Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot "B"

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The vaunted Van Winkle line of bourbons ranks as among the most hyped offerings ever offered by people who offer things. Once people who never used to care about bourbon started plunking down massive amounts of cash for bottles of the stuff, the intangibles of the entire bourbon market changed, triggering a bit of a backlash amongst the old guard bourbon nerds. This sort of mainstream appeal "ruining" the experience for former insiders can be witnessed all over the roadmap, from cult movies to comic books to musical acts; you name it, and there's probably some small community on the internet bemoaning the intrusion of philistines. In the bourbon world, Van Winkle has become something of a scapegoat.

To be sure, there's no way in a million years I'd ever pay secondary market prices for something like this1. Even as a beer nerd, I'm not above paying a small premium to try good bourbon, but the secondary prices for this stuff are just ludicrous. I'm fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania, where the PLCB rules over liquor sales with an iron fist, and thus we get these statewide lotteries. I hesitate to say "fortunate" because the PLCB is so awful in so many other ways, but over past few years, the lottery has allowed me to secure a few bottles of premium hooch for basically MSRP. It's the one good thing about the PLCB, though it doesn't feel that way when you get shut out.

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Closeup

While anything with the name "Van Winkle" attached has succumbed to the black-hole-levels gravitational hype associated with it, the Special Reserve or Lot "B" offering seems to be the least prized. It is, of course, the offering with the most bottles available (and we all know that rarity makes bourbon taste better). There's another bourbon called W. L. Weller 12 Year Old that is basically an identical bourbon with different labels (the only difference is that the Van Winkles are apparently picky about barrels and warehouse locations, and thus their picks are supposedly better). Bourbon nerds will take pains to explain that if it's not the 15, 20, or 23 expression, it's not officially a "Pappy" bourbon. Heck, they literally named it Lot "B", presumably because their other offerings represent A levels. Even the label looks like it was an afterthought. The 10 Year Old Rip Van Winkle offering, which you might assume would be similarly stigmatized, has a higher proof and very sexy label.

Most of this is purely academic though, and it's worth noting that 12 year old bourbon appears to be right in the sweet spot, balancing maturity and flavor in harmonious ways. I was fortunate enough to get my paws on Pappy 23 last year, and while I thought it was phenomenal, I can see what people mean when they say it's a bit over-oaked and out of balance. What does the fabled Lot "B" hold in store? Only one way to find out:

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Years Old Lot B

Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot "B" 12 Years Old - Pours clear golden orange color with short legs (if any bourbon nerds are reading, please note that I come from the beer world which is currently dominated by turbid, murky looking hazy IPAs that look like chicken broth, so any alcoholic liquid that is clear is a sight to behold). Also, and this is a stupid observation, but it's significantly lighter in color than the 23. I mean, yeah, duh, right? But still. Smells very nice, caramel, oak, and a little vanilla, with a slight dusting of spice lurking in the background. Of my nose? Sure, I guess, I'm not particularly great at bourbon tasting notes. Really nice balance and complexity in the nose though, and it really opens up after a few minutes; more vanilla and almost cake-like sweetness, I could sniff this glass all night. Taste hits a lot of those same notes, caramel, oak, and vanilla, with some spicy highlights. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and very easy going, obviously boozy to this beer drinker's baby palate (like, I'm not used to drinking high test liquor, not like I eat babies or something, gah), but nowhere near the hazmat monsters I've been known to drink. Overall, this is really good bourbon, but I'm not entirely sure it justifies the hype or premium. The nose is really fantastic, but it's writing checks the taste/palate can't cash. B+ or A-

Bourbon Nerd Details: 90.4 proof, 45.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/27/20. Vintage: 2019

Beer Nerd Musings: Anything in Pappy's orbit, even if it's beer aged in a Pappy barrel, is subjected to that massive gravitational hype. But as mentioned above, this is technically not "Pappy", and thus I don't think I've (knowingly) had anything aged in one of these barrels. Kaedrin's crack research team has managed to find one example though, so they exist (it's a 17.5% ABV imperial stout, sounds delightful, though I've not heard of the brewery/beer and it appears to be rather limited). I mean, it's good bourbon, so it's bound to result in a good barrel for beer. Big shocker. The Weller's bourbon barrels also show up sometimes, which this would be similar to, I guess. Beer barrel provenance can be a weird thing though. Some breweries are extremely clear about which barrels were used. Some use far too many different barrels to be that specific. Some just aren't specific. Is it because they're using some bottom shelf crap? Or is there some sort of weird legal liability issue? Whatever the case, I'm down for more Weller 12/Van Winkle 12 barrel aged beer.

Look, if you're in a quasi-hiatus from beer and in quarantine and you haven't even worn shoes in 6 days, a bourbon like this will brighten up your day. One more non-beer post before we return to beerland, and it will be bourbon related mad science.

1 - During my team's extensive research process, we found some online stores that have this bourbon in stock... for $900. I feel pretty confident in saying that this is not worth that, which is more than 10 times as much as MSRP and what I paid for it.

