October 2012 Archives

Almanac Bière De Mars

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Made with real, 100% Heirloom Organic Martians from a small artisanal farm in Cydonia. Some people frown on using sentient beings as an ingredient in beer and those wacky brewers at Almanac may be starting a war of the worlds, but damn, this stuff tastes good!

In all seriousness, Bière De Mars is brewed in March, which is actually what "Mars" translates to. It's a variation on the Bière de Garde style, which means "beer worth keeping" (or guarding, heh) and were historically brewed in Winter or Spring for consumption in Late Summer or Fall (due to the fact that brewing was difficult during the hot months of summer). In that sense, I feel like Bière De Mars shares a certain kinship with the German Märzen (aka Oktoberfest), and it feels like they both have a similar character of slightly toasted malts and noble hops, though Bière De Mars also uses a Belgian ale yeast strain which is what really distinguishes this from Märzens.

This particular beer is made by those tiny artisanal brewers at Almanac, and like most of their beers, it was a one-off batch that was brewed in collaboration with local farms, this time using Santa Clara Valley Fennel. This marks the last beer in my first beer trade, so extra special thanks to Jay of the most excellent Beer Samizdat blog for digging up such gems (seriously, all of the stuff he sent me was in the great to sublime range of quality)...

Almanac Biere de Mars

Almanac Spring 2012 Bière De Mars - Pours a slightly hazy golden orange color with a finger of fluffy white head that shows pretty good retention and lacing. Smells of bready Belgian (apparently French) yeast along with sorta herbal spices (apparently fennel!) and even some of that caramelized malt. Tastes sweet, with assertive spicing and a sorta nutty, caramelly character in the start, maybe a hint of toasted malt flavor too. It's reminiscent of an Oktoberfest beer, but with more spicy Belgian character. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, medium carbonation, easily drinkable, with a drier finish than I'd expect. Overall, this is excellent, well balanced, flavorful stuff. So glad I got to try some! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/26/12. Label sez: 05540 March 2012.

So Almanac has definitely established a foothold in Kaedrin mindshare, which is a bit of a problem since they don't really distribute here, but I'm hoping I can beg, borrow, or steal some more at some point. Wish me luck.

Deschutes The Stoic

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Deschutes doesn't seem to officially distribute here... and yet, I see them pop up from time to time, and I felt pretty fortunate to snag a bottle of The Stoic at a local bottle shop. Truth be told, I didn't even realize it was a Deschutes beer until I looked at it a little closer, but that wax dipped cap and classy label caught my attention right away (seriously, that's just a gorgeous label). Now I just need to find a way to get ahold of some Abyss. But I digress.

The Stoic is a Belgian-style Quad, brewed using pomegranate molasses with 16.5% being aged in Pinot Noir oak barrels and 16.5% being aged in oak rye whiskey barrels. It's definitely a little too pale in color for a quadrupel style beer, though that alcohol and mouthfeel are on-point and nobody really knows what a quad is supposed to be anyway, so let's call that a wash. The truth is that this is a unique beer, and boy is it tasty.

Deschutes The Stoic

Deschutes The Stoic - Pours a clear, surprisingly light golden orange color with a finger of white head. Definitely not a traditional quad appearance, but then, quads are a style that's not really a style, so whatevers. Big, complex aromas. I get that peppery Belgian yeast strain in the nose, but I'm definitely picking up the whiskey and oak too, and maybe even a vinous character from the wine barrels too. The taste is very sweet, with a little of that richness that I typically associate with whiskey barrel aging, and plenty of booziness too. There's a lot of subtle flavor elements going on here that I can't exactly place, I'm sure some of it is coming from the pomegranate and/or wine barrel aging, but I'm not really picking that up explicitly. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, with that richness from the whiskey barrel peeking out, but not quite taking over, making this a little lighter than expected. It's pretty well carbonated, but there's a hint of stickyness in the finish. I get some of that warming alcohol character too. Overall, this is a very good, complex, interesting brew. As a Quad, I don't think it make sense. It feels more like a tripel that's been kicked up a few notches and barrel aged (reminiscent of Curieux). Regardless, I like it! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 oz wax dipped bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/20/12. Label sez: Best By: 08/04/12 (so apparently a little past it's prime, my bad!)

I will, of course, be on the lookout for more Deschutes. Despite their stealth distribution in the area, I think I should be able to find some more, though I have no idea if anything as high profile as The Abyss will be available anytime soon.

Heretic Worry

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As it turns out, I'm in the path of a hurricane wrapped in a nor'easter topped with a smattering of kick ass. But this Frankenstorm doesn't have me worried. I've battened down the hatches, I've got plenty of potable liquids in the form of beer and whiskey, and I think I might even have a flashlight or something in case the power goes out. So maybe I'm being punished for all this heretical beer I've been drinking, but damn, it was worth it.

This beer is a Belgian-style golden pale ale that's been aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels. The only other beer I've had with a similar treatment is Russian River's Temptation, which is setting the bar rather high. Fortunately, Worry is distinct enough that it carves out an identity all its own. Big thanks to Jay from Beer Samizdat for slinging this stuff my way, as fancy small-batch barrel-aged west coast beer like this usually doesn't make it's way out here:

Heretic Worry

Heretic Worry - Pours a bright golden color with a finger of quickly disappearing white head. Smells of musty, bready yeast along with just a slight twang of earthy funk and maybe some white wine. Taste is very sweet, with very little of that Belgian yeast character, but plenty of oak and that vinous grape and pear character emerging in the middle and intensifying through the finish. There might be some natural fruity tartness to this, but nothing like the lactic acidity of Temptation, which is what makes this beer so distinct. Mouthfeel starts off well carbonated, but that gives way to a more wine-like, cidery finish. Deceptively easy to drink for such a big beer. Overall, a solid, intriguing beer, not quite like anything I've tasted before. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 10/19/12.

So I'm no longer in the shadow of the serpent riders, but I have a feeling that Heritic will be returning to this blog again at some point (either via distribution or trading, who cares which?) In the meantime, I'll have to make my peace with other wine-barrel aged monsters (which seem to be more common these days). And in all seriousness, I'm pretty well set for the Frankenstorm. I even have water.

