Logsdon ZuurPruim

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I usually try not to get too worked up about things like a brewery's ownership change or brewer switchups, but it's hard not to be concerned when it's a brewery you really like. At least Logsdon's buyout wasn't coming from a huge multi-national corporation like the great satan, AB Inbev, but it apparently did lead some to some weird PR and distribution mishaps that might shake a beer dork's confidence. That being said, things seem to have calmed down. Their brewer corps has solidified and they seem to have a decent focus on independence and innovation. They've even managed to start a spontaneous fermentation program and have been expanding their barrel aging efforts.

ZuurPruim (literal translation: sourpuss!) is a barrel-aged tart plum ale that first saw release in December of last year. Aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with 100 pounds of plums per barrel, the initial batch was split into two releases, each of which received a small portion of that spontaneously fermented beer for added complexity. In short, Logsdon appears to be back on track.

Logsdon ZuurPruim

Logsdon ZuurPruim - Pours a cloudy, almost murky orange color with a finger of white head that has good retention and leaves a little lacing. Smells fabulous, tons of fruit, those plums coming through, maybe something more vinous too, some oak, and a little bit of earthy funk livening things up too. Taste hits a lot of those notes from the nose, sweet, vinous fruit, plums, a little bit of earth, tart, bordering on sour in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, not as well carbed as accustomed to from Logsdon (there's enough, but this isn't as effervescent as usual), and perhaps as a result, this feels a bit heavier than other offerings, low to medium acidity. Perhaps a bit less attenuation here than usual as well, though nothing outside the boundaries of good. Overall, this is a solid little Plum sour, perhaps not as light on its feet or nimble as something like Peche 'n Brett, but still pretty great on its own. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/22/17. Bottle No. 250. Best by: 11/2021.

Seizoen Bretta remains one of my favorites and something I like to keep around in case anyone stops by, but most of what I've had from Logsdon is great, and it sounds like they're moving in the right direction these days, so I'm sure you'll see more from them someday soon...

La Cabra Aleatory #1

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La Cabra continues to chug along, quickly establishing itself as a regular brewpub on the Kaedrin beat (a position all breweries aspire to, I assure you), and now, as if on cue, they've had their first bottle release. A nice online pre-sell made for a convenient and easy-going release day, no long lines of empty chairs or ridiculous waits here.

I originally thought this was names as some sort of beer pun, like ALE-atory (get it?), but it turns out that aleatory is a real, bona-fide word and everything. It means an object (or form of art) that relies on random elements or a roll of the dice during its production. In this case, we've got an American Wild Ale made with 500 pounds of raspberries that, if the name has any meaning, were probably lucked into at some point. It's then aged in virgin oak for 4 months. While perhaps not the face melter that Brettophile was back in the day, this is a great little initial bottle release.

La Cabra Aleatory 1

La Cabra Aleatory Series #1 - Pours a bright, almost luminous ruby red color with a finger of off white (maybe a little pink?) head. Smells nice, a hint of earthy funk, a kiss of oak, lots and lots of raspberries. Taste has a nice raspberry kick to it, tart but not super sour, again, not a lot of oak or funk here, but enough to balance things out. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, dry, low acidity. Overall, a very nice little raspberry ale. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/16/17. Bottle No. 204 of 351.

A solid first offering from a brewpub that I expect great things from in the near future. I talked to them about Brettophile, which apparently takes a bit longer to make, but they're thinking maybe late this year for the first release. Until then, I'll just have to keep visiting the taproom...

The Bruery Mélange #3

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Of The Bruery's long line of Mélange experimental blends, the #3 seems to be the best known, most widely consumed, and among the top rated iterations. It has three components: their Anniversary Old Ale (a solera-style barrel-aged beer that holds a special place in my heart), White Oak Sap (a barrel-aged wheatwine that I have not had, but which bears a resemblance to White Oak, which is actually one of my least favorite Bruery beers), and the fabled Black Tuesday (a colossal 18%+ ABV imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels that is glorious). All of these components are above 14% ABV and it's packaged in a large-format bottle because (as I've already established) Patrick Rue is trying to kill us. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop... ever, until we are drunk.