Colonel Ricketts Beautiful Blend

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The eponymous Colonel Ricketts was an artillery officer in the American Civil War, playing a notable role in the defense against a Confederate attack on Cemetery Hill on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Ricketts was apparently somewhat diminutive, but as he was in command of artillery, there's a (probably apocryphal) quote by a confederate veteran, "And did this little cuss command Battery Hell!" After the war, Ricketts (along with some extended family) bought up a bunch of land in Northeast Pennsylvania. Upon his death, the heirs sold the land back to the state, and thus the Ricketts Glen State Park was born.

This is all relevant because one of Kaedrin's regular R&R escapes is to the Pocono mountains near Ricketts Glen (for reasons I will not get into, my family has a connection with Lake Jean that has driven a few trips). On one weekend last fall, my brother and I spied this little Colonel Ricketts location on a trip into Benton for supplies. It's basically located in an old barn-like structure, very rustic (a thousand pardons, I didn't take any pictures). We did a quickie tasting of a bunch of their offerings, all apple ciders (more like apple wine, actually) and thought it was good stuff. I liked this one the best, so I bought a bottle.

As previously established, I've never really caught the cider bug, but it is something that a lot of beer nerds seem to gravitate towards at one time or another. Will this change the tide? Not really, though it's a nice change of pace and a welcome diversion now that I'm in my annual semi-slowdown from beer.

Colonel Ricketts Hard Cider Beautiful Blend

Colonel Ricketts Hard Cider Beautiful Blend - As the name of this cider implies, this is actually a blend of two other Colonel Ricketts offerings: 1. Apple Sip, a semi-sweet cider with strong apple flavor aged in barrels and 2. The Original, a semi-dry cider with more of a barrel finish. The result has a very distinctive, earthy, almost nutty character that impressed me. More boring tasting notes: Pours an extremely clear, very pale yellow color, perfectly still. Smell has some of that sweet apple, but also something almost nutty lurking in the background that keeps me sniffing the glass like an idiot. Taste has that same sweet apple character, not really nutty but with a slight earthiness that's pleasant. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, no carbonation, only a hint of underlying booze. Overall, I enjoy this... It's no replacement for beer or anything, but it's a nice change of pace.

Cider Nerd Statistics: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml replaceable cork). Drank out of a flute glass on 3/22/20. Vintage: 2019

Beer Nerd Musings: These ciders were aged in barrels, and while there's something to that, it definitely doesn't provide the bold, intense flavors that barrel ageing brings to most beers. In talking with the guy who ran the place, he said they used a variety of barrels, including Jack Daniels, wine, and so on. I got the impression they reused the barrels though, which could perhaps lessen the impact over time. Would these second use cider barrels make for a good third use with beer? Maybe? It wouldn't be as big an impact as Apple Brandy barrels (which tend to be a mildly popular and distinctive choice for beer barrel aging), that's for sure, but maybe for sours it could be a good vessel.

And that about wraps up the cider portion of this year's beer slowdown. Stay tuned, we've got some bourbon coming up later. Then: a triumphant return to beer (both in terms of reviews and, like, actually drinking beer).

Tilquin Triple Feature

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In the before time, the long long ago, I had some trouble getting into sour beer. Like the Monolith teaching the apes how to use tools to kill one another in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Oude Gueuze Tilquin that made a believer out of me, and to this day, their Gueuze remains a staple of my lambic diet. A relatively new enterprise (at least, relative to other lambic producers/blenders), Tilquin has slowly but steadily increased their output, including various fruited offerings. These have mostly been great, but the Gueuze remains my favorite offering. Will these three new fruited variants change my mind? Spoiler alert: not really. Sorry. Still, it's always intriguing to try a new offering from Tilquin:

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin à l'acienne - "produced by the fermentation of frozen organic redcurrants in one year old lambic and then blended with 1, 2 and 3 years old lambic to reach a final concentration of 260 grams of fruit per liter of lambic." Pours a hazy orange color with a solid finger of tight bubbled white head. Smells nice, tart fruit with some underlying funky earthiness and a touch of minerality. Taste hits those funky earth notes pretty hard, a little Boon-esque minerality, and plenty of tart fruit. I mean, I don't think I've ever had red currants before, but I'm guessing the tartness is partially from them. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderately carbed, and lightly acidic, pretty easy-going. Overall, it's a solid variant, not quite the revelation that other fruited variants were. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/19. Vintage: 2017-2018. Best before: 21/02/2028.

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin à l'ancienne - Pretty much the same process for this, except they used wild blueberries. For reasons beyond remembrance, I did not take tasting notes on this one, but I do know that it was my favorite of the three covered in this post. Blueberries are a difficult fruit to use with beer, but these Tilquin blokes did a mighty fine job balancing the lambic with fruit character. Sometimes blueberries get an almost smoky character to them when added to beer, but if it was here, it was well balanced and added complexity without overwhelming (which can sometimes happen with the smoky notes in other offerings). I wonder if this offering being fresher than the Groseille is what made me like this better? Fruited lambic can age well, but it's often very different fresh. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/28/19. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 21/03/2029.

