August 2012 Archives

Allagash Bourbon Barrel Black

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I'm not that big of a fan of Allagash Black, a Belgian-style stout that sorta mashes up stouts with Belgian Strong Darks... and makes me wish I had one or the other. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine beer, but not one of head-exploding glory like I expect from a brewer of Allagash's caliber. The solution to this conundrum? Put it in old Jim Beam bourbon barrels, of course! Alas, that treatment doesn't seem to have done much to improve my feelings on the beer:

Allagash Bourbon Barrel Black

Allagash Bourbon Barrel Black - Apologies for the craptacular picture (It was dark!) Pours a black color with a couple fingers of light brown head that puffed up higher than the lips of the glass. Not picking up a ton in the nose (stupid overflowing glass), but a little musty roast and a hint of bourbon are there. Taste has lots of those roasted malts and plenty of boozy bourbon. There's some complexities emerging as I drink, but it all feels a little sloppy. Mouthfeel is less carbonated than regular black; a little richer and creamier, but also much boozier. This isn't quite as balanced as I'd like. I'd gladly drink more of this, but it's a little disappointing and messy. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Drank out of a snifter on 8/17/12.

Well, I guess they can't all be winners (in terms of both Allagash and bourbon barrel beers), but it's not like this one was horrible either. I'm always looking forward to new Allagash specialties and lord knows I can't resist bourbon barrel aged beers...

Russian River Row 2/Hill 56

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One of the driving forces behind this blog is the wanton violation of the Constitution of the United States. Don't get me wrong, I'm overall a pretty big fan of that document, but Amendment XXI, Section 2 can kiss my ass. It says you can't transport "intoxicating liquors" across state lines. Given the PLCB's ridiculous stance on single bottle sales in PA (i.e. you have to buy full cases1), it's pretty much required for a beer nerd in my area to become a scofflaw. In addition to this, I giddily smuggled beer back to PA on a flight back from Texas last year.

And now I've added another felony to my repertoire: the vaunted beer trade. Jay, from the most excellent Beer Samizdat blog2, proposed a swap of ungettables from the opposite coast. And thus I came into the possession of West Coast rarities the likes of which us East Coasters drool over3. Er, sorry, don't mean to rub it in, but it was exciting. And I'm not sharing.

As it was my first time, I was a little nervous about shipping mishaps4, but fortunately, I had plenty of bubble wrap securely fastened around all the bottles I sent, so no bottle explosions in transit or knocks at the front door by the FBI (I can just picture them now, in their black suits, holding a dripping box, frowning... saying "Is this yours?" while their partner pulls out the hand cuffs). Jay, being more experienced on this front, sent his in a fortress of seemingly indestructible styrofoam. Anywho, this is all by way of saying that you're going to see some reviews of West Coast mind blowers in the near future.

Like this beer, from one of our nation's most amazing breweries, Russian River. It's the first in a line of beers they're calling "The Hop Grower's Tribute Series", and in this case, they're honoring the three farms that grow Simcoe hops. It's named after the location in the experimental hop yard where Simcoe was born, and is it just me, or should there be more than 3 farms growing these prized hops? If the prices for Simcoe at the homebrew shop are any indication, I think there are some farmers that could stand to make a pretty penny by stepping up production.

I've never actually seen a bottle of Pliny or even Blind Pig, but it looks like the label's got the trademark Russian River disclaimers pleading with you to drink the beer as soon as possible, least the hop character fade (as they tend to do with time). "This beer is not meant to be aged! Age your cheese, not the beer inside this bottle! Keep cold, drink fresh, do not age! Consume Fresh, or not at all! Respect hops, consume this beer fresh! Keep away from heat! This beer does not get better with age! Please do not age me!" They won't shut up about it, but then, they're probably right. And in any case, Russian River beers tend not to last long in my house. This stuff was gone just a few short days after I received it:

Russian River Row 2 Hill 56

Russian River Row 2/Hill 56 - Pours a bright golden color with a finger of quickly disappearing, fluffy head. Smells of bright grapefruit and a little bit of pine, pure Simcoe gold. The taste is less sweet than I'd expect, with a bracing bitterness that hits quite quickly and intensifies through the taste. Pine comes out more as a flavor here than in the nose, along with a sorta herbalness I associate with Cascades (which makes sense, since Simcoe is descended from Cascade). Mouthfeel is light, smooth, quaffable, but with a pleasant hoppy bite and a nice dry finish. Man, this thing goes down easy. A fantastic summer beer, perfect for quenching thirst after a long day/week in the office. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV bottled (510 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/17/12. Bottled on 6/26/12.

At this point, I think I've had everything Russian River has made available in PA (including the likes of Pliny the Younger and a bunch of their mildly rare sours), but it's nice to know that I may be able to get my hands on stuff like this in the future. Thanks Jay!

1 - There is a loophole to the case law that says that restaurants (or some sort of eating establishments) can sell singles, so the case law isn't as annoying as it used to be. I was surprised when I recently walked into a new local place that's purely a bottle shop - I asked the guy working there how he got around the case law, and he pointed to the back of the place. Tucked away in the corner was one of them hot dog machines that rolls the hot dogs. I suspect they don't sell many of those things. Even grocery stores are getting into the act these days, and one local beer distributer seems to just be throwing caution to the wind and selling singles illegally. I say good on them!

2 - I suspect most of my readers are already familiar with Beer Samizdat, but it's an excellent blog and Jay's been posting up a storm of late, so be sure to check it out.

3 - Jay seems pleased with his haul too. I won't spoil the trade, but I'm sure you'll see a few of them show up on his blog in the near future too (like this one)

4 - Definitely illegal to ship via USPS, so third parties it was. Thanks to my lazy habit of never throwing out boxes, I had plenty of bubble wrap laying around (I used at least 3 or 4 different varieties), and did my best. Still, I was a little nervous, but as it turns out, bottles aren't that fragile.

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine

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So here we go, tapping that hotbed of beery goodness, Wisconsin. In all seriousness, these Central Waters folks have quite the reputation, most especially for their bourbon barrel stuff, which, you know, goes a long way here at Kaedrin. They're also apparently one of them green-powered eco-hippie breweries. My eyes kinda glaze over when I read stuff about that, but from what I gather, the fine folks of Central Waters have invented a race of solar-powered, sentient robots to do all the brewing. The people of Wisconsin are quite industrious and may indeed be architects of the robopocalypse. That, or I have poor reading comprehension. Anywho, let's drink some beer:

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine - Pours a deep amber color with minimal, whitish head. Smells full of bourbon and caramel, with heaping helpings of vanilla and oak. The taste follows the nose pretty well - tons of rich caramel malt flavors, lots of intense, boozy bourbon, along with a little well-rounded vanilla and oak. Some fruity notes open up as it warms. Very sweet, but not quite cloying. Mouthfeel is full bodied, thick, a little light on the carbonation (though not too light at all), a bit of sticky booze in the finish, and a pronounced warming effect from the 11.5% ABV. Overall, pretty much everything you could want from a bourbon-barrel aged barleywine. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 8/11/12. Bottled in January 2012.

Nice first impression of the solar-powered wizards from Wisconsin, definitely hoping to get my hands on more of their stuff.

Neshaminy Creek Leon

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Continuing a look at the tiny new breweries in my area, I stopped by Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company this past weekend. Another homebrewer turned pro story here, Neshaminy Creek opened doors in early June (coinciding with Philly Beer Week, which seems to be the trend for these local breweries) and has slowly been making a name for themselves.