Anyways, exact proportions of the blend are unknown, but I'm going to give it a SWAG because I'm the worst. I suspect the majority of this beer is the Anniversary Ale, with smaller proportions of White Oak Sap and Black Tuesday that mostly cancel each other out, leaving us back at Anniversary Ale territory. Which, like, isn't a bad thing. I absolutely love the Anniversary Ales, and this one does feel like it gives a slight twist to the old familiar. That being said, I was perhaps hoping for a little more of the Black Tuesday influence. Still, with Mélange #3 hitting distribution this year, it's not difficult to obtain (if a bit pricey), so if you like the Bruery's barrel-aged stuff and you can handle MarkIntiharing a 16.3% ABV beer, this is worth checking out:

The Bruery Mélange #3

The Bruery Mélange #3 - Pours a murky dark brown color, maybe a scosh darker than your typical anniversary beer, with half a finger of off white head. Smells wonderful, caramel, toffee, oak, vanilla, toffee, caramel, bourbon, toffee, caramel, hints of something a little darker, not quite roast, but maybe chocolate, lending it a sorta chocolate covered caramel/toffee feel. Taste follows the nose, rich caramel and toffee, bourbon, oak and vanilla, did I mention caramel and toffee, lots of booze in the finish. As it warms, dark fruit emerges in the middle and evens out that finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it feels a lot like a slightly more complex Bruery Anniversary beer; the other components are there, but they seem to balance each other out, leaving you back in Anniversary territory. Not that that is a bad thing, as those anniversary beers are some of my all time favorites. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.3% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip/snifter glass on 4/15/17. Vintage: 2017.

Par for the barrel-aged Bruery course, which is pretty good in my book, and it was a welcome return to beer after my temporary hiatus.

Hot Sauce Double Feature

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I'm not one of those capsaicin-addicted thrill-seekers hunting down obscure pepper-walez like the Merciless Pepper of Quetzalacatenango ("...grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.") but I do enjoy spicy food and hot sauces. As per usual, you should remember that this is a beer blog and I am the worst, so you'll need to take my ramblings with the appropriate boulder of salt. Or not. I'm not your mother.

Anyway, these are at least beer-adjacent hot sauces, so there is that. Choosing a favorite hot sauce is probably about as difficult as choosing a favorite beer (i.e. impossible), as different offerings fill different needs. I always have at least 3 or 4 different hot sauces on hand, sometimes more. Frank's Red Hot is, of course, a constant and utterly necessary for wings (I generally don't mind sampling another flavor of wing, but I'm invariably let down by the experience and regret not ordering the regular ol' buffalo wing), but it's nice to have some differing flavor profiles or textures around too. Before we get to the hot sauce, I wanted to give a shout out to Serious Eats' recent Top 30 Hot Sauce list, which is a pretty fantastic resource that lead me to our first selection...

BLiS Blast and Pappy and Company Hot Pepper Sauce

BliS Blast is up first. BLiS (an acronym for Because Life is Short) is most famous for making a bourbon barrel aged maple syrup (that is nice, but not as great as the Pappy aged one I reviewed last week), but they make a whole line of barrel aged goodies, like this hot sauce, comprised of chipotle, arbol and cayenne chilies aged for up to a year in barrels that have previously been used to age bourbon, maple syrup, and Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). The order of the aging is unclear to me, and there are a couple of possibilities. If the various aging processes occurred in the order listed, I think the resulting beer would have actually been Canadian Breakfast Stout (regular KBS doesn't have the maple syrup component, but CBS does). Or perhaps separate bourbon barrels, some having aged syrup and some having aged KBS are blended together in the end. Whatever the case, the result is pretty great.

