sorta take on an Irish Red. Made with meatloaf because of their enduring love for Wedding Crashers (alright, probably not, but I enjoy making unsubstantiated allegations like this about brewers I like). Pours a dark, warm amber color with a solid finger of off-white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus and pine, heavier on the pine. Taste is sweet up front, some of those citrus hops lending a fruitiness to the malt, followed by dank, resinous pine hops towards the balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and quaffable. Overall, it's a rock solid hoppy amber ale and I wish more breweries made this sort of thing these days. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip Glass on 2/22/19. Canned: 02/05/19.

Tree House Treat

Tree House Treat - Originally brewed for Halloween, I'm not sure what makes it Halloweeny, but I'm still endeared to it because I love Halloween so much and I like the label. I guess they tried to make it have a sorta candy like sweetness, but really it's just a DIPA. Maybe they played down the bitterness a bit, but that ain't exactly outside of the NEIPA playbook. Pours a cloudy very pale yellow color with a finger or two of head with good retention and lacing. Smells fantastic, sweet, juicy citrus hops, tropical fruit, mango and the like. Taste has that big juicy mango kick to it, sweet up front with less bitterness in the finish than the others in this roundup. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and pretty well balanced. Overall, it's another really good IPA, a tasty treat for sure. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip Glass on 2/23/19. Canned: 02/08/19 (TREAT YOURSELF)

Tree House Nervous Energy

Tree House Nervous Energy - A sorta french toast inspired milk stout made with maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla. Pours a clear, very dark brown color, almost black, with just about a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet, a little maple syrup, caramel, and some roasted malt. Taste is sweet up front, that maple comes out to play, then some spice kicks in, cinnamon, balancing hop bitterness and hints of roast in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but silky smooth up front, a little spice emerging in the finish, full bodied, sweet but not cloying. Overall, it's a complex little bugger, but reasonably well balanced, flavors that play nice together and don't overwhelm. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Snifter on 3/1/19. Canned: 02/08/19 (POUR ME ON WAFFLES TAKE ME TO HEAVEN)

Tree House Double Shot (Vanilla Bean) - Bonus beer! A rich, sweet, and less roasty base stout provides a nice platform for a pair of coffee infusions in addition to, in this case, some vanilla bean. I had this at a share and thus did not take detailed notes (therefore I'm not going to call this an Octuple Feature, as I won't be rating this), but my admittedly vague memories are that this was a fantastic little beer. Lord knows I'm not the biggest fan of coffee stouts, but in this case the sweet base combined with the vanilla bean managed to wrangle the beer into something rather great. Nice to finally get a load of some non-IPAs from Tree House. They are justifiably famous for both of these styles. I had a couple of other Double Shot variants as well, and they were also pretty darned good, even to a coffee skeptic like myself...

Beer Nerd Details: 7.6% ABV Bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/21/19.

Another successful batch of Tree House in the books. Still hoping to get there someday, but hey, I'm not complaining about the ones that do come my way. Special thanks go out to Kaedrin friend and fellow BeerNERD Gary for sending these beauties my way...

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star

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I think I've nailed down the inspiration behind this beer. You see, the crew brought this beach-ball-shaped alien aboard because Sgt. Pinback thought the ship could use a mascot, but then it escaped and messed up the comms equipment, inadvertently triggering one of the thermostellar nuclear bombs. During the countdown, they tried to teach the bomb's AI a little phenomenology in an attempt to abort.

What the hell am I talking about? This is the plot to John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's 1974 debut Dark Star (a clear truckers-in-space precursor to Alien, also written by O'Bannon). I'm positive that this relatively obscure movie is the inspiration for this beer. I mean, sure, it could possibly be the far more popular and famous Grateful Dead song, but we prefer to attribute brewers' chosen names with more goofy or possibly sinister influences.

This is why you should keep reading Kaedrin: Come for the beer, stay for the cutting edge cultural references and unsubstantiated insinuations about breweries.