Neshaminy Creek tank board

They've got a couple standards in their lineup, including the County Line IPA, which is nice, lightly hoppy with a bigger malt character than expected (this winds up being a good thing in a market full of "hop it til it's nasty" beers). I also sampled their Croydon Cream Ale, a nice, light lawnmower beer. Not really my style, but it was tasty and much better than typical light lager fare. Their Tribute Tripel just might be my favorite of their brews, a great take on the style. Filled with fruity esters, sweetness, and plenty of spice from the yeast (clove), it comes off as being well balanced, but still big and delicious, just like a Tripel should be (in the B+ to A- range of my ratings, I think). According to their tank board (pictured above), they've got some sort of Hefeweizen coming too.

But the beer that everyone's talking about is Leon... also known as the 'Smore beer. Yep, it's an imperial stout brewed with baker's chocolate, marshmallow fluff, and crumbled graham crackers. They've made a couple of test batches of the stuff, but it turns out that what I got was the first full batch (and probably the last we'll see of it this year - big beers like this tend to use up an inordinate amount of resources for small breweries). Knowing I wanted a closer look at this one, I got a growler of it and have been sipping my way through it for most of the weekend. At 11.6% ABV, it's big and burly, but the alcohol is pretty well hidden. Ah well, there goes my glycemic index. Let's take a closer look:

Neshaminy Creek Leon

Neshaminy Creek Leon - Pours a deep, dark black color with a finger of dense tan head. Nice retention too, plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells strongly of chalky roasted malts, maybe some coffee character, but also a sorta light sweetness in the nose as well. Taste is again dominated by those roasted malts, coffee flavors, and maybe just a hint of dark chocolate. Nowhere near as sweet as I'd expect, but it's not super bitter either. As it warms (or perhaps as my palate adjusts to the roastiness), the coffee goes away and chocolate emerges more. I have to admit, I don't get any real 'smore flavor here, but that don't mean it's not good. I know it's obnoxious to tell a brewer stuff like this, but for a smore beer, I'd love to get more in the way of caramelized sugar flavors and less in the way of roastiness. Mouthfeel is heavy, but smooth, with plenty of tight carbonation. It's a sipper to be sure, but the booze isn't as pronounced as I'd expect in a 11.6% ABV beer. Very well hidden. Overall, a solid imperial stout. Not quite the beer I was looking for, but I'm sure it will make stout fanatics happy... B

Beer Nerd Details: 11.6% ABV from growler. Drank out of a snifter on 8/25/12. Beer was apparently kegged on 8/24/12, so it's about as fresh as possible.

I'm curious to see how Leon evolves over time. According to the brewer, this one came in a little lighter than their test batches, and they've also reserved a bunch to age in Bourbon barrels. This excites me to no end, as bourbon barrel aging tends to temper the big roast and coffee flavors in a beer like this while adding a touch of sweetness and complexity from the oak. This sounds quite exciting. Otherwise, I'm going to be on the lookout for their Tribute Tripel, which I think was my favorite of their beers. While I was there, I heard talk of wild yeast and other barrel aging stuff, which sounds exciting. They're mostly only on tap right now, but I believe they do some limited bottling of their brews too. Definitely a brewery to keep an eye on...

Full Pint Chinookie IPA

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No Limp Bizkit1 references here. This blog is classy. Sorta.

My assumption was that the name of this beer was a reference to Chinook hops and that this would be one of them highfalutin single-hop experiment glorifying this particular varietal. However, upon closer inspection of the bottle's beer nerd stats, it appears that Chinook is but one of four hops. Perhaps this is for the best. I've never used Chinook before, but from everything I've read, it's got an intense bitterness and overpowering flavor profile (apparently very piney and resiny). This beer apparently had four hop additions along with some dry hopping, so let's see how it turned out:

Full Pint Chinookie IPA

Full Pint Chinookie IPA - Pours a cloudy, darkish orange color with a finger of tight white head and some lacing as I drink. Smells of equal parts citrus and pine, with a heaping helping of floral hop notes as well. Taste has a nice balance between sweetness and bitterness, there's a definite but small presence of crystal malts, and while the hop flavors (roughly matching the composition of the aromas) are light, there's certainly enough to make this an interesting brew. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, with ample tight carbonation, and a dry finish. Overall, a solid IPA that'd probably make a nice go-to for the locals in Pittsburgh. It's not a remarkable beer, but it works. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/11/12. Hops: Magnum, Warrior, Chinook, and Centennial. IBUs: 103.1. Lot 210, best by Feb 2013.

Full Pint continues to be an interesting PA brewery (Pittsburgh area, if I remember correctly) - Rye Rebellion was quite a solid entry, and there are plenty of other beers on their roster that I'd like to check out.

1 - True story: I booed Limp Bizkit off stage once (they were opening for Faith No More, a band I actually like). Not, you know, by myself, but as a willing participant. We didn't have torches and pitchforks, but we got the job done. It was a proud moment.

Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown

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I'm beginning to think I'm a fraud. I keep saying that I don't like coffee flavors in my beer, but then I rave on and on about weasel poop coffee beer, or Founders' Imperial Stout, or their vaunted KBS. The coffee just keeps coming, and I'm lapping it up. I should just admit that my conversion to the dark side of beer is complete. I've searched my feelings; I know it to be true.

And here's yet another example. At a recent tap takeover, I got me an extra helping of KBS (yum), then hopped on the Frangelic Mountain Brown train (this ordering is a bit unfortunate, as KBS is a bit of a monster, but this seemed to be the order in which everyone at the bar went in...) I didn't really know much about it other than that it was one of Founders' Backstage Series beers - stuff they used to only release on tap in their brewpub in Michigan, but that they now bottle in limited quantities, thus attracting the ebay vampires in search of arbitrage. When Canadian Breakfast Stout came out, there were tales of derring-do and elaborate heists as beer nerds strained their nerditivity to ge their hands on a bottle. Now, folks do seem to be enjoying Frangelic Mountain Brown, but it doesn't quite have the insane hype surrounding it that something like CBS had. This is probably a good thing, and despite it's coffee based nature, I gave it a shot:

Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown

Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown - Pours a dark brown color with beautiful amber highlights and a couple fingers of tan head. Smells of freshly ground coffee. When I was growing up, my dad used to use hazelnut flavored cream in his coffee, and that's what this reminds me of (and, of course, I found out that they used hazelnut flavored coffee in this beer after the fact, confirming that I was not crazy). Taste is similar - tons of coffee. Not like people normally talk about coffee in beer though, and certainly nothing like Founders' other coffee-centric stouts. Perhaps it's a distinct lack of roastiness that differentiates this... It's sweeter and smoother around the edges, nowhere near as bitter or roasty (though both components are there). Mouthfeel is medium bodied, but it goes down easy and is quite smooth. Overall, an exceedingly interesting beer! Probably not something I'd want to hit up often, but I'm really happy I got to try some. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/31/12.

Despite what I said in the opening paragraph, I still don't think of myself as loving coffee-based beer. But perhaps brewers like Founders and Mikkeller have earned a pass when it comes to this stuff. Maybe I'll even get my hands on some CBS next year. Or not. I might be willing to participate in some light shenanigans to get a bottle, but no tragic or sad shenanigans. That's where I draw the line. What was I talking about again? I should stop writing now.

Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA

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I had originally planned to pick up a bottle of regular ol' Stone Ruination to compare with this beer, brewed in honor of the tenth anniversary of Ruination, but I never got around to it and I wanted to make sure I drank this thing fresh. It's been at least a couple years since my last Ruination, but my recollection is that it's hopped to high heaven, with an impressive and intense bitterness. I remember a friend saying something like "They call it Ruination because it will totally ruin your palate!" This was said approvingly, and as the years have gone on, I've certainly become more and more of a hophead. Ruination was one of the defining Douple IPAs of its era, certainly not the first, but one of the most popular. For its tenth anniversary, Stone amped up the strength to a whopping 10.8%... and apparently doubled the amount of hops used in the recipe. Well, I guess I don't need this enamel on my teeth anyway, let's crack this thing open:

Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA

Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA - Pours a hazy, darkish pale orange color with a finger of tight beaded head that's leaving plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells strongly of juicy, fruity, and floral hops, maybe a hint of pine, and lots of sugary sweetness in the nose too. Taste starts sweet, with a massive blast of hop flavors emerging in the middle and intensifying through the finish, which is quite bitter and surprisingly dry for such a big beer. The hop flavors strike me as having a profile that is unique to Stone - I feel like I could pick this out of a lineup, whereas a lot of other IPAs, even world-class stuff, doesn't feel that distinctive. There's tons of citrus, a little pine, but also something floral and almost spicy that's asserting itself. Again, this flavor profile is something I feel like we get from Stone a lot - Kaedrin friend and beverage compatriot Padraic would call it the "hop it til it's nasty" effect (though I wouldn't say it's nasty, I rather like it). Mouthfeel is medium bodied, amply but tightly carbonated, and surprisingly dry for such a huge beer (it's not super-dry or anything, but I was expecting something boozier and stickier in the finish and was pleasantly surprised at how well this one avoided those pitfalls). Overall, extremely well crafted beer, perhaps a bit too extreme for frequent drinking, but hell, this stuff won't be around much longer, so I may even pick up another. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 8/10/12.

I can't say as though I loved it as much as the Beer Rover, but it's another solid entry from Stone, as per usual. I still may need to pick up a regular bottle of Ruination at some point and review it, but I'm pretty well overstocked at the moment, so I think it's time to drink down the cellar again. Speaking of whittling stuff down, I'm officially less than 2 weeks behind on my reviews at this point. No danger of running out of things to post about or anything, but for a while, I was over a month behind, which was just silly.

Swing and a Miss

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Sometimes I'm a little dismayed at how often I rate things a B+ or higher. Ratings are ultimately a fickle, subjective thing, but lately, it seems like I've been handing out an awful lot of A- scores. I'm still pretty strict with the A and A+ ratings (maybe even too strict when it comes to that most hallowed of rating), though I certainly encounter my fair share of those as well. Conversely, it's pretty rare that a beer ever gets anything in the C range, let alone lower.

Now, obviously I don't go out of my way to drink bad beers or things I know I won't like, but I also don't want to succumb to the hype machine or get locked into poor heuristics. So when I encounter a beer that I assume I'll love, but don't, I'm actually a little reassured. I mean, it sucks, but they can't all be home runs. So here's a couple beers I was very disappointed with recently.

Boulevard Double Wide IPA

Boulevard Double Wide IPA - I kept hearing good things about about these Boulevard Smokestack Series beers, so on a recent beer hunt, I picked up a couple. Pours a golden amber color with tons of fluffy head. Smells of big, juicy American hops, plenty of citrus and pine. Taste also smacks of citrus and pine hops, with a well matched malt backbone and a bitter finish. Actually, that finish also has a bit of a boozy bite to it too. It's not huge, but it definitely detracts from the experience... The mouthfeel is highly carbonated with a medium body and plenty of that booze. Overall, a rather straightforward DIPA, but far from world beater. It's not bad, per say, and I'm sure I would enjoy sucking a few of these back, but it's not something I'd ever really go out of my way for. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/4/12. Bottle sez: Best By 01/27/13.

Not a terrible first at bat for Boulevard, but not a particularly impressive one either. On my scale, it's not that hard to get to that B+ rating with a DIPA. I've got their Sixth Glass quad sitting around too, so we'll see what that one does for me.

Dolii Raptor

Birrificio Montegioco Dolii Raptor - Calvados Barrel Aged - If you read this blog, you know my affinity for barrel aged beers. This one, a Belgian style aged in Calvados (apple brandy) barrels made by one of them up-and-coming Italian craft brewers seemed right up my alley. Plus, look at the cute little raptor on the bottle. Who doesn't love raptors? Alas, it was not to be: Pours a pale orangish brown color with minimal head. Smells of barrel aged booze (obviously the Calvados coming through), with perhaps some musty, funky Belgian yeast as well. There is, perhaps, a hint of a sour twang in the nose, and that hint of funk appears in the taste as well. It's not that pronounced, which makes me wonder if it was intentional. The taste is sweet and very boozy, presumably due to the Calvados aging. The twangy tartness becomes a little more prominent as I drink, and not in a particularly good way. Mouthfeel is surprisingly light for such a beer, reasonably well carbonated to start, but fading off into slickness in the finish. This beer feels a little... sloppy and unbalanced. There's definitely some sort of infection going on here. Some brewers do this intentionally with their barrel aged stuff, but let's just say that these guys ain't no Vinnie Cilurzo. Somehow, I'd rather drink this than most macros, but that's a pretty low bar to clear. I finished the bottle, but I wasn't too happy about it. C-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 8/4/12. Bottle sez: Brewed in 2009 (so perhaps this was just past its shelf life?)

Yeah, so let's just say that 8/4 wasn't the most exciting of nights for me when it came to my beer selection. I did have a second bottle of Dolii Raptor that was apparently aged in different kinds of barrels, but it was pretty much the same thing. Maybe a little more sour, but just as sloppy and unbalanced. I'm not really sure what the difference really was - Beer Advocate has one classed as a Belgian Strong Dark, and the other as Belgian Strong Pale, but they were pretty much identical in appearance. So who the heck knows with those things. Not a particularly good first impression of the nascent Italian craft brewing scene, though obviously I can't hold a single example up as indicative of the whole movement. I'm sure I'll try a few others soon enough...

Anywho, don't you worry about me. I'll be back to posting A-level scortchers in no time.

A Trip to Tired Hands Brewing

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Tired Hands is the brainchild of Jean Broillet IV and his wife Julie Foster. Jean began as a homebrewer, but quickly turned professional, starting at Weyerbacher Brewing Company where he learned the ins-and-outs of the brewing business. Eventually he moved on to the Iron Hill Brewpub in West Chester, PA (just down the road from me) and it was there that he fell in love with the brewpub model. After several years, he set plans in motion for his own brewpub, eventually landing in Ardmore, PA.

Tired Hands Logo

The greater Philadelphia area is home to numerous breweries, but few seem to inflame the passions of the Beer Advocate set (this isn't to say they're not any good, but that's a topic for another post). Tired Hands looks to be a local brewery that will join the rarified few that amaze beer dorks like myself. Drawing inspiration from the farmhouse brewers of France and Belgium and the heavy handed hop-heads of the US, Tired Hands has already made a splash, just a few short months after opening their doors in June, 2012. Just to give you an idea of how well their launch has gone, they've already collaborated with the insanely popular Hill Farmstead on a couple of beers, which naturally brought many beer nerds to attention (the first time I heard of Tired Hands was at the Hill Farmstead event during Philly Beer Week). Being a fool (or perhaps just because my liver wasn't up to the task), I didn't get to try that collaboration.