Pours a dark, grainy, browninsh red color. Smells complex, sweet, but almost smokey, maybe coffee, lots of cayenne peppers, chipotle comes out as well, and yes, relatively sweet too. Taste follows the nose, sweet with a smokey, almost roasty character and a light spice heat. Mouthfeel is rich and sweet, light spice heat but it lingers for a bit. Overall, this is a fascinating hot sauce, hints of almost barbecue going on here, but it's got a nice, light heat and smokey, roasty character that is really well done and complex. Relatively mild as hot sauces go, but the barrel character seems to actually come through and contribute more here than I'd expect.

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (375 ml). Heat level: Mild (estimated)

Next up, Pappy & Company Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce. This is a collaboration with Midland Ghost, a hot sauce made from first generation Ghost Peppers and aged in Pappy barrels of unspecified expression (my guess is the 10 and 12 year, as with the syrup). A little more straightforward, but still quite nice.

Pours a light, bright orange color, pepper chunks visible. Smells more evenly of pepper, apparently ghost pepper. Taste is more obviously hot sauce than the BLiS stuff, lots of peppers, vinegar, and moderate to high heat. Mouthfeel is lighter and thinner but spicer, hotter than BLis (though it's not overly-so, nor is it something that will get the Scoville-addicts who've built up a resistance excited). Overall, this is hot, tasty, and interesting. I don't get a ton of bourbon or anything to indicate its provenance, but it's still pretty good... if a little disappointing since the maple syrup they make has such a great bourbon character.

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (5 ounces). Heat level: Medium (estimated)

Verdict? The BLiS is more interesting and unconventional and I think I like it better overall, but the Pappy & Co offering is still a good, if more conventional, hot sauce. That being said, the world of hot sauce is so large that it's hard to justify the Pappy premium for something that isn't as distinctive as you might think.

Tired Hands Bottle & Can Chronicle

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It's been a while since I've covered these Ardmore dorkuses, what with their saisons and their IPAs and rows of empty chairs at can releases and yes, even a bourbon barrel aged stout. I've basically given up on keeping track of every Tired Hands beer I try, and indeed, my visits have decreased in recent months, but they are still, by far, the brewery I've had the most different beers from. I can't see anyone overtaking them anytime soon either. So let's get with the program and check out the last 6 months or so of bottle releases (with the occasional can and growler).

The Emptiness is in Bloom

The Emptiness is in Bloom - Oak barrel fermented saison conditioned on locally harvested honeysuckle and elderflowers - Pours a very pale straw yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells, tart, floral, delightfully funky, earthy. Taste has a nice, tart sweetness to it up front, moving into an earthy funk and oaky middle, followed by a tart and funky floral finish. As it warms a nice saison spice emerges. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light bodied, and moderately acidic. Overall, it's great to be back in the Emptiness series. While not the best Emptiness offering, it's still a gem. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/20/17.

Clourison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop clementines (juice and zest) - Pours a hazy golden color with a finger of moderately lived white head. Smells hugely of clementines, tones of citrus fruit, with that saison funk, spice, and hint of oak lingering in the background. Taste again hits huge notes of clementine, really strong, then there are hints of the saisonhands base beer to even things out a bit, a little earthy funk, oak, spice. Clementine is really the star here, really intense. Mouthfeel is moderately carbonated, light, and refreshing. Overall, this is really nice, the intensity of the fruit reminds me of Freedom from the Known, but the saisonhands base can't stand up to it as well. Still really nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/30/16.

Strawrison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop strawberries - Pours an almost radiant golden orange color with half a finger of white head. Smells funky, tart fruit, strawberries certainly, maybe a little yeasty spice. Taste again has more funk than I'm used to from the Ourison line, earthy, not quite cheesy or smokey, but edging in that direction; tart fruit still apparent though, strawberries, saison spice, and a little oak. Mouthfeel is light bodied but not as crisp or dry as Ourison and a little less carbonated (but still enough). Overall, this is quite nice right now. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/2/17.

