Alpine Nelson

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Inspired by a 2003 trip to New Zealand (the image on the label is a bay from the Nelson region of NZ) where the owner of Alpine stumbled upon NZ hops (then not used very much in the US) and decided to make a Kiwi inspired beer. The hop bill is comprised of all NZ hops with Nelson Sauvin being a specific focus, though others are clearly in use.

This video mentions that the first hop addition is extra double super secret, the second is Nelson Sauvin, the third is Southern Cross, and the fourth is a combo of Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross. There is a dry hopping period as well, but the hops used are unspecified (my not particularly insightful swag: Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross). My impression is that Nelson Sauvin is an intense citrus, grapefruit, almost wine-like hop, while Southern Cross is a more mild, floral affair that would match really well with the rye in the recipe. I was very much impressed with Duet, so let's see how Nelson stacks up:

Alpine Nelson

Alpine Nelson - Pours a clear, very pale, golden yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of citrusy, vinous fruit, grapefruit and the like, maybe something more floral and earthy lurking in the background. Taste has a beautiful grapefruit and vinous fruit character to it up front, followed by some rye spice in the middle, and a well balanced, light, dry bitterness in the finish. Great hop character without overpowering anything, and perhaps the first time I really get Nelson Sauvin. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, and crisp, absolutely and dangerously quaffable. Overall, another spectacular IPA from Alpine. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/22/15.

I also managed to score some Hoppy Birthday whilst out and about because Alpine distributes here now, and it was quite nice (I didn't take notes because I'm the worst, but it was very light and quaffable, great hop character, though not quite as potent as Nelson or Duet). I'll also be checking out some Captain Stout at some point in the near future as well, and who knows, if they keep distributing out here, I'll almost certainly be drinking more of their goodness.

A couple years ago, I acquired a bottle of Great Divide's Barrel Aged Hibernation in a LIF. It was quite nice, but the barrel component wasn't quite as integrated as I expected. This could be because the bottle was nearly 2 years old or it could be that the Stranahan's barrels they used don't really live up to the more common bourbon barrel approach. The former could be addressed by snagging a fresh bottle of BA Hibernation (which I see are circulating in the area right now), but the latter will be more of a challenge since Stranahan's is relatively small, there aren't that many breweries that use their barrels, and then there's the fact that they have asked brewers not to disclose their name on labels anymore. Also, the nature of a small distillery like Stranahan's can lead to inconsistency, which could also translate to their barrels... I'm not an inconsistency hater and can even find it charming in some instances, but that doesn't make a true miss any less annoying!

All that being said, it's my understanding that Great Divide does still use Stranahan's for their barrel program, and when I saw this barrel aged barleywine (for 12 months, no less), I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm happy to report that this worked out better than the old ale (though it appears some folks have gotten infected bottles - mine was not, so I don't know how prevalent any of those issues was):

Great Divide Barrel Aged Old Ruffian

Great Divide Barrel Aged Old Ruffian - Pours a dark, murky amber brown color with a finger of off white had that sticks around for a bit. Smells of dark fruits, raisins, plums, with some caramel and toffee and hints of whiskey in the background. Taste goes to a similar place, rum soaked raisins and plums, hints of slightly boozy oak and whiskey, and a malt backbone of caramel and toffee, finishing with that touch of whiskey and vanilla. As it warms, it gets a bit deeper and the whiskey comes out a bit more. Mouthfeel is full bodied, tightly carbonated, with a moderate amount of richness from the barrel aging, silky smooth, with enough alcohol heat in the finish to keep it a sipper. Overall, very well executed bourbon barrel barleywine, quite a treat. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/16/15. Bottled on: March 26, 2015.

This was very nice and makes me want to go out and grab another BA Hibernation, though I really shouldn't, as I'm drowning in good beer over here. I know, woe is me, but I've got to drink down my cellar a bit and oh, it looks like I've got a trip to Vermont on the near horizon, so this is going to be rough. For certain values of "rough".