Oude Cassis Tilquin

Oude Cassis Tilquin à l'ancienne - Like the first two, this is the same process, except they used blackcurrants. Pours a reddish hued brown color with half a finger of off white head. Smells nice, bright fruit, citrus, and a light funk. Taste is sweet and tart, lots of fruit, a bit of sourness, with the funk emerging more in the finish. Mouthfeel is lightly carbed, but still appropriate, lowish acidity. This feels balanced but a little more straightforward than the other fruited variants. Not bad, per say, just less distinctive. On the other hand, definitely my least favorite of the three in this post (and the only one that came in a 750 ml bottle, hrm). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/20. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 15/03/2029.

For my money, the best fruited Tilquin is still the Pinot Noir, but hey, I'm up for anything Tilquin puts out these days, so you never know. I haven't managed to snag a peach or apricot variant, but you know that's coming, and they tend to fare better than some of these fruits they've been using...

Anchorage Endless Ending

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One of these days, I'll write a post covering the trials and tribulations of A Deal with the Devil, the ultra-hyped barleywine made by Anchorage. I've managed to finagle my way into a few tastes of that stuff and I'll be damned (pun intended!) if it doesn't live up to the hype. Well, mostly. Not, like, $1000 a bottle supernatural hype, but, like, normal earthly hype. To get a bottle for my lonesome, I'll likely need to make my way to the crossroads and make my own deal with the devil. Fortunately, I have connections: demons, imps, ghouls, politicians, goblins, bureaucrats, zombies, Chinese hopping vampires, and of course, other beer nerds. It will happen someday (assuming we're not still in the middle of a pandemic and in quarantine mode), but in the meantime, this newish offering is readily available and tangentially related (for, uh, certain definitions of "readily available" that include lots of cash).

Endless Ending is a blend of A Deal With the Devil (the aforementioned barrel-aged barleywine) and Darkest Hour (a barrel aged imperial stout) that has been aged for 18 months in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon barrels, then again in Missouri Oak foudres for an additional 3 Months. Unlike the last blend of beers I covered, this one seems more harmonious. Slap one of those fabulous WolfSkullJack labels on there and dip the cap in copious amounts of white wax, and you've got a very attractive package. Speaking of the art, I found this interview with the artist, and she talks about her general style and this label in particular:

Endless Ending is at the moment the only custom piece that Anchorage has purchased! They specifically wanted Dall sheep to proudly represent Alaska, and it was Gabe Fletcher's idea to have the human skeletons inside the sheep to reflect previous can art, like "Within Us" and "Origin". ... The human skeletons inside of animals theme is a reoccurring image of mine because I like to explore the hostile relationship between man and the natural world within my artwork.

Neat, and the end result looks great. Of course, it's what's inside the bouttle that counts, so let's get to it...

Anchorage Endless Ending

Anchorage Endless Ending - Pours a very dark brown almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells amazing, roast, caramel, toffee, candied raisins, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrels. Taste is extremely sweet, rich and stoutlike upfront, with the barleywine character taking over in the middle and evolving through the finish. Hints of roast and caramel up front turning to toffee and dark fruit notes, caramelized raisins with a solid backdrop of bourbon, oak, and vanilla throughout. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, perfect moderate carbonation, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, a complex treat. Maybe not quite full-bore ADWTD level (this is sweeter and somehow less balanced), but still amazing in its own right. A- or A

Beer Nerd Details: 15.5% ABV bottled (375 ml, waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 10/18/19.

More to come on that Deal With the Devil, but this will certainly tide me over in the meantime.

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

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The process of blending to create a new or maybe more consistent end product is something you see quite often in the laboratories of mad scientists and other practitioners of super-science. Picture lots of bunson burners, beakers, test tubes, and those weird spirally things where strange liquids are being shunted around. I'm pretty sure that's how they do it with whiskey and to some extent in wine as well. In particular, alcohol that's aged a while tends to go through a number of unpredictable and uncontrollable maturation processes, resulting in "good" and "bad" barrels. Due to the inherent cost in production and aging (especially for whiskey, which is aged for very long periods of time), you don't necessarily want to just chuck the entire barrel. Blending allows you to mask some of those "bad" barrels with the good ones or at least drown imperfections (in the whiskey world, blending often has a bad connotation due to using neutral grain spirits that haven't been aged at all). It also allows you to keep out-of-work supervillains employed, thus preventing their bored meddling with super-science. Ultimately, though, this can result in something bland, yet very consistent. That being said, the proliferation of "single barrels" and "single malt" Scotch does indicate that there's a desire for more expressive offerings. The grand majority of beer doesn't really come close to "blending" (our mad scientists tend to experiment much more with weird ingredients), but there's a growing coterie of brewers and drinkers that are very much into barrel aging and thus, blending. So let's break out some beakers and test tubes, it's time to blend.