But all is not lost, as they're a reasonable hop and skip away, and I've lately thought it would be interesting to take a look at the smaller brewers of the area. And Tired Hands is indeed quite tiny, focusing on small batch brews (their website sez they make twelve-keg batches) and uber-local foodstuffs. It's not quite a full-blown restaurant, but they offer a nice selection of fresh baked bread, local artisanal cheeses, and charcuterie. Which, quite frankly, is enough for me!

Duck Prosciutto
Duck Prosciutto

But what about the beer? I hear you, dear reader, so let's do this thing:

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison (Simcoe)

Tired Hands Single Hop, Saison (Simcoe) - As if saisons couldn't get more weird, here we have a traditional sweet and spicy saison liberally hopped with juicy American Simcoe varietals. Pours a cloudy, bright straw yellow with two fingers of pillowy head. Smell is full of piney simcoe and some fruity citrus, with a tiny, spicy Belgian yeast influence. Taste starts sweet and spicy (white pepper?), like a proper Saison, but then that simcoe pine and citrus hits, leading into a very dry, bitter finish. As it warms up, the Simcoe undergoes a bit of a transformation, with an herbal earthiness emerging into the fray. Mouthfeel is lightly carbonated, a little spicy kick, but ultimately smooth and compulsively drinkable. Overall, this is a superb blending of styles that I wouldn't have expected to work anywhere near this well. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap (8 oz). Drank out of a wine glass on 8/18/12.

One of the nice things they do at Tired Hands is allow you to get small 4 ounce samplers, which allowed me to get a much broader view of their available brews. Of course, I'm sure there are some beer nerds who will scoff at 4 ounces being enough beer with which to judge, so I guess take it with a grain of salt. For me, 4 ounces is probably the minimum amount, but enough. Whatevers, let's drink some beers:

Tired Hands Borage Saison and Hop-A-Tact IPA

Tired Hands Hop-A-Tact (glass on the right) - Pours a copper color with a finger of head. Smells of bright fruity hops, some pine, and some sort of malt that I can't quite place. Taste also has that mysterious malt character (looking at their site after the fact, I see that this is brewed with oats, Victory malt, and a touch of black wheat malt - hardly typical IPA material) along with plenty of citrus and pine from the hops and a light bitterness in the finish. Straightforward medium body mouthfeel, not quite quaffable, but it goes down easy enough. Overall, a very solid,interesting take on the IPA, if not quite a face melter. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Borage Saison (glass on the left) - I've never heard of Borage before, but hey, why not brew a saison with mystery herbs? Pours a bright, cloudy yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of spicy, peppery Belgian yeast, with a hint of light fruit and herbs. Taste starts sweet and spicy before drying out as the taste proceeds. Hints of fruit and herbs emerge too. Mouthfeel is smooth with a little bit of a spicy bite. Overall a very nice, complex take on a more straightforward Saison style. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Tired Hands Mysterious Mood

Tired Hands Mysterious Mood - Fermented and aged in old Chaddsford Winery barrels which, apparently, had contracted a small Brettanomyces infection. Music to a farmhous brewers ears. This one pours a slightly darker yellow than the other saisons, with a finger of light colored head. Smells of funk with just a hint of sour twang. Taste starts sweet, light spice, followed by a heaping helping of funk and some light sour twangyness. Mouthfeel is lightly carbonated and smooth. Overall a very nice take on a funky saison. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Tired Hands Deuce

Tired Hands Deuce - A "Corn based hoppy brown ale", whatever that means. Pours a medium brown color (a bit light for something described as a brown ale) with a small, light colored, creamy head. Smells lightly hoppy, citrusy, some darkish malt (not roasty or anything like that, but not quite a brown ale either). Taste is sweet, with those darkish malts and nice citrus hop flavors without the bitterness. Mouthfeel is smooth, goes down easy, medium bodied. Overall a solid beer, but it's kinda struggling to find its identity. It kinda goes in a few different directions without really coming together. That being said, it's certainly an interesting effort and it went down easy enough, so there's that... B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Well, I can certainly see Tired Hands becoming one of my go-to local joints. I think they've done some limited bottling before, though I have no idea how often they're planning on doing that or if I'll ever get my hands on some. Given their tiny, local-based approach, I suspect bottles aren't going to be super common, but I'm definitely keeping an eye out. Well, this was a most enjoyable experience. I've already got a couple other local pubs/breweries on my radar, though I have no idea when I'll get to them...

Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA

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Previously, on Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project: ¡Magnifico!, a 3.4% ABV, charitably hopped Belgian Pale Ale. Today, we're talking about Pretty Things' first American IPA, the prospect of which had beer nerds positively salivating. It's named after a bird or something (Wikipedial describes the males as having "extensively red or yellow underparts") and it's brrewed with the new hotness in American and New Zealand hops (Galaxy, Bravo, and Citra). They're saying that this may thus be one of them limited supply beers that fly off the shelves due to the scarce availability of trendy hops and a refusal to compromise on the recipe. So drink 'em if you got 'em, cause these ain't aging beers and they probably won't show up again until next year. Meadowlark and ¡Magnifico! showed up on shelves around the same time, but a week later, the Meadowlark was gone, while ¡Magnifico! was still hanging out as of this past weekend. I'd say check them both out, if you can find them:

Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA

Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA - Pours a slightly hazy golden orange color with a finger of white head and good retention/lacing as I drink. Big aromas of sugary sweet citrus and pine, maybe some floral notes, one of those beers you could just sit around and sniff for a while. Taste is sweet with a well matched bitterness emerging in the middle and through the finish. Again, juicy citrus and pine flavors are prominent in the taste, well balanced with it all. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, but tight and smooth and almost quaffable. Overall, excellent, well balanced IPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/29/12. Hops: Galaxy, Bravo, and Citra. IBUs: 60.

I feel like I've been saying this about an awful lot of breweries, but Pretty Things continues to impress. Though they've previously been focused mostly on Belgian and English styles, this thing shows their impressive range. Another brewery that may have elevated itself to "Buy anything of theirs that I see" status...

BBQ Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together once a month to share good beer, a good meal, and good company! We typically congregate at a local BYOB, and this time we hit up Jimmy's BBQ. It's not gonna blow away folks used to spectacular BBQ, but for us unwashed Yanks, it was solid stuff, and quite frankly, our options for good BBQ up here are somewhat limited. As usual, a good time was had by all, and we had quite a nice selection of beers available:

Beer Club Beers for August 2012
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. Naturally, these were not ideal conditions, but then again, what were you expecting? It's not like this BBQ place had a sensory deprivation chamber that would allow us to truly evaluate the beers in an objective fashion. And even if it did, that would take all the fun out of it. Stop being such a Nazi, dude! In any case, here's some impressions of each beer (in order of drinking, not necessarily the order of the picture above):