AleWerks Lover's Greed

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How do you do, dear reader? I am your most obedient servant and I am right heartily glad to see you. Forsooth, I have a most curious beer to discuss with you. Hailing from the honorable brewery known as Aleworks, situated close to the colonial town of Williamsburg, Virginia, this elixir began its life in a traditional brick wrapped brewhouse with open flame (as opposed to the modern heathens who useth more gentle steam systems), then slumbered for nearly 18 months in French oak barrels formerly used to age red wine. Truly a testament to the fleeting virtue of patience, that most humble of qualities. Hold ye onto thine britches, for these suds pack a sour punch:

AleWerks Lovers Greed

AleWerks Lover's Greed - Pours a pale, hazy reddish orange color with a finger of fizzy head that quickly resolves into a cap of head that sticks around for a while. Smells of vinous fruit, sour cherries, and tart vinegar. Taste is surprisingly mellow, definitely lots of tart fruit, cherries and grapes, vinegar tones, a little in the way of oak and vanilla, sour but not overpoweringly so. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated but smooth, slightly acidic but not a monster. Overall, a nice American wild ale; it's quite approachable and goes down rather easy, comporting itself well in a crowded and competitive style. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/16/15. Vintage: 2014.

Many thanks to Danur for the bottle! Also, I beg your pardon for my horrid attempts at colonial speech. It's funny, AleWerks has even dropped Williamsburg from their name, so I'm guessing they're trying to distance themselves from that connotation. Regardless, I've enjoyed most everything I've had from this small operation, and have been on the lookout for Bitter Valentine for a while now... There's always next year.

Midnight Sun Berserker

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Alaska is a cold place, so I guess it makes sense that brewers situated in that bleak environment would resort to big, heavy malts and lots of booze. And thank God that they do, because I love those beers. Midnight Sun exemplifies this approach, with a line of impressive imperial stouts, one of the best barleywines I've ever had, and now this barrel aged monstrosity.

In Old Norse literature, Berserkers were warriors who dressed in bear pelts and fought with an uncontrollable, trance-like rage. It's speculated that they entered this state of wild fury through the use of drugs, though probably not a depressant like alcohol. These days, it's mostly a cheesy reference or way to describe comic book characters like Wolverine. And also this beer, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout brewed with maple syrup and molasses. I sure do enjoy me, well, all of those things, so let's get to it. My love for you is like a truck, Berserker!

Midnight Sun Berserker

Midnight Sun Berserker - Pours a deep black color with a beautiful cap of dark brown head (maybe even a sorta amber tint to the head, very pretty, but short-lived). Smells of dark, roasty malts, vanilla, sweet brown sugar, dark chocolate, and a touch of bourbon. Taste starts with a nice, rich caramel that quickly yields to brown sugar, syrupy molasses, almost fruity, vinous flavors, a little oak and vanilla, boozy bourbon, then dark chocolate and more traditional roasted malts emerge towards and into the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, a little boozy heat. The closest thing I can compare this to is The Abyss, but with a little more barrel character. Overall, this is a rock solid Bourbon barrel aged stout, right up my alley. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 5/15/15. Vintage 2015. 30 IBUs.

There is a beer called Son of Berserker that is made from the second runnings of Berserker's no doubt large malt bill, and honestly, at this point, I'm down for just about anything from this brewery, the bigger and burleyer, the better.

Alpine Duet

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Of the west coast ballers of hoppy beer, Alpine seems to be among the top tier. Hushed tones and angelic choirs, I have been craving their wares for many a moon. I finally managed to snag a bottle in a cross-country trade, and then I find out that they've started distributing to Philly. Literally the day after I received this bottle of Duet in the mail, I spy a local beeratorium tapping 3 of their most sought-after beers. It turns out that Green Flash's recent acquisition of Alpine has translated into more production and wider distribution. Go figure. If this bottle is indicative of the trend, it is a most welcome development!