Blourison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop blueberries - Pours a ridiculous dark ruby red, looks almost like a rose, with a finger of pinkish blue head. Smells nice, lots of oak, a little saison spice, and those tart blueberry aromas coming through well. Taste is blueberry forward, sweet and tart, with some saison spice and oak peeking in during the middle to finish, which also has that tart note. Mouthfeel is light bodied, a little thin, decent carbonation but not as much as ourison. Overall, this is nice, but as much as I love Saisonhands and Ourison, I'm not sure how great a platform for fruit that base really is... B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of charente glass on 1/15/17.

Individuation: Florid - Slightly spiced blended orange-hued Saison aged in French oak - Pours a golden honey color with a finger of head and ok retention. Smells quite nice, vinous fruit and plenty of oak, going to be a sour one. Taste is sweet up front, with a nice oak character coming through in the middle, maybe some funk there too, and then the sourness ramps up into the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate to high acidity, but still pleasant. Overall, is your typical TH style sour saison, which is a very good thing indeed. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (750 ml Green Bottle). Drank out of a Teku glass on 10/15/16.

Individuation Florid, Dry Hop and regular version

Individuation: Florid, Dry Hopped - The same as Individuation: Florid, but dry hopped with Hull Melon - Pours that same golden honey color with that same finger of head. Smells very different though, clearly that Hull Melon dry hopping coming through, honeydew and lemons, with oak taking a backseat in this variant. The taste starts off sweet and sour, hop flavor overtaking the oak here too, finishing with that sour note. Less oaky, more hoppy and maybe even more sour (or at least the perception of more sourness). Mouthfeel is pretty much the same as regular, but again, slightly more astringency. Overall, this is more complex, but I'm not sure if it's better. Hull Melon certainly isn't my favorite hop, but it is definitely distinct. B+

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottle (750 ml Brown Bottle). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/15/16.

Tired Hands Bourbon Barrel Aged Only Void

Tired Hands Only Void Bourbon Barrel Aged - Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for over a year - Pours deep black with a finger of short lived light brown head. Smells of caramel, oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Taste starts off sweet, rich caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, the richness fading a bit after the middle and into the sweet finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied up front, but it thins a bit in the finish, a little pleasant boozy heat as I drink. Overall, hell yes, I've been waiting for this for a long time. I still really wish they bottled it, but it's a solid BBA imperial stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV growler (1 Liter). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/15/16. Growler filled 10/15/16.

Tired Hands Permashore - Oak fermented gose with lemon drop hops - a radiant, clear yellow color with half a finger of bubbly head. Smells oaky, but you get that gose spice (coriander) and tart fruit, lemon, lime thing in the background too. Taste starts out with the gose spice character, moves into oak town, and adds in a salinity and a little tartness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, a bit undercarbonated, pleasant, low acidity. Overall, this is very nice. The oak overwhelmed the style a bit, but it still comports itself well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 11/12/16.

Whatever, Nevermind - Oak aged "yule" saison, 2015 bottle - Fun fact: this beer was the 200th checkin at Tired Hands Brew Cafe. I loved it. Then they bottled it a year later or something. And now it's a year after that! And it's still great. Nice tart, oaky foeder character, really tasty. Really enjoy this. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 12/3/16. Vintage: 2015.

Heavy Gem Humanimal Stasis

Heavy Gem Humanimal Stasis - Collaboration with Half Acre, Double IPA brewed with Equinox, Mosaic, and Simcoe - Pours a cloudy, darkish golden yellow color with a finger of white head and some lacing as I drink. Smells very floral an almost spicy, a little pine, but not as much citrus or pine as you'd want. Taste also hits floral and spicy hop notes, with a little dank pine emerging in the middle, and a relatively bitter finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, maybe a hint of booze too. Overall, this is not in your typical Tired Hands style; it's alright but nowhere near the ratings I'm seeing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/24/17. Canned on 3/19/17.