Second Anniversary

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If you'll permit some blogtastic navel-gazing, I passed the two year mark of the blog a couple weeks ago (being drunk at the time, I neglected to note said anniversary and kinda forgot about it). To celebrate, I've cracked open a homebrewed Earl Grey Bitter, and nerd that I am, compiled some statistics that you should totally read because I know you're all enraptured by such things:

  • 379 Total Posts, 227 in the past year (this represents a significant increase in posting rate, from about 3 posts a week to a little over 4 a week)
  • 303 Total Comments, not a metric I measured last year, but I get the impression that I've had a lot more this year than last year. It should also be noted that a significant number of comments are my responses, though none of this includes other forms of response (emails, tweets, etc...), which have been plentiful this year as well... Much of this interaction is due to certain other awesome bloggers, so thanks guys!
  • 70 posts about IPAs, 43 in the past year, making that the most talked-about style on the blog. Stouts come in second with 51 posts (30 in the past year). This is on par with last year, and it should be noted that I don't break out double/imperial varieties either (which inflates numbers a bit). Rounding out the top styles are Saison (28 posts), Belgian Strong Dark (25 posts), American Pale Ale (18 posts) and Tripel (18 posts).
  • 28 posts about Victory Brewing, which remains the most talked about brewery on the blog. Tied in a distant second place are Russian River, Mikkeller, Ommegang, and Weyerbacher, each clocking in at 14 posts. Rounding out the most talked about breweries, we've got: Dogfish Head (12), Founders (12), Tröegs (12), Stone (11), The Bruery (11), and Lagunitas (10).
  • 183 different breweries have posts. This is not a metric I measured last year, so I don't know how it really compares, but even after two years, I still find myself consistently adding new breweries to the list.
  • 242 posts about beer from US breweries, which is over 4 times as many posts as the runner up, Belgium (54). The UK comes in at 20 posts (though 10 are from Scotland), and Denmark puts in a strong showing (no doubt fueled by Mikkeller) at 17 posts. Scotland, Canada, and Germany get some love, but probably not enough, coming in at 10,9, and 8 posts respectively.
  • 129 posts featured a beer rated B+, which remains most common rating by a rather large margin. It is, perhaps, a little overused and a bunch of those beers should probably be a B, but whatever, it's not like I try to drink mediocre beer. Speaking of which, coming in second place is A- with 97 posts, followed by B with 84 posts, and A with 50 posts. Last year, there was a little more parity in that the B and B- ratings pretty neatly paralleled the A- and A ratings respectively, but now the distribution is a little top heavy. Again, I'm going out of my way for good beer, so this is probably a good thing.

Last year, I was a little taken aback by how much beer I'd drank/reviewed. Little did I know that I would significantly outpace myself this year. However, I should note that I think I've curtailed drinking overall a bit, despite the increase in posting. In my first year, I was still drinking a fair amount of six packs/cases/duplicate beers (only one of which would be reviewed), but it's pretty rare for me to drink the same beer twice these days (the grand majority of which are reviewed), and even more rare to put down a full six pack. The one exception to this is probably homebrew, though I tend to give a lot of that away too.

The blog is definitely still focused mainly on beer reviews, though I do try to use the review as an excuse to wax philosophic about style, history, or issues of the day, and I do try to liven things up from time to time with screenplays or even adventure! I'd like to do some more brewery visits to up and coming stars in the future as well. I was pretty good about non-review posts for a portion of the year, but I've since fallen out of that habit. Mayhap I can return to that sometime too. I've been at this long enough that I should really put together a best posts category, so if you have any favorites, feel free to let me know.

So yeah, it's been a good year, tons of great beer and a lot of fun. I don't see myself slowing down anytime soon, so keep your eyes peeled. Some spectacular stuff coming in the near future, if I can manage it. Cheers!

Double Feature: Itchin For Some Tröegs

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Continuing on the theme of wet hopped beers, this past weekend, I cracked open a couple of Tröegs Scratch beers (cause, you know, I had an itch for such local exclusives). It's funny, while my past experience with Tröegs has certainly been cromulent, the only offering of theirs that I've grown to love is Nugget Nectar (a beer that I was initially unimpressed with, but which has grown considerably in my mindshare over the past couple years) and Flying Mouflan. Their Scratch series has always been interesting, but none have really pushed my buttons (though it should be noted that Flying Mouflan was apparently derived from a Scratch series beer at some point). I even sampled their Fresh Hop beer last year, but I came away underwhelmed. However, much like the Victory Harvest beers I mentioned in a recent post, Tröegs seems to have greatly improved their Fresh Hop offering (and for good measure, I also checked out another hoppy Tröegs brew). I cracked these open last weekend whilst taking in a couple of nonsensical (but gloriously fun) Italian Horror movies...

Troegs Scratch 78 (Fresh Hop Ale)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 78 - 2012 (Fresh Hop Ale) - The main wet hop component of this beer comes from Citra hops quickly imported from Yakima valley in Washington state. In addition to the wet Citra hops, they also apparently use some Amarillo and Nugget hops to round out the flavor/aroma profile. Near as I can tell, this is similar to what they did last year, though this is a slightly bigger beer in terms of alcohol. Pours a golden color with a finger of tight white head. Smells utterly fantastic, with a ton of citrus and pine, but also some grassy floral notes. Taste hits all the same notes; big fruity citrus and resiny pine flavors with some grassy floral hops along for the ride. Not a lot of bitterness in the finish, but there's enough to balance the sweetness of the malts, and it actually finishes with a sweet sorta resin character that I'm really enjoying. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, crisp, suprisingly light, and refreshing. This stuff goes down way too easy, downright quaffable. Overall, a big improvement over last year's Fresh Hop Scratch Beer and one of my favorite harvest ales yet. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 10/19/12.

Troegs Scratch 76 (Special Hops Ale)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 76 - 2012 (Special HOPS) - Not strictly a wet hopped beer, but it does retain such qualities. It's a highly hopped imperial red ale brewed for charity to benefit injured soldiers. Pours a dark amber color with a couple fingers of creamy off white head. Smells of citrusy, piney hops and some caramel malt too. Taste also has that rich caramel malt character fused with citrus and resiny pine hop flavors and a well balanced resinous finish. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbonated, smooth, heavier and more intense than the Fresh Hop Ale. Not quite as quaffable but that's fine by me. Overall, this is actually an exceptional beer, well balanced, complex interactions between malt and hops, downright delicious stuff. I'd probably put it above the Fresh Hop Ale, though I'll still rate it an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 10/19/12.

I really enjoyed both of these beers, but I was so taken with the Special HOPS beer that I sent off an email to Tröegs asking them for some help with the recipe, as I'd really like to brew something along those lines for my next batch... Fingers crossed that they'll get back to me with some interesting info. In the meantime, it appears that Tröegs has earned their recent wins at the GABF. I will certainly be on the lookout for more of these Scratch beers, and here's to hoping they make the Special Hops beer a regular option for us...

Double Feature: Victory's Harvest

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Fall is home to some of the beer nerd's most distinctive seasonal styles. The most popular are, of course, pumpkin beers and Oktoberfest beers. Very different styles, but both represent the season well. In recent years, a third seasonal brew has been charging ahead as well, albeit a somewhat less defined one: the harvest beer. Usually, this involves freshly harvested hops, used within a couple days of being picked off the vine, but there's also the occasional barley harvest beer too. Still, the hoppy harvest seems to be the thing that inflames beer geeks' passions. Using fresh hops gives a slightly different flavor profile to a beer than you would get from dried or pelletized hops, and this is basically the only time of the year to get such beers.