The Duet in question refers to the two most prominent ingredients of this beer: Amarillo and Simcoe hops. Both are staples of the modern American IPA, but rarely have they been employed in such an efficent and downright delicious fashion. All of Alpine's labels feature historically significant buildings located in Apline, CA, in this case, we've got the Alpine Community Church, truly a great representative of such a heavenly beer:

Alpine Duet

Alpine Duet - Pours a slightly hazy golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells great, lots of citrus, grapefruit, a little mango, some more earthy floral aromas pitching in as well. Taste starts off with a blast of sweet citrus that doesn't really let up until some light hop bitterness course corrects in the finish. The hop character does get more complex as I drink, what was initially straight citrus gets more floral and maybe piney as it warms up. The bitterness is perfectly matched yielding a fantastic balance that most IPAs do not manage. It's not a bitter bomb or anything approaching that level of bitterness (definitely less bitter than many beers), but there's enough there to balance out the citrusy sweet hop and malt backbone. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and clean. It is utterly, dangerously quaffable, and perfectly balanced. Overall, this is a superb IPA, delicious, incredibly well balanced, and just phenomenal. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a Charente glass on 5/8/15.

Naturally, I have another beer on its way: Alpine Nelson. But I may apparently be able to dig up some others locally as well. Naturally, these folks have made a rather fantastic first impression in a pretty competitive category, so I'm looking forward to more.

Logsdon Peche 'n Brett

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What do you get when you take Logsdon's already amazing Seizoen Bretta, stick it in oak, and then cram it with 1.5 pounds of peaches for every gallon of beer? You get a gigantor peach singularity that curves spacetime and collapses in on itself such that scientists don't really know how to measure any of this except to say that it's delicious. First released in 2012, it quickly achieved walezbro status, disappearing immediately upon subsequent releases. I assume production has been ramped up for the simple reason that I was actually able to get my grubby biscuit snatchers on a bottle, and lo, it was good:

Logsdon Peche n Brett

Logsdon Peche 'n Brett - Pours a radiant yellow gold with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells of pure, juicy peaches. I have never had a beer that had this much peach going on. Sure, there's some light, musty funk if you look for it, but the aroma is really dominated by those peaches. The taste has a little more balance to it. Still lots of peaches, but you get more of that musty Brett, a little spice, some oak and maybe even a dry tannic quality. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and crisp, medium bodied, perhaps even a bit of boozy heat, but not at all unpleasant. Hot damn, this is a peach bomb. I've never had anything quite this intensely peachy. Overall, a pretty fantastic beer and a must for peach lovers. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/8/15. Bottle No. 12628. Best by: 01/2020.

While not distributed here, my understanding is that Seizoen Bretta is generally available wherever it is distributed, which is just inconceivable to me. That stuff is absolute nectar of the gods, and you would do well to seek it out by any means possible. As much as I enjoyed Peche 'n Brett, I can't help but fall back on Seizoen Bretta as a more regular option. And honestly, everything I've had from Logsdon has been pretty fantastic. Indeed, got a couple more in the pipeline, so watch out...

A Pair of Forest & Main Releases

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I've been doing a better job keeping up with Forest & Main's bottle releases lately, in part because they're such low-pressure affairs. Unlike a Tired Hands release, where you need to arrive at least a couple hours early, I can roll up right around opening time and still snag a bunch of bottles. People do wait in line, but it's definitely a more relaxed atmosphere and everything moves swiftly once the doors open. Oh yeah, and the beer's pretty good too.

Two beers at the latest release. One was Paradisaeidae, named after a family of birds known as the Birds of Paradise, a barrel-aged saison brewed with Forest & Main's local saison yeast, conditioned on lemongrass and lime, and dry hopped with Motueka. I never knew this, but Forest & Main's saison yeast is foraged from a variety of flowers and fruits growing within a few blocks of the brewpub ("Cultures from mulberries, cherries and honeysuckle made the final cut.") They switch up the yeast every year, so you can expect significant variations between vintages.