So, um, anywho, this is a blend of imperial oatmeal stouts that were aged in bourbon barrels. Early releases of this beer were called Kentucky Dark Star, but my guess is that they dropped the "Kentucky" due to some sort of legal snafu (the label still sports the KDS logo). Those releases were aged in older barrels (I've seen references to 15 and 12 year old barrels). The 2018 release was aged in 7-12 year old bourbon barrels, but to make up for that the blend consists of beer that's been aged in those barrels for 24, 18, 12, and 8 months. Proportions are unknown, of course, but the use of longer-aged beer probably makes up for the differences in barrels. Or whatever, this could very well be false data. Let's see what Bomb #20 thinks:

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of light brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smell retains some roasted malt character, but there's still a big dollop of chocolate, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is awesome, caramel and chocolate, a hint of the base roast malt, with a well balanced kick of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, finishing with a well rounded roasty note. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbed, full bodied, rich, and pleasantly boozy. Overall, yup, it's great. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, black wax). Drank out of a snifter on 1/18/19. Vintage: 2018.

Another big winner for Fremont, and we'll definitely be seeing some variants of this beer and the most excellent B-Bomb in the near-ish future. If, that is, we're not all blown up by that pesky thermostellar nuclear bomb.

Gigantic Massive!

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The color of beer mostly has to do with how malt is produced. Barley is soaked in water, allowing it to germinate, and then heat is applied to stop germination. The higher the heat, the darker the malt. The darker the malt, duh, the darker the resulting beer. Pale malts still represent most of the malt used. You don't need a ton of darker malt to make the beer dark, but pale malt by itself isn't especially tasty. The flavors of pale beers come from hops or maybe the yeast used (or maybe they've got an intentionally muted flavor profile.)

Obviously there are other adjuncts that can change the color of beer (i.e brightly colored fruit like cherries, dark sugars, etc...), but another thing that could be done is an excessively long boil time. Most worts are boiled for 60-90 minutes, but that can be significantly increased. Longer boil times results in darker, more concentrated wort and the creation of melanoidins (think browned foods like grilled meats or bread crusts). In other words, long boil times results in a sorta caramelization of the wort.

Enter Gigantic Brewing's Massive! This is a barleywine brewed with British Golden Promise malt (a pale base malt) that's been boiled for 8 hours, resulting in a rather dark colored beer. Age it in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels for two years, and that adds tons of complementary flavors of caramel, oak, and vanilla. My kinda bwizzle #BiL.

Gigantic has been around since 2012 and is considered one of the best Portland, Oregon breweries (in a town known for breweries, that's saying something) and they're known for their eclectic experimentation. They are apparently well known for their artwork too, which seems to reflect their brand pretty well. Let's take a look at this beer that lives up to the brewery's moniker:

Gigantic Massive Bourbon Barrel Aged  Barleywine

Gigantic Massive! Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine - Pours a murky brown color with barely a ring of head around the edges of the glass. Smells great, caramel, toffee, dark fruit, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is full of rich caramel, toffee, a bit of dark fruit, and lots of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, with some bitterness balancing out the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, but not flabby or underattenuated, light on the carbonation (but well matched to style), warming booze. Overall, yep, it's a reeel gud bba barleywine. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/31/18. Vintage: 2018.

I've also had Gigantic's Most Most Premium Russian Imperial Stout, which was quite nice and probably should have been reviewed here. I shall endeavor to do better in the future.

I've basically given up trying to keep pace with Tired Hands. Even as they've started re-brewing various beers, I've found that I'll probably not even reach my previous pace. Accordingly, I haven't really been talking about them much here on the blog either. As of right now, I've written 37 posts covering literally hundreds of Tired Hands beers, most of which will never be seen again. There's not a whole lot to say about the beer that hasn't been said, though the intangibles have shifted considerably in the past few years. Once the Fermentaria opened, production ramped up. Then they started canning beer, which generated huge "lines" on a weekly basis. Scare quotes around "lines" because what you'd usually find were hundreds of empty chairs put out around noon on a release day, and maybe a few bearded dudes standing around a few hours early.

