November 2012 Archives

Double Double Barrel Ale

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Let's see here: Limited Release, selectively fermented in one of the only oak union systems in the world, aged in bourbon and new oak barrels for 10 months, fancy-pants packaging in a box, and oh, it's Firestone Walker. If my calculations are correct, my saving throw against purchasing this is a 21. And this die only has 20 sides, people.

Firestone Walker Double DBA

Firestone Walker Double Double Barrel Ale - Pours a deep brown amber color with half a finger of quickly disappearing head. Smells fantastic, plenty of bourbon, vanilla and oak, but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, I'm getting a nice noble hop character out of this, which is quite nice. Taste is filled with sweet, rich caramel, vanilla, toffee, a nice noble hop kick in the middle, and that bourbon oak aging really asserting itself towards the end and into the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and smooth, not exactly dry, but not very sticky either. It's a rich sipping beer, but it's not heavy. A little booze pops in to say hello and warm my belly, but you know, in a pleasant way. Overall, this is a supremely well balanced beer, as I've come to expect from Firestone Walker, and it's got a very nice depth of flavor, enhanced significantly by well blended barrel aging. Superb, but not quite as impeccable as Sucaba, Parabola (which I appear to have underrated), or XV Anniversary... I feel like I'm grading on a curve here, but let's give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 11/17/12. Bottled on: 6/14/12.

It looks like this is actually a concentrated version of Firestone's "flagship" Double Barrel Ale (a sessionable English Pale ale), which I've oddly never seen before. If I didn't know better, I'd have pegged Union Jack as their flagship. Anyways, I've been chomping at the bit to get me some Firestone XVI Anniversary ale (saving throw: 30 on a 4 sided die), but it does not appear to have shown up here yet. Local beermonger seems to think they're coming soon though. Firestone Walker is a force to reckon with. Really looking forward to trying some Velvet Merkin next year too.

Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait

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So now that I've climbed aboard the Gueuze train to sour town, I'm picking up whatever examples I can get my hands on. So far, no Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen to be found, but this one popped on my radar during my latest trip to Pinocchio's. Boon's regular Oude Geuze often seems to be referred to as a beginner's sour, and consists of 90% lambic aged for 18 months, 5% lambic aged for 3 years, and 5% "young" lambic. This Mariage Parfait version differs in that it consists of 95% lambic aged for 3 years, and 5% "young" lambic. A "perfect wedding" of new and old? Let's find out:

Boon Mariage Parfait

Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait - Pours an orange color with a finger or two of bubbly white head that quickly recedes. Smells of funky oak and ripe fruits. Taste is sweet, with plenty of funky earth in the middle and some sour fruitiness emerging towards the finish, along with earthy oak. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but crisp and refreshing. Overall, a solid Gueuze that I very much enjoyed, but not quite to the levels of Tilquin. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (375 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/17/12.

My renewed interest in Gueuze and lambics in general will continue, abated only by lack of availability. Alas, I'm not able to make it to Zwanze day on Saturday, so I may have to wait a bit longer for my first Cantillon... But don't worry, Loons will be slayed. It's only a matter of time.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

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These Tired Hands guys continue to turn heads in the area. They've only been around since June, but I'll be damned if they don't seem to be getting better every month. Here's the rather lamely named Flavor Aroma, a big IPA made with Motueka, Nelson, Zythos, Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe hops. They put this stuff on tap on November 11 and sold through 4.5 kegs that night alone (which is an awful lot considering that they only make 12 keg batches). I'm glad I managed to get my hands on this stuff.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma - Pours a cloudy golden orangish color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, tons of lacing and great retention. Smells utterly amazing, boatloads of resinous pine, with citrus and floral aromas taking over. Taste is also dominated by those hops, same profile of resinous pine, citrus and floral notes, with a perfectly matched bitterness in the finish. Speaking of perfection, the mouthfeel is superb. Just the right amount of tightly bubbled carbonation, crisp, refreshing, amazingly quaffable. This thing went down dangerously quick. Overall, fantastic beer, perhaps my favorite tired hands brew yet! A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass on 11/13/12.

I will not be able to keep up with reviewing all of the Tired Hands brews that I consume. They're just a hop and skip away, so I will most likely be visiting often. I recently partook in some Westy 13, their monster "dark saison" clocking in at 13% ABV (rumors of bottles of this are abound, am hoping to snag some). It felt like a Belgian Old Ale kinda thing, sorta like Bruery's Anniversary beers without the barrel aging. Yum.

