March 2012 Archives

Peeper Ale

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It seems that everywhere I turn, people I respect are drinking and writing about these crazy hippies from Maine. This is odd, given that Maine Beer Company is tiny - a "nano-brewery", which is, like, a few orders of magnitude smaller than a "micro" brewery. So when I hear that this hit Jay's radar and piqued his beer dork instincts enough to orchestrate a trade with some east-coast folks to get his hands on some of their beer, well, it made me want to get some of this stuff too. On a recent trip to the bottle shop, I noticed two varieties of Maine's beer, which I greedily snapped up.

Now, I'm not normally a fan of hippies, but this is my kind of activism. Make a delicious product, sell it to me based on that, then donate a small but fun portion of the proceeds to various charities. Good on these Maine folks. I'm glad I bought a few bottles of this stuff because it's damn good and as an added bonus, it goes towards a good cause.

Anyways, first up is Peeper Ale, an American pale ale whose name offers unlimited opportunities for double entendres that I will refrain from, because I have dignity. Or something like that. Anyway, let's take a voyeuristic look at this stuff:

Maine Peeper Ale

Main Beer Co. Peeper Ale - Pours a straw yellow goldish color with a finger of bright white head. It's a nice enough appearance, but not something that's gorgeous to peep at, if you know what I mean. Smells of citrusy, grassy, floral hops along with a little sugary sweet character too. The taste starts sweet, but then you get that floral and grassy character from the hops in the middle (maybe, MAYBE, a little lemony zest here, though it's not at all tart) and a surprisingly strong, but still pleasant hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated but light to medium bodied. As it warms, the carbonation tones down a bit, making the beer a little more quaffable, but it's still got a bite to it. Overall, a very nice pale ale that focuses on grassy, floral hops. A nice change of pace and a very well crafted beer. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/23/12. Bottle sez 120611 (presumably bottling date) and 25 (batch number?)

I've already had me some Zoe (a hoppy red ale) as well, which I do think is the superior beer, but which will have to wait for next week. But even with this Peeper stuff, which didn't really connect wholly with my palate, it's apparent that these Maine Beer Company folks know exactly what their doing. It's an expertly crafted beer, and judging from the ratings on BA and RB, it hits other folks square in the face. I'm glad I got my hands on some and will be looking out for other varieties as well.

Founders Porter

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Just who is that lovely lady on the label of this beer? Looks like a Victorian era painting... According to Founders, she's Dark, Rich, and Sexy. Or maybe that's the beer they're talking about...

Founders Porter

Founders Porter - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells strongly of roasted malts, with some coffee and maybe even chocolate thrown in for good measure. Really nice nose. Taste starts sweet, maybe with some of that chocolate, but it gets drowned out by a heaping helping of roasted malts and coffee flavors starting in the middle and intensifying through the finish. A bitterness (which seems to come from more than hops, perhaps from those dark malts, with all their coffee and dark chocolate character) emerges in the finish as well. This ain't an imperial stout or anything, but it packs a ton of flavor in a relatively small package. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and reasonably full, and it finishes dry. Overall, while porter is not one of my favorite styles, this is exceptionally well executed and one of my favorite examples of the style. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 3/24/12.

Several months ago, I had bought a Founders variety pack, so I had a few of these floating around. At first, I didn't care for it, but it quickly grew on me, and now I feel like it could be a go-to beer in some instances. Another thing I've found is that this beer goes really well with a good cigar. I'm no cigar expert and don't smoke them very often, but those roasted malt flavors match quite nicely with, uh, smokey flavors from the cigar.

Anyways, I'm thinking that Founders is one of the all-around best breweries in the country, and while I've had my fair share of their standard beers, I should really seek out some of the more obscure stuff and seasonal releases.

Mikkel's Black Tie

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Continuing to make my way through the cellar, I finally cracked this beauty open. An imperial stout brewed with honey and smoked barley, then aged in Scotch barrels for 4 months, I don't know what the hell I was waiting for, but I'm glad I finally got to this:

Mikkeller Black Tie

Mikkeller Black Tie - Pours a thick, syrupy black color with a finger of brown head. That's a really deep black color, no real brown detectable. Smell is filled with sweet Scotch aromas, a little roasted malt, and some vanilla oak character too. The taste hits with a ton of roasted malt character (perhaps some of this comes from the smoked barley or maybe even the scotch), and that's maintained throughout the entire taste. A pleasant and well balanced sweetness keeps things interesting and the Scotch, vanilla, and oak flavors are highlighted in the finish and aftertaste. As it warms, these flavors intensify and melt together. Mouthfeel is very thick and chewy, coating your mouth, and yet this is surprisingly approachable. Dangerously drinkable stuff for such a high ABV beer. I don't think I would have guessed at how strong this beer is, except that there's a bit of that alcohol warming factor (which comes up especially since you can drink this pretty quickly). Overall, this is a well balanced, complex stout. Another winner from Mikkeller. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 3/16/12. Brewed at Nøgne Ø. (Label has a slot for Batch #, but it's blank - I bought it sometime in mid-2011 though.)

That Mikkel guy sure knows his stuff. If you're willing to pay the premium, it's often worth the stretch. I've got a barrel of his barleywine in my cellar which I plan to get to in the next couple weeks as well.

Victory Uncle Teddy's Bitter

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One of the things I love about Victory Brewing Company is that they do everything. Huge Belgian style specialties, hop bombs, imperial stouts, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts, wild ales, and all the other trendy stuff are well represented in their portfolio, but the thing that really sets them apart is that they embrace things that aren't that trendy. Smoked beers (there seems to always be one of these available in the brewpub, even if bottled distribution is rare), pilseners, heck, lagers in general. Do I love every one of these beers? Well, no, Victory has earned their fair share of B- ratings here, but I do really appreciate the depth and breadth of their lineup (and it's worth noting that I can't think of a beer they make that I hate).

Another thing I've been appreciating lately is that Victory also makes some low gravity beers, like this English style Bitter that's only available on cask (and probably only locally, sorry west coasters!) I've had a few of these recently and finally remembered to take some notes whilst drinking. Apparently Uncle Teddy was not a bitter man at all, but he was Victory co-founder Ron Barchet's Godfather and he passed on when Ron was in the UK, so he brewed this beer in memory of his uncle...

Victory Uncle Teddy Bitter

Victory Uncle Teddy's Bitter - Pours a deep golden color with a couple fingers of white head and tons of lacing. Smells of earthy, floral, spicy hops. Taste is soft malts and that light, earthy hop character. Mouthfeel is smooth & creamy, minimum carbonation, very light bodied, all as you'd expect from a cask ale. Highly quaffable stuff. Overall, very nice, soft but flavorful... a fitting tribute. B

Beer Nerd Details: 3.9% ABV on cask. Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 3/24/12. Hops: Styrian and Kent Golding.

I enjoy this beer, but I think it would be interesting to contrast it with my homebrewed bitter, which will have additional citrus notes from the Earl Grey tea and orange peel (and possibly my use of US Fuggle bittering hops). Anyways, look for another review of a low-gravity Victory beer soon...

Charles, 2nd Earl Grey was prime minister of the UK for four years, backing significant reform of the British government (in particular, he architected a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons and an expansion of the right to vote). How he came to lend his name to the famous bergamot-flavored tea is mildly mysterious. Like a lot of historical beer origins, there appear to be a lot of apocryphal tales surrounding Earl Grey tea, usually involving a recipe made by a Chinese mandarin. In some accounts, the mandarin is grateful to Lord Grey because one of his men saved the mandarin's son from drowning. The story that seems more likely to me is that the recipe was specifically formulated to suit the water at Grey's estate. The bergamot apparently offset the lime present in the water there and when Lady Grey used it to entertain guests in London as a political hostess, it became popular enough that Twinings sought to make it a brand. Or something. But enough about stuffy British politicians, let's get to the beer!