Now that I've downplayed it, I'm realizing that blends do actually take many forms when it comes to beer. You've got your Gueuzes, which are blends of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic. Indeed, as I understand it, many barrel aged beers will have a small proportion of "fresh" beer blended in to liven up the finished product. Then there are the situations where brewers will take a bunch of different releases, and blend them together in a hopefully harmonious way. Think about The Bruery's Melange series or Firestone Walker's Anniversary Beers. Then you've got breweries that manage some sort of Solera-like process, like The Bruery's Anniversary beers. A lot of sour beers utilize blends to even out what is an even more unpredictable process than usual (the added variable of wild yeasts and bacteria make for an interesting ride). One of the most fascinating beers I've drank was Allagash's PNC Broken Elevator, a blend of many barrels. The beer was good, but the interesting thing was that they actually released notes for each barrel included in the final blend, including barrels that were not used (mostly because they had too much "solvent" character).

Then you have situations in which the same beer is given different barrel treatments, then blended together afterwords. You'll often see beers getting a double barrel treatment (sometimes both of the barrels used would be the same type, but sometimes you get a mixture like Bourbon/Apple Brandy, or Bourbon/Rum, and so on). In today's review, we're covering a beer that is a blend of 9 different barrels, from 5 different types of spirits:

  • 22% double barrel aged for 20 months, first in 8yr (for 9 months), then in 11yr bourbon barrels for 11 months
  • 22% aged 16 mo in 12yr apple brandy barrels
  • 11% aged 23 mo in 12yr brandy barrels
  • 11% aged 23 mo in 10yr rye whiskey barrels
  • 11% aged 21 mo in 14yr bourbon barrels
  • 11% aged 19 mo in 10yr bourbon barrels
  • 11% aged 15 mo in 12yr Jamaican rum barrels

The average age of the beer is 19 months, which is a pretty impressive number for beer. The barrel selections all seem pretty interesting (44% are bourbon barrels, 22% apple brandy, with the brandy, rye, and rum barrels all hitting 11%). Alas, this seems to be an object lesson in how blending can mute some of the most expressive aspects of each barrel. That doesn't make it a bad beer, but it's telling that while I've had about 6 or 7 different variants of Medianoche, my absolute favorite was a single barrel bourbon one that I had in Denver before GABF. This beer has some complexity, but it feels like they may have overdone it on the number of components in the blend, as no one barrel feels particularly distinct here. It's not a bland beer, that's for sure, but it doesn't stand out as much as the other variants.

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1 - Pours a deep, dark black color with just a faint collar of light brown head. Smells great, lots of boozy barrel character, caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, molasses, and a hint of roast in the background. Taste is also pretty good, lots of caramel, brown sugar, and booze (I get bourbon and brandy the most, but obviously there's more going on here). Mouthfeel is low carbed but appropriate, full bodied, rich, with a pleasant boozy hotness. Overall, the blending of different spirits barrels seems to make the components less distinct in the finished product, which is still pretty fantastic, though not the equal of some of the other Medianoche variants I've had... I want to give it an A-, but in relation to other Medianoche variants, it's probably more of a B+ or even B

Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, gold wax). Drank out of a snifter on 10/11/19. Bottling Date: 09/17/19

Plain ol' Medianoche appears to be my favorite expression, but some of the more out there variants (i.e. Malibu Medianoche or the Peanut Butter Medianoche) are pretty interesting, and everything I've had has been pretty damn good. I'm definitely in the market for more of these suckers... I didn't go to WeldWerks when I was in Denver, but their beers did represent some of the highest highlights of the week...

Belated 2019 Year End Musings

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At the beginning of each year, it's good to generally take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we're going. Seeing as though we're halfway almost through February, I've pretty much missed out on the usual timeframe for such musings, but said timeframes are mostly arbitrary anyway, so why not do a belated year-in-review? I mean, sure, hundreds of reasons, but nothing that's convincing me not to, so let's hop to it, shall we?