But the new hotness can't stay hot forever; entropy took hold and these releases started to unravel, only really getting crazy for their insane Milkshake beers. Bottle releases had long since dwindled (once they started canning hops, the demand for saison bottles dropped off a cliff), even for more prized and limited releases like the Parageusia bottles. During an impromptu visit on a random Tuesday, it turns out that the previous Wednesday's release was still available. The hype cycle has officially reached its end, I think. Perhaps insane popularity, long lines, and hype lead to backlash. Or maybe other local breweries stepping up their NEIPA game had an impact. Are NEIPAs are getting overexposed these days? Do insane "foraged" ingredients and other gimmicks grind people down? Maybe the polar vortex has people bunkering down and actually drinking the beer they have? All of the above?

I regularly waited in line for Tired Hands bottles back in the day. The can releases were never really my thing because they typically happened on Wednesdays and I have this thing called a "job" which generally prevented me from participating even if I wanted to. But frankly, I didn't care too much. There are always great things on tap, often the same beers that are being released in cans, so why bother? I know some folks used it as trade bait, but I suspect that's on the downswing as well. Still, I love me some Tired Hands beer, and it's been a while, so I figured I'd write up this goofy Milkshake variant. I've already gone over the amusing origins of the Milkshake IPA before, but this is a little more amped up from those original releases, and it incorporates more wacky ingredients. Let's take a closer look:

Tired Hands Cacao Hazelnut Tangerine Double Milkshake IPA

Tired Hands Cacao Hazelnut Tangerine Double Milkshake IPA - Pours that beyond murky pale yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink. Smells great, juicy hops, orange juice, tangerine, no real cacao or hazelnut... but I count that as a blessing? Taste is very sweet, lots of juicy hops, that tangerine coming through, maybe a hint of the cacao and hazelnut, but it's not really identifiable and I'm only saying this because I know its there so it's probably like some sort of phantom flavor that I'm detecting, mostly towards the finish. Or, like, maybe I'm just really suggestible. Mouthfeel has that great TH milkshake character up front, medium to full bodied, well carbed, but this skirts the edge when it comes to the boozy factor, which throws it a bit off balance when comparing to the non-double milkshakes. It's still absolutely delicious and it's not like the booze is overpowering, but the balance isn't quite as great as the regular-strength milkshakes. Overall, a really nice milkshake IPA that is better than its name (or some of its ingredients) would imply. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV canned (16 ounce). Drank out of a tulip on 1/25/19. Canned on 1/16/19.

There was a time when I would end up at Tired Hands once a week, but that time has passed. On the other hand, almost every time I do go, I think to myself "self, we should come here more often!" and then for some reason it still takes a month or two to get back.

Thomas Hardy's Ale

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First brewed in 1968 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Victorian author, Thomas Hardy's Ale has a long and illustrious history. A history that I won't bore you with since others have recounted all the various ownership changes and tumultuous brewery shenanigans ad nauseam. Also, sometimes that sort of thing is boring all by itself. Suffice it to say that it's a venerable, storied British barleywine that is often aged for upwards of 25 years or even more. Legend has it that the original run of these beers peaked at around 8 years in the bottle. I... did not wait that long, and have a couple of recent vintages here, so take these reviews with the appropriate, sarcastic boulder of salt in which I offer them:

Thomas Hardys Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary

Thomas Hardy's Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary - Not sure what differentiates this from earlier editions (it's marked as a "Special Edition" and lists out others brewed to celebrate this or that), though it does seem to have a higher ABV, so maybe that's the ticket - Pours a slightly hazy copper color with almost no head at all, not even especially a ring around the edge. Smells nice, some spicy hops, lots of crystal malt character, not quite the caramel and toffee that you really want, but it's kinda there, and could perhaps emerge over time. Taste is sweet, lots of that crystal malt, some dark fruit too, earthy, spicy hops and a bit of booze. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but nearly still and thus sticky, a little bit of alcohol warming. Overall, it's a nice little barleywine, I could see it improving with age, but I'm still not sure it'd really compete with top tier barleywines I've had. B

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (11.15 ounces/330 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 32685. Vintage 2018. Best by: 19/09/27.