Bottling of my Earl Grey bitter commenced after two weeks in the fermenter. From observation of the airlock, fermentation seemed to go well for the first two days, but then it dropped off considerably. Given the low original gravity, this was not too surprising, but I gave it the full two weeks anyway.

Post-Fermentation, Pre-Conditioning Earl Grey Bitter

The beer turned out to be a little lighter in color than I was expecting (which is not a big deal or anything), but the aroma was quite nice. A lot of citrus in the nose, which is exactly what I was going after. However, I'm not entirely sure how much of that came from the bergamot tea I used in the recipe. I had also used a small amount of orange peel, which certainly contributed something to the flavor, and it's also worth noting that Fuggle hops (even when used in bittering applications like I did) can contribute a soft, fruity aroma/flavor to the beer. I suppose one could call this more of a variant on Earl Grey than anything else - something more like Lady Grey tea, which also has orange (among a few other ingredients). Well, whatever the case, it seems like it will be quite an interesting beer.

Final Gravity came in at around 1.010, and according to my calculations, this works out to around 4% ABV (maybe a little more), which was pretty much the target (a little over 75% attenuation, which is pretty good). I had a bit of a worry when I first took my refractometer reading, as it came in at around 5.4°Bx, but it seems that Final Brix is a bit misleading because the alcohol distorts the readings a bit. With the help of the internets, I was able to correct for that distortion, and all seemed well. I also took a hydrometer reading, which came out a little lower than reported above, thus the beer might be slightly stronger than expected (but still around 4.5% ABV).

Another point of interest is that I primed the beer with around 2.5 oz. corn sugar, about half the normal dose. The style is typically not very highly carbonated, so I didn't want to overdo the priming sugar. Hopefully this will work out to create something with enough carbonation, but still smooth and quaffable. The beer actually tasted ok right now, even in its relatively flat form, so I think a minimum of carbonation would suit this nicely.

That about covers this beer. It's been an interesting exercise and I can't wait to taste the final product in a couple weeks. Next up will be a Belgian-style dubbel, though I'm not entirely sure when I'll get to that and we're starting to get to the warmer months of the year, where fermentation temperature will get more difficult to control...

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog and Tempest in a Teacup)

Collaboration Not Litigation Ale

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Great moments in trademark history: When Adam Avery of Avery Brewing and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing realized they both had a beer in their lineups called "Salvation" they considered several options. They could have pursued lawsuits, but that's boring and costly. They could have taken their dispute to Thunderdome, but they couldn't book the venue in time (also: it's a fictional venue). Instead, they simply decided to blend the two beers together, neatly defusing the crisis. Apparently over a drunken night at Russian River's brewpub (well, probably not, but I like to think of my brewing heroes as being constantly drunk), they mixed together the two beers in varying degrees and figured out the right proportions, eventually scaling the process up to commercial levels and releasing the result as "Collaboration Not Litigation Ale". It's pretty much the poster child of craft brewer solidarity and it's one of the reasons beer nerds love this whole craft beer thing (though there are obviously some folks who just don't get it...)

I've seen bottles of this around in rare instances, but never pulled the trigger. After my Pliny the Younger adventure on Sunday, I noticed this was also available and thus made the best of the situation:

Avery and Russian River Collaboration Not Litigation

Russian River and Avery Collaboration Not Litigation Ale - Pours deep brown color with a little amber peeking through and a solid finger of light tan head... Tons of lacing, industrial strength stuff, you could barely see through the glass even after I was finished. Smell is very spicy and peppery with a little bready Beligian character too. Taste is also quite spicy, with a nice sweet flavor, perhaps dark candi, and a little fruit. Mouthfeel very smooth, lightly carbonated, but still enough to cut through the malt and alcohol... As it warms, the texture becomes almost creamy... Overall, quite good and I'm really glad I got to try one of these! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.72% ABV on tap. Drank out of a snifter on 3/18/12.

Russian River's Salvation has actually been on my to-drink list for a while, I just haven't gone out and gotten a bottle. For that matter, I've not had Avery's Salvation either. I think it'd actually be very interesting to try one of each, then the collaboration, just to see how the flavors have blended. Avery is certainly a brewery I haven't had a ton of exposure to, but I've had almost uniformly good experiences with them (and Russian River too)...

Beer Club: The End is Beer

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. We had a good turnout this month, with quite a few interesting beers to try. As usual, we hit up a local BYOB, this time a Thai place. Good times were had by all.

Beer Club March 2012
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so the below probably isn't completely representative of reality. In order of drinking (not in order of the picture above):

  • Elysian NIBIRU Yerba Mate Tripel - I arrived a bit late to the gathering, so I didn't get to have a lot of this, but it was a nice Tripel style beer with a twist. Apparently part of a twelve beer series celebrating the Mayan apocalypse of 2012... (also the source of the "End is Beer" pun). I wouldn't call it a top tier beer, but it was nice. B
  • Lakefront New Grist Sorghum Beer - Wow, is this a light colored beer. Incredibly light beer in every way. Not bad, per say, but there's not a ton of flavor here either. It reminded me a lot of a less tasty but better balanced Coors Light, if that makes any sense (which it probably doesn't). Certainly not a great beer, but it has it's place. C+
  • Tröegs Nugget Nectar - I've actually reviewed this before, but I've revisited it a couple times since then and I have to admit that it gets better every time I try it. Nice hoppy citrus and pine resin character, with some earthy/herbal notes as well. An excellent beer, I'd upgrade this to a B+, maybe even higher (this was generally considered the best beer of the night by beer club homies)
  • My Homebrewed Simcoe IPA - Seemed to go over very well with the beer club folks, even the people who don't normally love IPAs. Not to toot my own horn, but this did turn out really well. Tons of citrus and a little pine from the hops in both the nose and taste. The bitterness is well matched and pleasant. Really solid beer. B+
  • Atwater Dirty Blonde Ale - A very nice, sessionable wheat ale that sorta suffered from being tasted after a few stronger, fuller flavored brews. A very nice beer, to be sure, but it was hard to really pronounce it a great beer compared to other beers in the tasting. B-
  • Stillwater Of Love & Regret - Another of my contributions to the night, I bought this last week without realizing that I'd actually had it before, so I figured I'd share the wealth. The bottle did sorta explode when I popped the cap, instantly foaming over. Luckily, we did not lose much of it, and the beer still tasted wonderful. It's got a saison style feel to it, but a little fruitiness and lots of spice too. Very nice beer and one of my favorites of the night, though some others didn't care as much for this one... B+
  • Great Lakes Conway's Irish Ale - This Irish Red Ale seems to share something with the typical English Pale Ale style, though this time around, there's enough flavor around to make it feel balanced and actually decent. I enjoyed this beer, despite not being very blown away by it. B-
  • Lagunitas A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale - A very nice IPA style beer, though BA lists it as an American Pale Wheat Ale. Not sure what that means, but it turns out that it's a lot like a regular old (well, a very good, actually) IPA. Lots of American Hop Character, quite nice. I'd like to try it again sometime... B+
  • Left Hand Milk Stout - Another beer I've had before and enjoyed. Reminds me very much of Lancaster's Milk Stout - very roasty, some coffee flavors, and overall a decent roasty stout. Solid, but not one of my favorites. B
  • New Belgium Lips Of Faith - Cocoa Mole - A most unusual beer. I get lots of caramel malt and chocolate out of this, but the chipotle spice is what really gives this beer an extra kick. It was pretty good in the context of beer club, though I'm not sure I'd love to drink an entire bottle of the stuff. B
  • AleSmith Old Numbskull - My other contribution for the night, this was the biggest beer of the night, and boy does it have an intense aroma/flavor profile. Lots of caramel and citrusy, resinous hops. Really nice and I liked it a lot, but I was glad to have shared it with a bunch of other folks. Overall, might be the second best beer of the night behind the Nugget Nectar. B+
A great time was had by all, so it was another successful beer club, and as always, I'm already looking forward to next month!