  • The Decline of Blogging - After that intro, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise. It's a long term-trend that continued to accelerate in 2019. In my most prolific years, I'd put out 3-4 posts a week. That tapered down to about 3-4 a month, and is now at 1-2 a month, if that. There are a few things driving this trend. Firstly, this blog has never really garnered a huge readership and blogs in general are in decline. Sure, I post semi-regularly over on Twitter and less-so on other social media platforms, but it's just not the same. Also of note: Google's ranking of blogs appears to have dwindled. I used to get a pretty healthy amount of traffic from natural search, but that's declined dramatically (there could be other reasons for this, including the aging infrastructure of my blogging software/templates). In any case, it's hard to justify spending a lot of time writing stuff no one is reading. It's true that a good amount of the reason for the blog is to better myself, but it's also nice to have some sort of interaction with readers. Secondly, after nearly ten years of maintaining the blog, there isn't as much to say. At least, not in my tried and true format of tasting notes surrounded by (hopefully) more interesting context. That being said, it might be time to shake things up a bit, stop relying so heavily on tasting notes, and maybe do a little more blue-sky thinking. Easier said than done, but we'll see. Thirdly, other responsibilities crop up that limit time for this sort of thing. For instance, I have a new role at work that is more fulfilling and rewarding than my previous role, but which also takes up more time and mindshare (not a complaint!) In short, you can expect blogging to continue, but it will remain on this more leisurely schedule, with perhaps the occasional spike (or lull) in activity.
  • The Continued Rise of Lagers - Another long-term trend, lagers have become something of a mainstay in my beer fridge. Perhaps even moreso than IPAs. It might be difficult to notice if you're just looking at the blog, which tends to be more focused on barrel-aged stouts/barleywines, saisons/sours, and IPAs, but that's the weird thing about lagers: There often isn't that much to say about them. This isn't to say that they're all bland or uninteresting to drink, just that they tend to be staid affairs with little in the way of hype or innovation or weird ingredients. Indeed, that's part of their appeal! And to be sure, there's plenty of interest behind the craft of lagers, so maybe I just need to dig deeper. This is probably something worth exploring in more detail, especially since I seem to be drinking more of these.
  • The Decline of Drinking and Taking a Break - As I get older, the appeal of drinking quite so much in a given session has lessened. Oh sure, I still drink plenty, but left to my own devices, I have tended more towards moderation in the last few years (the whole "Rise of Lagers" thing mentioned above also helps, given that they tend to be lower ABV). Social situations and travel still result in some longer sessions, for sure, but they're not as frequent as they used to be. Indeed, we're coming up on my seventh annual beer slowdown, a Lenten tradition wherein I (mostly) avoid drinking beer. It's an exercise I always find valuable, and it sorta resets my tastes and perspectives (not to mention, ahem, my waistline).
  • Aging Beer - In general, my thoughts on aging beer have shifted more towards just drinking it as soon as possible. It's still occasionally fun to age beer and see what happens, but for the most part, it's not really worth the hassle. However, I've often noted that my eyes are bigger than my liver, so there are plenty of times when I buy too much beer and must age some of it by necessity. And in my experience, aging something (at least something that's a good candidate for aging) a year is usually still pretty interesting. However, one experience I had this year has me drinking down my cellar at a higher rate than usual. I had a bunch of friends over on my birthday to "drink my beer" and went through a bunch of beer that I had broken out for the occasion. Some fresh, but some really old stuff too, and results were typical: they were all different than they were fresh, but not necessarily better, and some were downright atrocious (in particular, I had a 2012 Parabola that really fell off dramatically and wasn't particularly good.) The sole exception was lambic, which was arguably more complex and comparable (if still different) to the experience from 8 years earlier, so experiments in the lambic realm will probably continue. We'll see how well I can do this year. Maintaining a cellar is definitely fun, but I like the idea of shrinking it down a tad.
  • Homebrewing Limbo - It's been a couple of years since my last batch of homebrew, and I keep finding excuses not to brew (some of which, like having the flu, are actually good, but most of which come down to pure laziness). I still find it an interesting process and have been itching to try a couple of things, so maybe I'll figure something out in the coming weeks...
At this point, I usually do a top "new to me" beers of the year list, but the decline in blogging will result in a smaller list. 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. Bottle Logic Sight and Mind (Barleywine)
  2. Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star (Imperial Stout)
  3. Cycle Rare DOS 1 (Imperial Stout)
  4. Plan Bee Precious (American Wild Ale)
  5. Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6 (DIPA)
  6. Odd Breed Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches (Saison)
  7. Foam Wavvves (DIPA)
  8. Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton (American Wild Ale)
  9. Gigantic Massive! (Barleywine)
  10. Mother of All Storms (barleywine)
  11. Side Project Merci (Saison)
  12. Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation (Imperial Stout)
  13. Fremont Barrel Aged B-Bomb Coconut Edition (American Strong Ale)
  14. Tree House Treat (DIPA)
  15. Suarez Family Brewery Parlance (Saison)
  16. The Alchemist Luscious (Imperial Stout)
  17. Frost Research Series IPA (IPA)
  18. Suarez Family Brewing Qualify Pils (Pilsner)
  19. Cycle Roadtrip - Fresh Blacktop (Imperial Stout)
  20. Free Will Maple Ralphius (Imperial Stout)
The Unreviewed
Beers that where I had small samples and/or never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.

  1. Weldworks and Perennial MamaNoche (Imperial Stout)
  2. Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze (American Wild Ale) (GABF)
  3. Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience #25 (Saison)
  4. Russian River Beatification (American Wild Ale) (GABF)
  5. Weldworks Single Barrel Medianoche (Imperial Stout) (GABF)
  6. Bruery Black Tuesday Reserve (2015) (Imperial Stout)
  7. Bruery Brandy Barrel Aged Bois (Old Ale)
  8. Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils (Pilsner) (GABF)
  9. Toppling Goliath's Mornin' Delight (Imperial Stout) (GABF)
  10. Liberati Oximonstrum (Oenobeer) (GABF)
Bruery Brandy Barrel Aged Bois

I'm a sucker for the Bruery's Anniversary beers, and managed to acquire some of the variants aged in other barrels. The best of those was this Brandy barrel treatment. The Brandy complements the base and is just different enough from the normal Bourbon barrel aged version to make the whole enterprise worthwhile (Scotch and Wine barrel treatments are still good, to be sure, but only the Brandy rivals the Bourbon). The Bruery isn't quite at the vanguard of beer nerdery these days, but I still love their Belgian inflected takes on barrel aged beers, and you'll be seeing some more about them on the blog soon enough...