Thomas Hardys Ale The Historical 2017

Thomas Hardy's Ale The Historical 2017 - This is 2017 Thomas Hardy's Ale aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels (probably Jack Daniels, though I suppose it could be Dickel or something more obscure) for 6 months, a "historical" throwback to the original Thomas Hardy's Ale, which was aged in Cognac barrels - Pours a bit of a darker copper, and again there's no head or real visible carbonation. Smells better, rich caramel and toffee coming through more here, with the crystal malt anchoring it, and just a touch of whiskey, oak, and vanilla too. Taste is much fruitier than the nose would imply, lots of dark fruit, plums, raisons, figs, and so on, with some whiskey, oak, and vanilla pitching in. As it warms, the fruity character takes on an odd sort of tangy note. It's not quite tart, but it doesn't feel right either. Mouthfeel is full bodied and flat as a board, a little alcohol heat too. Overall, it seemed like an improvement over the regular at first, but that didn't quite last. Probably heresy, but I think American barrel aged barleywines tend to be far better than this was. Maybe some age would help, but I can't see it rivaling the best. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (8.45 ounces/250 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 18836. Vintage 2017. Best by: 29/10/27.

So I enjoyed this exercise and it's always nice to delve into historically significant beer. I have another of the Golden Edition sitting in the cellar for a rainy day 8-10 years from now. Maybe.


Hill Farmstead Abner

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Anyone who's observed ratings systems has probably encountered something like this: most people rate things 5 stars (out of 5 - or the highest rating possible). Some people are so upset with their experience/product/whatever that they'll go out of their way to rate things 1 star (out of 5). When YouTube figured this out, they simply switched their rating system to the good ol' thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating. Netflix recently did something similar on their streaming service (though stars are still around on the DVD side, I guess). My day job is at a retailer, and back in the day (jeeze, well over a decade ago), when we launched product ratings, we weren't sure what to expect, but the pattern holds. Most people rate 5 stars, some rate 1 star, and few go inbetween (of note for retailers: products and sometimes even brands that consistently get poor ratings tend to be dropped, which perhaps adds a form of bias to the process, but still.)

Personally, I'm almost always finding myself in the middle ratings. It's pretty rare that I hand out the highest rating available, and even more rare that I can find so little value in something that I rate it the lowest rating. When I shop any retailer with ratings, I always seek out the three star reviews. Why? Because those are people who put some thought into their review, acknowledge pros and cons, but ultimately approve of the product. You get a much better feel for what the product is by reading that than the person who's just like "best movie ever dudez!" or "this thing sux".

On this blog, it's true that I've suffered from ratings inflation. I'm pretty easy on a lot of beers, and the most common rating is a B+ followed by A-, which is probably high. Plus, even when you consider my reticence to rate things with the highest possible rating (an A+), things that I rated at an A or even A- eight years ago might not warrant such a rating today. This is the way of things, but a couple years ago, I tried to put some rigor around giving something an A+. Naturally, here I am years later, not having rated anything else that highly. However, I did have one beer somewhat recently that I think deserves the bump up to the vaunted A+. Ok, by "recently" I mean back in August. I was hoping to pad this out with some other A+ beers to do a whole class of 2018 thing, but that never happened, so I'm finally just pulling the trigger, because this is a great beer:

Hill Farmstead Abner

Hill Farmstead Abner - In 2012, I attended a Philly Beer Week event at the local beeratorium Teresa's Cafe. The event featured an up and coming brewery called Hill Farmstead, and the first beer I had from them that truly blew me away was Abner, a Double IPA made with somewhat trendy for their time but not so much anymore and you know what, probably not even then hops like Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe, and Warrior. I didn't know it at the time, but as it turns out, this was probably my first real Northeast IPA (or Hazy IPA, or whatever you want to call it). In fact, local favorite NEIPA purveyor Tired Hands had literally just opened a few days earlier and I only learned of their existence at this event (someone was wearing their t-shirt). I managed to get my greedy hands on several more glasses of Abner throughout the years (fun fact: the linked post there contains a meme that is one of this blog's crowning achievements), but I grabbed a full growler of the stuff on my most recent jaunt to Vermont, and boy does this thing hold up. Classic citrus and pine hop flavor profile heightened by the juicy character imparted through whatever English yeast strain Hill Farmstead uses. Perfectly balanced and utterly crushable. I didn't drink this entire growler by myself, to be sure, but I probably could have. Congratulations Hill Farmstead, you've earned a coveted A+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV growlered (2 liter swingtop). Drank out of a tumbler on 8/3/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Abner forever. Already excited for my next trip to Vermont, but then, when aren't I.