  • Sly Fox Helles Golden Lager - Lager lover Paul brought a growler of this stuff, which made a nice starting beer for me. It's pretty standard golden lager stuff, perhaps a step above the typical BMC macro stuff. Not particularly my thing, but again, a nice start to the evening. B-
  • Sixpoint Righteous Ale - An interesting take on the Rye beer, one that actually emphasizes the rye (as opposed to a lot of hopped up versions, which certainly have their own allure). There is a healthy hop presence, to be sure, but it leans towards the more European earthy, pungent, almost spicy character that actually complements the rye quite nicely. Really quite nice. I'd like to try this under better conditions, but for now, let's leave it at a very solid B+
  • Kaedrin Simcoe IPA - My homebrewed IPA went over well, as usual, though I'm getting a little worried, as I only have a couple of these left. It is starting to show it's age a bit - much more piney than it's initial incarnation - though it's still quite nice. Definitely something I'm going to attempt to replicate sometime this winter. Solid B+ material here (maybe higher at it's peak).
  • Kaedrin Trappist Tripel - This was my second batch of homebrew, well over a year and a half old. A tripel style beer, it definitely came in a little higher than expected at 9.5 to 10% ABV, and that booze certainly takes on a too-prominent position in the taste. Definitely too much of that fusel alcohol flavor in this one, though it's not completely overpowering. That being said, it was an interesting beer to try in the beer club setting, and I actually think the age is doing it some favors. Perhaps another year will mellow this thing out a little more? I've got about a dozen of these things left, so I think we've got plenty of time to find out. For now, I'll say B- or B
  • Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier - Full disclosure, this thing had been sitting in my fridge for well over a year, and whatever you may think, a 5.4% ABV wheat beer isn't exactly aging material. That being said, it was fine, though in the context of beer club, it was kinda overshadowed by other stuff we drank... When fresh, I gave it an A-, and I think it still remains one of my favorite Hefeweizens...
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - A beer many of my fellow blogging travelers have been enjoying, and I have to say, I see what they're talking about! Of course, it's no Society and Solitude #2, but as Black IPAs (or Cascadian Dark American Black whatevers you want to call it) go, it's a solid, perhaps even top tier entry. Very nice pine tree nose, with a taste that is more hops than roast, but with both elements present and prominent. Apparently also made with Rye, which adds something different to the mix, but which I wasn't really looking too strongly for... It's a beer I'd love to try again sometime, but for now, B+ it is! Thanks for bringing this one Danur!
  • Duck Rabbit Porter - Um, well, yeah, it's a porter! As the style goes, it's a solid entry, though it's not something that wowed me like, say, Everett. Still, I'm sure it could fill in for my go-to cigar beer, Founders Porter. Duck Rabbit is most certainly a brewery I need to familiarize myself with further though. B
  • Russian River Supplication - So I really enjoyed this the last time I had it, and I've been trying to experiment with sours at Beer Club, so I brought this one, and hoo boy... I absolutely adored this beer this time around. Not sure if it was because my palate had already been exercised by the BBQ and preceding beers, or if I just got a particularly good bottle (Batch 7) this time around, but man, this thing was spectacular. Fellow beer club peeps were also blown away by this beer, and I could hardly blame them. It really was quite eye opening, and it stood right up to the strong flavors we'd already been imbibing for a bit. I have to say, this time around, the sourness was less pronounced and better integrated into the beer, which took on more of an oak aged character. It's something I'm going to have to revisit again sometime soon. I give it an upgrade to an A right now, but honestly, if I get another bottle that's this good, it could vault itself up into the hallowed A+ pantheon.
  • DuClaw Soul Jacker - A blend of DuClaw's Black Jack stout and their most excellent Devil's Milk barleywine. Indeed, that barleywine character, full of hop flavors (but not a lot of hop bitterness), dominated the taste. There was a very light roastiness, which added some interesting complexity. I really enjoyed this, but it also sorta made me crave the regular old Devil's Milk barleywine. I'll give it a B+ and leave it at that.
Phew! I think this may be one of the best rated beer clubs evar! Only one real B-, and that's not a particularly poor rating. Usually, despite all the fun we have, there's at least something in the C or D range, if not an outright F (apparently someone forgot to bring a 3 year old San Miguel lager, smuggled from the Phillipines, that they've been meaning to get rid of - this surely would have opened some eyes in a bad way, but I guess we'll have to wait for next beer club for that... experience). Not that I'm complaining (about this gathering or, for that matter, previous gatherings with not so great beer - it's not like I have to drink a ton of bad beer or anything!). As always, I'm already anxiously awaiting the next beer club meeting!

Oh yeah, I should mention, we actually didn't get to all the beers in the pic above because we're not all total alcoholics, you know? I did manage to take home the Duck Rabbit Milk Stout though, so I'm sure you'll get to hear about that at some point...

The Bruery White Oak

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I've been at this blogging thing for a little while now (almost two years), and I've obviously been drinking beer for a long time before that... but this appears to be my first wheatwine. It's basically like a barleywine, but with a large proportion of wheat in the malt bill. I suppose the closest thing I've had to this style is Great Divide's Double Wit, a beer that didn't quite work for me. It was fine for what it was, but it felt overly boozy and unbalanced. Will The Bruery be able to tame those issues in this decidedly stronger brew?

To be fair, this stuff is also quite a bit more complex than any of the big wheat beers I've had before. It's a blend of the Bruery's excellent hoppy Belgian pale ale, Mischief, and a wheatwine that's been aged in Bourbon barrels (apparently they did release some of this barrel aged wheatwine all by itself, called White Oak Sap). So yeah, sign me up for this thing.

The Bruery White Oak

The Bruery White Oak - Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a few fingers of fluffy white head. Smells strongly of wheat and musty Belgian (or perhaps weizen) yeast, a little of that banana and clove character you'd expect in a Hefeweizen. The taste is sweet and very spicy, with some interesting vanilla and light caramel notes emerging in the middle, and a low intensity bourbon oak character (maybe some vanilla too) coming towards the finish. Not getting a lot of wheat in the taste, though perhaps it contributes to the mouthfeel. The bourbon barrel character adds complexity here without dominating the flavor, and I'm realizing that I don't often have barrel aged light colored beers... (I'd like to compare this to Allagash's Curieux). The mouthfeel starts off highly carbonated and spicy, eventually yielding to a small but mostly pleasant sticky sensation in the finish. It's a little heavy and drinking a whole 750 is a bit much, but overall, I'm actually quite pleased with this. It's very complex and tasty. I wouldn't quite call it well balanced (which keeps this from mind-blowing territory), but it's unbalanced in just the right way to make it interesting and delicious. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/27/12.

Not long after having this, a local bar did a Founders event, and at the behest of the cute girl sitting next to me, I got a taste of their Wheatwine. It was interesting, though I ultimately didn't get me a full glass (there were other interesting rarities available, including KBS and another beer you'll be hearing about, er, at some point on the blog). Anywho, The Bruery never fails to impress. I wouldn't put this at the top of their lineup, but it's a solid entry worth trying (but, you know, split the bottle with someone). I've got a few big Bruery beers in my cellar that I should break out at some point, but it's always tough to pull the trigger on a 750 of high ABV beer...

Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

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Also known as: that beer made with weasel poop coffee. Yes, this beer is made with civet coffee, one of the world's most expensive varieties. Apparently, coffee berries are fed to weasel-like civets and are thus passed through their digestive tract. The idea here is that the coffee beans are exposed to various enzymes in the process, helping break them down. But not too much, as the beans retain their coffee-like properties, just with a different, supposedly less bitter character. There's apparently a lot of controversy surrounding the coffee due to the novelty factor and also the ease with which "fake" civet beans are put on the market. Oh, and the fact that people are drinking coffee made from poo. Ok, fine, the coffee is apparently washed and roasted, but still. Weasel poo.

