April 2012 Archives

Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale

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The Firestone Union was formed a few years ago when overworked, beer-soaked employees rose up against their tyrannical masters, Adam Firestone and David Walker. Ok, just kidding, the Firestone Union is actually a unique (in the US at least) way of fermenting beer. As it turns out, the beer I'm talking about today also has another unique component, which is that it is a blend of several other batches. This post got a bit out of hand, so stay frosty, plenty of beer wonkery ahead, but I'll eventually get to a review of the beer...

Modern breweries generally conduct primary fermentation in huge stainless steel tanks. Even "barrel aged" beers are typically fermented in such tanks to start, then go through an extra period of maturation in the barrels. But back in the day, stainless steal tanks weren't available, and brewers would use large oak casks for all steps in the brewing process. This presents a number of problems, namely that you need more fermentation vessels and that wooden casks don't last forever. This constant turnover costs a lot of money, and it also sometimes lead to inconsistent results.

Conducting primary fermentation in oak casks is also a problem because as the yeast multiplies during primary fermentation, it starts to foam up and take up a lot of space, so you need to leave some headroom in the casks (i.e. you can't fill the casks up all the way or else they'd explode), further increasing the cost. Enter the devious and clever brewers in Burton-on-Trent, who devised what's called the Burton Union system in the 1840s. Basically, you set up a series of casks, but instead of leaving headroom and adding an airlock to each casks, you install a series of blowoff pipes that will shunt yeast overflow up to a trough, then (as the yeast settles down) back into the union. This creates a circulation throughout the entire union.

As the industrial revolution marched on, brewers eventually switched to more modern techniques that were cheaper and more easily maintained. However, as we learned more about the brewing process (and especially yeast), scientists noticed that the Burton Union system produced some unique results. Since yeast is alive, it's constantly adapting to its habitat, and the Burton Union system forced this circulating yeast to evolve new characteristics. When breweries started modernizing, many of them lost their distinctive house yeast strains because they were no longer putting their yeast through the same regimen. As far as I can tell, there are only two major brewers in the world that still use a Burton Union system: Marstons (in the UK) and Firestone Walker. The Firestone Union differs in a few ways from traditional Burton Unions in that it generally uses smaller barrels and also because Firestone Walker is actually seeking to impart oak flavors in their beer (traditional Burton beers were not centered around that purpose).

It sounds like a very expensive proposition, and I'm sure the impacts are only really noticeable to the really hardcore beer dorks out there, but I love that brewers like Firestone Walker are out there, creating complex, oak fermented beers via this insanely elaborate system.

But wait, there's more!

While Firestone Walker was built on the concept of barrel-fermented ales, they also do a fair amount of aging, and in 2006, they began a yearly tradition in collaboration with some of their neighboring California winemakers. Basically, the Firestone Walker brewers take an inventory of what they have. Old beers aged on bourbon, brandy, and retired Firestone Union barrels, newer beers still in Union, and some of their non-Union beers. Then they lay it all out along with a shitload of glassware and invite the winemakers in to create a blend of all the Firestone Walker beers. Winemakers are used to blending all their beers and working with barrels, so they're apparently quite comfortable doing this, while at the same time bringing something different and unique to the beer world.

One of the weird things about beer nerds is that you sometimes find folks who have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to beer's relationship to wine... and sure, there are lots of restaurants that don't take beer as seriously as they should, but it's really nice to see this sort of collaboration between beer brewers and winemakers.

XV is the sixth time they've done this, and was released last fall. It consisted of a blend of 8 different beers from 197 oak barrels. The bottle also comes in a fancy scmancy box, inside of which is a sheet explaining the entire program and listing out all the components and processes that went into the beer. Gotta love a beer that comes with reading materials! Per the sheet, here's the breakdown:

  • 18% Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 17% Sticky Monkey (12.5% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 17% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 13% Double Double Barrel Ale (11.5% ABV) Double Strength English Pale Ale. Aged 100% in Firestone Union Barrels.
  • 11% Good Foot (14.3 ABV) American Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 10% Velvet Merkin (8.6% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 9% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 5% Double Jack (9.5% ABV) Double India Pale Ale. Aged in Stainless Steel.

Phew. This apparently works out to 76% Barley Wine style beers, 19% Stout and 5% Imperial IPA, a promising combination to say the least. Alright, enough with the beer wonkery, let's drink this stuff:

Firestone Walker XV Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale - Pours a clear, deep, dark amber color with beautiful ruby highlights and minimal head. The smell is filled with bourbon, oak, vanilla, caramel, and an almost fruity malt character. Jeeze, I don't really know where to start. This is complex stuff. I can definitely pick out the bourbon and barrel aged notes, and it has a distinct, barleywine-ish character... caramel malts, fruity hops, but there's a lot of other stuff going on here. I can taste a hint of roasted malt in the finish. Hops are present but not super-prominent. It's sweet, but not cloying. It doesn't feel bitter though, which speaks to how well balanced this is... Really, a ton of complex flavors, but nothing overpowers the palate. Mouthfeel is a rich, velvety dream. Smooth, light carbonation, just a hint of stickiness in the finish. It's clearly boozy, but I don't know that I'd have guessed that it's as strong as it is. I wouldn't call it a dry beer, but my guess is that it's well attenuated. Overall, this is a great beer. I wish I bought more! A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber in box). Drank out of a snifter glass on 4/6/12.