Nøgne Ø #100

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Since I've already pedantically delved into why Nøgne Ø seems to favor the use of null set symbols in their name (apparently an artifact of old Danish language), I'll instead observe that brewery founder Kjetil Jikiun is a straight-up viking:

Dude's also known as "the bearded giant," and what a mighty beard it is. So very viking. Anywho, these guys are among the ranks of Scandanavian craft brewers that draw a lot of attention from American beer dorks (though local adoption of "craft" styles have decreased their amount of export). One of the interesting tidbits from the above mentioned video is that Kjetil Jikiun was an airline pilot who, inspired by American craft beer, managed to bring home some American ingredients and use it in his homebrew. He entered it into competitions, which were more strictly hewing to traditional English or German styles and gave him feedback that his brews were too powerful or too hoppy and unbalanced. Well, nuts to that, so he opened his own brewery, and along with a handful of other Scandanavian brewers, has been spreading the word of good beer to all who will listen. Which also includes a lot of American beer nerds (like myself) who pay handsomely to sample these brews.

This particular beer was originally made as their 100th batch and only distributed to their employees, but it was so popular, they had to release it commercially.

Nogne O #100

Nøgne Ø #100 - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights when held up to the light and a half finger of light tan head. Smells strongly of piney, resiny, hops and lots of crystal malt. It feels like this isn't quite as fresh as it could be, but I guess we'll find out. Taste has more of that crystal malt character, perhaps of the darker variety, along with some other more chocolate or toasted type malts. Faded hops come out to play in the middle and finish, which isn't quite bitter, but there's just barely enough to balance out the big malt character. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated with tight, smooth bubbles. Definitely a big beer, plenty of booze, a little stickiness in the finish. Overall, a solid American style barleywine, I kinda wish I got a fresher bottle, but them's the breaks. B though I suspect a fresh bottle would garner a higher rating... It's clearly very well made, but I can really feel that faded hop character.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/16/12. IBU: 80. Hops: Columbus, Chinook, and Centennial.

Nøgne Ø continues to be interesting to me, and I really can't fault them for this old bottle as it sat in my (unrefrigerated) cellar for quite a while, which probably accounts for the faded hops. I'll probably try some more stuff from them at some point, provided I can scrape together enough shekels to buy them. In the meantime, I just had another beer from a different Norwegian brewery that I thought was really fantastic. Look for a review, er, next week? When I get to it, okay?

Tripel Karmeliet

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So I've been strangely neglectful of this style of late. Unless you count beer clubs or near-abominations, I haven't done a proper tripel review since... January (and while it had fantastic fancy packaging, the product was rather lackluster). So let's take a break from the realm of trendy limited-edition, imperialized, barrel-aged, face melting dark beers and hit up a readily-available classic that I've never had before.

Brouwerij Bosteels claims this is "still brewed to an authentic beer recipe from 1679" and they call it a tripel more because this monastic recipe uses three kinds of grain: wheat, oats, and barley (though it fits the more general guidelines of the style as well). Well sure, I believe that beer made before anyone knew what yeast was would taste exactly like what I'm drinking today. Why not? In seriousness, this is one of the best reviewed tripels in the world, right behind the style codifiers like Westmalle and St. Bernardus (and those upstart Canadians with their La Fin Du Monde). It's kinda inexplicable that I've waited so long to try this, so here goes:

Tripel Karmeliet

Tripel Karmeliet - Pours a bright, slightly hazy yellow color with a massive, 4 finger head and lots of retention. Smells of spicy, musty Belgian yeast, some clove and plenty of light fruit character, like banana and pears. Taste has a huge spice component, again with the clove, but also a softening blow of musty Belgian yeast and that fruit character brightening things up in the finish. Mouthfeel is hugely carbonated, effervescent, but also crisp and refreshing, with a very dry finish that keeps the booziness down. Overall, this is some seriously great beer. Easy to drink, but packed with flavor and extremely well balanced. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (11.2 oz brown bottle!) Drank out of a goblet on 11/16/12.

I'm kinda shocked at how well this hit the spot. Maybe I should slow down with all this barrel aged nonsense. Haha, like that will ever happen. Also happy that I didn't have to drink this out of a green bottle that'd been sitting in the window for months on end. Seriously guize, I know there's not much in the way of hops in this, but green bottled beers do seriously deteriorate quickly. Give us a break. Fortunately, the smaller bottles are brown. This makes no sense, but I'm not going to question it.