I imagine that west-coasters get the better end of the deal here, as the majority of hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest, so they'll probably have the easiest access to fresh hops... whereas us east-coasters have to make due with tiny local hop farms. I had a few Harvest Ales last year, but for whatever reason, none really blew me away, including Victory's offering. Fortunately, this year has gone much better:

Victory Harvest Ale

Victory Harvest Ale - Brewed with fresh Cascade hops harvested just hours earlier from the Catskills in New York state, near as I can tell, this is the same recipe they made last year, but I'll be darned if I didn't fall in love with it this year. Pours a clear, bright orange color with a couple fingers of frothy white head and tons of lacing (this seems to be typical when drinking beers at Victory's brewpub). Smells of bright citrus and big pine aromas, really nice. Taste is also underpinned by that citrus and pine hop character, but some earthy and maybe even spicy notes too, and a well matched malt backbone keeps it balanced. Mouthfeel is excellent, well carbonated but smooth, light to medium bodied, quaffable. Overall, this is an excellent beer. Victory calls it "highly aromatic and sensual"... sensual? Ok, sure. I call it delicious, complex, balanced, and quaffable. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 10/12/12.

Victory Harvest Pils

Victory Braumeister Harvest Pils - Braumeister Pils is Victory's draft-only pilsener that they seem to use as a playground for playing with various hop varietals (for instance, earlier this year they played with a bunch of experimental and new German hops, even going so far as to do a series of batches, each using the same hop varietal, but from different hop fields, which apparently yielded subtle differences between the batches). So it makes sense for them to make a harvest version using freshly picked Mt. Hood hops, again picked straight from New York. Pours a clear yellowish gold color, with a finger of fluffy white head (and again, tons of lacing). Smell has a surprisingly bright citrus character, along with some of those more common, Pilsnery spicy/earthy notes. Taste emphasizes the typical earthy and spicy Pilsner profile, but that bright citrus lightens things up a bit. Mouthfeel is light and smooth, a little lighter on carbonation than the regular harvest, but still appropriate. Overall, this is a good pilsner, and I appreciate the fresh, bright character... but Pils just isn't my style. I'm sure Pilsner fanatics would love this take on the style, but I'll give it a solid B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of of Victory's 0.3L glass on 10/12/12.

There you have it. Lots of exciting Victory stuff coming up, so stay tuned for that. And check back in tomorrow for a look at Tröegs' Fresh Hop Ale (and something else called Special HOPS Ale).

The Oak Bolleville

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Picobrouwerij Alvinne is a relatively new and tiny (apparently several orders of magnitude smaller than a typical micro-brewery, which is pretty small by itself) brewery in Belgium. They make the typical Belgian styles (blonde, bruin, tripel, saison), but they seem to have garnered international attention by hitting up less common Belgian styles, like imperial stouts, and by experimenting with barrel aging and blending.

My initial experience with Alvinne was with The Oak Melchior, and it was a pleasant enough experience that I picked up another bottle from their oak series. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't quite live up to the promise of that first beer, even when it comes to the abstract stuff. It's named after an obscure commune in France (rather than after Biblical fan-fiction) and "The Oak Bolleville" just doesn't roll off the tongue as well as "The Oak Melchior" (no Robert Loggia impressions needed here). Unfortunately, what's in the bottle hasn't fared so well either.

On paper, it seems like it would be great. The base beer is a Russian Imperial Stout called Mano Negra which is aged in barrels formerly used to age Cognac for 10 years and Calvados (apple brandy) for 8 years. This is the same treatment that Melchior got, and I enjoyed the results of that one fair enough. The nose had a sour twang to it, but the taste took on some interesting oak character (without any real sourness). This was unusual, but I remember wondering what the same treatment would do to a bigger, darker beer. Alas, things did not quite turn out so well:

Alvinne The Oak Bolleville

Picobrouwerij Alvinne The Oak Bolleville - Pours a very dark brown color with beautiful ruby red highlights and minimal head. Smells a little on the funky side, that prickling sensation I associate with sours comes through clearly, maybe a little oak and booze along for the ride too. Taste is sweet, with the small amount of sourness peeking through. Unfortunately, that sourness cancels out most of the other flavor that I'd expect in a beer like this. It feels like all those constituent flavors are waging a war against one another and what's left in the end is mellow and a little vinegary. Mouthfeel is distressingly thin, only slightly carbonated, a little acidic, not at all what you want out of an oak aged stout, even a sour one. Overall, it's not the worst semi-sour barrel aged beer I've had, but it's not particularly accomplished either. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 10/13/12.

Alvinne still seems to be producing some interesting stuff, I'd particularly like to try their Beer Geek Wedding, though who knows if any bottles of that stuff will make it over here. So I'll give them a mulligan on this one and hope the next fares better.

After three weeks in the fermenter, I finally bottled the Abbey Dubbel. Near as I can tell, the fermentation took off like a bat out of hell. Bubbles started appear in the airlock after just a couple hours, and less than a day into the process, I noticed this:

Airlock

Yep, the yeast was so active that it took up all the headspace in the bucket and was infiltrating the airlock. Apparently this happens often in cases like this (high flocculation yeast with tons of sugar to feed on, as this is a big beer), sometimes even building up enough pressure to blow the lid off the fermentor (and spew yeast/beer all over the place). In an effort to forestall disaster, I removed the airlock and installed a blowoff tube. A couple days later, the fermentation had died down and I reinstalled the airlock for the remainder of the fermentation period. Things definitely slowed considerably after that initial week, to the point where I'm not sure the extra week was needed, but I figured better safe than sorry.

Abbey Dubbel, pre bottle conditioning

The beer ended up being a little darker than expected, but not at all out of character for the style. A dark amber color, actually very pretty when held up to the light (which you can't really tell from the image above). It's got that typical Belgian yeast aroma of spice and dark fruit, and the taste bears that out, though I think this could really use a healthy dollop of carbonation.

Final Gravity came in at around 1.014 or 1.015. If my calculations are correct, this has yielded somewhere on the order of 8.4% ABV - 8.7% ABV. Way bigger than I was going for (probably outside of style guidelines too), but not entirely unwelcome. Given an OG of 1.079, this works out to an 81.3% attenuation, which might be my record for highest attenuation on a batch (partially explaining the higher than expected ABV).

One other thing I tried when bottling the last few bottles: I added some cinnamon, clove, and pepper to the remaining beer in the bottling bucket and swished it around a bit. There wasn't much left, but I wanted to see if that treatment would actually come through in the resulting beer, which could be a sorta faux Christmas ale if it works (though I'll probably do another batch of that this year as well). I got about 6 bottles out of that (with a little more than a case and a half of the regular dubbel).

That just about wraps up this beer. All that's left is the conditioning, after which we'll sample on a weekly basis. I'll try to ensure I review it in a timely fashion (unlike most of my other brews!) I'm really looking forward to this one! Up next, I'm thinking about going for a highly hopped Imperial Red. I'm having trouble finding recipes for this, so if you have any, feel free to drop a comment. After the Red, I'm looking at a couple other options. Maybe a barleywine or maybe another Christmas ale. And I need to make another batch of IPA at some point too. To many beers, not enough liver strength.

My Hands Are So Tired!