Stone Old Guardian 2010

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I didn't realize this, but apparently Stone tweaks the recipe for their barleywine every year. This partly explains why I was so surprised by this beer. The difference between American and English barleywines tends to come down to hops. American varieties have a ton of them (and we tend to favor the high alpha-acid, citrusy, piney varieties), whilst the English go for a more rounded approach. Knowing what I know of Stone, I would expect this thing to be bursting with hops... what I got was unexpected, but not unpleasantly so.

The first thing worth noting is that this bottle is apparently from early 2010 (I only bought it recently, so I'm not that patient) and so I assume those hops would have mellowed out a bit since it was fresh. The second thing to note is that apparently in 2010 and 2011, Stone went in a more English direction with this beer. According to their blog, there were two big recipe changes in 2010. First, they began using a new crystal malt that was derived from English Maris Otter malts. This change would retain the caramel flavors of other crystal malts, but apparently also contributes a distinct nutty character. Second, rather than using huge US hops for dry hopping, they went with East Kent Golding hops. A smooth, pleasant English aroma hop that has a slight citrus and big floral component (it's apparently the go-to English hop, and it's used extensively in Belgian beers too). Stone also contends that it smells like unicorn tears, but that stuff is rarer than Pliny the Younger, so I haven't had a chance to compare yet*. Now, it's still Stone, so there's 90 IBUs, which is still higher than most English barleywines, but I have to say that I still found this to be more on the English side of things:

Stone Old Guardian 2010

Stone Old Guardian Barleywine 2010 - Pours a deep amberish brown color with a finger of quickly disappearing, light colored head. Intense smells of caramel with some floral hops, fruitiness and lots of booze. Taste starts sweet, with just a bit of that caramel and fruit character emerging in the middle, only to be snuffed out by a heaping helping of booze and balancing hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is smooth, well carbonated, and a little sticky. Not quite full bodied, but let's say, high-medium bodied. Overall, a solid, if a bit simplistic, barleywine. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 3/10/12. Bottle sez: "Limited Early 2010 Release". 90 IBUs.

On thing I've just realized is that most of the barleywines I've had have been barrel aged in some way, which perhaps explains why I felt this one was a little simplistic (also why I didn't call it full bodied). I'm kinda curious to try out some of the newer varieties, which have apparently veered back to American hops like Chinook, Calypso and Cascade (so tons of citrus, pine, and resin, as opposed to the floral, unicorn tears of East Kent Hops). And it should go without saying, there are barrel aged versions of this brew that I'd love to get my hands on... As craft brewers go, Stone is so ubiquitous that it's (ironically) easy to forget about them, but I'm always happy to try another of their brews.

* I've recently made the acquaintance of a mythical/endangered species poacher, so I may be able to pick up a growler of unicorn tears next week. Fingers crossed!

Garde Dog

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Maryland's Flying Dog brewery has never really wowed me with a beer. On the other hand, they've rarely disappointed. Looking through my ratings, almost everything is in the B- to B range, even for well respected stuff like Raging Bitch IPA and their Gonzo Porter. They seem to make well crafted beers, so it's not like I dislike them or anything and I have to admit that their distinctive Ralph Steadman artwork always catches my eye... Also, they've been doing some interesting seasonal stuff of late, like this new Spring offering, a relatively lightweight Bière de Garde that still manages to pack a nice punch:

Flying Dog Garde Dog

Flying Dog Garde Dog - Pours a clear golden color with lots of fluffy white head. Smells of musty Belgian yeast with some spiciness. Taste is sweet and spicy, finishing quite dry. Mouthfeel is very highly carbonated and packs a bit of a wallop, medium bodied, and dry. Not something you'll gulp down, but it's an easy drinking beer and at 5.5%, you could certainly knock a few of these back at a barbecue or something without getting too sloshed. Overall, this is a solid beer and it's very well executed. It strikes me as a great gateway beer for those folks looking to expand their horizons without getting too crazy. Also a nice beer to transition from the dark, heavy beers of winter into the lighter fare of summer (i.e. a good choice for a spring seasonal). B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/17/12.

So it's not a revelation, but it's towards the top of what I've had from Flying Dog. Of course, I'd love to get my hands on some of the Bourbon Barrel Aged Gonzo, and maybe some of their other limited edition stuff too...

Pliny the Younger

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Yeah, so remember how I said that I wouldn't go out of my way for Pliny the Younger, Russian River's fabled "triple" IPA? Well, I'm a weak, weak man. My favorite local bar had a rare kegs and eggs event this morning featuring, among other things, Pliny the Younger. They're just down the road, so how could I really turn this down? I got there about 45 minutes before they tapped the keg, got myself a ticket, and partook in some excellent brunch eatings and a neutral Allagash White whilst I waited.

The hype surrounding the ultra-rare but highly rated IPA (as of right now, #1 on Beer Advocate's top beers in the world list) was a bit of a turnoff, but since the hoop-jumping was at a minimum, I couldn't really complain. The Philadelphia area is one of the lucky few to receive some of this stuff, but from reading about past events (mostly in center-city), I can't say I would have been too enthused to participate. The idea of trekking into the city, paying for parking, then waiting in long lines for a couple ounces of the prized brew was not appealing. But this was right down the street, relatively uncrowded, and mostly pleasant. No waiting for 4 hours in the snow, and I didn't have to pay 10 bucks to get a few drips of the beer applied with an eyedropper. I got a whole glass!

The bar got crowded, but never really approached madness. Oh, sure, there were lots of beer dorks in attendance, including some of the more annoying variety (one porn-mustachioed fellow walked up to the bar and proclaimed "You know why I'm here" in this sniveling, condescending tone and accompanying glare that was so annoying I'm surprised the bartender didn't respond with a punch to the face), but for the most part, beer nerds are amiable folk, and a good time was had by all. I even saw one guy sharing his bounty with less prepared strangers who had arrived too late to get their own, which is just plain nice.

For my part, it was a fun experience, and I'm happy to check another white whale beer off the list. But is it the best beer in the world? Did I hear celestial choirs as the angels descended from heaven aboard boats of transcendent light, penetrating through the dank windows of the bar? Let's take a look, shall we:

Russian River Pliny the Younger

Russian River Pliny the Younger - Pours a shiny gold color with minimal head. Wonderful nose full of citrus & pine. Really fantastic aromas. I just sat there sniffing the stuff for a while, and tried to make the beer last... Taste is full of that same citrus & pine, but it's got a very well matched sweetness & bitterness. It's a hop bomb, to be sure, but it's perfectly balanced with sweet malts. Mouthfeel is very smooth, very drinkable, and again, extremely well balanced. As it warms, a pleasant boozy note emerges, but that doesn't upset the balance at all... Overall, I can see what the hype is all about and I'm really glad I got the chance to try some of this. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV on tap, drank out of a 6 oz mini-snifter.