Well, my love for Firestone Walker continues unabated. This is the best I've had from them yet, but I've got a bottle of §ucaba laying around that probably won't last much longer. A big barley wine aged on bourbon, wine, and retired Firestone Union barrels. Should be amazing. Stay tuned for a few more barrel aged beers this week. I've been making a lot of progress against my cellar, and it looks like I'll have a solid week of barrel aged reviews for you coming up...

So I've written about gypsy brewers like Mikkeller or Stillwater before, but a recent comment about contract brewing got me to thinking about the differences between contract brewers and gypsy brewers. For the uninitiated, contract brewing is basically outsourced brewing. People who can't afford breweries themselves find a facility with excess capacity, and leverage that to establish their brand and start building a revenue stream. So I guess the question is: aren't these gypsy brewers just glorified hipster contract brewers?

Contract brewing has something of a negative connotation amongst beer nerds. There's a perception that these brewers are cheating and that the final product would be better considered as something made by the actual brewery involved. The extent of the outsourcing seems to be somewhat variable. There are apparently companies that are really just marketing firms that rely entirely on the contracted brewer for the beer stuff (not hard to see why contract brewing would get a negative reputation in that case). Then there are companies that have a little more control over the end result. In reading around about gypsy brewers, it seems like they have a much more active role in the process. They're physically at the rented facility, making the beers themselves, with minimal involvement of the host brewery.

I suspect we're going to see the devaluation of the term "gypsy brewer" over the next few years as the marketers pick up on the hype and attempt to exploit it. Pretty soon, we'll have "gypsy" brewers making beer at a Miller or AB Inbev plant. Riiiight. In the meantime, it appears that folks like Mikkel Borg Bjergsø (Mikkeller) and Brian Strumke (Stillwater) are the real deal, and their beers really show that, like this IPA from Mikkeller:

Mikkeller Green Gold

Mikkeller Green Gold - Surprisingly dark amber color with minimal head. Tons of hops in the nose, full of pine, and some citrus too. Taste is also dominated by pine and citrus hops along with a very prominent, dry bitterness that hits in the middle and lasts through the finish. There is a nice malt backbone though, enough to balance out the bracing hops. Lightly carbonated and medium bodied, it's not quite refreshing, but it's still easy to drink... Overall, another winner from Mikkeller. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass on 4/1/12.

This is a relatively straightforward brew (apparently one of Mikkel's first IPA recipes), but Mikkeller continues to be one of the more interesting brewers out there (Gypsy or not). I've got another review of his stuff coming soon, and I'm sure I'll continue to explore his ridiculously large selection of beers.

April Beer Club

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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 sushi place that seems to be a regular beer club venue. Good food (and the waitress put these amazingly intricate designs on our plates - see photo below) and good times were had by all.

April Beer Club
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As usual, these were not ideal conditions, so take it all with a grain of salt or whatever superstition floats your boat. In order of drinking (not in order of the picture above):

  • My Homebrewed Earl Grey Bitter - The first thing we opened was my most recent homebrew, an English bitter style beer brewed with Earl Grey tea. I've actually been sampling this on a weekly basis since bottling, and it keeps getting better. At week 1, it was still very thin, but by week 3, it had really matured into a really nice beer. It is a low gravity beer, so it's not a powerful beer, but it's actually got a lot of flavor packed in for an approximately 4% ABV beer. I don't know that you get a really big Earl Grey component, but there is more citrus here than in your typical bitter, which is exactly what I was going for. It's got a really nice nose, with a light earthy hoppiness and plenty of citrus (from the hops, but probably more from the bergamot and orange peel). The taste matches, and while it is a light and quaffable beer, it's not thin or watery. It's got a certain delicacy to it that wouldn't stand up to stronger flavors, but it's still exactly what I was going for. I'll probably do a separate post on this at some point as well... For now, I'll give it a B+
  • War Horse Peace Bomber German Lager - I'm pretty sure this is a tiny brewery, but one of our beer cub peeps visited New York recently and picked up a bottle for us to enjoy. It turns out to be a pretty straightforward lager, sweet but muted malt character, not a lot of hop character but enough to match the flavors. A solid beer. I'm not too familiar with the Vienna Lager style, but this seems like a worthy example, even if it's not really my thing. B-
  • Philadelphia Brewing Fleur De Lehigh - For those of you not in the know, Lehigh is an Eastern PA town with the third largest city in PA (Allentown). Also notable for Lehigh University, who I seem to recall had some recent sports success, but I don't really know or care about the details (probably because it had something to do with the contemptible sport of basketball)... The beer looked like a wheat beer and the nose is very much in line with a Belgian wit beer, light with very interesting and heavy spicing. But I didn't get much in the way of wheat out of the taste (Update: probably because there was no wheat in the beer! It's actually classified as a standard Belgian pale ale.) Still, it's got a similar sort of light-bodied summer-drinking character. It's not something that knocked my socks off or anything, but it would make a nice warm-weather quencher. My friend Mike gave this a nice writeup in Epikur magazine (though he only gave it 2 out of 5 stars) I'll say: B-
  • 5even Dillon Imperial Pilsner - This was the other beer club homebrewer's beer, and it turned out great. Sweet, assertively hopped but not overpoweringly so, and a nice, quaffable mouthfeel. B+
  • Lester's Fixins Bacon Soda - Bonus non-alcoholic review! Bacon flavored soda? Sounds disgusting? Well guess what? It is disgusting! Ok, so maybe it's not that bad, but I didn't really care for it. Overly sweet and not really much in the way of bacon flavor. (unratable!)