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Tired Hands Brewing Company continues to be the most interesting new local brewery around here, and it seems I'm not the only one on board. Apparently Tired Hands is in the frontrunner for RateBeer's coveted New Brewer of the Year award. Despite only having launched a few short months ago, Tired Hands' brews hold six of the top 10 spots on RateBeer's charts. Score one for the home team, let's have a look at some more of their beers:

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison Nelson Sauvin

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison (Nelson Sauvin) - The second in a series of beers showcasing different hop varietals and blurring the line between saisons and IPAs. Last time I was at Tired Hands, I was most pleased with the Simcoe version, and now I get to try the one made with New Zealand hops known as Nelson Sauvin. Pours a very light, cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of head... Smells utterly fantastic, bright citrusy fruit and some floral notes matched with a hint of bready, spicy yeast. Taste packs a whole lot of flavor, lots of that juicy citrus hop character and saison yeast spice come out to play, punctuated by a dry, earthy bitterness in the finish. The mouthfeel is a little low on the carbonation... It's still really good, but I wish there was a little more here. Easy enough to drink, and certainly a solid offering, but I enjoyed the Simcoe slightly more... on the upper end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap (8 oz). Drank out of a wine glass on 10/13/12.

Tired Hands Hop Hands

Hophands - This is one of their sorta flagship brews, a rather light pale ale that's quite well balanced. Another straw yellow beer, slightly cloudy, finger of bubbly head. Smells of grassy, citrusy, piney hops, not quite as potent as the Nelson Sauvin Saison, but well balanced citrus and pine aromas with a bit of floral character. Taste is light and hop forward, again with the combo of citrus and pine and grassy hops, some low intensity bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp and light, very easy drinking, downright quaffable stuff. Clocking in at 4.8% ABV, I could drink this all night. Overall, a really nice pale... that I should really try by itself some time. Provisional B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 10/13/12.

Tired Hands/Stillwater ArtiSnale

Tired Hands/Stillwater ArtiSnale - A collaboration with Stillwater Artisanal and a most excellent local beer bar (if you read this blog, you've seen lots of pictures of beers from this place), Teresa's Next Door (which is really just down the road a bit from Tired Hands). This is a big stout brewed with... snale shells? Ah, I see what they did with the name there. Kinda riffing on oyster stouts, I guess. Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt and coffee. Taste follows the nose, lots of roasty malt and coffee flavors, but the finish takes a light, sweet, pleasant turn that I can't quite place. In RateBeer's newsletter, they mention that there's "a touch of salinity, likely from the usage of escargot shells" which is probably what I was detecting in the finish there. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, making this drink like a smaller beer, but that's actually very nice. Not my favorite beer evar, but very well crafted stuff and apparently the snales actually added something to the proceedings. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 10/13/12.

I apparently just missed out on Vampire, their Halloween-themed IPA brewed with blood oranges that seemed to be turning heads. Ah well, the joys of the small local brewpub - no way I'll be able to keep up with all their brews, but it's probably worth trying!

Smuttynose Gravitation

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Beers from New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing are readily available in the area, but I've not taken full advantage, and my initial foray into their catalog was a little disappointing. That being said, I had not checked out anything from their Big Beer Series, which all seem to be pretty interesting. They're seasonal beers made in limited quantities, and while some beers show up every year, others get shuffled around to make room for new beers, though they sometimes return a few years later. Even if a beer is lucky enough to come back, the brewers like to tweak and experiment with recipes from batch to batch.

For example, Gravitation is their Belgian style quadrupel, that style that's not quite a style, a sorta Belgian Strong Dark Ale that conforms to certain loose parameters that no one wants to define (of course, this didn't stop me from trying). Anywho, this beer was first brewed in 2009 and it came in at... 6.6% ABV? That sounds more like a dubbel to me, but then, here we are a few years later, and the 2011 edition I just drank sports a whopping 12.5% ABV. Not quite double the alcohol, but damn, these must be dramatically different beers.

Smuttynose Gravitation

Smuttynose Gravitation 2011 - Pours a murky amber brownish color with a small cap of light colored head. Smells deeply of sweet, dark fruit and brown sugar, maybe even molasses. Taste is again filled with those sugary sweet, dark fruits (raisins and plums) and tons of brown sugar/molasses/candi character too. Booziness comes out in the taste as well. Getting a rum raisin kinda feel out of this, a little on the hot side, but it works. Maybe just a hint of spice too, though whatever is there is overwhelmed by the residual sugars... Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, well carbonated yet very smooth. I usually expect a certain amount of dryness out of a quad, but this doesn't have much of that... It's not sticky either, but it is thick and heavy, full bodied, almost chewy, with lots of booze and some of that alcohol warming factor as you drink. It's an enjoyable sipper, a little hot, but well crafted and distinct. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a goblet on 10/12/12.

Well, consider me impressed. I will now have to seek out some more Smuttynose big beers, though I've got quite a backlog of bombers in my cellar that I should really drink through...

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

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This marks the second beer I've had from Great Lakes that's named after a nautical disaster. The other, Burning River, was named after the tendency of the Cuyahoga River to catch fire. This one is named after a doomed freighter, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, that sank rather suddenly and unexpectedly. Oh sure, there was apparently a pretty bad storm, but no distress calls were sent, experts are baffled as to what caused the sinking, and none of the crewmen's bodies were found. Plus, the so-called "Mighty Fitz" apparently suffered a number of mishaps during its maiden voyage, including a collision with a pier and the fact that the champagne bottle used to christen her refused to break the first couple times they tried. Somewhere in Ohio, a failed screenwriter clings to a tragically unused X-Files spec script attributing the sinking to aliens or perhaps an outbreak of giant fish-people.

Oh yeah, the beer. This is apparently one of the country's best regarded porters. Not a style I'm particularly fond of; quite frankly, I find them to be a little bit samey (with the one exception being Everett, a beer I should have rated higher as it looms much better in my head these days than it did in comparison to other mind-blowing HF beers that day). I should probably rev up a double feature or two at some point to cut to the heart of the matter, but for now, I'll just continue to be a little baffled at just how beers like this get rated so highly by the Beer Advocate set. Maybe I just don't get porters.

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tight-bubbled tan head. Smells like a typical porter, lots of roast and toast, maybe some coffee and bitter dark chocolate too. Taste goes in a similar direction, lots of toasty, roasty, burnt flavors, a little light on the bitter dark chocolate, maybe some coffee. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied but not at all heavy. It's actually got a really nice feel. Overall, this is a well constructed take on a typical style. Porters aren't really my thing, so I don't quite have that enthusiasm for this that the rest of the beer dorks do, but it's definitely one of the better porters I've had. Could easily become my cigar smoking accompaniment (a position generally held by Founders Porter these days). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 10/5/12.

Great Lakes continues to be a sorta ho-hum brewery for me. I quite enjoy many of their brews, but I've never really had something that really lifted my kilt, if you know what I mean. Still curious to try some of their bigger, seasonal/special release beers though.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

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The concept of a "Stock Ale" is somewhat nebulous and laden with cultural and historical notions of brewing beer. Now, we're not talking saison-sized incomprehensibility, but it's not a very common style and the historical idiosyncrasies add complications. The term is often used interchangeably with "Old Ale" or even just "Strong Ale", and it is true that, historically, they are all somewhat related1. As you might guess, the distinguishing characteristics for such beers are also complicated and vague, but as luck would have it, I've already written about Old Ales before:

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.