The Deepest and Most Wonderful Secret

The Deepest and Most Wonderful Secret - Yuzu Triple IPA brewed with Simcoe, Galaxy, Azacca, and Equinox - Pours a hazy pale orange color with a finger of white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells citrusy and almost tart, some of those typical TH juicy IPA notes. Taste is very sweet with an almost tart kick (apparently that yuzu), some citrus and floral hops, and a little booze. Mouthfeel is surprisingly full bodied, lightly acidic, a little alcohol heat but it drinks lighter than it is... Overall, a solid take on a triple IPA, really tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mason jar on 3/3/17. Canned 03/01/17. Batch: GO DEEP.

Phew, that's quite a few beers. And, of course, I already have a couple more on deck, so look for another recap in the nearish future. It feels like can releases are getting a little less insane, so maybe I'll snag a few more of those in the future...

Pizza and beer is one of my favorite pairings, but what to do when you've gone on a temporary beer hiatus? Obviously you need to go with an Italian wine, but that doesn't narrow things down much... I ran into this video (you guys, I watch Playboy for the food pairing advice) which suggested a specific wine and, for once, I was actually able to find that wine around here.

This wine hails from Vittoria, Sicily and is made by one of the rising stars of the wine world, Arianna Occhipinti. She fell in love with the process while working with her uncle, also a famous winemaker, when she was just 16 years old. She followed up by studying agriculture and oenology at university and started making her own wine right after she graduated. Starting on a tiny plot (1 hectare), she's slowly grown her winery, focusing on all natural, organic winemaking.

It's funny, in looking up this wine I keep running into the weirdly specific statistic that Arianna Occhipinti has had 27 articles about her wines featured in the New York Times. Well, I guess she can add "and one random beer blog" to her growing list of plaudits.

This particular wine is a blend of two indigenous grapes, Nero d'Avola and Frappato. As a beer dork, you'll have to excuse the fact that I'm not familiar with either, but from looking around, Frappato is known for light-bodied, low-tannin wines with a distinct, I shit you not, "grapey" aroma. Alright, so other, probably more reliable sources go beyond describing these grapes as "grapey" and go with descriptions of red fruits (raspberries, cherries, etc...) and floral notes. Nero d'Avola seems to be associated with bigger, bolder wines, dark fruits (plums and the like), and tannins. The blend goes 70% Frappato and 30% Nero d'Avola, so I'm guessing a medium bodied wine with a nice acidity to pair with the pizza.

SP68 apparently refers to the name of a highway near Vittoria, so let's hop on board, drink some wine and eat some pizza:

Occhipinti SP68 Nero dAvola e Frappato

2015 Arianna Occhipinti Sicilia SP68 Nero d'Avola e Frappato - Pours a light, bright ruby red color. Smells nice, lots of fruit and berries, some floral notes, all leavened by hints of earthy funk in the background. Maybe it's because I love me some ultra-funky beer, but this does not seem as funky as many reviews seem to call out, though it is there. Taste again has a lot of fruit, berries, acidity, a bit of funky earth (though again, not that dramatic from my perspective). Mouthfeel is medium bodied and bright but still rich and robust, mild acidity, tingly tongue feeling but again, from the beery perspective this acid is nothing. Light on the dry tannins, making for an easy drinking wine. Overall, I'm really enjoying this wine, and it does indeed pair well with pizza... In fact, this is one of the more memorable wines I've sampled this year.

Wine Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/7/17. Vintage: 2015.

Food Pairing: A pretty straightforward pizza with red sauce, asiago and mozzarella cheese, garlic, and fresh basil, and yes, the wine did indeed pair very well. Did it pair better than beer (or even my old favorite, Coca-Cola)? That is indeed the question. I think I might still prefer beer, but I will say that my experience with wine and pizza in the past (not a lot of experience here, but still) wouldn't have even been close, and this wine made for a really pleasant pairing...