    Bacon Soda
  • Lagunitas Hop Stoopid - I've had this before (I even reviewed it), and it's just as good as last time, though I will say that it wasn't quite as bitter as I remembered (not that it was a bitter bomb last time, but still). Great citrus and pine character, highly drinkable beer. It shall remain at the most excellent A- level I rated it before!
  • The Bruery and Cigar City Collaboration: Marrón Acidifié - This was my other contribution for the night, and it's another beer I've already reviewed in detail. I'm really hoping that we'll get to see more of this stuff, but I have a feeling this will be the last I ever see of this collaboration. As sours go, I think it may be my favorite, and as I've noticed before, it goes exceptionally well (luckily, a fellow beer club member had stopped at famous West Chester chocolatier Eclat recently and had a nice dark chocolate bar available, which really goes well with the Flanders Oud Bruin style). Excellent stuff. A
And we called it a night after that. I had also brought a Founders Porter (reviewed recently) and a Centennial IPA (review forthcoming!), but we never cracked them open. We also didn't get to the DuClaw Soul Jacker (a blend of Blackjack Stout and Devil's Milk barleywine), but maybe I can pick a bottle of that stuff up for later! I will leave you with a picture of a plate of sushi:

Sushi plate and design
(Click for bigger image)

Beautiful stuff, and each of our plates had custom, hand-drawn artwork that was just as intricate and pretty.

Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

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Back in the day, when I was still trying to wrap my head around the daunting complexity of the beer world, I put together a dorky list of beers I should try. It was based on recommendations from friends and things I read on teh internets (because that's a trustworthy and reliable source, right?) Anyways, this was one of the beers suggested to me (by frequently mentioned beverage compatriot Padraic), and in true Kaedrin fashion, I picked up a bottle about two years later, and here we are:

Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

Jolly Pumpkin La Roja - Pours a dark amber color with a a bit less than a finger of whitish head. Smells funky, with some Brettanomyces character and that twang that makes me expect sour flavors, but there's also some malt sweetness peeking through. The taste is very sweet with a tartness emerging in the finish. It's not super sour, but that twang is there, along with some of that barnyard Brett character. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied. The sourness makes it more of a sipper, but it's not heavy. Overall, quite solid, a nice example of the style. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/21/12.

Yeah, so I'm, uh, still working through that list of beers I made in 2010. For the most part, I'm not actively pursuing the list (rather, the list of stuff I want to try that resides in my head has grown exponentially - I should really post a most wanted list or something), but I've actually made a great deal of headway. One of these days I'll pick up a bottle of Rodenbach, as was also suggested to me way back when. I do not forget these things... it just sometimes takes a few years for me to get to them.

The Monkey Julius

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I'm not entirely convinced by the whole beer coctail craze - beer is good all by itself, thanks - but I have to admit, this does sound pretty good:

I'm a little surprised that I've not reviewed Golden Monkey on the blog yet, a situation that will have to be rectified soon. But this coctail does sound pretty interesting. Orange juice seems like a really nice match to the spiced Belgian tripel style that Golden Monkey falls into, and the sparkling wine would give it an extra efferfescence. Sounds like a great brunch drink, and a nice alternative to the bloody mary (a drink I've never quite been able to get behind).

Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA

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Dogfish Head is always producing interesting, if perhaps a bit gimmicky, beers. Unfortunately, interesting doesn't always translate to "tastes good". Yeah, yeah, you developed the recipe from some three thousand year old tomb, but it doesn't taste very good (I'm looking at you, Midas Touch!) And lately, it seems like everything has to have the weirdest ingredients ever. But when it comes to more normal styles, Dogfish Head can really nail it. In particular, they're great at IPAs. Their Minute series of beers is exceptional. I'm sure many would call the whole continually hopped nature of the series something of a gimmick, but compared to some of the other stuff they do, I think it's a valid approach.

The 60 Minute IPA is an excellent take on a standard style (though I may have overrated it a bit), the 90 Minute is an exceptional beer (and the best thing Dogfish Head makes), and the 120 Minute is a monster. Then there are the variations. Squall is bottle conditioned 90 Minute IPA, and it's really nice (alas, this beer was discontinued... in favor of the beer I'm reviewing today). Burton Baton is wood aged 90 Minute IPA, also a fantastic beer. And now we come to the 75 Minute IPA, a blend of the 60 and 90 Minute beers, with additional dry hopping and bottle conditioned with maple syrup. Also, I think this is their first beer bottled in their fancy new embossed bottles...

Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA

Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA - Pours a bright but slightly cloudy golden color with tons of billowy white head. Smells strongly of sugary sweet citrus, with plenty of pine and hints of something else too. Perhaps a bready yeast character? And as it warms, it takes on a more earthy character. Taste has a nice, sweet profile that eventually gives way to a nice dry bitterness in the finish. You get a little of that citrus and pine flavor too, and again, something I'm having trouble placing. Perhaps it's the yeast or the maple syrup... and again, as it warms, an earthiness emerges. Mouthfeel is strongly carbonated, but still surprisingly light to medium bodied. I haven't had a 90 Minute IPA in quite a while, but this feels a lot lighter. Overall, a damn good IPA and a solid addition to the minute series (though I think I still prefer the 90 Minute). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip on 4/12/12.

While Dogfish Head can be hit-or-miss with me, I'm always at least interested in trying their stuff. I don't really have anything in the pipeline right now, though I do have a couple bottles of 120 Minute aging in the cellar right now, along with the monster World Wide Stout (both of which are beers I really love).

Firestone Walker Double Jack

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Firestone Walker has one of my favorite logos, mostly because it features a standing bear holding up its paws like an old-timey boxer. This is across from a more typical rearing lion figure that nevertheless seems like it's relying on wimpy slaps (though, granted, it looks like it has some pretty vicious claws) in the implied fight to the death depicted on most labels.

Firestone Walker logo

Oh, and I guess the brewery is somewhat known for their beer too. While it's far from my first of their beers, this is the first time I've actually reviewed one... a situation that will reverse itself in a few weeks, I suspect, as a few others are in the pipeline. There are many interesting things about the brewery, especially their philosophy on barrel fermentation, but since this particular beer is fermented on stainless steel like most other beers, I'll save the barrel discussion for later:

Firestone Walker Double Jack

Firestone Walker Double Jack - Pours a gorgeous clear golden color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smells strongly of bright citrus with some resiny pine aromas peeking through as well. As it warms, maybe some more floral notes come out to play. Taste also has a nice citrus and pine character to it, with a robust bitterness emerging in the middle and intensifying through the finish. Mouthfeel is smooth, medium bodied, and goes down pretty easy. Overall, fantastic double IPA. I feel like I should have more to say about a beer that is this good, but the only thing that comes to mind is that... I want more! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/7/12. Label sez: 02/29/12 (presumably bottling date).

I've had some of their standard Union Jack IPA before, and I really enjoyed that. I actually mentioned Walker's Reserve Porter in my Oscars post, though I never got around to doing a full review. I wasn't a huge fan, but it's a solid take on a style I don't usually love. Coming up, we've got Firestone Walker XV, their blended anniversary monster beer that everyone's been raving about (as will I, when I get to the review, probably next week!) and Sucaba, another barrel aged barley wine that I'm very much looking forward to... Basically, they're a brewery to look out for...

Another Note on Commenting

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One of the really annoying things about running your own site and blog software is that spammers are a constant pain in the arse. As such, hosts often implement new and fun (and by "fun" I mean invasive and disruptive) security measures... which can sometimes wreak havoc on blogging software, particularly the commenting. Those who've tried to comment in the past week or two may have had a great deal of difficulty, as certain authentication methods (particularly Wordpress.com) were throwing nasty little 403 Forbidden errors. Other methods had sporadic problems. It looked like it was fixed earlier in the week, but apparently something else changed.

Well, that should all be corrected now. A thousand pardons for the inconvenience. I've got some ideas for future enhancements to the site, but progress is slow, and I'd rather spend my time writing posts than figuring out a way to optimize the way the site rebuilds after a comment. So commenting is going to remain a bit funky, but it should work. Now if you'll excuse me, this beer ain't gonna drink itself.

Lavery Imperial Red Ale

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So I've heard a lot about these Erie, PA brewers from the guys over at Aleheads, who did a great interview with the founder, Jason Lavery. As such, when I noticed a few bottles popping up here in Eastern PA, I jumped at the chance to try some of this stuff. Selection is still limited and I'm holding out hope for their summer seasonal, apparently a huge saison-style beer. In the meantime, I figured I'd check out this Imperial Red Ale.

This can be a bit of a strange style. A lot of times, it comes out like a reddish IPA or DIPA (think Gordon/G'Knight or Yule Smith Winter), but in this case, it was much more recognizable as a souped up Irish Red Ale. Knowing more about the brewery now, this is unsurprising, as these brewers are Irish, and you can see that influence all throughout their catalog.