Now, the distinction between an Old Ale and a Stock Ale is that the latter, while featuring the same characteristics as the former, was not intended for direct consumption. Instead, brewers would blend the Stock Ale with young beer to establish that distinctive flavor base (you know, like chicken stock, but with beer!) This was particularly useful before the advent of refrigeration. Brewing during the summer was problematic at best, and usually resulted in infected or otherwise tainted beer. However, the cleverest among brewers figured out that freshly brewed summer beer could be "hardened" or "brought forward" by mixing it with older stocks of winter-brewed beer. If those old stocks survived the summer, they were then sold as Old Ale that next winter.

The advent of lager beer and modern refrigeration (among other unimportant things, like Prohibition and World Wars) has obviously decreased the need for "stock", but there are still a fair amount of old ales being made these days, and plenty of breweries still experiment with mixing aged and fresh beer2. North Coast makes one of the most popular current incarnations of old ales, called Old Stock Ale. What I drank last week was a Bourbon Barrel aged version of that beer, which is given the subtitle "Cellar Reserve" and fancily packaged in a beautiful, distinctive bottle, thus allowing them to charge through the nose for the stuff. And like a sucker, I paid through the nose, because I just can't resist stuff like this. It being beer that was originally made 3 years ago, I think I can let that slide a bit.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve 2009 - Pours a murky, muddy brown color with half a finger of quickly fading, big bubbled head. Huge Bourbon and oak notes in the nose; also caramel, toffee, vanilla, and even a little fruitiness. Taste follows the nose, lots of caramel and toffee with some dark fruity notes and a whole boatload of rich Bourbon and oak character. Lots of hot booze too, though I find that it's pretty well integrated with the rest of the brew. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated. Not effervescent or fizzy or anything, but ample carbonation that helps temper some of that rich, chewy nature (not that I don't like rich, chewy beers, this is just an interesting twist on the style). Full bodied and complex, with some alcohol warming going on. It's a sipper, but I mean that in the best way possible. Overall, this is an excellent beer. I don't know that it's worth the price tag (you can probably find something similar for half the price), but I'm really happy that I got to try it. It's something I might even seek out again, price be damned! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.16% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 10/06/12. 2009 vintage.

I've already got me some of North Coast's Old Rasputin XIV, their most excellent Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. That's another beer pretty much guaranteed to be drunk in the next couple months. These things certainly are pricey, but the beers are pretty darn good too.

1 - I should note that a key source for a lot of this history is Ray Daniels' book, Designing Great Beers. He's got a chapter dedicated to sussing out the distinctions and characteristics of this vague style, and he's clearly much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, so if this rinky dink blog post interests you enough that you actually want to brew the stuff (and if you're an advanced homebrewer - the book was a bit too much for my amateur operation), he's got you covered.

2 - The example of blending experimentation in old ales that comes to mind is The Bruery's Anniversary Ales series (i.e. Papier, Coton, Cuir, Fruet), which represent blends of new beer with last year's anniversary ale. This is technically referred to as the solera method, but I'll leave that pedantry for it's own post someday (I should really get around to drinking/reviewing those bottles of Bruery Anniversary beer). I suppose I should also note that even traditional blending is still alive and well, one example being those wacky Rodenbach fellows.

Hopfenstark Captain Swing

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Are there Canadian breweries outside of Quebec? Because every time I get my hands on some fine, craft brewed Canadian beer, it winds up being from some small French Canadian brewery. Not that I'm complaining. I've pretty much loved everything I've ever had from the likes of Unibroue and Dieu Du Ciel, though I admit that I must delve a bit deeper into their respective catalogs. So when these Hopfenstark beers started showing up locally, I figured I'd give them a shot.

Historically, Captain Swing was apparently a fictional nom de plume signed to threatening letters during 1830s riots when laborers were losing their jobs to industrial threshing machines. Captain Swing was a sorta mythical figurehead to the movement. Why this would matter to French Canadians is anyone's guess, but I'll admit, it's a pretty cool name. Does the beer live up to this reputation?

Hopfenstark Captain Swing

Hopfenstark Captain Swing - Pours a clear, deep copper color with a couple fingers of tan head. Smells of caramel with a slight floral, piney hop character. Taste features lots of that caramel malt flavor, along with just a bit of piney hops, leading to a nicely balanced bitterness towards the finish. No real fruitiness apparent at all, which is a little surprising. Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, with tight carbonation giving way to a very slight slickness in the finish. Overall, this is very nice, if a little straightforward... It's labeled as an American Barleywine, but this feels more like an Imperial Red than a barleywine. Regardless, it was solid, and I enjoyed drinking it, so call it whatever you want. I'll give it a B+ and leave it at that.

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/12.

A favorable first experience with Hopfenstark, a brewery that I'll probably seek out again at some point. Though, in general, I'd like to try out some more crafty Canadian beers.

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched

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When barrel-aged Stillwater brews started showing up around here, I was a little slow to catch on and thus missed out on some of this guy's prized brews. Fortunately, I've been in the process of rectifying that, starting with this beer, a saison brewed with whole juniper bushes and a touch of smoked malt, fermented with Brettanomyces, and aged in Brunello (Italian red wine) barrels.

Now, in general, I tend to see red wine barrels used to age darker beers. Think Supplication, Consecration, Black Hole (in my cellar, will be cracking open this fall), or the recently announced Red Thunder. Brown ales, stouts, porters. And while I'm not a wine expert, this pairing makes a certain sort of sense. Red wine goes with dark beer, white wine goes with lighter colored beers. Maybe I'm just tragically ignorant in my assumptions here, but hey, I'm a big tent kinda guy, so let's get this debauchery started:

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched - Pours a clear yellowish color, maybe some light orange tints too, and a finger of white head. Smells funky, with a bit of sour twang, some vinous character, and maybe some yeasty spice. Taste is sweet, lots of tangy vinous notes, some funky Brett and spicy yeast coming out... Not really sour, but plenty of acidity and grape-like tartness... Mouthfeel is light and crisp, with a burst of carbonation that fades quickly into a more wine-like finish. I'm not entirely sure how much I love that finish, actually, though it's certainly an uncommon mouthfeel. Interesting beer, really glad I tried it, but it's not something that really blew me away. I'll call it like I see it and give it a B, but it was interesting enough that I'd like to try it again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/12.

Despite not being blown away by this, I'm still looking forward to exploring more of the Stillwater catalog (of which I've only really scratched the surface), including a bottle of bourbon-barrel aged Folklore that I was able to snag recently. Quite excited about that one, actually, so expect a review in a few weeks or so.