And of course, leave it to Mikkeller to make an exceptional beer with this stuff. He's got a whole series of Beer Geek stouts, mostly brewed with various coffees. Not being a big coffee person (poo or no poo), the beer never really made it past my radar, but I eventually broke down and got a couple bottles from the series to see what all the fuss is about. Well, I'm glad I got over my hesitation, because this stuff is great:

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells fantastic, very rich dark malt aromas, caramel, booze, maybe a little roast (but not much). Taste also features those rich dark malt flavors, much more coffee and roast character than the nose would indicate (but not overpowering or anything), plenty of caramel and chocolate, and maybe a hint of booze. The finish has some balancing bitterness, some of which is coming from that coffee (rather than all hops - though if wikipedia is to be believed, the bitterness is less pronounced than regular coffee). Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, full bodied, low but appropriate carbonation and just a little stickiness in the finish. Alcohol is very well hidden here. Towards the end of the bottle, the yeast got a little clumpy, which wasn't great, but only really impacted a small portion of the bottle. Overall, this is expertly crafted stuff and while I don't normally go in for coffee in my beer, this one is fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/20/12.

Up next on the wallet-lightening train of Mikkeller beers is Beer Hop Breakfast - basically a similar beer, sans poo, plus tons of hops. All aboard!

DuClaw Double Naked Fish

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I had a sample of DuClaw's regular Naked Fish beer at a beer club outing a while back. It was a solid beer to have in such a setting, as it's got a unique profile and an interesting concept. It's a raspberry stout, and while the aroma really sold that fact, I found the taste to be a little too thin (which wasn't surprising once we realized it was only 4.6% ABV). It was a fine beer, to be sure, but I would have loved it if it had a fuller body with more richness in flavor. So when I saw Double Naked Fish (a souped up version of the brew with 7.6% ABV) on the shelf during a recent beer hunting expedition, it seemed that fate had interceded. This seemed like a good idea, so let's see how it all turned out:

DuClaw Double Naked Fish

DuClaw Double Naked Fish - Pours a clear and very dark brown color with a finger of big bubbled tan head. Smells of roasted malts, with some raspberry fruitiness and maybe caramel and chocolate coming through as well. Taste has that roasty component, but it's quickly taken over by a bright raspberry fruitiness, followed by a dry bitterness from hops, chocolate, and roastiness in the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, but somehow thinner and more dry than I'd expect. I'd think this souped up version would have richer, fuller bodied flavors, but this is light and dry. It feels like an amped up Irish Dry Stout, rather than any sort of imperial stout. This may be more of a personal preference thing, as Irish Dry Stouts aren't my favorites, though they certainly hit the spot from time to time. Overall, it's an interesting beer, a slight improvement over the single Naked Fish, but still not quite transcendent. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/28/12.

DuClaw is still an interesting regional brewery. Not sure if they even distribute to PA yet, but I picked up a few bottles from them during a trip to Maryland (their home state). My cellar has once again grown into something of an unwieldy state, so I'm not sure when I'll get to these, but I'm sure they'll be on the blog soon enough...

Maine MO (Madeline & Oliver) Pale Ale

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Eco-hippies versus pale ale! This is named after the recently hatched twins of co-owner Daniel Kleban, Madeline & Oliver, shortened to just MO, because syllables suck. It looks like this will be an addition to their regular lineup, a nice complement to their other pale ale, Peeper:

Maine MO

Maine Brewing Co. MO (Madeline & Oliver) Pale Ale - Pours a clear, dark golden color with a finger of white had and lots of lacing as I drink. Holy pine resin aromas, Batman! As I sit here just continually sniffing the glass, the piney smells seem to be rounded out a bit with some citrus. The taste is lightly sweet with a big piney flavor and a very light bitterness in the dry finish. Mouthfeel isn't as light bodied as I'd expect out of something like this, but it goes down pretty easy. Overall, a fantastic pale ale. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/21/12. Bottle sez: 062612 (presumably the bottling date). Hops: Warrior, Falconer's Flight, Simcoe.

Maine continues to be a solid, interesting choice. I'll probably pick up anything new that I see from them... I don't have one right now, but up next will most likely be Lunch, their IPA.

Founders Curmudgeon

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The Old Ale style is a somewhat nebulous one, and there's a lot of overlap with stuff like Strong Ale and Stock Ale (which are terms sometimes used interchangeably with Old Ale), but near as I can tell, there actually are a few distinguishing characteristics. They're generally pretty high in starting gravity and relatively low in IBUs (sorta like an English Barleywine or a Scotch Ale), but they display a lower degree of apparent attenuation (meaning that there still a lot of residual sugars (dextrin) in the finished product). As the style name implies, these beers are also aged for a long period of time before distribution. This aging develops some interesting flavors along the lines of a lightly acidic, fruity malt character. Historically, given the challenges with sanitation in olden times, there was almost certainly some of that funky Brettanomyces character that came through... however, I don't think most modern examples have that feature (unless specifically designated as such). I certainly didn't detect any funk in Founders' typically solid take on the style:

Founders Curmudgeon

Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale - Pours a hazy amber brown (copper?) color with a minimum of light tan head. Smells of bready malts with a dark fruity kick (perhaps from that aging and booze). Taste is very sweet, featuring lots of rich malt flavors of caramel (maybe a little vanilla) along with a pronounced fruitiness and some booze. Mouthfeel is rich and smooth, creamy, but with plenty of tight bubbled carbonation. This feels very much like a scotch ale, though it's also similar to the recently reviewed Otter Creek Anniversary strong ale... I didn't realize it, but apparently this was aged on new oak of some kind (details are a little sparse), which I think may have tempered some of the flavors, which could easily have been unruly or overpowering, but really weren't. Overall, it's pretty darn good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 7/21/12. 50 IBUs. Bottled 4/19/12.

As usual, Founders delivers. And of course I'd love to try Curmudgeon's Better Half, one of those impossible to find Founders Backstage series beers that was aged in Bourbon Barrels that were also used to age maple syrup (yum). Alas, I missed out on the release earlier this year... here's to hoping that they get around to making some more next year...

Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA

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One of the beers I didn't get to try during the Hill Farmstead event during Philly Beer Week was the Citra Single Hop Pale Ale. As luck would have it, Hill Farmstead had another event at the same bar a few weeks later. This time, things were far less hectic, and one of the beers available was the Double Citra IPA... which has to be, like, twice as good as the regular ol' Citra Pale, right?

Funny thing about this beer: I've had it before. I didn't realize it until I started drinking, but something in the depths of my brain flashed recognition or something, so I looked in one of my old-fangled notes on my phone, and sure enough, I'd hastily tapped in some notes from that initial tasting. The freaky thing is that it appears that my previous tasting occurred exactly 1 year prior to this tasting (maybe a few hours difference, if the timestamp on my image is to be trusted). Now, one might be tempted to think that forgetting to post about this first tasting means that it was a lackluster beer (i.e. forgettable). But I had rated it an A- back then, and I'm pleased to see that the old tasting notes pretty closely matched these new ones. I won't claim to have a particularly attuned palate, but I'm apparently somewhat consistent.

Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA

Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA - Pours a cloudy yellowish color with a finger of white head... Smell is pure pine and citrus, very... Sniffable. I feel kinda dumb doing so in public, but it seems worth it. Taste is very sweet, lots of that pine flavor giving way to light citrusy fruit hops as the taste moves into a light, well balanced bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, tightly carbonated, and goes down real easy. Ok, this is superb. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/30/12.

Hill Farmstead has quickly ascended to the highest possible level of respect here at Kaedrin. I've pretty much resolved to buy as much of their beer as possible whenever I see it. Alas, I don't think I've ever seen a bottle of the stuff, and even kegs don't make their way down here that often. Hopefully that will change soon. Otherwise, I'll have to make the 9 hour trek to Vermont. Might even be worth it.

There's been a lot of talk in the beer dorkosphere lately about the secondary beer market. In particular, it seems that Ebay has finally started cracking down on folks who auction off rare beers for ungodly sums of money (the loophole sellers attempted to use was to say that these were "collectible bottles" that just happened to be unopened). Some brewers are overjoyed at this prospect (for reasons we'll get into later), notably Hill Farmstead, Cantillon, and the brewer of today's reviewed beer, Russian River (said review is, uh, pretty far down in the post though). Some beer dorks don't seem to have any issue with the practice, others think this development is a good thing.

Now, before I proceed, I should acknowledge that reselling beer is illegal. It's also ridiculous that it's illegal. Alcohol laws are the result of post-prohibition era governmental power grabbing and regulated profiteering. Transporting beer across state lines also illegal (along with a host of other ridiculous things, depending on where you live) - but that's something I'd wager most drinkers have done at one time or another (and something I doubt anyone but the IRS has a problem with). Regardless, my guess is that these legal reasons are really what broke Ebay down, and not the quality control or artistic integrity reasons that brewers are concerned with.

Speaking of which, I have no idea what's up with brewers. There are valid reasons to dislike this practice, but they're treating Ebay sellers like they've invented some new form of puppy mutilation or something. Granted, it must be difficult for brewers to work long and hard producing great beer, then be forced to turn away valued local customers when you exhaust your supply, only to find out that some douchebag bought a case of the stuff and immediately put it up on ebay with a huge markup. Similarly, there's a worry that shipping this stuff cross-country (via consumer grade ground shipping) can result in degraded beer that will negatively impact the reputation of the brewer. These are understandable reasons to be opposed to the secondary beer market... but, you know, it's not puppy mutilation.

Why does this secondary market exist? Markets represent information, and in this case, demand is clearly outstripping supply by a huge margin, hence inflated prices on ebay. Are these beers actually worth $400 or whatever astronomical price they're going for? Definitely not. This is just a demonstration of how distorted the market really is (said distortion coming from a variety of governmental and brewery factors). This is just basic economics. What's more, these brewers seem to be counting on this effect.

I can't imagine that these rare specialty beers are the most profitable things a brewery makes (by themselves). But there's clearly a big halo effect that surrounds the entire brewery when one of their beers gains a reputation as being heavenly mana from the gods. The whole point of making these prestige beers is to generate buzz for your brewery and produce a bump in overall sales. Unfortunately, the exclusivity of these special releases also creates fanatics, people who will go on Ebay and pay $500 for a single bottle, thus drawing the attention of people interested in arbitrage (and, no doubt, increasing the halo effect of such a release).

This is all entirely predictable, even to someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of economics. I have to admit, it seems a little disingenuous for breweries to implement a strategy like this, then complain that people are reselling stuff for high prices on Ebay. This is pretty straightforward stuff. No one is forcing people to pay exorbitant amounts of money for rare beer online. No one is stealing the beer from brewers either. Breweries are still making a tidy profit on their beer, it's just that some of the consumers are turning around and reselling it for their own profit. What's more, the people buying these beers are no doubt true lovers of beer who are willing to shell out big bucks to get ahold of beers they would never otherwise be able to try (and also probably aware of the aforementioned potential for degradation). To me, it seems like everyone wins here.

I don't know what the solution is. Having the brewer raise prices significantly may help limit the secondary market, but it will probably result in a big backlash from beer nerds. Making more of the rare beer seems like a good idea at first, but from a brewer's perspective, this makes the beer less prestigious and thus results in less of a halo effect. Also, it's probably easier said than done. For instance, beers with huge hop charges, especially when it comes to trendy, supply-limited hops like Simcoe, Citra, and Amarillo, are going to be costly and unprofitable on a large scale. Increasing production in general is a non-trivial task in itself, and it requires a massive capital investment on the part of brewers that are, in the grand scheme of things, really quite small businesses.

As an aside, I do wonder if part of the reason beers like Pliny the Younger and Hopslam and some of the Hill Farmstead beers are so well regarded is that people are almost always drinking very fresh beer. I doubt bottles of Pliny the Elder sit on the shelves for a few months, and the bottle itself practically orders the consumer to drink the beer as soon as possible (so I've heard, I've never actually seen a bottle myself). Hoppy beers in particular have a propensity to degrade quickly, especially when not refrigerated, so this perhaps represents another reason a brewery doesn't want to increase production too much.

So I've got some mixed feelings about this. Looking at it from a small brewery's perspective, I can see the valid concerns. Looking at it from a consumer's perspective, it's hard to see why this is such a big deal to the brewers. I imagine there's a large contingent of folks who have poor access to good beer who really value something like Ebay. Personally, I feel like this is a good problem to have. It means we've got a thriving community of people who value good beer. I also think it's not a problem that will be solved anytime soon. As human beings, we don't so much solve problems as we exchange one set for another, with the hope that our new issues are more favorable than the old ones. I've only ever bought one thing off of Ebay, and I don't plan to ever sell anything there, so I'm not hugely impacted. On the other hand, it would be nice to know that I could get me a bottle of Dark Lord if I really wanted one...

Um, yeah, so I wrote a lot more than I expected when I started this post. This beer isn't something you would have seen going for $400 on Ebay, but it is something that wouldn't be available to the grand majority of the country, which is a shame, because it's really nice and I bet that if it were available on Ebay for $30, it would make someone very happy (I'd be curious if anyone has ever done a rigorous analysis of the beer-related auctions on Ebay to see just how rampant the overpricing is... but I digress.)

Russian River Salvation

Russian River Salvation - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and a couple fingers of light tan head. Smells of bready, spicy Belgian yeast, with perhaps a hint of fruitiness apparent. Taste is sweet, lots of spice from the yeast, a little bit of dark fruit, perhaps even some rich dark chocolate (it doesn't quite have a roasty note, but some sort of dark malts seem involved here). Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, medium bodied, and surprisingly dry. The alcohol is very well hidden, perhaps because of that dryness. It's something to savor, but it's also quite easy to drink for such a big beer. Overall, this is an excellent, well balanced Belgian style brew, exactly what I've come to expect from Russian River. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 7/14/12.

As usual, stellar stuff from Russian River. At this point, I've had most of their beers that have been made available in this area. I think I have a line on something new and interesting from them though, so stay tuned.

session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This month, Craig wants to know what my perfect beer would be:

We all have our favorite brews--even if you say you don't; deep,deep down we all do. From IPAs to Pilsners, Steam Beers to Steinbiers, something out there floats your boat. What if we look that to another level? What if you were to design the perfect brew--a Tolkien-esque One Beer to Rule Them All. The perfect beer for you, personally. Would it be hoppy and dark or strong and light? Is it augmented with exotic ingredients or traditionally crafted? Would your One Beer be a historic recreation or something never before dreamt of? The sky is the limit on this one.
Well that's not a tall order at all! Or rather, it's impossible. I have a hard time choosing favorites, and when it comes to beer, what really attracts me is variety. All the different styles and possible flavors are wide ranging and fun to explore. At this point, it's rare that I drink the same beer more than once... That being said, I suppose there are things that I'm a total sucker for, so perhaps we can create something I know I'll love. Of course, I could probably come up with a dozen beers to rule them all, but here's what I came up with when I tried to limit myself to creating a single beer that I'd be happy with drinking.