To a certain type of beer dork, saying that these were bottle releases is probably overselling their significance. Near as I can tell, Dock Street doesn't actually distribute their bottles, and Victory is doing a limited distribution in the general region, but in practice, these releases consisted of my walking up to a counter and asking for a few bottles. No waiting in line for hours (in the rain!) like some bottle releases, just good beer and friendly conversation.

Things kicked off with Dock Street Brewing's annual holiday release of limited brews last night. They claimed that only around 2-6 cases were available for each variety, so I was a little wary, but I got there early enough to get everything I wanted:

Dock Street bottles
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Lots of barrel aged rarities there, some aged for 3+ years. As luck would have it, frequent commenter and newfound beverage compatriot Rich on Beer was also in attendance, along with some other beer geeks, so we engaged in much beer dorkery. I had a good time and it was great to meet up with Rich.

I had a Rye IPA, which was quite a solid, juicy American hopped ale with well matched spicy rye notes, and also a non-barrel aged Prince Myshkin's Russian Imperial Stout, which managed to exceed expectations. Big beer, light roast, lots of chocolate and caramel, not overly sweet, very well balanced stuff. I'm now really looking forward to the Hungarian Red Wine Barrel Aged bottle I got. I don't have any pictures or detailed notes, but look for some more detailed reviews in the coming weeks. Dock Street seems like a pretty small operation, but one that I think should probably garner a better reputation... at least, based on my limited exposure, which is admittedly small.

I've already mentioned this morning's bottle release, Victory's Red Thunder. This day-before-Thanksgiving release slot was occupied by Dark Intrigue last year, one of them wait in line, braving the elements kinda releases. This year was significantly more subdued. Victory opened early with a special breakfast menu, and the place was indeed as crowded as I'd ever seen it, but it seems most folks were more interested in breakfast than the bottle release (though I think you could order a few bottles from your table). I arrived a little over an hour after opening and there were only two people in line in front of me. I don't know if anyone lined up before opening, but on the other hand, red wine aged baltic porters aren't exactly the most hyped styles.

I've had the base beer, Baltic Thunder, a few times now, and I've always enjoyed it. I'm not a huge fan of porters, but this one is a little bigger and richer, hence the Baltic appellation. I'm hoping the barrel aging will tone down some of those elements as well as add some complexity. Let's find out, shall we:

Victory Red Thunder

Victory Red Thunder - Pours a dark brown color with pretty amber highlights and minimal, light tan head. Taste has those typical roasted malt and chocolate aromas, but I feel like the fruitiness is much more pronounced than the base beer, presumably from the wine. Even getting a hint of oak in the nose. Taste leans heavier on chocolate, vanilla, and caramel than roasted malt flavors, and that oak is definitely contributing a richness to the whole affair. I'm not picking up much in the way of red wine in terms of fruity flavors, but there's a pleasantly dry astringency that comes out in the finish that works quite well. Tannins and all that (probably just as much an oak thing as a wine thing). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little mouth-coaty with a long finish. It's no quaffable session beer, but it's not quite a sipper either. The alcohol is reasonably well hidden, and it's all rather well integrated and balanced (unlike the recently reviewed Mikkeller Black Hole beer, though I think that had its charms as well). Overall, I really like this beer a lot. I can see porter fanatics being disappointed by the toned down... porterness... of this beer, but it worked well for me. Admittedly, I'm not a huge porter fan, so take this with a grain of salt, but I consider this an improvement over the base beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/12.

Good stuff. Probably not going to inflame the passions of your typical beer nerd, but it hit the right notes for me. All told, I've had a pretty cool couple of days here. And when combined with my yearly holiday beer purchases and a couple upcoming trades, my cellar is reaching capacity. Well, not really, but I should tone things down for a bit while my liver catches up to my acquisitions. This will, of course, be chronicled right here, so stay tuned. Gonna be an interesting few months...

Update: Dropped Red Thunder to a B+. Still very good, but I was perhaps too enthusiastic upon first taste...