Apparently the recipe for this has changed significantly. They originally used all Amarillo hops, one of the most popular and trendy varieties out there, but apparently small breweries can experience supply problems... From the Aleheads interview: "It's a really sad story. The Imperial Red Ale was originally all Amarillo. From the hops in the kettle to the dry hops, but our hop contractor told us that since we're so small, we won't be getting any more Amarillo until 2013." Well, crap. I love me some Amarillo hops. They've got this bright, juicy citrus flavor and aroma that's just very difficult to replicate, hence Lavery's woes. The beer I had was apparently a blend of Centennial, Cascade, and Nugget, but I'd love to get my hands on some of that Amarillo version someday (perhaps next year!), assuming the great hop contractor conspiracy deems it acceptable.

Anyway, I cracked this open to celebrate the return of Game of Thrones. It's not a very... Irish... show or anything, but something about this beer seemed to fit with the atmosphere of that series quite well. Go figure.

Lavery Imperial Red Ale

Lavery Imperial Red Ale - Pours a deep, dark red color with two fingers of small bubbled head. Smells are interesting... definitely some sugary sweetness and plenty of hop character, but when put together it's hard to place. Is it... is it like a fruit rollup, but with earthy, piney hops instead of fruit? Geeze, I hate it when reviewers say stuff like that, but that's what I'm getting out of this. The taste features a well balanced sweetness and bitterness, with neither overpowering the other - a relatively mild seeming beer. The malt backbone is similar to that of an Irish Red (amber and caramel malt, probably a hint of roasted malts for color), but unlike most in the style, strong hop flavors hit in the middle with a burst of citrus and pine (but not a lot of that resin character that I usually expect), leading in to a very dry finish. Mouthfeel is surprisingly light to medium bodied, and again, the finish is extremely dry. Overall, it's more like a hopped up Irish Red Ale than anything else, but I like that concept and would gladly try this again. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/1/12.

Well, there you have it. An interesting first taste, but I'm intrigued by a lot of Jason's experimental talk in the Aleheads interview... though I have to wonder how much of that stuff will make it over to us Easter PA folk. As previously mentioned, I'm really hoping to get my hands on some of their Imperial French Ale, apparently a summer seasonal...

For the most part, I drink all sorts of different beer styles at all different times of the year. But there is a certain seasonality that also comes into play too. Darker, stronger beers in winter, lighter, crisper, more refreshing beers for summer. Fall and Spring are a little more odd though. Fall has a big seasonal component with harvest ales and standard pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers, but Spring seems more open. For whatever reason, I tend to think of Spring (maybe late-winter) as Barleywine time. I have no idea why, it just feels... right.

But yeah, who am I kidding? Barleywines are always good!

I've heard a lot about Schlafly brewing (from St Louis, MO), but this is actually my first beer from them. Despite the 2008 vintage, I had only purchased this recently, so I was really curious to see if it held up (this may be the oldest beer I've ever had)... Then again, I would have also liked to compare it to a fresher variety.

Also, I didn't realize when I bought this that it didn't have any bourbon at all. I just saw oak aged and assumed bourbon was involved... until I cracked the bottle open and tasted it. I was looking for that bourbon flavor, but I couldn't find it. Then I looked at the description on the box a little closer and realized my mistake. Interestingly, reviewers on Beer Advocate frequently mention bourbon. Perhaps something resembles that in fresher vintages, but I didn't get anything like that here. Fortunately, the beer has a ton of flavor already, and that oak does add its own complexity, all by itself:

Schlafly Oak Aged Barlywine Style Ale

Schlafly Reserve Barleywine Style Ale 2008 - Pours a very nice, thick, dark copper color with minimal head. Smells strongly of caramel and vanilla, maybe a little oak notes too. Some fruity hops are present too, but they're subtle. As it warms, that fruitiness intensifies, throwing out raisiny notes. The taste prominently features that strong caramel malt flavor along with some fruitiness and vanilla/oak notes, especially in the finish. The age has definitely contributed to a certain complexity of flavor here, and as it warms, the fruity raisin flavors become even more prominent. Unfortunately, I don't know how well that age has treated the mouthfeel, which I find to be just a bit undercarbonated. This isn't really a flaw and it's still got enough carbonation to make this an excellent beer, but I find myself wishing for just a hint more carbonation. Again, I suspect this is more due to the age of the beer than anything else, and I do wonder what a 2010 or 2011 vintage would be like right now. Then again, this seems like less of an issue as the beer warms up a bit. Overall, this is still a wonderful beer, and I'm really glad I got to try some, even of this older vintage. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 3/29/12.

A very nice first impression for Schlafly, and I've got a bottle of 2008 Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout burning a whole in my fridge right now (perhaps I may open it later tonight!)

Wilco Tango Foxtrot

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Wilco Tango Foxtrot? Ah, I see what they did there:

Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot

Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot - Pours a very nice looking clear dark brown color with beautiful amber highlights and a finger of light head. Smells sweet, with some fruity hop character and some malty notes, maybe even a hint of roastiness. The taste is more malt than the nose would lead you to believe, very much like a brown ale (Beer Advocate calls it an American Strong Ale though), light caramel and some minor roastiness, but the hops are clearly there too. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with ample carbonation. Overall, very solid beer, well worth trying. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.83% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/7/12.

Despite not being a huge brown ale kinda guy, Lagunitas continues to impress, and thus I continue to explore their catalog.