Beer Nerd Musings: I don't know of any beers that have made use of these Sicilian grape varietals (or aged in wine barrels from these grapes), but I suspect Frappato would be a nice adjunct in a lambic or American wild ale. As I understand it, the beer scene in Italy is exploding (just like here), but that a lot of operations are tiny. I hear some are even connected to wineries, so this seems like a fruitful combination... that will probably never make it to the U.S. Still, a man can hope. As for pairing with pizza, lots of beers will work, but I usually end up with some form of IPA or Saison, thogh a nice, crisp pilsner or helles can work too. Even a stout or Belgian dark could do the trick...

While I have triumphantly emerged from this year's Beer Recession, I do still have a few non-beer things to cover this week before we get back to the beer. Next up: beer adjacent hot sauce!

Pappy Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

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Various expressions of Pappy Van Winkle are widely considered to be the best Bourbon in the world. They are also widely derided as overrated and overhyped, which naturally has the effect of making Pappy even more prized in an unintential, reverse-psychology sort of way. We're kinda trapped in Pappy dominance with no real way out, is what I'm saying.

The cachet of Van Winkle has, of course, spread. Spent Pappy barrels are a prized commodity and are used to age everything from beer to, yes, maple syrup. What we have here is a collaboration between Pappy & Co and Ohio's Bissel Maple Farm. It's made with sap harvested in the Spring of 2016 and aged 6 months in Van Winkle 10 and 12 year old barrels (a previous batch was aged in Pappy 23 barrels - I'm guessing that's the one that shows up on ridiculous Maple Syrup Walez lists that I'm sure actually exist because lol, this is the internets). It's pricey, but is it worth the stretch?

Pure Maple Syrup Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels

Bourbon Barrel Aged Pure Maple Syrup Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels - Pours a very dark amber color. Smell has a very distinct bourbon note, moreso than any other Bourbon Barrel Aged syrup I've had (and, um, I've actually had a few different kinds), really interesting mix with the more typical maple syrup character. That bourbon note follows to the taste, again creating a distinct character from typical maple syrup and even other bourbon barrel-aged syrups. Bourbon flavor, but no real booze, which is, uh, a good thing. Overall, it's pricey af, but really tasty!

Beer Nerd Musings: So obviously Pappy Van Winkle barrel aged beer is almost as ridiculously hyped as the bourbon itself. Sometimes with reason. Pappy Black Magick might vie for the title of best beer I've ever had. Other beers aged in Pappy barrels weren't as successful, which speaks to the importance of other factors, I think (in that case, I don't think the base beer was a good choice for barrel aging). Obviously maple syrup and beer also go together pretty well, and some of the most prized beers have been aged in maple syrup barrels that previously held bourbon (though not these Pappy syrup barrels, I don't think). Bissel Maple Farm has specifically shown up as an element of Goose Island's Proprietor's Reserve Bourbon County line as well. I've actually not had the beers I'm referencing, but I'm most certainly on the lookout. My guess is that we'll see more of these over time...

So yes, quite pricey, but I think it's worth a shot at least once. Treat yo self. Pappy & Co. also make a bourbon infused hot sauce which we'll hopefully cover next week, along with another beer/bourbon adjacent hot sauce, so stay tuned.

Hophead Vodka

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The origins of the modern craft beer movement are usually traced back to 1965, when Frederick Louis "Fritz" Maytag III purchased Anchor Brewing Company, saving it from closure and keeping it strictly independent even during the dark days of consolidation and dominance of the big 3. A few decades later, in 1993, the company opened Anchor Distilling, a microdistillery in the same location as the brewery (surely not the first "craft" distillery, but probably ahead of the curve).