Free Will Ralphius Variants

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Free Will makes what is probably the best local barrel-aged stout, dubbed Ralphius. To be sure, there are plenty of one-offs that could contend (both Levante and Tired Hands could compete in this arena) and if you widen the "local" area, others will put up a good fight (or, uh, dominate).

Free Will Ralphius Variants

This year, Free Will has decided to expand their program with variants, which is what we'll cover today. Released in a low-pressure Black Friday event, they're clearly providing an independent, local alternative to Bourbon County and associated variants. As per usual, this sort of stout variant game represents nice changes of pace, but mostly I come back to the idea of straight bourbon barrel aged stouts, and regular ol' Ralphius is probably still my favorite. Because I'm boring? Sure, let's go with that. Now that I've killed all the momentum and suspense, let's take a look at these variants....

Free Will Maple Ralphius

Free Will Maple Ralphius - Aged in Bourbon and Bourbon Maple Barrels - Pours a deep black color with only a crown of brown head. Smells of rich caramel, a hint of chocolate and roast, with some brown sugar, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, only a little of that maple barrel. Taste is rich and sweet, caramel, a touch of maple syrup, hints of underlying roast, and plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lightly but well carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Overall, it's a great little variant, maple is present but not overpowering or cloying, I probably should have bought more of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coconut Chocolate Ralphius - Aged with, you guessed it, coconut and chocolate - Pours deep black with a bit more head, half a finger that quickly resolves to the crown. Smells... a lot like regular Ralphius, some roast, caramel, and lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. As it warms and if I do the olephactory equivalent of squinting, I get some coconut. Taste is again pretty light on the coconut, but it's there, but the Ralphius base is its standard self. I guess chocolate is there too, but it doesn't really stand out. Mouthfeel is on point as well. Overall, a good beer, a bit light on the Coconut, but the Ralphius base keeps it going. Not especially sure how to rate this, as it's probably an A- due to the strength of the base, but if you're looking for a Coconut stout, this might not fully scratch that itch, making it more of a B+. I never managed to snag the Iron Abbey Collaboration that Free Will made last year, which sounded an awful lot like this variant of Ralphius, so I can't really make the comparison, though I'd like to try sometime!

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Chocolate Orange Ralphius - Aged with, big shocker, chocolate and orange - Pours that same deep black with a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells similar to the standard Ralphius profile, but the orange and chocolate do pop, especially as it warms. Taste is sweet, lots of that base Ralphius character, but the citrus and chocolate do make an impression. Mouthfeel is par for the course. Overall, a good beer, a nice variant, but original Ralphius still rules. This is perhaps more subtle than the BCBS take on same, for what that's worth. And I'm not really sure what that's worth. Is it worth having a variant if the added flavor doesn't come through too strong? B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Cinnamon Chile Ralphius - Aged with cinnamon and ancho chilies - Yeah, looks the same, almost no head this time. Smells heavily of cinnamon, a little chile too and hints of the usual Ralphius base, but the cinnamon is dominant here. Taste features more of the Ralphius base than the nose would have you believe, but the cinnamon is still powerful with a lighter touch on the chile, though you get a teensy bit of lingering spicy heat in the finish (nothing untoward though, and the cinnamon is still front and center). Mouthfeel is the usual full bodied stuff, a little spicy heat from the chile that lingers a bit, but again, it's a light touch that adds complexity, rather than overwhelm. The cinnamon, on the otherhand, almost feels like it's adding something to the mouthfeel. Grainy? Chalky? Not sure how to describe it, but the cinnamon is not just tasted, but felt. Overall, way more heavy handed than any of the variants, especially when it comes to the cinnamon, which is prevalent despite the strength of the base, which is the only thing keeping it remotely in check. I happen to like cinnamon, but this is perhaps a bit much. I'm enjoying it, but I could see it being a turnoff to some. I'm finding it to be a nice accompaniment to the holiday season though. B

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coffee Ralphius

Free Will Coffee Ralphius - Yes, the dreaded coffee (apparently from local Speakeasy Coffee Company) - Same general appearance, a nose with lots of coffee and a little of that base caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste has that standard Ralphius character with a prominent coffee bite coming in the middle and lingering through the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a little boozy heat. Overall, it's a well balanced bba coffee stout, very well done. If you're missing BCBCS this year, this one should tide you over. Even my coffee ambivalence can sometimes be conquered. This is the highest rated of all the Ralphius entries this year, and I can see why, even if my general taste still prefers regular. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Pretty sure the beer nerd details are, er, estimated, since they're all identical (except for when I drank it, which is precise and accurate), but you get the picture.