PS - In other news, my commenting system was torpedoed by my host's new security measures, but has since been restored. Sorry for any inconvenience, and thanks to those who alerted me to the issue. I assure you the person or persons responsible will be sacked. Good day.

PPS - My readers (all 4 of you) are an astute bunch, so I'm sure you've noticed that my Wednesday entries tend to be rather sparse. This is generally because I spend time writing for my other blog on Wednesdays, so time is limited. I don't know how long I'll keep up this 4-5 entries a week schedule here, but while I don't see any end in sight, I also assume things will slow down a bit at some point. Thems the breaks, I guess.

Troegenator Double Bock

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One would assume that a Doppelbock grew out of the single Bock style, but apparently not. Doppelbocks have their roots in monastic brewing, and it was after the beer became secularized that goat-loving drinkers1 began to notice similarities between these beers and regular Bocks. Apparently, a bunch of drunken Italian monks2 found their way to Munich and began brewing this extra strong beer to sustain themselves during the fasting periods of Advent and Lent3. Full bodied with a rich, chewy malt character, these beers became known as "liquid bread".

Their beer was called Salvator (translates to "the Savior") and the Monks kept it to themselves for over a century. Once they began selling it to the public, that's when the whole Doppelbock moniker came up, though interestingly enough, other breweries who copied the beer called the style "Salvator" too. Eventually trademark protection forced those other breweries to come up with new names for their beer, though many try to keep it traditional by using words that end in "-ator", including new takes on the style like today's example:

Troegs Troegenator

Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock - Pours a deep, dark amber color with hints of ruby and a small amount of light colored head. Smells of caramel malt with a yeasty note, maybe a hint of fruitiness as well. The taste tends towards those caramel malt flavors, though it's a bit muted. Clearly there and very sweet, but not overpowering either, and while there's no real hop character to the beer, it's balanced enough not to be cloying either. Mouthfeel is smooth with just a bit of richness filling out the body, making this easier to drink than a sipper, but not quite at the level of a super-quaffable beer either. Overall, this is a solid beer. Not a ton of complexity, but quite nice for what it is. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of one of them fancy Sam Adams glasses on 3/30/12.

Tröegs continues to be an interesting semi-local brewery. I enjoy trying their beers, but I've rarely been blown away... though I will admit that Nugget Nectar has grown on me quite a bit and I'm always on the lookout for new beers in their Scratch series....

1 - For the uninitiated, "Bock" means "Goat" in German. Like a lot of beer origin stories, there are a few interpretations of where that comes from. One is that it was a shortened, mispronounced version of Einbeck, a city famous for its beer. Another is that the beer was often brewed in the Capricorn (symbolized by a goat) timeframe. Regardless, that's why you see a lot of goats on labels for Bocks and Doppelbocks.

2 - These monks were from Paula, Italy, and became known as Paulaners... a name that exists to this day, though the brewery seems to have been secularized.

3 - Yeah, I probably should have posted this on (or before) Easter, eh?

A Happy, Hoppy, Zoe

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Hippies! Hippies everywhere! Oh God, save us from the hippies!

So I've already mentioned that these crazy eco-hippies from Maine were getting a lot of attention in the beer dorkosphere (despite their tiny, nano-sized operation) and was quite pleased with their Peeper Ale (a well crafted take on the typical Pale Ale style)... but the beer that really seems to be making waves is this "Happy, Hoppy Amber Ale" called Zoe:

Maine Beer Co. Zoe

Maine Beer Co. Zoe - Pours a very deep, dark amber color, almost brown color with a finger of tan head. Smell is sugary sweet with citrus and lots of pine. Tastes very sweet, plenty of citrus and pine hops, with an interesting malt character too - maybe some biscuit malt, a small amount of dark crystal, chocolate, or even roasted/black malts. The finish has a fair amount of bitterness, but it's well matched and goes well with that dark malt character. Mouthfeel is... medium. Medium bodied, medium carbonated, medium smoothness, a medium amount of dryness in the finish. Overall, a very well crafted beer, something I'd love to try again sometime... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip on 3/24/12. Bottle sez 020912 (presumably bottling date) and 14 (batch number?) (date is actually very hard to read)

Definitely interested in trying more of their stuff. With beers like this, I think they'll be able to grow quickly, to the point where maybe they could be described as a "micro" brewery or maybe even (someday) a regular ol' craft brewery...

Telegraph Reserve Wheat Ale

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One of the great and yet simultaneously frustrating parts of reading a lot of beer blogs is when people go on and on about fantastic beers that are only available locally (I'm as guilty of this as anyone, of course). It's great because everyone loves their local breweries and it makes for a nice communal experience with other folks in the area. But sucks when you're on the outside looking in because you'll have these situations where seemingly everywhere you look, people are raving about this or that small brewery... and they don't distribute anywhere near you.

As I've become more of a beer dork, my beer hunting prowess has certainly increased, but there are always things that are uber-local. Think Surly or The Alchemist, both of whom don't distribute outside their state, and yet it feels like everyone's drank some of that stuff. I've not yet tipped my toes into the illicit realm of beer trading, but that's certainly one way to get a hold of the stuff. Or you can just patiently wait for the beer to be distributed to your area, which has somewhat recently happened with California's own Telegraph Brewing.