This just about wraps things up. I've got a bit of a backlog of reviews to plow through, so keep your eyes peeled, more coming soon...

Great American Beer Fest

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I have never been a big fan of beer festivals. Ostensibly a chance to sample lots of special beers from unfamiliar breweries, a lot of fests amount to large crowds of drunk people with lots of beer I've had before and relatively few new and exciting things to check out. Great American Beer Festival is the largest beer festival in the United States and one of the largest in the world, with 60,000+ attendees, around 2300 breweries, and approximately 4000 different beers to sample. This goes a long way in addressing my normal issues with festivals. Except for the crowds, but whattaya gonna do? *Italian Finger Purse Gesture* It's also in Denver, which is a pretty great beer town all by itself. Indeed, the grand majority of my trip was spent outside the festival at the many great co-dependent events that happen during the week of GABF. It seems like every bar and brewery in town has special tappings, releases, and events, and while I generally enjoyed attending the fest sessions, most of my favorite stuff about the week wasn't part of the festival proper.

We arrived relatively early in the week (Tuesday afternoon), and took a quick spin around the breweries of Denver.

Crooked Stave

Our Mutual Friend

Cerebral Brewing Barrels

Bierstadt Slow Pour Pils

Stops at Crooked Stave (lots of good stuff, including some non-sours that I didn't realize they even made), Mockery Brewing (seemed like more of a local fave, middling beer, but nice enough), Odell (I've had some good beer from them, but was somewhat underwhelmed by the offerings at the taproom, though again, the crowd was nice), Our Mutual Friend (my favorite new-to-me brewery of the week, we unfortunately didn't get to spend nearly enough time there), Cerebral Brewing (a cheat, because we actually visited here later in the week, but I liked these leaky barrels a lot and their beer is pretty solid stuff), and Bierstadt Lagerhaus (which has this amazing Slow Pour Pils (pictured above) that was actually a perfect way to cap off the night, not to mention a couple other solid German style lagers).

Hops and Pie

Flight of beers from Hops and Pie

Toppling Goliath Mornin Delight at Hops and Pie

Pizza from Hops and Pie

We spent a lot of time at Hops & Pie, a most excellent pizza place/beer bar, and they had a pretty phenomenal rotating taplist (we visited twice). Over the course of two visits, I got a couple flights of great beer, a hefty portion of Toppling Goliath's Mornin' Delight (which was pretty awesome for an uber-hyped coffee beer), and some rock solid pizza.

Liberati Oenobeer

Liberati Oenobeer and a fountain

Liberati Oenobeers Oximonstrum

The most unexpected discovery of the week was Liberati Oenobeer, a brewery specializing in beer made with wine grapes. The location itself is fantastic and beautiful, and so big that I hope they can keep afloat. The beer/wine hybrids were all pretty fascinating too, with the highlight in my book being Oximonstrum, a 17.25% ABV beer made with 35% Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes from Piemonte, Italy. It basically tasted like a really good port wine (it's the last picture above, and probably my favorite picture that I managed to take in Denver). Other offerings were perhaps not so extreme, but all of them felt utterly unique and unlike most of what you'd find at a brewery.

Liberati Oenobeers experiment

We actually got back to Liberati later in the week, and tried this interesting little experiment. All the beers seen in the picture above are the same base beer, but with different wine grapes added. I really liked this place. Unique and interesting stuff. Not sure if it would be the sorta place that you'd hang out at constantly, but it's definitely a great stop if you're traveling in Denver, and I'm sure if I lived there, I'd make my way over on a semi-regular basis.

Falling Rock in Denver

WeldWerks Single Barrel Medianoche

First Draft

Went to a bunch of other interesting bars while there too, including the Hop Battle at Falling Rock (apparently a pioneer in the Denver beer scene, kinda has the reputation there that Monk's has in Philly), Finn's Manor (where I had the pictured Single Barrel Medianoche, which was superb and maybe the best thing I had all week, along with a couple other great brews from the likes of Casey and WeldWorks), and First Draft (which was one of them fancy pour-your-own, pay-as-you-go places, very good but by this point in the week I was kinda pooped).