Octobeerfest

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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 America's Pie, probably the best pizza joint in West Chester. Lots of food and beer and mirth was had by all. Things started small but grew as the night progressed, so this picture doesn't quite capture all the beers that arrived later:

beerclub1012.jpg
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As per usual, these beers were not consumed under ideal conditions, but hey, these were really fun conditions, which, come to think of it, are ideal enough for me. But you may want to take these notes with a giant rock of salt. Anywho, here's the impressions I'm left with (in the order of drinking, not necessarily from the picture above):

  • Lakefront Pumpkin Lager - A strangely muted flavor profile that features all the typical pumpkin pie flavors nonetheless, this was actually a decent way to start off beer club. Very aromatic, light, spicy, straightforward beer. Not going to light the world on fire, but a worthy brew. B
  • Duvel - This is generally considered to be a classic beer, but I have to admit, I've always come away somewhat underwhelmed by Duvel. I feel like this bottle was much better than any of my previous tastings. Sweet, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste. Last time I had this, I was a little turned off by what I perceived to be tart, lemony notes, but that didn't appear to be in tonight's bottle at all. Strange. I still wouldn't call this one of my favorites or anything, but I could bump it up to a B
  • Original Sin Hard Cider and Dana's Homemade Applewine - I tend to call this event "beer club", but lots of other alcoholic beverages make appearances. This usually amounts to wine, but some folks who don't like beer will go for some cider too (especially this time of year, I guess). Me, I don't really care for that sort of thing. I tried a couple offerings and thought, yep, that's got apple flavor, and left it at that.
  • Cigar City Guava Grove - One of my contributions for the night, this is a big, delicious ball of spicy, fruity saison goodness. Great orangey color, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste, with a level of fruitiness, presumably coming from the guava. Generally considered to be the best beer of the night, I jokingly mentioned that I wished I kept it all for myself. But I kid. Anywho, exceptional beer. I really must figure out how to get my hands on some more Cigar City stuff. A-
  • War Horse India Pale Ale - Probably suffered a little in comparison to the Guava Grove, but yeah, it's an IPA, focusing on the earthy, floral notes, with a strong malt backbone and a fair bitterness in the finish. I found it to be somewhat unremarkable, but it was generally enjoyed by the group (we are easily amused). B-
  • DuClaw Mad Bishop - Ah, it was about time someone broke out the other major seasonal style, the Oktoberfest. Not one of my favorite styles, but as these things go, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit. It seemed a little sweeter than your typical, authentic examples of the style, but that's not a horrible thing in my book. Very nice. B
  • Lindemans Framboise - Another offering that was popular with the cider/wine crowd, I found it a little on the cough syrupy side of things. Nice raspberry flavors and it's pretty thick and sweet for such a tiny ABV beer, but I don't know, maybe I'm spoiled by better lambics at this point. B-
  • Great Lakes Nosferatu - This is one of them Imperial Red Ale beers that goes heavy on the citrus and pine hops, certainly a welcome development at this point in the night. Even with my palate probably being in pretty bad shape, I found this to be quite good. And you've just gotta love the label/name of this beer too. I should pick up a bottle of the stuff and give it a fair shake, though I'll still hand it a B+ rating, making it one of the better beers of the night.
  • Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale - One of those late arrivals, this one actually held its own against some of the bigger beers I'd been drinking. Big citrus and pine character in the nose and taste, making it seem more like a straight up IPA than a lowly Pale Ale. Quite enjoyable and again, one of the better beers of the night. B+
  • St. Bernardus Tripel - Another beer I've actually reviewed before, though this time my feelings on the beer haven't changed much. I didn't have a lot of it tonight, but it's pretty much exactly what I remember about it. Excellent Belgian Tripel, if not quite my favorite.
  • Yuengling Oktoberfest - At this point in the night, my palate is pretty well wrecked, but again, it seemed like a really solid, traditional take on the Oktoberfest style. Not exactly my thing, but I could probably put a few of these down in a session if duty called for such. Indeed, I might even prefer this to the ubiquitous Yuengling Lager... B
  • Lavery Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale - My other contribution for the night, I think this one comported itself quite well. It's got that big, chewy pumpkin pie thing going on here, but the balance of malt, pumpkin, and spice was pretty well honed here, as I really enjoyed it. Now, again, I was pretty well in the bag at this point, but the bomber I brought seemed to go pretty quickly, and folks seemed to enjoy it. I'll give it a provisional B+
Phew, that ended up being quite a list of beers. Oddly, they were all pale colored - not a single stout to be had. The closest thing to a dark beer was Nosferatu, which probably couldn't be counted as pale, but it's no stout either. Not that I'm complaining. Indeed, I shall declare this gathering yet another success. I'm already thinking ahead to our next meeting...

Evolution Lot No3 IPA

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Maryland's Evolution Craft Brewing Company has been making the rounds in the Philly beer scene for the past few months, and I've been lucky enough to try a few of them. In particular, I've enjoyed their IPAs, which are decidedly of the East Coast variety. I'm actually not a big proponent of making that coastal distinction (there's room for differing takes on a style within that same style - an IPA is an IPA, dammit), but apparently that's a thing, and Evolution's Lot series of IPAs certainly qualify as East Coast. There's more of a malt backbone, perhaps a bit less straight bitterness, but to me, it's still the same style. Whatevers, here's Evolution's flagship IPA:

Evolution Lot No3 IPA

Evolution Lot No3 IPA - Pours a clear golden orange color with a finger of whitish head. Smells of big, piney hops, with some orangey citrus and floral notes. Taste is along similar lines, tons of citrus, pine, and floral hop character, with a solid malt backbone and a light bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and medium bodied, drinks really well. Overall, this is a very well crafted IPA, would make a great go-to beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 10/5/12.

At this point, I've actually had Evolution's Lot No6 a few times - it's a double IPA that's basically got the same flavor profile as the above, but amped up a little more. It's a really nice beer, and I'm happy to see Evolution expanding. Perhaps I'll get my hands on some others soon...

Weyerbacher Whiskey Barrel Aged

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The full name of this beer is actually Weyerbacher Whiskey Barrel Aged Ale Aged in Whiskey Barrels. Believe it or not, there's a good reason for this seeming redundancy, though it requires some explanation. First, this beer is part of Weyerbacher's Brewers' Select series - a progression of "one-off and experimental brews to encourage creativity and collaboration between all of our brewers." This is sorta reminiscent of Tröegs' Scratch Series, the idea being that Weyerbacher gets to play around with tiny pilot batches using new techniques and strange ingredients in the hopes that the process will lead to new year-round offerings or improvements to same. A new brew is made every few months, then released at the brewery itself with the occasional keg being sent out to local bars.

Each beer in the series is named to follow the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc...), and this 23rd installment was naturally going to be Whiskey. Apparently getting beer labels approved by the feds is a tricky proposition even in the best of times, and in this case, naming a beer after another alcoholic beverage added an extra wrinkle. But it turns out that the law allows for a "fanciful name" as long as you include a "Statement of Process" or some such thing. Thus we end up with a name "Whiskey Barrel Aged" with a statement of process "Ale Aged in Whiskey Barrels", all of which indicates that this is, in fact, beer, not whiskey. Or something. Did I say there was a "good" reason for this? Yeah, that's not really true, I guess, but none of this buffoonery should be attributed to Weyerbacher.