Duck-Rabbit Rabid Duck

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Slaying ducks. It's not quite like slaying Loons or whales (and certainly not .rar walez), but it'll do in a pinch:

Duck-Rabbit Rabid Duck

Duck-Rabbit Rabid Duck - Pours a deep black color with a couple fingers of fluffy dark tan head. Smells faintly of roasted malt, but oddly enough, a fair amount of fruit coming through in the nose as well as chocolate and caramel, really quite nice. That roast hits first and much more prominently in the taste, but a sweet sorta chocolate covered fruit flavor emerges in the middle leading back into some dark, toasted malt character and dry bitterness in the finish. The fruity character was unexpected, and there's some additional flavors floating in here and there, like maybe licorice or something (rabies-infested ducks? Needs more duck.) Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium to full bodied but with a brightness from the fruity character that makes this seem lighter than it is. Overall, this is quite an unusual duck. Not like anything I've had before and though it's not really lighting my world on fire, I'm really happy I tried it. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 11/10/12.

I think I was expecting more out of a RIS from self-billed "dark beer experts" than what I got here, but it was fine. Still, it sorta pales in comparison to some recent tastings. Stay tuned for a tale of two bottle releases, coming tomorrow...

The Bruery Oude Tart

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The Bruery's Coton recently became just the fourth beer to earn the coveted Kaedrin A+ rating. Next up in my Bruery-fueled, liver-destroying, wallet-lightening, amazing-beer-filled winter is Oude Tart, a Flemish Red Ale aged in oak barrels. This is a descendant of Bruery brewer Tyler King's first homebrewed sour beer (which he attempted at the ripe age of 17 or 18), though obviously that recipe has been tweaked and honed through the years (I'm guessing they didn't age their original batch in giant oak barrels for a year), to the point where this was also the Bruery's first major award-winning beer.

So I'm continuing my orbit around sour beers, though at this point, I should probably just land this crazy spaceship and partake in all the sour beer I can find. But enough babbling, let's drink this stuff:

The Bruery Oude Tart

The Bruery Oude Tart - Pours a dark brown color with half a finger of bubbly off-white head that quickly subsides to a ring that shows pretty good retention. Smells of slightly twangy funk, some earthiness, a nice oak character, and plenty of fruity aromas, maybe cherry. Taste starts with a slap of sourness, with sweet, bright sour cherry notes quickly emerging along with some subtle oak notes, a little earthiness, with that sourness reasserting itself in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, lightly carbonated and smooth, a little acidic. A little mouth coating goodness here, but nothing overwhelming. Overall, a top tier sour beer! A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/10/12. Label sez: 060712 LOT39 (presumably bottling date)

This winter is shaping up to be pretty awesome. I've got a couple more Bruery beers lined up, including one absolute monster that just arrived in the mail, not to mention a couple of upcoming bottle releases by local breweries and, uh, some other trades (no jinxing, but some other whales will be had in the next few months).

Novembeer 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 to share all our brews and wines and whatnot. As per usual, much merriment was had by all, lots of beer and wine and good food. It ended up being a rather small gathering by our normal standards, but still plenty of fantastic beer shared by all.

Novembeer Club
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For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. Standard disclaimers about the fact that I wasn't in a sensory deprivation chamber whilst tasting these, and in a lot of cases, I was only sampling rather small pours, but whatevers. Take these descriptions with a grain of salt if you're really concerned, but you really shouldn't be, because I'm pretty awesome. Or not. Whatever. Here's what I had (in order of drinking, not necessarily in order of the picture above):