Of course, I've been hearing raves about these beers from everyone. For instance, The Beer Rover has covered tons of their beer. Jay also loves them, and I found out about their plans to distribute to PA from an interview he did with the founder and brewer. So when I saw a bottle on a recent beer run, I immediately snapped it up without even really looking too closely at it... I immediately squirreled it away in my fridge, hoping to get to it quickly. Then I went and looked it up and... oh noes! Jay lists it as "unrateable". When I dug into his original review, it appears that this may have just been a reaction to the Berliner Weisse style... but then, my only real experience with that style was Dogfish Head's Festina Pêche, which is a beer I hated. Seriously, C- maybe even D range beer for me. Fortunately, my fears were mostly unfounded. I still wouldn't call this a style I prefer, but I can't imagine it being better executed:

Telegraph Reserve Wheat Ale

Telegraph Reserve Wheat Ale - Pours a clear, bright straw yellow color with a finger of quickly disappearing white head. Smells of lemon and funk, with lots of wheat beer character too. Really nice nose, actually. Taste starts off a little sweet, with a pleasant lemony tart character emerging quickly, followed by a slightly more intense sourness in the finish. Not a lot of wheat in the taste, but it does have that sorta mouthfeel. Effervescent, well carbonated (but not overly so), and very lightly bodied. The sourness prevents gulping this down, but it's not a slow sipper either. Overall, this is well balanced, tart, but not overpowering. I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying this given how little I enjoyed the Dogfish Head take on the sytle. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 3/24/12.

So my first experience wasn't the bust I was dreading, and I will certainly be on the lookout for their more celebrated brews, like the California Ale or Gypsy Ale. I actually saw the California Ale recently, but it was in PA, so I would have needed to buy a full case of the stuff. I'm sure it's great and all, but I've got way too much beer sitting around here to justify that!

Victory Donnybrook Stout

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Another day, another Victory. This low gravity Dry Irish Stout is only really available on tap (and I'm pretty sure it's only locally available too), so it's not one that I've had often, but it's a solid beer (and though I didn't drink this on St. Patrick's Day, it makes a nice local alternative to the ever present Guinness, especially when it's on nitro tap).

In other news, I'm pretty sure this is the lowest alcohol beer I've ever reviewed (unless you count that non-alcoholic swill we had that one time at Beer Club). Let's do this:

Victory Donnybrook Stout

Victory Donnybrook Stout - Pours a very dark brown with a tiny amount of highlights and a finger of thick, light brown head. Smells strongly of roasted malts and a little coffee... Taste features that same roast and coffee character. Mouthfeel is smooth and creamy, very lightly carbonated with a nice light body. Almost quaffable. I'm pretty sure this one was on regular tap, but when it's on nitro, it's much smoother, though still light bodied. Overall, it's a nice stout that's as good as any I've had in the style and as previously mentioned, it makes a nice local alternative to the ever-present Guinness. B

Beer Nerd Details: 3.7% ABV on tap. Drank out of Victory's 0.3L glass on 3/24/12.

I'd like to say that this will probably be my last Victory review for a while, but I think we all know that's not going to happen.

Update: Nope, this is only the second lowest ABV beer I've reviewed. The lowest was Tetley's English Ale, clocking in at 3.6% ABV. However, this beer was a heck of a lot better, so foo on you.

Duchesse De Bourgogne

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I'm a backwards man. Instead of easing myself into sour beers, I started with the sourest of sours*, a Gueuze that was fine for what it was, but it almost soured** me on sour beers forever. Or for a few weeks, at least. I then moved on to some of Russian River's fabled sours (described on their website as "high" sourness), which I enjoyed quite a bit... and yet, I hadn't really caught the sour bug just yet. And despite some true sour revelations over the past year or so, I still wouldn't call myself a huge fan of sours. But then, I realized that I didn't really start off with the typical beers.

According to dontdrinkbeer, Duchesse De Bourgogne is "The Mistress that Starts Every Man's Sick Foray into Sours" (he also mentions Rodenbach, which has also been on my list at Padraic's urging for quite some time now - I'll get theres someday, I promise). As we've already established, I went backwards, so this was probably the dozenth or so sour I've had... but I'm glad I'm getting back to basics here. So once more unto the breach, dear friends:

Duchesse De Bourgogne

Duchesse De Bourgogne - Pours a dark amber with beautiful highlights when held up to light. Just a bit of light tan head. Smell is quite funky and earthy with a twang in the nose. Taste is very strange. Sweet with a fruity candy character, a little funk emerging in the middle and a light, vinegary sourness hitting in the finish. Well carbonated but but an incredibly smooth, almost creamy mouthfeel. Maybe a little vinegar acidity there, and lots of slickness in the finish. Overall, it's an interesting beer. Not being a big sour guy, it's a bit unusual, and it's not my favorite, but it's very well done. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 3/23/12.