They're most famous for Old Potrero, a rye whiskey, but they also make gin and a few other oddities, like this relatively new offering, a vodka made with macerated hops. There have been various attempts to meld beer and spirits over the years, usually coming in the form of distilled commercial beer, like Charbay R5 (which is made from distilled Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA). Hopehead Vodka takes a slightly different approach. It uses hops which are macerated in neutral grain spirits before being distilled, apparently similar to the process used for Gin. Details are a little sparse, and while it's mentioned that they use 2 different hops, they don't mention which two. To my mind, the result is more gin-like than hoppy, but it feels like the mutant offspring of two different worlds:

Hophead Vodka

Hophead Vodka - Pours clear, no color at all. Smell is... not what I expected. These aren't your typical hops, but they do display related notes, mostly floral with a little citrus, maybe some spice. Taste is a little less distinctive, again floral notes, a little bit of citrus in the finish, hints of spice, ethanol. Mouthfeel is crisp with a bit of a bite from the booze. It feels like gin, which isn't particularly surprising, but while there's a certain distinct flavor, it doesn't feel entirely like the hops we all know and love, even if it shares some DNA or something. Seems like a nice change of pace for the gin fan, might make an interesting coctail with tonic or something (which I should probably try). That being said, it never really cohered for me, even if I think it's a pretty interesting dram. Certainly worth a look if you can snag a sample, but not really worth a purchase.

Vodka Nerd Details: 90 proof, 45% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass.

Beer Nerd Musings: Obviously hops are a key component in beer, and to my mind, the various attempts to incorporate hop character in spirits or whiskey are fascinating, but wholly inferior to what can be done with beer. I would say that, of course, but something about the distilling process transforms the hops in ways that might be interesting, but also lossy. I'm no master homebrewer, but I've huffed enough fresh hops to know what unadulterated hops smell and taste like, and beer can really capture that in ways something like this vodka just isn't. I'm still curious what a sorta dry-hopping approach to vodka or whiskey would produce, but I'm not entirely sure that will work as well as it does with beer.

Well that was interesting, and I'll certainly continue to explore the various convergences between beer and liquor, even if they don't always work out. In the meantime, we'll return to non-alcohol land with tomorrow's review of... maple syrup? With a twist!

Single Estate Assam

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During my annual beer recession, I usually spend some time exploring things that aren't alcohol. I know, I'm so kooky. I've made my coffee ambivalence well known on the blog due to its prevalence in the beer world, but I do enjoy the odd cup of tea here or there. I am far, so very far, from being an expert in tea, but that's one of the joys of this annual semi-hiatus from beer.

One thing I've never done is add milk to my tea. Yes, I'm the worst, I know that too. Oddly, as soon as I resolve to try this out, I find that adding milk to tea might destroy it's healthy antioxidants. Well, nuts. It does help round out some of the more bitter aspects of tea, but come on guys. A beer dork and certified hophead, bitterness doesn't exactly bother me. So imma keep drinking my tea straight up.

What we have here are two Single Estate Assams. Think Single Malt Scotch or single hop beer, only completely different. Or something. I've already decoded the whole GTGFOP1 acronym gobbledegook and yes, found out about some, um, disturbing terroir in Assam, so let's dive into these suckers:

Single Estate Assam: Dikom Estate Tea GTGFOP1 - Brews up an orange amber color. Smells malty with some herbal notes (I don't get mint as the description suggests, but maybe if I really reach for it...). Taste has a nice sweetness to it, malt coming through but also a very light fruit character that's nice, but not enough to really assert itself. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, strong, good breakfast fodder. Overall, it's nice, but I don't really get the notes from the description except in a very vague sense.

Tea Nerd Details: 1+ tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Single Estate Assam: Zaloni Estate STGFOP - Pours a light brown color with a hint of amber. Smells of sweet malt, a little bready, hints of something vegetal. Taste has an intense malt character, sweet, with that bready note too and a bit of a bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and finishes kinda dry. Overall, a decent cup of black tea, nothing particularly spectacular, but I like.

Tea Nerd Details: 1+ tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: Adding actual milk to beer is probably unwise and vaguely revolting, but we do use lactose. It increases body, adds a type of sweetness, and yes, evens out some of that bitterness that comes from hops. Indeed, while most of us don't mind a little bitterness (or even a lot), one of the big trends right now is less bitter IPAs and even what's called Milkshake IPAs, which are made with lactose and have a pretty chewy mouthfeel (and a rather opaque appearance). Go figure. If I were a betting man, I'd say it's only a matter of time before local favorite Tired Hands brewing makes a Milkshake beer that uses tea. Keep an eye out folks.