So the base beer here is a 9% ABV Brown ale, made with six malts and aged in bourbon barrels. I thought I had missed out on this beer forever, but fortune smiled upon me this past Friday when the Side Bar tapped a keg of the stuff:

Weyerbacher Whiskey Barrel Aged

Weyerbacher Whiskey Barrel Aged - Pours a very dark brown (almost black) color, with a finger of khaki colored head. Some light whiskey in the nose, along with some almost fruity notes. As I drink, a pleasant oak and vanilla character emerges too. Taste has a prominent whiskey component, but not overpowering the more typical nutty, toasty notes of the base brown ale. Again, oak and vanilla come out as I drink, and there's a hint of those fruity malt flavors too. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, but not overly thick or chewy... Really well balanced, just big enough to keep it interesting, but not overwhelming or face melting. No real booziness to speak of, despite the whiskey character. Overall, this might be one of my fave Weyerbacher beers ever. Fantastic, well balanced, complex stuff. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a snifter on 10/5/12. 27 IBU.

I'm usually very happy to try one-off brews, but I'm rarely sad that I don't get to drink more. This is among the few, the proud, the ones I want to see again. Weyerbacher hasn't technically ruled that out, but it still seems unlikely. In any case, I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for X-Ray (and, for that matter, Yankee and Zulu). No idea what Weyerbacher plans to do once they reach the end of the alphabet. NATO digits are kinda boring, except for niner, but you could also go with some of the British or U.S. phonetic alphabets (lots of overlap with Nato, but some cool stuff there too).

A Victory For Barrel Aging

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Well I just posted about Victory's Red Thunder, where they age their Baltic porter in red wine barrels, but it appears that Victory isn't stopping there. Though there's no press releases about these additional barrel aging projects, their labels have been showing up on BeerPulse, which means that something is going on.

First up, we've got Victory Oak Horizontal Bourbon Barrel-aged Barleywine. The name is a play on Victory's Old Horizontal, a barleywine they actually haven't made in a couple years due to the large amount of production resources required to brew it. Fortunately, Victory's opening a new facility nearby which should increase production to the point where they can play around with big beers like this again, and this Bourbon Barrel treatment sounds like a great idea:

Victory Oak Horizontal Label

Next, we've got Victory White Monkey White Wine Barrel-aged Tripel. Again, the name is a play on Golden Monkey, one of my longtime favorites from Victory. I'm not a huge white wine guy, but this actually does seem like a good match, and it's nice to see that breweries are taking chances on things other than Bourbon barrels (even if they still tend to be my favorite)...

Victory White Monkey Label

In short, it's looking like Victory is getting more adventurous these days, a trend I can certainly get behind. Of course, I have no idea when the above bottles will be released - it could very well be far off, but I'm guessing they'll show up sometime later this year or early next year. And with the opening of their new facility, I only expect to see more of this barrel-aged stuff start to show up. Not to mention the prospect of getting more Wild Devil (which is basically Brett dosed Hop Devil). And who knows, maybe they'll start bottling some of them Ranch Double IPA series beers... But for now, I'll just be happy with the above (and with my cellared Dark Intrigue and Otto in Oak)

Update 12/23/12: Both Red Thunder and Oak Horizontal have been released and reviewed... Cheers!

Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale

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The Lost Abbey distributes here, but as near as I can tell, rarities like this oak-aged, sour-cherry-soaked wild ale aren't readily available (I've certainly never seen it around here). This was first released a few years ago to rapturous reviews, and by all accounts, the hype is well deserved (or maybe not, there's always a dissenter). I got a hold of this bottle via that trade with Jay from Beer Samizdat that I've been lording over all my readers about for a month or so (don't worry, only a couple beers left in that haul). My flirtation with the sick world of sour beers has slowly been solidifying into a more, uh, solid enthusiasm, and it's beers like this that have fanned the flames:

Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale

The Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale - Pours a clear brown color with beautiful amber hues when held up to light, along with a finger of light colored head. Smells of earthy funk and a fruity, tangy sweetness. Maybe a little oak too. One of those beers that I was sniffing a lot, which would be really weird if I were in mixed company, but fortunately I felt free to explore the nose on this. Taste starts with a rich sweetness, some tart cherries and the lightest of sour twangs emerging in the middle, with some very well incorporated oak character rounding things out. Complex, but perfectly balanced flavor profile here. Mouthfeel is wonderful. Full, rich body tempered by ample carbonation, making this thing quite drinkable. Overall, this is among my favorite sours ever. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (375 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/30/12. Vintage 2012 C (I think that's what the label sez, it's a little smudged).

You know what this reminded me of? It seems like a more intense version of Rodenbach Grand Cru, which ain't no slouch either (it's got a Kaedrin A rating as well). This makes me want to beg, borrow, or steal some of those other rare Lost Abbey sours, like the Veritas beers, or Cable Car, or any of a handful of other rarities. Who knows what kind of success I'll find on that quest, but in the meantime, I can always track down a Serpent's Stout or other "regular" Lost Abbey ales...

I actually had this at a beer club outing last year, and I loved it so much that I went out and bought a bottle. It was a big, rich imperial stout mixed with typical pumpkin pie flavors, but very well balanced. Or was it? This was a beer that really shined in the beer club setting, where I was only trying a few ounces, if that. And as pumpkin beers go, this was the first time I'd had a pumpkin stout, a combination of flavors that was surprisingly good. But maybe I've fallen prey to a classic market research problem. Fair warning, serious nerdery ahoy. Feel free to skip to the review below.

Remember the embarrassment that was New Coke? Longtime readers know I'm a huge fan of Coke and I really freakin hate Pepsi. Why did Coke reformulate their time-honored, classic formula? Well, Coke had been losing ground to Pepsi, and then this classic ad campaign came out: The Pepsi Challenge. Basically, Pepsi went out and asked a bunch of loyal Coke drinkers to take a sip from two glasses and pick which one was better. The participants preferred Pepsi by a rather large margin. Coke disputed the results until they started running their own internal sip tests... and got pretty much the same results. So they started fiddling with their fabled formula, making it sweeter and lighter (i.e. more like Pepsi). Eventually, they settled on a formula that consistently outperformed Pepsi in the challenge, and thus New Coke was born.

Of course, we all know what happened. New Coke was a disaster. Coke drinkers were outraged, the company's sales plunged, and Coke was forced to bring back the original formula as "Classic Coke" just a few months later (at which point New Coke practically disappeared). What's more, Pepsi's seemingly unstoppable ascendance never materialized. When it comes to the base cola brand, people still prefer Coke to Pepsi, sip tests be damned! So what's going on here? Why do people buy Coke when sip tests show that they like Pepsi better? Malcolm Gladwell wrote about why in his book Blink:

The difficulty with interpreting the Pepsi Challenge findings begins with the fact that they were based on what the industry calls a sip test or a CLT (central location test). Tasters don't drink the entire can. They take a sip from a cup of each of the brands being tested and then make their choice. Now suppose I were to ask you to test a soft drink a little differently. What if you were to take a case of the drink home and tell me what you think after a few weeks? Would that change your opinion? It turns out it would. Carol Dollard, who worked for Pepsi for many years in new-product development, says, "I've seen many times when the CLT will give you one result and the home-use test will give you the exact opposite. For example, in a CLT, consumers might taste three or four different products in a row, taking a sip or a couple sips of each. A sip is very different from sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own. Sometimes a sip tastes good and a whole bottle doesn't. That's why home-use tests give you the best information. The user isn't in an artificial setting. They are at home, sitting in front of the TV, and the way they feel in that situation is the most reflective of how they will behave when the product hits the market."