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

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Picture, if you will, a beer. Four simple ingredients, added to which a fifth: the barrel. In this case, a blend of barleywine aged in bourbon and brandy barrels. An enticing elixir To Serve Man. You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of bwizzle. Next stop, Bottle Logic.

Rod Serling, I am not, but this beer, clearly inspired by The Twilight Zone, is truly One for the Angels. Let's crack the sweet malt cipher:

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind - Pours a cloudy, dark brown color with half a finger of tightly bubbled head that doesn't stick around long. Smells great, brown sugar, caramel, toffee, molasses, fruity malt, and the requisite bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is amazing, tons of rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses, dark candied fruits, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, finely carbed, with a pleasant boozy heat. Intense, but complex and very well balanced. Overall, a spectacular, dimension spanning beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/18.

Yes, I drank this over two months ago and am only getting to it now that I have Time Enough at Last. Alright, enough with the Twilight Zone puns. This is a great beer and fully deserving of the hype around Bottle Logic, which is all in the Eye of the Beholder. Sorry, couldn't resist. Incidentally, I just realized that Serling never said "Picture, if you will" in the Twilight Zone, but rather, his other show, Night Gallery. Drats. Truly, we have entered a land of both shadow and substance.

Odd Breed Double Feature

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South Florida's Odd Breed is a small brewery focused on wild ales that I've become acquainted with thanks to Kaedrin friend Steve, who lives down those parts and generously volunteers to send some Florida cheer up my way from time to time. My guess is that it's called Odd Breed due to their use of wild yeasts and other microflora, and totally not a fiendish, Doctor Moreau-esque plot to cross-breed humans with wild animals. However, if they do ever announce a new production facility location at a remote Atlantic island, I may be more skeptical. What can I say, I love beer, but I'm distrustful of many brewers' stated goals. Um... anywho, they make good beer, so let's take a look:

Odd Breed Past and Future

Odd Breed Past & Future - This is their Flagship, a pretty straightforward saison aged in French oak puncheons. I say straightforward, but the brewer says he's been working on the recipe from years, and it's evolved from a super-dry Dupont-esque clone to a beer that loosened the dryness and upped the acidity. Pours a pale straw yellow color with a solid finger of medium bubbled head that manages to hang on for a while. Smells quite nice, oak and saison spice, hints of tart fruit. Taste starts out sweet, hits that saison spice (like cloves and coriander), then tart fruit, finishing with a tart kick. Mouthfeel is light and crisp, well carbonated, and relatively dry. Overall, a very well executed saison, and a rock solid flagship that compares favorably with locals like Tired Hands. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/7/18. Bottled on: 09/11/18. Batch 2.

Odd Breed Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches

Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches - A blend of golden wild ales aged in those French oak puncheons that are then transferred onto nearly 800 pounds of hand-picked, ripe organic peaches (which were only lightly washed, so as to contribute their own microflora). Pours a pale, very cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells great, plenty of peaches, some lactic funk, and even more peaches. Taste has a nice dry character with some peachy sweetness to it, followed by some puckering tartness and some oak, and then more peaches and did I mention peaches in the finish. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and dry, moderate acidity, perhaps not quite quaffable, but headed in that direction. Overall, yeah, this is a real winner right here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/18. Bottled on: 06/22/18.

A nice first impression, for sure, and I have a couple others that I'll be bringing to shares in the near-ish future. I suspect this won't be the last you see of Odd Breed here...