It's unclear if every saison they make uses this foraged yeast, but the second bottle I snagged, Ash & Alder (presumably a reference to the trees used to make Fender guitar bodies) was a more traditional saison except that it was dry hopped with Mosaic and Mandarina Bavaria. Unlike Paradisaeidae, this is not barrel aged and isn't really suitable for aging. I'm sure it would do just fine, but judging from the nose on this sucker, you really want to drink it fresh. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's take a closer look at both of these beers:

Paradisaeidae

Forest & Main Paradisaeidae - Pours a hazy golden orange color with a finger of dense white head. Smells funky, sour, fruity, with some oak pitching in for good measure. A very well integrated nose, actually. Taste starts off with a sour little snap that quickly subsides as things get earthy in the middle, funk and oak, some fruity hops and hop bitterness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, lightbodied, moderate sourness and acidity, a little dryness in the finish. Overall, a nice sour saison, but not quite the equal of some of their other offerings, notably Moeder saison or Marius variants. Still very nice, a solid B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/10/15. Bottled: Feb 26 2015 (Released May 2015)

Ash and Alder

Forest & Main Ash & Alder - Pours a more hazy, slightly darker golden color with tons of fluffy white head. Absolutely beautiful nose, perfect melding of saison spice, fruit, and funk with citrusy hops. Great tropical fruit aromas, oranges and the like. Taste is a little more subdued than the nose would have you believe, and the balance definitely leans more towards the spicy saison up front, with the hops kicking in towards the bitter finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, crisp and clean, and very, very dry. Overall, this is one of the better hoppy saisons that I've had, well worth checking out when fresh. A high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/10/15. Bottled: Feb 13 2015 (Released April/May 2015)

As per usual, solid work from Forest & Main. Always consider heading up there and should really visit more often. I am getting better, I swears.

Hammerhead

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No, this beer is not named for the awesomely badass shark. Like all of Hanger 24's Barrel Roll series beers, it's named after an aerial maneuver which is, in itself, named after the badass shark. I think. I mean, I guess it could also be named after, you know, the head of a hammer. But I prefer to think it's the shark that drove the name. It's a turn-around maneuver where the plane goes vertical, appears to stall, then rotates as the plane descends in a quarter loop so that it's made a full 180° turn. Or something. I'm clearly not a pilot, and haven't even really played one in video games.

After Pugachev's Cobra introduced me to Hangar 24's barrel aged beer program, I quickly resolved to sample more from the series, and this Barleywine aged in rye whiskey and bourbon barrels certainly did the trick. So let's take this highway to the danger zone:

Hangar 24 Barrel Roll No 4 Hammerhead

Hangar 24 Barrel Roll No. 4 Hammerhead - Pours a deep, dark brown color with half a finger of slow forming head. Smells sticky sweet, toffee and caramel, werthers original, a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a sorta rum-soaked fruit thing going on too. Taste is very sweet, some sticky toffee, light caramel, brown sugar, rum soaked fruit, with boozy bourbon hitting in the finish. The mouthfeel starts out in a way that makes you think this is a big, rich, chewy, full bodied beer, but it quickly thins out a little, with the barrel aged richness dissipating into the hot, boozy finish. It is perhaps not as hot as Pugachev's Cobra, but it gets the job done. Overall, this is a pretty great barleywine, not quite top tier, but well worth the stretch. A high B+, maybe A- territory, but will need to try again. If only someone would twist my arm and give me another bottle.

Beer Nerd Details: 13.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 5/2/15. Vintage: March 2015.

Would be really curious how a spell in the cellar would treat this one, and may actually have an opportunity to try that out. In the meantime, will be brushing up on my aerobatics and on the lookout for more Barrel Roll beers.

Three Floyds BackMasking

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Remember all the paranoia about Satanic cults back in the 80s? This manifested in many ways, but one of the coolest is something called backmasking. That's when you can discover a hidden message if you play a recording backwards, usually something Satanic or generally meant to corrupt the youth of the day. The Beatles famously popularized the notion of backmasked music, but thanks to human beings' predilection for pareidolia (i.e. finding meaning in something that is random, like shapes in the clouds), rumors of hidden messages became rampant in the 60s and 70s (the Beatles' good natured exploration came back to plague them later with rumors of Paul's death).