The Crowd at GABF

The Great Divide Yeti

Not sure what this is, maybe a gnome riding a bunny

So I went to two actual sessions of GABF, one on Thursday night and one on Saturday morning (apparently the Friday night session is much more crazy, and by Saturday night, the breweries are starting to run out of beer and the people are there mostly to get drunk). I'm not a fan of big crowds, but they run the event well and the space is so huge that it doesn't feel too crowded... unless you're trying to get one of the more prized brews, then you're just waiting in line. Everything is well organized and easy enough to find though. For example, all the beers pouring at the fest are listed on Untappd (and you can filter/sort however you want), so it was easy to find things you want to try and line them up so you're not ping-ponging around the entire convention center.

Fremont Brew 3000

Lost Abbey Veritas 21

Some highlights include:

  • Fremont Brew 3000 - This is Fremont's take on an English Barleywine, very well respected out there in the BiL community, and I quite enjoyed it. Honestly though, I might like B-Bomb better. I don't know though, maybe I should get a bottle of Brew 3000 (or 4000, when that comes out) and drink more than a couple ounces.
  • Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze - Lost Abbey's take on a gueuze, phenomenal, one of the few that approaches Belgium-levels. This is a beer I've long wanted to try, but never caught up with (not that it shows up often or anything). Also of note: I didn't actually get a picture of this one, but I did get a pic of Veritas 21 from Lost Abbey, which was a pretty great fruited sour, so there.
  • Russian River Beatification - A blended spontaneously-fermented beer, this is another American take on the gueuze style... and it's fantastic. Another tick that was a long time coming, as I've been hearing about this for years (almost a decade?).
  • 3 Floyds Dark Lord 'Rrari Crochet - This was Dark Lord aged in port whiskey barrels with vanilla, freeze-dried strawberries, cocoa nibs + toasted coconut. So I like this a lot better than the plain ol' Dark Lord, but my inner curmudgeon wants to try a version that's just aged in bourbon barrels. Maybe with vanilla. And without coffee. My inner curmudgeon is a weirdo.
  • Beers from J. Wakefield, WeldWorks, Revolution, and Live Oak...
  • There was this whole section devoted to Jameson barrel-aged beers (which feed into their beer barrel aged whiskey program), which was pretty cool too...

A doggy!

Another pic of the doggy

A few of my friends go to the fest every year and they had befriended a local couple who hold a bottle share on Friday night every year. Much great beer and I made a new friend, Perle the doggo (who is apparently named after the hop). Oh, and also I made new people friends. That too.

Denver Street Art

Moar Denver Street Art

Yet more Denver street art

I'm not a big weed guy, but it's legal in Denver and some people we met seem to really, er, enjoy that sort of thing. Also, Denver has a lot of street murals and art out and about, which is fun.

I was pretty exhausted by the end of the week (large crowds and constant socializing wreak havoc on my introverted tendencies) and to be honest, I'm not 23 years old anymore, so drinking this much isn't what it once was, but it was still a great time and well worth checking out if you ever get the chance (it helps when you have good guides like I did). (Many apologies for the extreme lateness of this post, it took a while to pull together!)

Side Project

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Cory King's brewing career began in the typical way; an obsessed homebrewer turned pro, he also had lots of experience on the business side of things, having worked in distribution and craft beer bars. He got snapped up by Perennial and quickly made a name for himself there. Like a lot of homebrewers-turned-pro, he eventually felt like he was in a rut and wanted to experiment more. The owner of Perennial perhaps recognized that wanderlust and did a little jujitsu move by pitching King on opening his own brewery... inside Perennial. It began as, you guessed it, a little side project with a few barrels of mixed fermentation stuff. Once the Side Project was formally announced, it was an immediate smash. This was back when people stilled lined up for saisons, so it was sorta mutually beneficial for Perennial, as the taproom would do brisk business while folks lined up for rare, small-batch Side Project releases. After a couple of years, King parted ways with Perennial and built his own brewery with his now well-established brand.

Originally focused on yeast, mixed fermentation character, barrel-aging, and blending (notably missing from this profile: hops), their offerings range from saisons and sours to bourbon barrel aged monster stouts and barleywines (the latter of which seem to command the majority of hype these days). What I got my hands on was a series of relatively straightforward saison blends.

Side Project Bière du Pays

Side Project Bière du Pays - "Beer from the country", a pretty standard mixed fermentation saison aged in Missouri oak that appears to be something of a staple for Side Project; it provides the base for lots of fruited variants, for instance. Pours a very pale, straw yellow color with a solid finger of fluffy white head, decent retention. Smells sweet, musty, a little spicy phenolic thing going on too. Taste is sweet, light stone fruit, a hint of spice like clove, a little funky earth and a bit of tartness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light and crisp, well carbonated, very light acidity. Overall, this is a very nice, light bodied saison. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 10/18/19. Blend #8.

Side Project à la Table

Side Project à la Table - As the name implies, this is a very low ABV "table" beer, much more in keeping with the historical saison. Pours a clear, even paler yellow color with a half finger of white head that doesn't last too long. Smells of white wine, grapes, only a hint of funk and spice lurking in the background. Taste hits a similar note, white wine grapes, maybe a touch of tartness but nowhere near sour, and just whisps of spice and funk. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, dry, and refreshing, goes down way too fast. Overall, this packs a heck of a punch for a 2.5% ABV beer. That's not to say that it's intense or unbalanced, just that it's very good at what it's going for. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 2.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/19/19. Blend #1.