  • Kaedrin Abbey Dubbel - My homebrewed abbey dubbel style beer seems to still be conditioning, though it's getting better every week. Right now, it's quite tasty, if a bit boozy, and the carbonation doesn't seem to have fully taken hold of the brew. This is actually somewhat expected, given that the brew came in much stronger than I had originally intended. I suspect this will be drinking fabulously in a few weeks or so... I wll refrain from rating right now, just cause I want to give it some more time to mature...
  • Turkey Drool Homebrew - A friend of a friend of a friend contributed this homebrew, which actually seemed to fall a little flat, especially when compared with other brews we had tonight. There didn't seem to be any off flavors, per say, but on the other hand, what was there was very subtle if not non-existent. From the ingredient list, I was expecting much more out of this. Again, not the worst thing evar and certainly drinkable, but also completely forgetable. C+
  • New Belgium Snow Day - A strange, but mostly enjoyable brew. BeerAdvocate classifies it as an American Black Ale, but I would say that it's more of hoppy red ale than that implies. Maybe some winter warmer base here, but quite a nice hop character to it. Overall, very drinkable stuff, a nice hop presence, but it's not going to light the world on fire either. B
  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale (2011) - Kaedrin friend Dana procured this last year, and has held on to it since then. Apparently a highly sought after beer, this is a very light colored winter warmer style offering, reminiscent of a deeper English pale ale that doesn't quite contain any of that diacetyl character I associate with it. Sweet, a very light spiciness, flavorful, but not quite blowing me away either. I can see why this is a prized holiday brew, but it's not something I go out of my way for... B
  • Westmalle Trappist Tripel - A classic, which I have already reviewed in detail. For the most part, it's as good as evar. On a personal level, I've cooled somewhat on the tripel style, though I still quite enjoy one every once in a while... A
  • Kona Pipeline Porter - Holy coffee, Batman! This is apparently a porter, but it's heavily influenced by coffel flavors all throughout, sorta light a lighter Founders Breakfast Sout. I'm not really a fan of coffee or porters in general, so it's pretty amazing that I didn't tink of this as the worst thing I've ever tasted. It's actually pretty solid and goes down easily. That being said, I don't think I'd ever really seek to try this again... B-
  • Weyerbacher Winter Ale - Another beer I've had and reviewed before. For the most part, my feelings remain unchanged. It's a fine beer, a pretty standard winter warmer, but I'd like to see more complexity and flavor out of this one. B
  • Monk's Café Flemish Sour Red Ale - One of my contributions for the night, this is one of those beers often recommended to sour newbies, and it actually did seem to go over really well with the beer club folks, even those who don't go in for normal beertastic stuff. A nice malt backbone and sweet fruit character followed by a very slight sourness that nevertheless cut through and made this one of the more flavorful brews of the night. Overall, definitely a nice beginners sour beer, something I'll probably try again at some point as well... B+
  • Nebraska Hop God - Reserve Series Aged In French Oak Chardonnay Barrels - Yet another of my contributions for the night, this one turned out to be interesting, if not quite what I expected from a beer called "Hop God". Hops certainly play a role in the flavor profile, but it's mostly defined by that oak Chardonnay character, with some booze peeking through as well. It's really quite nice, though I wish I had a better palate for white wine. B or B+
  • Victory Storm King Stout - Once again, we get a beer I've had before. It's a beer I've come to appreciate more and more over the years, but I still wouldn't rate it among the highest imperial stouts. Still a solid stout with a big hop presence. B+
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout - My last contribution for the night, this is just as good as it was the last time I had it. Beer club peeps seemed to enjoy, though there were a couple that don't particularly enjoy those bourbon flavors, and thus didn't care for this. Me, I'll leave it at an A.
And there you have it. Another successful outing, as per usual. Alas, we didn't get to all the beers we brought (I was particularly interested in Lancaster's Winter Warmer, but I'm sure I'll catch up with it sometime). Already looking forward to next month and some more holiday brews...

Mikkeller Barrel-Aged Black Hole

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In anticipation of Red Wednesday, I figured it might be a good idea to check out some non-sour beers aged in red wine barrels. This one is part of a series of beers, all aged in different types of barrels. While the version aged in Scotch whisky barrels apparently represents a "scorching oral douche", all the other variations seem to be pretty well received, including this red-wine version:

Mikkeller Barrel Aged Black Hole (Red Wine Edition)

Mikkeller Barrel-Aged Black Hole (Red Wine Edition) - Pours a thick-looking, very dark brown (almost black) color with a solid finger of light brown head. Smells sugary sweet, dark caramel and roast malt aromas, something bright that I assume is the doing of the red wine, and that oak is adding a nice rich complexity to the nose too. The taste is... whoa... yeah, that happened. Starts off very sweet followed by a big wallop of oak, then a bit of those astringent red wine tannins kick in, finishing off with mellow roast and coffee notes. Each of those flavors hits at a discrete point in the taste. One flavor hits, then fades as the next flavor rides in, only to give way to another, and so on... It's like I'm drinking a boxing match. Fortunately, most of these flavors work well. Mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, but not overwhelmingly so. There's an acidic tannin kick in the mouthfeel, presumably from the red wine, but it's not sour or even tart in any way (as expected). Overall, I'm really enjoying this unique, complex beer, though I don't know that it's something I'd hit up often. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 13.10% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/12.

I am now officially excited for Red Thunder, as I think this sort of treatment might be better integrated into a slightly less hot base beer, but I guess we'll find out. I'm sure I'll pick up more of these Black Hole variations (in particular, it seems the Cognac version is popular) at some point, but I wouldn't expect to see that anytime soon. My cellar is becoming unruly again.