None of this was new, of course. Thomas Edison noticed the phenomenon almost immediately after inventing the phonograph, and even the Satanic connection dates all the way back to 1913, when Aleister Crowley wrote a book that advised those who were interested in black magic to "learn how to think and speak backwards." Along with related paranoia surrounding subliminal messaging, backmasking and satanism peaked in the 80s and has subsided as it's been proven that such techniques aren't exactly effective. But it's fun to go back and read all those irrational fears.

The advent of digital recording technology has lead to a bit of a resurgence in backmasking, as it's a lot easier to accomplish now. Artists being artists, they've always fought against the false accusations by using backmasking for humorous or satiric effect. For instance, there's a Mindless Self Indulgence song called Backmask which, when played forward, has all the nasty lyrics like "go kill yourself", but when played backwards, the hidden message is revealed: a soothing female voice tells the listener to be good, "Don't stay out too late", "Get dressed for church" and so on. Irony! (For the record, it's a clever idea, but the song ain't exactly great.)

So this beer is an ode to that Satanic scourge, with a perfectly executed label. Very much fitting with Three Floyds' brand. Oh. Oh no, I'm talking about branding now. What is wrong with me? Please forgive me, dear reader, I deal with this stuff for my day job sometimes. I try not to let it bleed through to the beer blog and... why are you looking at me like that? Stop judging me! Beer. The beer! So this is a relatively straightforward Oatmeal Stout that is variously reported as 6% or 8% ABV, depending on who you ask. I'll assume 8% because that's what Three Floyds' website sez, even if their labels frustratingly omit ABV for some unfathomable reason.

I was going to try and unearth some Satanic messages in this beer, but decided that "drinking beer backwards" would not be very fun (and apparently peeing doesn't count) so I'll have to lead it as an exercise for the reader, if you're so inclined.

Three Floyds BackMasking

Three Floyds BackMasking - Pours a deep black color with a finger of tan head that has decent retention and leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smells sweet, dark malts, but not super roasty, not quite caramel or toffee either, but closer to those than your typical stout. Taste is where the roasty hell-like notes come in to play, brimstone and the like, but there's lots of other things going on. Not as sweet as the nose would imply, but it's got notes of caramel and vanilla, some faint piney hops and a little hop bitterness towards the finish. As it warms, the hops come out a little more. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, thinner than expected but still pretty substantial, well attenuated, faintly satanic, plenty of carbonation and a silky feel. Overall, it's a rock solid moderate-ABV stout, well worth seeking out. B+ would try again.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 5/1/15.

As always, Three Floyds is worth the stretch and they have great brandin... dammit, I'm doing it again. Leave me alone, I learned it from watching you! What? I'm... sorry, I don't know what is going on right now.

Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre

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Started by a pair of married schoolteachers in their hometown of Blaugies, these folks have been brewing in their quaint farmhouse garage since 1987. That's a pretty long time for an American brewer, but in Belgium, where some brewers have histories dating back centuries, it's a young brewery (Michael Jackson once quipped that this beer was "A fine revival"). Everything they make is a saison, so you know it's a good bet, even if you're playing Belgian roulette. This particular example is made with Spelt and Dupont's yeast strain, but despite being very yeast-driven, it manages to remain distinct from most of Dupont's classic beers:

Blaugies Saison D Epeautre

Brasserie de Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre - Hoo boy, the pressure in this bottle must've been massive, that cork could have punctured the ceiling if I wasn't careful. Pours a slightly cloudy straw yellow color with massive amounts of bubbly head and decent retention, though little in the way of lacing. Smells of dusty, musty belgian yeast, a little spice, like clove and coriander, and faint hints of fruity esters. Taste has a big spice note to it, the clove and coriander from the nose, plenty of musty yeast, with hints of bright fruit coming through. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, quite dry as well. Overall, this is a fantastic, very well executed example of a rather straightforward saison, one I'd like to revisit for sure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/2/15.

Well, now I need to go find everything Blaugies ever brewed. Super.

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

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Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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