So is it the best beer in the world? No. But there may have been a hint of those celestial choirs and angels there too. It's a great beer, to be sure, and I loved drinking it, but quite frankly, there are tons of excellent IPAs and DIPAs out there there are close enough, and plenty that are just as good or maybe even better. I had a few glasses of Hopslam on tap this year that were just as good if not better than Pliny the Younger. It's certainly worth the stretch for a glass of the stuff, especially if you're a hophead, but I have a feeling that if I went really far out of my way, I'd be disappointed. Fortunately, that was not necessary. I mean no disrespect, and if Russian River distributed the stuff far and wide, I'd greedily partake in as much as I could, but I think this beer's astronomical ratings are at least partly due to how rare it is. My expectations were mitigated, of course, but they were met by the beer, which is often not the case. I love this beer and I'm really happy I got to try it without having to resort to any diabolical schemes involving the sacrifice of my left shoe and firstborn son...

World Wide Stout

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When do you drink an 18% ABV beer? Special occasions? Every other Flag Day? Leap Day? For breakfast? On the second Friday of March in the year of our Lord 2012? Ah, yes, that last one will do the trick, but it was a fortuitous turn of events that got me there, and I'm still at a loss as to when to open some of my other massive face-melters. It's a delicious mystery wrapped in an alcohol soaked enigma, with a chaser of dehydration and hangover.

Fortunately, Dogfish Head packaged this one in a 12 ounce bottle, so it's at least mildly approachable (I will leave the rant about big beers in big bottles for a later date). Apparently created on a whim at the Dogfish Head brewpub during the winter off-season months (which, I imagine, is how most Dogfish Head beers are created), this beer held the strongest beer in the world title for a short time. In this day and age where crazy Scottish brewers are making 55% ABV abominations and packaging it in taxidermied squirrels, it's easy for beers like this to get lost in the shuffle, but credit where credit is due: Dogfish Head was making this beer in 1999, well before extreme beers were trendy or popular. And I do think this still stands up well today.

Anyways, events conspired to keep me sober for a while after work last Friday, which left me in need of a stiff drink (and just the right amount of time for a single serving). This would normally be a job for Scotch or Bourbon, but I thought this 18% ABV face-melter would do the job, and boy was I right:

Dogfish Head World Wide Stout

Dogfish Head World Wide Stout - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a syrupy appearance and about half a finger of tan head. Wonderful aroma filled with caramel and vanilla notes, maybe even some fruity character poking through along with a little booze. Smells more like a really big barleywine than a stout. Taste has lots of sweetness to it, that caramel malt being quite prominent, with some chocolate and maybe even some vanilla, but the big surprise is the sorta fruity booze that emerges in the middle and dominates the finish. Very little roastiness here, but tons of intricate flavors emerging as it warms up. Maybe just a touch of balancing bitterness in the sticky finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, chewy, and hot. Carbonation isn't high, but it's not at a bad level either. The finish has just a little stickiness to it. Surprisingly well balanced and approachable for an 18% ABV monster. Tons of warming alcohol character going on in my belly after just a few small sips. This is certainly not a beer to drink quickly. Overall, I'm very impressed by this beer, a complex sipper, something that will probably age well, and quite interesting. Dogfish Head says it has a depth "in line with a fine port" which just makes me want to go to the liquor store and get me some of that stuff, as I've never had any before and I'd like to know if that's an accurate description or just Sam making stuff up. For my purposes, this makes an excellent dessert beer. Not your typical stout, and definitely worth a try. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 18% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 3/9/11. Bottled in 2010 (bottle has a "D" after the year, which I assume is some sort of batch indicator).

Man, this thing kicked my ass. As noted above, the bottle was apparently from 2010, which was something I bought inadvertently... but I'm glad I did so because I've heard the alcohol character overwhelms "younger" bottles. I've got another one of these in the cellar, which I can perhaps crack open the next time an 18% ABV opportunity comes along (and who knows when that will be). Incidentally, I also have some 120 minute IPA in the fridge (and in my cellar) that's definitely still young, and I have no idea when I'll get to that one... not to mention the bottles of Cuir and Coton I've been sitting on (those aren't quite as strong, but they're up there and they're in 750 ml bottles too)...

Update: Tee Hee.

Homebrewing has been a real blast. I mean, I'm not a miracle worker, but I have managed, on several occasions, to turn water into beer. How awesome is that? Even when the results don't come out as planned, it's a fun hobby. I reviewed my first batch of homebrew, a brown ale, before I started my second beer (around a year ago), but for a variety of reasons (i.e. laziness), I've since fallen way behind on reviewing my beers. So over the course of this past week, I've cracked open one of each unreviewed homebrew and gave it a whirl. I suppose I should note the obvious conflict of interest here. While I'm sure you all think of me as a BJCP approved expert and grandmaster Cicerone, my beer tasting notes are highly subjective on even the best day, so my notes on beers I've brewed myself might be overly harsh or too lenient. I really don't know which, and maybe both are present in my notes. Make of this what you will, but since I bore you all to tears with my tedious brewing-day recaps, I figured it'd be worth letting you know how they came out (at least, in my mind and in the probably-no-definitely biased feedback from friends and family).

Homebrew #2: Trappist Tripel - I went a little adventurous for my second brew. High gravity beers are more difficult to brew for a variety of reasons, but I did alright, despite a few rookie mistakes. There are some good things about it, but it ended up with a lot of alcohol character in the taste. It has gotten better with age though, and I think I may be experiencing "waves of maturation", as sometimes I think this has turned out reasonably well, and other times I think it's kinda horrible. I still have about a half a case of this left, and with such a high ABV, I think I'll let it continue to mature (checking on it occasionally). Feedback from friends and family indicates that the beer is rather heavy, which it is... Let's see how this one treats me:

Homebrewed Tripel

Pours a clearish golden color with a little orange and a finger of head. The smell is quite nice. Typical bready Belgian yeast and spice, along with a surprising fruity character and a not-so-surprising boozy factor. Taste is sweet with that Belgian spice character and plenty of booze, which really asserts itself in the finish and aftertaste. The mouthfeel is full bodied with solid carbonation to start and a little bit of a sticky finish (which becomes more pronounced as the beer warms up). Plenty of warming alcohol character... actually a bit too much hotness here, which is this beer's one major flaw. Overall, it's actually gotten better with age, though I wouldn't call it great. Not bad for my sophomore effort though! B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 3/13/12. Bottled on 3/6/11.

Homebrew #3: Bavarian Hefeweizen - This is, without a doubt, the worst beer I've ever made. I'm not sure what went wrong here, but there's always been a very distinct off flavor here that I can't quite describe. I want to say it's vegetative, but that's not really right. None of the traditional off flavors seem to describe what I'm getting out of the taste of this beer. In any case, at no point has it ever resembled an actual wheat beer, aside from perhaps the yeast character (which shares a lot with Belgian yeasts). Let's see how it's doing now:

Homebrewed Hefeweizen

The beer looks pretty enough. Perhaps a little dark for the style, but a nice golden orangeish color with tons of head. When the beer was young, the aromas were dominated by banana, but as time has gone on, the clove has come out more. It actually smells pretty darn good. The taste is better now than it was when it was young, but there are some off flavors present and it still doesn't taste at all like wheat. There's an almost tinny undertone to the beer as well. Carbonation is very high and along with the spice, it's got a bit of a harsh mouthfeel (this isn't normally a bad thing in my book, but for this particular beer it is). Overall, it's not a complete abomination and it's actually drinkable, but there is something wrong with it. (Other folks have told me that they don't mind this beer, so maybe I'm being to hard on myself, but in honesty, this beer turned out nothing like what I was going for, and so thus I rate it lowly!) D

Beer Nerd Details: 5.25% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a shaker pint on 3/10/12. Bottled 5/15/11.