2018 Year End Musings

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The two-headed Roman god Janus could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other, and as such is generally regarded as the god of things like beginnings, transitions, and time (amongst other such concepts). So too is the month January named after Janus, as it's a transition to a new year. An almost completely arbitrary one, to be sure, but it's good to take some time out to strap on our Janus mask, take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we're going. This can be a tricky thing in our increasingly polarized society, but fortunately beer is generally a simpler pleasure (especially if you focus more on the liquid in the glass rather than more nebulous things like business, law, or culture) and this is but a simple beer blog, so let's take a look at my year in beer. Assorted thoughts:

  • The Evolution of Novelty - Last year I speculated on the end of novelty, but that's too broadly stated. However, the fact remains that I'm drinking more repeat beers than ever. There are annual releases that I look forward to every year. Sometimes I'll even buy a 4 or 6 pack of something and drink the entire thing! I know that sounds awfully normal to most people, but for years and years, I would just buy single bottles/cans/drafts of as many things as I could and basically never drank the same beer twice. In short, I was a novelty whore, and drinking the same beer twice almost felt like some sort of moral failure. Of course, this is silly, and such feelings have pretty much disappeared in the past few years. This is not to say that I don't still seek out the new and exciting, just that the prospect of drinking multiples of the same beer is now pretty common, especially when it's something I really enjoy. Which, again, sounds dreadfully normal and I'm sure the fact I'm even harping on this at all would be confusing to some people, but this is where I'm at.
  • The Rise of Lagers - It's no secret that the grand majority of beers that garner hype in the beer world tend to be ales, and even here, my tendencies are to review mostly ales. That being said, lagers have been a growing portion of my beer diet. Again, this is indicative of a longer term trend that began years ago, but blossomed more this year, in particular with respect to Oktoberfest beers, of which I drank many (indeed, these beers were a key player the aforementioned repeat beer drinking). Of course, I didn't actually review any of them, so maybe I have some work to do on that front, but then:
  • The Decline of Blogging - This blog has never particularly garnered a huge audience, but I'm assuming that if you are actually reading this, you may have noticed a distinct decline in the posting schedule over the past year. Once again, this is a longer term trend, but it accelerated this year, to the point where I'm only really posting 3-4 times a month on average. Certainly a far cry from the heyday of the blog, when I'd regularly post 3-4 times a week. There are many reasons for this. I've been writing here for over 8 years and while I'm not above a little repetition, it does feel like I should only really be writing about things that really knock me out or that inspire me in some sort of unique way. After writing about 200+ Stouts (and similar numbers of IPAs), the style itself doesn't provide much inspiration, so it's got to come down to brewery info, some sort of story about the name or inspiration behind the beer, or just bald recitations of tasting notes (and you know how exciting that can be). Posting will, of course, continue, if only out of sheer momentum, but I like the more relaxed once a week schedule these days. Or perhaps I should take to writing more freeform stuff or more creative exercises. Time will tell, of course, but I suspect I'll maintain a relatively healthy schedule.
  • Beer Shares - At this point, I regularly participate in 2-3 bottle shares a month, with varying ranges of intensity. This has lead to new friendships and the opportunity to taste some great beer that I'd otherwise never have a hope to try, and it's a lot of fun. Alas, since these tastings aren't happening in a sensory deprivation chamber with strictly controlled light, temperature, and humidity conditions, they don't usually make for good blogging material (another contributer to the above lack of posting). This has been one of my favorite developments of recent years though, and it's been a really good time.
  • Barleywine is Life - The trend of the year that I didn't realize was happening until I put some lists together below and noticed the prevalence of a style that I've always enjoyed, but which has taken on a bigger role, probably due to DDB's totally bonkers Barleywine is Life Facebook group. Fully 25% of my top 20 of the year are barleywines (or at least, life-adjacent stuff like B-Bomb), and 40% of the unreviewed hit the mark too (at least one of which will be reviewed in detail, I just haven't gotten to it yet because I'm the worst). It's an impressive showing, and I expect the trend to continue into the new year (already have a couple new bwizzle bangers in the pipeline).
  • Homebrewing Limbo - I'm at a place right now where I'm home brewing once a year. I enjoy the process and it's been a really great way to learn about what really makes beer tick, but I haven't make much time for it in recent years. I was planning on doing something when I took a vacation across the holidays, but then I came down with the flu and that kinda killed any motivation I had. I really do want to do that Scotch ale I've been threatening to make for a few years now, so who knows? Maybe I'll ramp it up this winter.
  • Aging Beer - My first few rounds of experiments with aging beer have already come to fruition, and this year was something of a rebuilding year, with more of a focus on getting Lambic in the cellar to age. I suspect some of that aging will come to fruition in the next few years, but in general, aging beer is fun, but highly variable and not strictly necessary. Mostly beers do change, sometimes dramatically, but aren't necessarily much better than they were fresh (and sometimes they're far worse). As per usual, my eyes are bigger than my liver, so some aging happens just by default as I buy more beer than I could ever drink (or even share). The cellar is getting a tad bit unwieldy though, so this year might see a more significant "drink down" of older beers with a bit of a purchasing freeze. Regardless, it will be a fun year.
  • Taking a Break - I continued my Lenten tradition of (er, mostly) giving up beer for a while this year, and I think the practice is a solid one that does me (and my waistline) a lot of good, so I expect that to continue. Indeed, I could see my overall consumption reducing throughout the year as well. This dovetails nicely with the whole evolution of novelty thing mentioned above, as one of the things that drove drinking to higher levels was the all-consuming need to explore the new and exciting beers I'd acquired (or which were on tap locally, etc...) I've also gotten better at not forcing myself to power through too much of a beer that I don't like. This goes against my general desire for efficiency and frugality (I mean, I spend a lot more than most on beer, but since I do so, I generally feel obligated to get my money's worth), but there's no need to torture myself.