So here are the characteristics of my brew:

  • General Style/Malt Bill - This is tough, but I'm going relatively dark. Something in the Imperial Stout, Old Ale, or Barleywine family. It's killing me that this excludes IPAs, so let's say this beer will be a Barleywine, as that will allow a huge range of possible expression when it comes to hops without excluding the darker crystal malts (and other specialty malts) that give those rich caramel flavors I love in a darker beers so much. Then again, a light roastiness or chocolate character is also quite nice, so Imperial Stout/Old Ale isn't entirely out of the running either. But that's a light roastiness, and not coffee.
  • Hops - As mentioned above, I would want this beer to prominently feature hops. Neither Imperial Stouts nor Barleywines exclude this, so it doesn't completely help narrow the field, but since we're talking about hops, I'm thinking about those big, high Alpha Acid American citrus and pine bombs like Simcoe, Amarillo, and Citra (classics like Chinook and Cascade might also make an appearance). No Centennial. It's a fine hop, to be sure, but I often don't connect with that as much as I'd like.
  • Yeast - Thinking about yeast makes me realize how difficult this exercise is, because I'm kinda disappointed that I won't get to base this on a Belgian yeast (I suppose a Belgian Strong Dark or Quadrupel could fit here, but that would preclude heavy hopping, so that's out). So what I'm looking for, though, would be something that ferments with relatively high attenuation. Obviously the beer won't be super dry because it'll be huge, but I also don't want to make it undrinkable. So I'd tend towards a straightforward American Ale yeast, or maybe a highly attenuating British variety. Definitely no Brett or bacterial beasties - this won't be a funky or sour ale.
  • Barrel Aging - Regular readers probably knew this was coming. This beer absolutely has to spend time in a barrel of some kind. Bourbon Barrels are, of course, the classic choice, but I could also be talked into Scotch or maybe even stuff like Cognac or Brandy barrels. Not so much plain oak or old wine barrels, though who knows... The point is to impart that oak and vanilla character that will accentuate the richness of the malt bill (i.e. caramel and maybe chocolate). The one thing about this aspect that gives me pause is that barrel aging tends to tame beers with a big hop presence (i.e. Dark Intrigue)... but then, it also tends to tame roasty and coffee characteristics, and I think it probably adds more than it takes away. Let's say Bourbon Barrel Aged. Or, if it doesn't break the rules, let's do an entire series of beers, starting with a "regular" version, then do a bunch of variants aging that beer in all sorts of barrels.
  • Packaging - This thing will most certainly be packaged fancily. It will probably involve a cage and cork treatment, packaged in a box. And not a wimpy box either, one of them industrial strength boxes they use for bottles of Scotch. Heck, make it a wooden box or some other space age material or something. Also, the label will have a tasteful design, but also feature a hand written component. Perhaps make it a numbered bottle. Lots of information about the brew, and signed by the brewmaster or something like that. Perhaps something like Firestone Walker's Proprietor's Reserve series beers. Ultimately, this aspect of the beer don't matter too much - it's what's inside the bottle that counts - but I'm a sucker for fancy packaging.
So what we end up with here is either an Imperial Stout or a Barley Wine (with an off chance of a Belgian Strong Dark/Quadrupel or that nebulous "Old Ale" style), heavily hopped with trendy American varieties, aged in a Bourbon Barrel (or perhaps a bunch of variants aged in different types of barrels), with a fancy package.

There are some commercial beers I've had in the past couple years that might help give you an idea of what I'm looking for: The Bruery Coton (and presumably the later iterations), Firestone Walker §ucaba, Parabola, or Anniversary Ale, Uinta Cockeyed Cooper, Ola Dubh series beers, Devine Rebel, and perhaps a dozen or so others. I suppose it's fortunate that my One Beer to Rule Them All is a fairly common style, even if it's not quite as common to really hit a superb example.

The final task in concocting my imaginary super beer is to give it a name. I've mentioned before that naming things is not a strongpoint for me, but I'll do my best. The hope is that the above described beer would be almost mystical, transcendent, so I'll go with the name "Societas Eruditorium Ale" (mostly because I made a similar reference in a recent post and thus the source is fresh in my mind). This is a name that would probably prove impossible to market, but since this is an imaginary beer, I'm free to make all the obscure references I want. In all honesty, this beer sounds kinda awesome. My powers as a homebrewer are probably not up to snuff, but I'd like to try making this someday. I might have some trouble with the barrel aging part, but apparently you can approximate that character using oak chips/cubes soaked in bourbon (or whatever spirit you want). I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Gone Fishin'

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I would say that posting will be light, except that I'm already pretty far along this week, and I was able to publish something today that I wrote earlier using the magic of my mobile telemaphone. If I can get that to work again, there might be another post on Friday for The Session. In any case, I'm spending time up at Kaedrin North. Alas, beer options appear limited. I thought perhaps I could swing by New Hampshire or Cooperstown and hit a brewery or two, but alas, it appears that I'm in the middle of nowhere (a solid 4 hours from the breweries I'd like to visit). But whatever, I'm on vacation. Check it:

Kaedrin North

Have a good week everyone...

Pretty Things ¡Magnifico!

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Beer dorks get all excited when Massachusetts-based Pretty Things release a new beer, but on the other hand, this is a curious offering. So curious that Pretty Things did a sorta soft launch last year to see if anyone would notice. Why the hesitance? Well, beer dorks usually don't get all that excited for beers with only 3.4% ABV... but apparently the soft launch went swimmingly, and now Pretty Things is bottling the stuff and distributing it.

I kinda love the title of the beer, though it does represent something of a confusing heritage. Magnifico is Italian for "Magnificent" and is usually used to indicate a person of distinguished rank or importance. I love it when a beer name has punctuation, but the leading inverted exclamation is a Spanish convention, right? And the beer itself is a Belgian style (at least, that's what it's labeled as on Beer Advocate, though Pretty Things leaves it a mystery on their site - hey, why don't we call it a saison?) In any case, I was intrigued, so I picked up a bottle:

Pretty Things Magnifico

Pretty Things ¡Magnifico! - Pours a slightly hazy, light yellowish gold color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smells of herbal, grassy hops along with a very light amount of Belgian yeast. The taste most prominently features those herbal, grassy hop flavors, not a lot of malt character (which is to be expected in something like this) and just a wee bit of spicy Belgian yeast flavors. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but also extremely dry. There's enough subtle complexity to elevate this above a lot of beers, but it's not going to rock your world either. Then again, that's probably not the point. It's a welcome change of pace and I kinda wish there were more well-crafted low ABV options out there... They might not blow your mind, but they get the job done. B

Beer Nerd Details: 3.4% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/13/12. Bottled in June 2012.

Also appearing in stores recently, Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA, their first take on that most popular of styles (spoiler: it's quite good!) Look for a review soon. And hey, look, I'm only a couple of weeks behind on reviews, so this might come sooner rather than later.

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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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