Side Project Merci

Side Project Merci - A special blend of four different beers made as a "thank you" for a local beer and wine purveyor who had supported Side Project. Pours a slightly hazy golden yellow color with a finger of white head that has moderate retention. Smells a little funky, lemony fruit, a little earth, a little spice. Taste starts sweet, hits some funky belgian spice notes, then turns fruity and tart through the finish. Mouthfeel is moderately carbed, medium bodied, good amount of acidity. Overall, probably the most intense of the three, but not as quaffable. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/2/19. Blend #4.

A pretty solid start for Side Project, and I've had a couple other fruited variants of Bière du Pays at various shares over the past couple of years. Certainly worth checking out for saison fans, and obviously I want to get a taste of some of those stouts and barleywines, all of which sound fantastic...

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation

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It's been amply established that my inner curmudgeon tends to prefer regular, plain ol' bourbon barrel aged stouts (or life, for that matter). Bottle Logic Brewing has quickly garnered a good reputation for barrel aged beers, but also for kooky ingredients like poppy seeds, marionberries, cassia bark, and all manner of coffee, coconut, fruit, and so on. While I like a good pastry stout as much as the next guy, that curmudgeon in me generally wants to know what the beer'd be like if it didn't have all the adjuncts and fancy doodads. I'm often happy to try a kitchen-sink variant of a great beer, but I usually find that the base remains my favorite. That being said, there is one kinda/sorta exception to the rule, and that's vanilla. For whatever reason, my inner curmudgeon loves him some vanilla.

Now, yes, vanilla is generally a requirement for any pastry stout, but I think there's something to do be said for a well balanced dose of vanilla without any of the other hoopla. One of the reasons coffee is such a popular addition to stouts is that it adds complementary roasty, bitter flavors to the beer. Now I don't drink coffee, so that doesn't resonate with me as much as vanilla, which also tends to be a complementary addition, particularly to the barrel character. A lot of people use "vanilla" to mean "boring" or "plain", but those people are basically just wrong. Vanilla is a fundamental cooking ingredient that is great on its own, but is also often used as a foundation to strengthen and build other flavors upon.

So what we have here is a big imperial stout aged in a combination of Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Knob Creek bourbon barrels (so, uh, a pretty broad cross-section of the major players in the bourbon world), with multiple additions of Madagascar vanilla beans. My kinda pastry:

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a half finger of light brown head. Smells fantastic, plenty of vanilla, but also underlying caramel, bourbon, and oak. Often, added vanilla overpowers everything else (and since I'm a big fan of vanilla, that's not much of a big deal, but I digress), but here it's prominent without being overbearing. Taste is rich caramel up front, with that vanilla quickly emerging, followed by a little underlying roast, and a big, boozy bourbon and oak bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, well carbonated, and pleasantly boozy. Not quite the perfect balance that the nose would imply, but close enough. Overall, yes, it's a pretty damn spectacular beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.55% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/30/19. Vintage: 2019.

I've had and enjoyed quite a few of Bottle Logic's barrel aged wonders, but come to think of it, I don't think I've had a plain BA stout from them. Everything has vanilla or coffee or pumpkin spice, &c. So even though I love this Fundamental Observation, I'm genuinely curious about a BA stout with no other additions... I"m sure they make one, I just haven't come across it yet. In the meantime, I'll just have to drown my sorrows in whatever Bottle Logic hooch I can get my hands on...

Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton

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In this corner, weighing in at approximately 90,000 tons per year, current Michigan tart cherry champion: Montmorency. And in this corner, weighing in at approximately 20,000 tons per year, upstart tart cherry challenger: Balaton. Ready? Fight! Alright, so I didn't completely make up those numbers, but the general idea is that Montmorency is the most common sour cherry produced in the United States. Balaton is relatively "new" (I mean, been around 20 years or so in the US), but quickly growing.

Also, a true fight would be to produce two different beers, highlighting each cherry separately... then, like, I dunno, smashing the bottles together and reading shards of broken glass like tea leaves in order to proclaim a victor. Or maybe just be boring and do a double-blind taste test or something; clearly an inferior option (no gnarly broken glass!), I don't know why I even mentioned it. Um, yeah, anyway what we've got here is an even blend of cherry varieties added to one of Jester King's oak-aged farmhouse ales. So let's get with some hot cherry on cherry action:

Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton

Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton - Pours a pinkish red color, so many robey tonez, a finger or two of light pink head. Smells great, lots of cherries, a bit of funk. Taste is sweet, tart cherries, some funky earthiness, finishing with a sour punch. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and moderately acidic. Overall, it's a really good cherry beer, near the top tier but not quite hitting the level of best lambics, etc... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/30/19. Bout 6, February 2019.

Jester King remains generally pretty solid, but the competition in the farmhouse ale arena is pretty fierce and they're pretty comparable to local purveyors of such things...

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