Homebrew #4: Saison - This was the first homebrew I made that I truly loved. I patterned the recipe after Saison Dupont (one of my favorites) and the beer actually turned out that way, so this all makes sense. I was very excited about this batch and impatiently cracked one open after only one week of bottle conditioning. And it was perfect. Beautiful fragrant spices and pale malts, very deep flavors, perfect carbonation and a well balanced, full body. Unfortunately, that perfection hasn't lasted. The beer is still good, but I perhaps used too much priming sugar, as bottles these days tend to be overcarbonated and as the beer has matured, it's taken on a bit of that boozy hotness (nowhere near the levels of the tripel, but still there). I think I underestimated how effectively the 3711 French Saison yeast would eat up the wort, as this did come out a bit stronger than I was looking for. If I make something like this again, it will be a little lower in gravity, with less priming sugar at bottling time, and again, I think better temperature control will also be helpful. Anyways, response to this beer has been generally positive, though some don't like the spicy and overcarbonated nature of the beer. Here we go:

Homebrew Saison

Pours a cloudy golden yellowish color with tons of fluffy head that leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smell is filled with spicy aromas (definitely clove, maybe some banana and bready Belgian yeast. The taste is sweet, but filled with spiciness (again clove), and a mild bitterness in the very dry finish (this level of bitterness wasn't in the beer on the first week, but it's not inappropriate either). Maybe just a hint of booze as well. Mouthfeel is very strong, full bodied, and harsh with tons of carbonation. Overall, it's still quite good, but it's not even really close to my initial taste of the stuff. B+ (though maybe an A for that first taste).

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 3/10/12. Bottled on 7/6/11.

Homebrew #5: Stout - The goal with this one was to make a stout with more than a one dimensional roasty character to it. I planned to emphasize chocolate and caramel in this batch, and for the most part I succeeded. However, the beer does have some issues. No real "defects" per say, just things that aren't ideal. For instance, the final gravity was around 1.020, which makes for quite a heavy tasting beer - I was hoping for more attenuation here. Perhaps as a result, the head on this beer is pretty lackluster, and it fades quickly. Its the sort of beer that starts off well, but gets to be a bit much by the end of the bottle. Perhaps it will improve with time, but here's what I'm getting out of it now:

Homebrewed Stout

Pours a very dark brown color, almost black (no highlights when held up to light) with a finger of quickly disappearing light brown head. The smell features that caramel malt in full force, with a chalky roastiness also present, maybe just a hint of coffee. The taste is similar, though the roasted malts are more prominent here and it could perhaps have used a bit more hop balance. Still, it's not one dimensionally roasty, and that caramel and chocolate malt adds a nice complexity to the taste. The mouthfeel is extremely heavy and full bodied. It's well carbonated, but a little acidic in the finish, especially as it warms up. It's the sort of beer that starts out well enough, but it really gets rough towards the end of the glass. Overall, it's ok, in the direction I wanted to go, but it hasn't quite reached the destination. I think some recipe tweaks, either toning it down (or up!) and using some more hops could help it out. I also need to figure out how to get a little more attenuation out of the yeast... Again, I like this beer, it's really interesting, but it's hard to rate it very high when even I can't seem to finish an entire bottle of it. C+ (would be maybe a B- or B if it held itself together longer)

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 3/11/12. Bottled on 8/28/12.

Homebrew #6: Spiced Christmas Ale - Not to toot my own horn, but this is the best beer I've made so far (ok, I'm going to toot my own horn a little ). It's a winter warmer style beer whose recipe was created on-the-fly in the homebrew shop (with a lot of help from the owner). Anchor Christmas was something of an inspiration, but this beer isn't patterned after a specific version and I came up with the spicing regimen entirely on my own. It's the beer I'm most proud of, from the recipe and spicing regimen to the way it turned out. Seems to be a popular beer when I give it to others, including the guy at the homebrew shop (I totally owed him a couple bottles thanks to his improvisation), who asked if I entered it into any competitions. It turned out to be pretty much exactly what I wanted, and unlike the saison, it's stayed that way for a few months now. Ok, let's toot some more horns:

Homebrewed Christmas Ale 2011

Pours a deep, dark amber color (almost, but not quite brown), with a finger of light colored head. Smells fantastic. The cinnamon and clove come through especially well, though I also get a fair amount of sugary citrus in the nose. A friend described it like it was a snickerdoodle cookie, which is pretty awesome. The taste has a sweetness to it, but it's very spicy and it has a well balanced, somewhat dry finish. The mouthfeel is a dream - smooth, almost creamy, medium bodied, a little harshness from the spiciness, but still quite quaffable (probably my most quaffable beer). Overall, I can't believe this beer came out as great as it did. I was worried that I'd overdo the spices (and in a lot of spiced winter beers, the spices are overpowering), but the spices I added balanced out really well. Again, this is probably my best beer, and I think it stacks up well against a lot of the commercial winter warmers I had this year. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.0% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 3/11/12. Bottled on 11/20/11.

Homebrew #7: Simcoe IPA - My most recent brew, it's only been 3 weeks since bottling. I've had a few of these so far (again, I was very impatient with this one) and damn it's been good. A little undercarbonated in the first week, but that should have worked itself out by now, so I'm really excited to try this out...

Homebrewed Simcoe IPA

Pours a very pretty golden color with a finger of head that leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smells strongly of grapefruit and pine (interestingly, more pine now than in week 1) along with a nice sugary sweet aroma. The taste also starts off sweet, plenty of that citrus and pine hop character, and a nice, bracing bitterness in the relatively dry finish. Mouthfeel is quite good. Medium bodied and the carbonation has come up to speed too. Not sure how to describe it, but it's like the carbonation has small bubbles. Actually quite quaffable. Overall, this is one damn good IPA. There's nothing quite like a super-fresh IPA, but I can't wait to see how it matures over time as well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 3/10/12. Bottled on 2/18/12.

So there you have it. All in all, I think I've got 3.5-4 cases of homebrewed beer left, with another 5 gallons (about 2 cases) in the fermenter right now. Alas, my best beers are the ones that go the fastest, and the IPA was a small batch to start with. Anyways, I've learned a lot since my first batch, and I think my past couple batches show that I've at least got the basics down. I'd list out some of those learnings, but that's perhaps another post for another day.

Ommegang Seduction

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Ready for some hot Liefmans on Ommegang action? This is a Belgian style porter brewed with chocolate and, like Ommegang's most excellent Three Philosophers, blended with a Liefmans Cuvee Brut Kriek. It's an appealing idea, though I'm not sure I was entirely seduced by the end result:

Ommegang Seduction

Ommegang Seduction - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger or two of tan head that leaves lots of lacing on the glass. Smells of roasted malts and Belgian yeast, with a hint of something else lurking in the background (perhaps those cherries?) Taste features lots of muted roasted malts (not nearly as strong or overpowering as most stouts or porters) with a hint of chocolate, but the beer sorta shifts midway through the taste, finishing with a lighter touch which calls to mind those cherries... while I'm sure I'd be able to pick out the distinct flavor blind, I don't know that I would have attributed it to cherries. As the beer warms, that flavor becomes a little more prominent. The mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, with ample carbonation and just a bit of stickiness in the finish. Not exactly an easy drinking beer, but it's not difficult or anything. All in all, it's an interesting beer with lots of complexity and I really enjoyed it, but it feels like all the various flavors are competing for attention, rather than harmonizing into something new and great. An interesting experiment and better than most beers that I'd classify as such, but I expect more from Ommegang and it doesn't quite reach the heights it perhaps could... but it's still a lot better than their Chocolate Indulgence and again, I really had a good time with it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 3/4/12. Bottled 12/5/11.

Ommegang was my introduction into the world of good (and Belgian style) beers, so I'm always willing to give them a shot, even on expensive gambles like this. I've actually had some old Cup O Kyndness sitting around for a while that I need get to at some point (I talked about it briefly in a beer club post a while back, but I'd like to do a full review), and I'm really looking forward to their forthcoming Belgian Strong Dark, called Art of Darkness...