So all in all, it's been a good year for me and beer, but then, what year hasn't been good? In accordance with the decline in blogging and increase in repeat beers, my top "new to me" beers of the year list is shrinking. This year, I'm only listing 20 beers with reviews (but another 10 that I never got around to reviewing for various reasons). Standard disclaimers apply: this is a list of beers that were new to me this year and which I reviewed on the blog. It's not an all time favorites list, so if you don't see something on here, then maybe I didn't try it this year or perhaps I had it in a previous year. Or you have bad taste and are a bad person. It could be that too. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. Lists are American! So let's do this thing:

  1. 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston (2015) (Gueuze)
  2. Kane Object Permanence (Barleywine)
  3. Fremont B-Bomb (American Strong Ale)
  4. Levante Glitter Parts (IPA)
  5. Xyauyù Gold Label 2011 (Barleywine)
  6. Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9 (DIPA)
  7. Samuel Adams Utopias (2017) (American Strong Ale)
  8. Suarez Family Brewing Call to Mind (Saison)
  9. Tilquin Oude Pinot Noir Tilquin à L'Ancienne (Lambic)
  10. Tree House Bbbrighttt with Citra (DIPA)
  11. Kane A Night To End All Dawns (Imperial Stout)
  12. Finback Social Fabric (DIPA)
  13. Cantillon 20 Ans D'Amitié (Lambic)
  14. Suarez Family Brewing Palatine Pils (Pilsner)
  15. Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E. (Barleywine)
  16. Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  17. Victory Java Cask Maple (Imperial Stout)
  18. Burley Oak Double Blackberry Mango JREAM (American Wild Ale)
  19. Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye (American Wild Ale)
  20. Hill Farmstead Poetica 2 (Pilsner)

The Unreviewed
Beers that where I had small samples and/or never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.

  1. Anchorage A Deal With the Devil - Double Oaked (2017) (Barleywine)
  2. Bottle Logic Sight and Mind (Barleywine)
  3. Pelican Mother Of All Storms (2013) (Barleywine)
  4. Maine Dinner (DIPA)
  5. Allagash Coolship Resurgam (American Wild Ale)
  6. Firestone Walker Abacus (2011) (Barleywine)
  7. Cycle Rare Noa (Imperial Stout)
  8. The Bruery Chronology:24 - Wee Heavy (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy)
  9. Aslin Moonshield (Imperial Stout)
  10. Funky Buddha Morning Wood (Porter)
Bottle Logic Sight and Mind You will be seeing a full review of this Bottle Logic barleywine soon enough, so stay tuned. In other news, the new year in beer looks as promising as ever, so let's get back to the hard, hard work of drinking beer, shall we?

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

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