Dollard says, for instance, that one of the biases in a sip test is toward sweetness: "If you only test in a sip test, consumers will like the sweeter product. But when they have to drink a whole bottle or can, that sweetness can get really overpowering or cloying." Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, so right away it had a big advantage in a sip test. Pepsi is also characterized by a citrusy flavor burst, unlike the more raisiny-vanilla taste of Coke. But that burst tends to dissipate over the course of an entire can, and that is another reason Coke suffered by comparison. Pepsi, in short, is a drink built to shine in a sip test. Does this mean that the Pepsi Challenge was a fraud? Not at all. It just means that we have two different reactions to colas. We have one reaction after taking a sip, and we have another reaction after drinking a whole can.


The parallel here is obvious. Drinking a small dose of a beer in the context of beer club (where I'm sampling a whole bunch of beers) can lead to some distortion in ratings. I usually mention this bias in my beer club posts, but despite my usual snark when bringing it up, I do think those ratings are a bit suspect.

In this particular case, the beer did not fare quite as well upon revisiting it in a more controlled environment (sheesh, I'm a nerd), though I suppose the fact that I aged this beer a year or so also has something to do with it. Yet more distortion! I suspect a fresh bottle would have more of that rich, chewy stout character and a more biting spice presence, whereas this aged bottle showed a lot more pumpkin and less in the way of stoutness. Spicing was clearly still strong, but not quite as bright as they seemed last year. Ok fine, I admit it, all of my tasting notes are unreliable. I hope your happy. Anywho, here's my notes:

Cape Ann Fishermans Imperial Pumpkin Stout

Cape Ann Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout (2011 Vintage) - Pours a black color with minimal, rather light colored head. Smells very sweet, with a huge pumpkin pie component, with both pumpkin and spice asserting themselves. Taste is again very sweet, with some caramel flavors, a little in the way of chocolate, and even a little roastiness, but those pumpkin pie notes are here too, and they get stronger the more I drink. This seems to have lost some of its punch from last year, though it's still big and flavorful stuff. Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, a little spicy, but this doesn't drink like an 11% beer. Definitely not as great as I remembered, but still very solid and overall, as pumpkin beers go, this is still one of my favorites. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 9/29/12. 2011 vintage.

Yeah, so maybe I'll try to find a fresh bottle of this stuff and see if it fares any better. I've actually never had any of Cape Ann's other Fisherman's beers, so I should probably get on that too...

Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire iO Saison

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I'd eyed this saison brewed with rose hips, rose petals, and hibiscus, at the beer store this past summer, but I guess I didn't look close enough, as the fact that it's brewed by Jolly Pumpkin wasn't readily apparent. Luckily for me, Jay had posted about this beer a while back and given it a glowing review, so the next time I saw it, I made sure to snatch it up. I've always enjoyed Jolly Pumpkin's beers, but I have to admit, I've never really been blown away by them. Until now! But first, pedantry:

Apparently this is the first in "a liquid narrative" being told by Jolly Pumpkin founder Ron Jeffries and label artist Adam Forman. As such, this new series of beers (named in honor of French poet Charles Baudelaire) has a different sort of aesthetic when it comes to label design, hence my not recognizing it for what it was (in all honesty, I rather like the label design more than the traditional Jolly Pumpkin style). Forman was also working on a graphic novel as a companion to the beers, but that's "on hold." No biggie, though, cause this is some wonderful beer:

Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire iO Saison

Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire iO - Pours a cloudy, dark reddish orange color with a couple fingers of pillowy head. Smells strongly of biscuity, spicy Belgian yeast with a healthy dose of Brett funk that almost, but not quite, hits a sour note. The taste starts sweet, with that bready, spicy Belgian yeast character yielding to earthy, funky Brettanomyces in the middle and finish. Maybe a little bit of fruitiness to the taste too (perhaps some floral notes from the rose and hibiscus), not quite sour, but in that wild direction. The mouthfeel is highly carbonated, effervescent, full bodied, and very dry all throughout. Overall, we've got a well balanced, complex, funky beer here that I might have rated even higher had I not just had Logsdon's wonderful Seizoen Bretta. Still, this is fantastic stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/28/12. Batch 1019. Bottled 02-23-2012.

Apparently this was made in pretty limited quantities, but they say they will probably be making it again, so if you like funky saisons, this is a must try for you. I'll probably be seeking out some more Jolly Pumpkin in the meantime, and perhaps some additional entries in the Baudelaire series will make appearances. One can only hope...

Bourbon County Brand Stout

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After my trip to the homebrew shop last week, I popped down the road to one of my favorite little beer bars in the burbs, Station Taproom. It's a small place, but they've usually got some good stuff on tap, and what to my wondering eyes did appear? Bourbon County Brand Stout, we meet at last. I don't get the impression that this is a super rare beer, but Goose Island only started distributing out here a year or so ago (I think) and I've never actually seen a bottle of this around.

I suppose it should be acknowledged that Goose Island is now owned by the great Satan, AB-InBev, but I've always cared more about what's in the bottle than anything else. As a general principle, Goose Island doesn't get a ton of love from us Kaedrinians, but only because there's just such a massive variety of beer available out there that I don't feel particularly obligated to try their stuff. But by all accounts, this beer is a classic and I've kinda been drooling over the prospect of trying this for a few years now. Apparently Goose Island started making it way back in... 1992? That can't be right. Is it? Holy crap, apparently that's true. Anywho, Goose Island has one of the largest (if not the largest) barrel aging programs in the country, and if those devils at AB-InBev are able to expand that without impacting quality (hardly a sure thing), who am I to complain? Alright, so let's get to it:

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout - Pours pitch black color with a finger of light brown head. Very thick looking, like old motor oil. Smells strongly of bourbon and oak, with some vanilla and caramel coming out to play too... Taste has a ton of deep sweetness, lots of rich bourbon, caramel, dark chocolate, oak, vanilla, and just a hint of booziness (which is impressive for such a monster beer)... Mouthfeel is rich, creamy, thick and chewy, coating your mouth leaving those complex flavors to linger pleasantly on the palate. A little booziness and alcohol warming, but nothing overwhelming and actually pretty light for a 14.5% beer. It's reasonably well balanced for such a monster. Overall, superb. A

Beer Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 9/27/12.

I'd love to get my hands on some bottles of these, as it's certainly one of the better big barrel aged stouts I've had. I can't say as though I'm going to run out and try other Goose Island beers, but I'll definitely be seeking out anything from the Bourbon County Brand series.

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

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