I suspect I'd had this beer earlier in my sick foray into sours, I'd have a higher opinion of it. But after having had some revelatory examples, I didn't quite find myself loving this, though it's clearly a good beer. Oh, and while I'm not a huge food and beer pairing guy, I've noticed that Flanders Sours (I've not tried it with others) go really well with both dark chocolate and cheddar cheese. Go figure.

* In case my lack of experience with sours is not apparent, I have no idea whether or not that Gueuze is actually the "sourest" of sours. It's just the one that sticks out in my head as being obscenely sour.

** Pun intended.

Big Black Voodoo Daddy

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Alright, let me just check out Voodoo Brewing's homepage first and... holy shit, what the hell? Did I accidentally time travel back to the early 1990s? Even by those standards, this isn't a website that really gets the job done. But then, right there on the main page, it says "By the way I brew beer not websites, nor can I spell or type, so be critical of the beer not the website." Well, at least they know what they're doing. And they're right, it's the beer that counts, so let's get us some oak aged imperial stout:

Voodoo Big Black Voodoo Daddy

Voodoo Big Black Voodoo Daddy - Pours a thick, very dark brown color with almost no head (though what's there is brownish). Smell is filled with rich aromas of caramel, vanilla, and oak with just a little in the way of roastiness. The taste is along similar lines, but with the roastiness taking on a much more prominent position. Chocolate makes an appearance too. Mouthfeel is thick and chewy with minimal carbonation, though it's strangely not the heaviest thing I've drank lately. For a beer this big, the alcohol is hidden pretty darn well. Overall, it's a very good stout. It's not the best thing I've ever had or anything, but it's my kinda stout. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 3/17/12.

Now apparently the Voodoo folks make a bourbon barrel aged stout that clocks in at 15% ABV and is only available in limited quantities (apparently there will be some small release party in Philly this summer, though details have not been announced). I'd love to try it though. This Voodoo Daddy beer took on some nice oak flavors without the bourbon character, but I'd like to try the bourbon barrel aged one too!

The Dammit Meme

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So I've been tagged in one of those godawful memes that are supposed to spread throughout the internet like wildfire, except that dorks like me... actually, I generally participate in memes. I like answering interesting questions, and beerbecue has some decent ones, so I figured I'd play along. At least until the time comes when I have to follow the rules. I don't play by anyone's rules. Especially not my own. That's my rule.

Since I'm not following anyone's rules but my own (which I don't actually follow), I won't post the original rules. Basically, beerbecue has listed out 7 questions, and I have to answer them. I think the original thing had something about creating new questions and tagging other folks to participate, but I'm not going to do those things because I'm uncreative, lazy, and don't want to cause any ruckus in the beer blogging world. Enjoy:

Your first beer: That's an excellent question. I have no idea. Well, I have ideas, but I'm not positive about anything. This is partly because my first was undoubtedly macro crap and thus not very memorable. I may have had a sip of MGD when I was a wee nerd, but when I think about it, I think it may have been a Busch beer. Certainly my first big drinking session was from a case of Busch pounders. Again, not very memorable.

Your first good beer: Also a tough one to pinpoint. I remember drinking Honey Brown, but that's not exactly a "good" beer. Yuengling lager? Perhaps. But the standout craft beer revelation of my life was most definitely Ommegang Hennepin, stumbled on completely by accident (I wrote about the full story before).

Your favorite BBQ joint? How's this for good memory: I don't remember. But I do remember that I was in Texas, which does a slightly better job than PA when it comes to BBQ. And by slightly better, I mean ridiculous to even compare. On the other hand, I'm no expert, and I'm sure there's something here, I just haven't really sought it out. I hope beerbecue doesn't lynch me.

Which childhood star most influenced you? Um... I don't know. Ron Howard?

Would you rather listen to Exile on Main St. or Sgt. Pepper's? Exile on Main St. I will say that I like both though, and quite frankly, I've never really gotten the whole Stones vs Beatles argument. Then again, I've always been more of a movies guy. I love music and all, but I just don't understand it the way I do movies. Or beer for that matter:p

Which is better: kimjongillookingatthings.com or kimjongunlookingatthings.com? I, too, prefer the original - kingjongillookingatthings. Sequels are rarely as good as the original.

To the extent divulging it would not reveal top-secret, upcoming reviews...what beers are in your fridge right now? My upcoming reviews are probably no secret to anyone who follows me on Untappd, but I will share with you the results of my most recent beer run, because I'm super excited by all of these:

DH 75 Minute IPA, RR Sanctification, Founders KBS, and Firestone Walker Sucaba
(Click for larger version)

And there you have it. Of course, I probably won't get to these anytime soon, but you'll probably start seeing reviews in a few weeks. Though I may not be able to hold out on the KBS. Can't believe I score two bottles of the stuff.

And that just about covers it. I'm supposed to tag 11 other bloggers, but I'll just leave an invitation open to anyone reading. Heck, start your own blog and answer some questions. Otherwise, like beerbecue, I'll just take the opportunity to pimp the bloggers on my blogroll over there on the right. They're all awesome, and you should read them.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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