Next up in the non-alcoholic jamboree: Maple Syrup. With a twist you won't believe!

Stagg Jr.

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As its name would imply, Stagg Jr. is a younger version of Buffalo Trace's prized barrel-proof monster, George T. Stagg. It has no official age statement, but is rumored to be around 8 or 9 years old (while Stagg senior is more in the 16-17 year timeframe). It's also barrel proof in that same hazmat range of 60-70% ABV.

When it was first released in 2013, it ran aground amidst huge anticipation and hype. Perhaps nothing could live up to the expectations, but all accounts of that initial batch indicate a rough, overly-hot mess (as one review put it, it's "like drinking warm pepper spray"). Naming it Stagg Jr. probably didn't help. George T. Stagg is second only to Pappy in terms of bourbon obsession and hype, so that alone raised expectations to unrealistic levels.

Perhaps as a result of this lackluster reception, the next few batches seemed to linger on shelves longer than you'd expect. Around batch 3, its reputation started to turn around. Reviews started to wonder if Buffalo Trace had righted the ship and dialed in their newest product, but even I was able to snag a bottle of Batch 4 juice way back when, and I'm not exactly an expert whiskey hunter. I gather that subsequent releases have started to disappear more quickly, so I don't think people are sleeping on this anymore, but it'll still be a lot easier to get than Stagg senior.

I originally bought this bottle because I thought I'd never get the chance to try George T. Stagg... only to unexpectedly win the PLCB lottery a few weeks later. That Stagg is among the top 2 or 3 whiskeys I've ever had in my life, so Stagg Jr. did have a lot to live up to, but I tried to temper expectations. It helps that I'm still making my way through a lot of the more standard, boring offerings out there, so this still feels special to novice whiskey dorks like myself. It was nice to try this right next to Booker's to get a feel for how different these two bourbons can be:

Stagg Jr.

Stagg Jr. - Pours a dark amber orange color, long legs. Smells nice, typial oak, caramel, vanilla notes, some spice, cinnamon, molasses, brown sugar, booze not as nose-singing as Booker's despite the higher proof. Taste again hits those oaky notes pretty hard, some vanilla and caramel, plenty of spicebox, and ah, there's that booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, thick, and yes, very boozy. Again, somehow not as harsh as Booker's, but still pretty hot (as per usual, take my baby beer palate into consideration here). Overall, this is quite nice, maybe a step up from Booker's but comparable. B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 132.2 Proof, 66.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 4/8/17. Batch #4. Vintage 2015.

Beer Nerd Musings: I'm not aware of any beers specifically aged in Stagg Jr. barrels, but then, as I understand it, Stagg Jr. is just barrel proof Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare, both of which are frequently cited barrel provenances. As you might expect, I think these barrels would do quite well with beer, and indeed, Buffalo Trace won the FiftyFifty Eclipse horizontal tasting I held a few years back. The concept of a sorta baby version of a more prized beer is something that does happen from time to time, though the differentiator is more about the amount of alcohol rather than the age. Some examples might include Great Divide Velvet Yeti (a lower alcohol version of their Yeti Imperial Stout that's designed for nitro pours) or The Bruery So Happens It's Tuesday, a slightly lower alcohol (and thus "more affable") version of the monstrous Black Tuesday. There are probably tons of other examples.

Fellow Travelers: Obviously lots of other folks have tried various batches of this out:

So this was a pretty decent bourbon. I enjoyed it a little more than Booker's, but I'm told it falls a little short of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (a bourbon I've never managed to get my hands on). Alas, this will probably be the last whiskey I review during this year's Beer Recession. That being said, I've got another beer-adjacent bottle of booze that could use some reviewing, and even some things that don't involve alcohol at all. The horror!

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

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