Sly Fox Ichor

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The term "Ichor" has two meanings. The more recent usage is that of "a foul-smelling watery discharge from a wound or ulcer." Thankfully, I suspect that Sly Fox was going for the more classical definition when naming this beer: "an ethereal fluid flowing in the veins of the [Greek] gods." Yes, I think we've stumbled upon Sly Fox's nefarious plan to harvest the blood of long-dormant immortals and turn us all into unsuspecting vampires. Or something like that. Also of note: Apparently Greek gods had a Belgian style quadrupel for blood:

Sly Fox Ichor

Sly Fox Ichor - Pours a deep chestnut brown color with amber highlights and a finger or so of white head. Smells very spicy, tons of clove in the nose, bready Belgian yeast, and a bit of fruitiness peeking through. Maybe even a slight roasted malt aroma. Taste is also very spicy, with that clove showing up again (usually clove aromas and flavor comes from the yeast, but in this case, I suspect Sly Fox actually spiced the beer with clove in addition to using a Belgian strain of yeast...) Lots of sweetness, some brown sugar/molasses character, and some of that dark fruit peeking through too. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, with a well balanced dry finish. You get some heat from the alcohol, but it's otherwise hidden pretty well. Overall, a very well done, complex beer. Not top tier in the style, but it's an interesting take. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 2/25/12.

Sly Fox is yet another interesting semi-local brewery that I still have not visited. I'm going to have to rectify that at some point. Apparently this beer was featured in the Rare Beer of the Month club, though obviously I have no problem getting a hold of the stuff - my guess is that Sly Fox doesn't distribute very far at this point, as they're still a tiny brewpub operation. That being said, I'm always interested in trying their beers, even if I haven't had one that's really blown me away (every one I've had has been in the "B" range)...

So I've had this crazy idea for a while. I like beer. I like earl grey tea. Why not combine the two? The thing that makes Earl Grey tea distinctive is bergamot, which is a sorta orange-like citrus fruit. Very nice aroma and flavor, as evidenced by the famous earl grey tea. I love a little citrus in my beer, so my first thought was that I should just go out and buy some bergamot oil, and add a tsp or two to the wort towards the end of the boil. Unfortunately, food grade bergamot oil is not as common as I thought. Everything I found was for aromatherapy or skincare - for external use only. Now, I didn't exactly want to make tea beer, but it looks like that's what I'm going to end up doing. And in fact, I had some Stash Double Bergamot tea laying around, so I figured I could use that to impart some bergamotty character (with the tea hopefully being drowned out by all the malt and hops and whatnot).

The next question was what to use for the base beer. In looking around, I see that I'm not the first person to think of this idea, but other folks seemed to be doing this with something like a Belgian Wit beer. This would certainly highlight the bergamot and tea flavors in the finished product, but I didn't want a beer dominated by those flavors, so I looked around at some other options. Since I was making an Earl Grey beer, I thought I should try to use an English style as the base. This was also in keeping with my recent affinity for lower gravity beers (or, at least, non-face-melting beer), and I eventually settled on the English Bitter style. The name is a bit of a misnomer - these are not super-bitter beers, though perhaps there's more hop character than usual for low ABV styles. Still, it seems like a beer that would take on the nice flavors of the bergamot and tea without being overwhelmed either way. In searching around, I found this nice kit from Northern Brewer called The Innkeeper, which sounds rather awesome. I added in some of my tea and, for good measure, some Bitter Orange Peel that I had leftover from previous beers. Here's the final recipe:

Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
March 10, 2012

4 Bags Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea
0.25 lb. English Extra Dark Crystal (specialty grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Pilsen LME
1 lb. Pilsen DME
1 lb. Corn Sugar
1 oz. US Fuggle (Bittering @ 5.2% AA)
1 oz. UK Kent Goldings (Bittering/Flavor @ 5.8% AA)
1 oz. Styrian Goldings (Aroma)
1 tsp. Bitter Orange peel
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

It's a mildly unusual recipe to start with and I'm adding my own unusual elements too. Here's to hoping it turns out well. I started by bringing 2.5 gallons of water to around 150°F - 155°F, then I began steeping both the specialty grains and 3 of the tea bags (I was reserving one for the end of the boil). My hope was that adding the tea this early in the process would yield an interesting, but not overpowering flavor to the beer (after all, I imagine a lot of the character will be lost in the boil). I only steeped the tea for about 5 minutes, leaving the grains to steep for another 15 or so minutes.

Brought the mixture to a boil, added all of the malt extract and corn sugar, waited (again) for it to return to boiling, then added the Fuggle hops. The strangest thing about this recipe is that the second hop addition comes a mere 15 minutes later. This seems like it would provide more bittering than flavor, but I assume both will be present in the finished product (normally flavor hops are added no less than 30 minutes into the boil, as the flavor compounds are lost after long boils). Finally, with about 5 minutes left, I added the Styrian Goldings. About a minute later, I added the last teabag (though I didn't keep it in the whole time - in retrospect, I should have probably just made a cup of tea separately, then poured it into the boil). And while I was at it, I threw in some bitter orange peel, just to amp up the citrus a bit (in case the tea didn't provide it).

Off to the ice bath for cooling, which is something I think I've got a better handle on these days. I think some of the issues with my early beers were partially due to poor temperature control. And I'd guess that part of the reason my last few batches have come out so much better is that I've gotten much better about cooling the wort in an ice bath (I use much more ice now, basically, and it helps that I'm doing this during late winter, when I can open my windows and drop the room temperature quickly). Anyways, got this stuff down to about 80°F - 90°F, strained it into the bucket, and topped off with some room temperature and cold water, bringing final volume up to 50 gallons.

Apparently one of the things that makes this recipe distinctive is the yeast, which seems to have relatively low attenuation (certainly lower than the American and Belgian yeast strains I've been using of late), but given the relatively low gravity nature of the recipe, and the sizeable simple sugar addition, I think the result will still be dry enough. The yeast was packaged on 1/16/12, so it's relatively fresh.

Original Gravity: 1.042 (around 10°Bx). I got sick of using my hydrometer, so I invested in a fancy new refractometer. Unfortunately, I got the variety that only displays measurements in Brix, but the conversion is somewhat straighforward and I have an easier time reading this than my hydrometer. The gravity came in a little below the target, but it should be fine. If all goes well, this should produce a beer at around 4% ABV (maybe even less). Given the alcohol and simple sugar addition, I'm looking at a light (in body, not color), quaffable beer. Fingers crossed.

I plan to bottle in about two weeks time (could probably do so earlier because of the low gravity, but I'll keep it at two weeks). Since the style isn't supposed to be heavily carbonated, I'll probably end up using less priming sugar than usual, maybe 2-3 oz (as opposed to 5). Next up in the brewing adventures will be a Belgian style dubbel, though I need to do some work to figure out a good recipe for that one. After that, who knows?

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog and Tempest in a Teacup)

The Grading System

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It occurs to me that I have not explained my grading system at all, and for the most part that's because it's a bit of a nebulous thing. How do I know something is an A (or an F or a B- or whatever)? To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart1, I know it when I see it (or, in this case, drink it). Then again, most beers could probably shift a level one way or the other and still be valid from my perspective, and I'll admit that a big part of this is just a sorta gut feeling. That being said, I have some definite guidelines that have been brewing2 in my head over the course of the year and a half I've been running the blog.

I'm not entirely sure why I chose the letter grading system this time around, but it probably had something to do with the fact that most of the folks I read used that scale and at the time, Beer Advocate was using letter grades too (they've since moved on to a much simpler system comprised of, like, 13 different values, all weighted and averaged on a logarithmic scale to yield 3 separate ratings that you must analyze separately and together in order to get a broad snapshot of what a bunch of strangers think about the beer3). Plus, I'd never used it before myself (I use 4/5 stars for movies and at some point I had a 10 point scale for books, though I've reverted back to stars).

One thing I've realized that might be important when considering the below is that, well, I was a huge nerd in school. Not super-genius nerdy, but let's just say that anything in the C range was unwelcome in my household (I got a C+ one one report card once and my parents grounded me for a month). Low Bs weren't exactly favored either. It's been a long time since I've been in school, but I think you can still see that bias seeping through my ratings. The other thing you'll notice is that I tend to avoid the extremes. Very few A+s and, correspondingly, very few Fs. Most of the stuff will be in the middle of the pack. Anyway, let's get this party started:

  • F: There's something dramatically wrong with this beer. Initiate quarantine protocols; the end is nigh. Fortunately, as of right now, I've only given this rating 4 times. Once was for a non-alcoholic beer, once was for the God-awful abomination that is Cave Creek Chili Beer, and two were for beers that were skunked to high heaven. I suppose you could argue that skunked beers don't deserve an F, but in both cases, I get the impression that the base beer wasn't very good to start with and in one case, it was packaged in a green bottle - a distinct decision made by the brewery to emphasize marketing over quality (and thus I have no problem giving it an F). I suppose there could be a plus or minus modifier on an F, but once you reach this level, there are other things you should be worrying about.
  • D: There's still something wrong with the beer, but there is at least some redeeming quality that prevents me from going nuclear and rating an F. Out in the real world, a D is technically a "passing" grade, but if I ever brought home a D, I'd be in serious trouble. To my mind, the textbook beer example is Brewdog Storm, an Imperial IPA aged in Islay Whisky casks. Interesting idea, but my bottle may have been well beyond its shelf life (this nerdy mystery is detailed in the linked post) and I'm not sure I can blame Brewdog for that snafu. All I know is that they tried something interesting and it didn't work out, hence a D. In other cases, I rate beers a D if they seem stale or if they have weird off flavors that don't necessarily overwhelm the beer. For some reason, traditional English Pale Ales that have a lot of buttery diacetyl seem to fall into this category a lot). Plus and Minus modifiers have actually been used on the blog, but that only really comes into play in a comparative tasting. In short, if a beer is anywhere in the D range, it's in trouble. It's possible that I will finish these beers, as I really do hate to waste a beer, even a bad one, but it's also possible that I won't be able to take it anymore either.
  • C-: There may be something wrong with this beer, but it's subtle and the beer is drinkable. I'll finish it, but I won't be happy about it. I've only given this three times, and in all three cases, the beer turned out to be a subpar version of better beers. In one case, there were minor off flavors, but nothing dramatic. Some of my least-favorite macros fit in here (for example: MGD, Natty Light, Beast, etc...)
  • C: Profoundly average beer. There's probably not anything outright offensive about this beer, but it also doesn't have much going for it either. Drinkable, but nothing to go out of your way for and probably not worth the calories. I would say that a lot of macro-lagers and light-lagers would fit into this rating (For example: Bud, Bud Light).
  • C+: An average (read: boring) beer. When circumstances are right, these can be acceptable. There's nothing particularly special about this beer, but it's the first rating discussed so far that isn't meant as entirely negative. These are beers that usually suffer in comparison to other beers, but again, in the right circumstances, they can be solid. For example, last summer, after an entire day spent out in the sun, a friend handed me a Coors Light. And you know what? I enjoyed it. At that time and place, it was just what I needed. Sure, it's practically water, but I think that's what made it work. Now, it's obviously not going to compete with most of the full-flavored beers I review on the blog, but it has its place. So I'd call this the top tier of the macros, with the occasional craft disappointment that still shows promise.
  • B-: This is the first genuinely positive rating, though I also tend to use this as a place to dump beers that I can tell are well crafted, but which never really jived with me. For example: Founders Breakfast Stout. Everyone seems to love that stuff. Me, I'm not a big coffee drinker. I can tell the beer is well made, but it's just not my thing. So while this rating is positive, a lot of beers rated here tend to be something of a disappointment to me. That being said, I'd pick these over anything in the C-F range any day and twice on Sunday.
  • B: Unambiguously good beer. It won't set your world on fire or melt your face, but it's a good brew worth drinking. Lots of beers fall into this range, so it's hard to really define a pattern, but if you're rated here, you're doing very well. These are beers I would try again, though I don't think I'd necessarily go out of my way to find (but they're certainly a sight for sore eyes when your in a bar sporting mostly macro crap).
  • B+: Extremely good beer that is nonetheless lacking something that would lead to true greatness. However, I really like this beer and would go out of my way to try it again. This is my most frequently used rating, so perhaps I am overrating some beers. Or I just have an amazing intuition when it comes to picking out new beer. After all, it's not like I'm trying to find bad beer!
  • A-: A great beer. Despite the minus, I wouldn't say the beer lacks anything or has any real flaws. However, there may be something that's holding me back just a teensy bit. Maybe the mouthfeel is just a hint off, or the flavors could be better balanced. While I may rate a ton of stuff at a B+ or A-, I still have rather high standards, so to get higher than an A-, your beer has to be something special. That being said, beers that get an A- are things I'm going to seek out again and things I'd recommend to others. If you've got an A-, you're doing very well indeed. These are great beers, and they actually are setting the world on fire... but it's an orderly fire, suitable for roasting marshmallows and making s'mores. Which are, like, totally awesome.
  • A: This isn't just great, it's special. Awesome, in the true sense of that word. Excellent, superb, brilliant, fantastic, fabulous, fantabulous, heavenly, sensational, hyperbole, HYPERBOLE! Oh God the world is on fire! And my face! It's melting! Yet somehow I want more... gimme! As of right now, I've rated 36 beers as an A, which strikes me as being a bit on the high side. And every one of them is truly great. These are beers I'd go far out of my way for. These are the ones that keep me drinking beer.
  • A+: No words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should have sent... a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful... I had no idea. I HAD NO IDEA! Yeah, so at the extreme high-end of the ratings, I'm apparently very strict. Only 3 beers have reached this transcendent level. How does one attain this level? It's a little mysterious. You need more than just a great beer to get up here. This is the one rating where I really do try to make sure I've had the beer multiple times to ensure it holds up (though I did break that rule once, which would be mildly shameful if I didn't absolutely love that beer).

And to further demonstrate my nerdery, I've graphed the number of ratings I've given out. This is only really an approximation, as I'm using the post count rather than looking at individual beer reviews. This means that posts that feature, for example, 2 B ratings, will only count as one on the chart below. And if you look at those posts, there often are multiple Bs and B-s, etc... Anyway, here's my dorky chart:

ratings.png

Not quite a perfect bell curve and the peak is probably centered on too high a rating to be statistically sound, but I'm not that much of a nerd, so I'll just say that I think this is a rather fine distribution. I suspect that my hesitance to rate along the extremes (i.e. A+ and F) will continue unabated.

1 - Did I just reference a Supreme Court ruling in a freakin post about beer rating? Well, yes I did, and I normally try to avoid devaluing the Supreme Court by applying their rulings to the trivialities of my life, but I don't feel that bad about it this time because the court case in question was about pornography (for the record, I know that when I see it too.) I should probably just chill out and drink a beer rather than whine about ratings and the Supreme Court.

2 - Tee hee! Get it? Oh, you're annoyed that I made a whole footnote just to giggle at a lame pun? Well, fine then. Be that way.

3 - Ok, so it's not nearly that complicated. I just miss the letter grades. It was sooo much easier to tell at a glance what a bunch of strangers thought of a beer. Now I have to, like, do calculations. And why do their beer listings use a different, 5 point scale? Pick a scale and stick to it. Or make them all available all the time. Ungh.

Weyerbacher Insanity

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Ok, enough of that wussy low ABV beer. Let's check out this bourbon barrel aged monster from Weyerbacher. I was a little underwhelmed by Heresy, their bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout - it was very good, but it just didn't represent that big of an improvement over their base RIS (called Old Heathen). This time around, Weyerbacher is giving the treatment to their evocatively named Blithering Idiot barleywine, and I'm happy to report that this one represents a big improvement over the base beer:

Weyerbacher Insanity

Weyerbacher Insanity - Pours a deep, dark amber color with just a little bit of light colored head. Smells intensely of caramel, oak and vanilla, with some bourbon and a smattering of almost fruity malt aromas. Rich flavors of caramel malt, oak and vanilla, very light on the fruit and bourbon (but both are clearly there) and a nice, boozy finish. Full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of warming from the alcohol. It's a sipper, but it's well balanced and very flavorful. Overall, a big improvement over the standard Blithering Idiot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 2/25/12.

I've got a few more bottles of this to put in the cellar (I feel like all the strong flavors in this would really harmonize over time), and I still have a year-old bottle of Blithering Idiot that I'll have to check on at some point as well. Weyerbacher continues to be one of the more interesting local breweries, though I feel like everything they make is just huge from an ABV standpoint.

Casco Bay Brown Ale

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So I've spent the past couple months trying to drink down my cellar and one of the things I've realized is that there's a reason I don't drink a lot of that stuff right away. They're mostly high-gravity face-melters (often barrel-aged and beyond 10%) to the point where I feel like that Nazi guy at the end of Raiders (not the fascistic part, just the part where his face melts).

As such, I've been craving something a little less rich. Something that won't make me want to go to bed at 8 pm. Something that won't obliterate my palate with rich, chewy flavors. Don't get me wrong, I love the deep, full-bodied flavors of a bourbon barrel aged beer, but you know, sometimes I want to be able to drink a second beer in one night. Usually I turn to my homebrew on such occasions, but even then, most of my stuff is around 6-7.5% range. That's not exactly face-melting territory, but it's also a bit too much (I keep saying that I need to recap those beers, and I will, but for now, I'll just say that something like my 6% stout still ends up being a pretty heavy, rather unsubtle beer). Beer nerds know what this all means: I need to drink me some British styles. I've had some really low gravity English-style beers of late, and it's been nice. This one's a brown ale that's actually a bit on the high range of what I was looking for, but it was still nice:

Casco Bay Brown

Casco Bay Brown Ale - Pours a deep brown color with a couple fingers of light tan head. Smells of caramel malt along with a nutty aroma and maybe just a hint of something along the lines of brown sugar. Taste features a lot more of that nutty flavor, along with some caramel malt and a surprisingly bitter finish. Nowhere near an IPA or a, er, Brown IPA or anything, but it's there. As it warms, it smooths itself out a bit. Medium to full bodied, lots of carbonation, not a big-gulp kinda beer, but pleasant enough. Overall, it's not lighting the world on fire, but quite frankly, that's not what what I needed right now. I suppose even in that realm, it's not a top-tier beer, but it hit the spot for me, and the world was spared a face-melting cataclysm, so there's that. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a mug on 2/24/12.

I'm pretty sure the Portland, Maine brewery doesn't distribute much outside of the New England area (this bottle was a gift from my uncle, who frequents the region), but I'd be inclined to check out their Winter Ale if I ever got the chance... And their flagship Irish Red might tide me over the next time I get overwhelmed by the bourbon-barrel giants.

Gemini

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I don't normally just defer to a brewery's marketing department when writing an intro to a beer, but this one is actually pretty well done:

High in the winter sky, two parallel stick figures are visible & known as "the twins," or the constellation Gemini. The astronauts of the 1960s flew as teams of two in a program named after the celestial pairing. At Southern Tier, we have our own fraternal twins, Hoppe & Unearthly. Blended together & placed in this vessel, the mission of our Gemini is to travel high & take passengers on a journey far into the heavens.
Well, there you have it. I've already discussed my lack of creativity when it comes to naming my own beers, but a lot of beer names are just sorta random. But it's always nice to see a very well thought out name for a beer, like this one.

One weird thing about this beer: The bottle sez it's 10.5% ABV, but Southern Tier's Website sez 9%. RateBeer sez 10.5%, Beer Advocate sez 9%. What's going on here? Similar inconsistency exists for one of this beer's blended duo - Hoppe is sometimes listed at 8% and other times 8.5%. Given that this is a blend of Hoppe and Unearthly (which, thankfully, is consistently reported as 9.5% ABV), I would be surprised if it somehow gained a few percentage points of alcohol... lending further credence to the 9% number. This post on the RateBeer forums seems to indicate that Southern Tier adjusted a bunch of ABV values on their website, but the entire discussion is speculation (and pointless debate over why ABV matters) and the thread is from 2009. One would think that if Southern Tier adjusted their ABVs, they would have also updated their labels at some point... I smell a pedantic email session coming on.

Well, whatever the case, the important thing is how it tasted, so here we go:

Southern Tier Gemini

Pours a golden orange color with just a bit of quickly disappearing head. Smell is sugary sweet, lots of juicy hop aromas, a little pine - fantastic nose. The taste is extremely sweet, lots of those juicy hop flavors emerging in the middle, and just a hint of bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, just a hint of sugary/boozy stickiness, but at the same time, it hides that alcohol very well. Overall, a fantastic DIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% (or maybe 9%) ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 2/24/12. Bottle sez: DOB 01/26/12 (so this was less than a month old at time of consumption).

Southern Tier continues to make intriguing beers, though they tend towards being overly sweet for my palate. That being said, I may have even rated this one higher if I haven't had the opportunity to have Hopslam a few times recently... I'll most likely be checking out more Southern Tier beers at some point, though perhaps not right away...

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

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Rasputin is quite the interesting historical figure. Most of what's known about him comes from dubious sources, thus many details are unclear, but he is generally referred to as a Russian mystic or visionary, though also as a charlatan and sometimes even the antichrist. I never knew much about him, but what I did know always suggested that he was involved with the Occult and that he died under mysterious circumstances. Indeed, his murder has become the stuff of legend, various sources indicating that he was poisoned, shot (4 times!), stabbed, beaten, and drowned. His enemies apparently even severed... lil' Rasputin (leading to urban legends surrounding ownership of the accursed organ). The dude just wouldn't die; there are reports that he tried to sit up even while his body was being cremated. Quite resilient, I'd say. Like a video game boss.

This, of course, has little to do with the beer that bears his name unless... has drinking this beer made me immortal? Avenues of investigation seem limited. Tests could yield undesirable results. Such as my death. But I digress:

North Coast Old Rasputin

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a couple fingers of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt, but surprisingly, I get some juicy hop aroma in the nose (lots of citrus and a little pine). Those hops show up again in the taste as well, though the roasted malt is still prominent, and you get chocolate, caramel and booze too. Despite all the hop character, it's not super bitter, though the big malt backbone and booze are clearly well balanced by the bittering hops (otherwise, this would be cloying). Mouthfeel is very nice, full bodied, well carbonated, a little warming character from the booze. Overall, very complex and tasty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 2/18/12.

Apparently North Coast does a barrel aged version, but very little of it makes it out through distribution (most of it seems to be distributed at the brewery itself). Ah well. I've got my eyes on a bottle of bourbon barrel aged Old Stock ale, though I haven't quite pulled the trigger just yet (it seems quite expensive!)

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

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