I've finally completed the cycle. Ola Dubh is a series of beers aged in different vintage Highland Park Scotch casks. I've already had four of the five available vintages, and they've ranged from the sublime to the merely great. Strangely, the "youngest" vintage was also the hardest to find (probably because it's the "cheapest", though it's still obscenely priced), but it also happens to be aged in the casks of one of my favorite "everyday" scotches, so I figured I should just go ahead and try both during the same session.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 and Highland Park 12
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Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12 - Pours a very dark brown with the slightest tinge of amber and a half finger of head. Big aromas of caramel, chocolate, and whisky, with some oak and vanilla and maybe even honey. The taste hits with a surprisingly peaty, smokey flavor right off the bat before settling into more typical caramel malt flavors. But that smoke is kinda ever-present, even in the finish and aftertaste. This is a little surprising given that I don't think of Highland Park as being a smokey peat bomb. On the other hand, while smokey, it's nowhere near as awkwardly balanced as beer aged in Islay Scotch casks, so there is that. But even this amount of smoke makes it harder for some of the more traditional chocolate and caramel flavors to assert themselves. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little thinner than expected, though there's obviously plenty here to chew on. Well balanced carbonation and it actually goes down pretty easy. Overall, this isn't a disaster or anything, but it is a bit of a letdown when compared to the others in the series, which are just much more balanced and complex. I'm still glad I tried some and it was enjoyable enough to warrant a weak B, but I'm again curious as to what a fresher bottle would taste like.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/12. Bottle Number: 07449. Bottled in February 2010.

Highland Park 12 - Holy shit, I don't think I ever reviewed Scotch before. What do I do? I'll just pretend it's beer. Pours a golden light brown color with absolutely no head (uh, not that there's supposed to be, but come on, work with me here). Smells, um, like whisky. No, seriously, it's got a very light peat and smoke profile going on (though nothing that I'd think would lead to the smokiness in the aforementioned beer), along with some light caramel and honey, with that high octane, nose-singed alcohol note. Taste actually follows the nose, though some other notes emerge too. Light smoke and peat (again, not so much that I'd expect beer aged in these casks to be overwhelmed by it), some caramel, maybe a little graininess, some spicy character, and you know, booze. Mouthfeel is relatively smooth, with some of that spicy alcohol adding a little harshness. Overall, it's one of my go-to Scotches, it's got lots of complex flavors going on, but it's the complete package. Good stuff. I'll use my Scotch ratings scale. 4942 points.

Whisky Nerd Details: 43% ABV bottled (750 ml, 1 dram pour). Drank out of a Glencairn nosing glass on 11/9/12.

So there you have it. Not quite the face melting night I was hoping for, but enjoyable enough anyway. This more or less completes the cycle of Ola Dubh for me, unless Harviestoun starts sourcing more obscure Highland Park casks or something. Despite my thoughts on the 12 above, the rest of the series has been excellent enough that I'd love to try other vintages/specialty Scotch aged beers from Harviestoun. Speaking of the rest of the series, I think the final ranking of beers based on the vintage of the casks they were aged in comes down to: 40, 18, 30, 16, 12. Unfortunately, these things are obscenely expensive, especially when you hit the older vintages.

DuClaw Retribution

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Due to the inherent variability in aging beer, most barrel aged liquids are actually blended together before bottling time. Those angels are thirsty, but they don't drink equally from each barrel, not to mention that moron Randy from Accounting1 who is constantly trying to sneak a sample of your latest barrel aged brew.

This is generally the case with anything aged in barrels. Some of the complexity in Scotch comes from the fact that different barrel types and ages are blended together into the final product. Of course, there are beers that are all about the blend too, like Gueuzes, and there are others that are blends of completely different beers (a la Firestone Anniversary beers). But even your lowly, garden-variety bourbon barrel aged stout gets some blending love (i.e. the contents of each barrel are combined into one mass) before bottling, thus evening out the batch and ensuring some form of consistency.

Naturally, there are exceptions. I have a bottle of Balvenie 15 that is utterly superb, but that's a Scotch bottled from single barrels. No blending. They don't even claim consistency and actually use the variability as a selling point: "Each bottle is unique and unrepeatable." This appears to be DuClaw's strategy for Retribution, a single barrel bourbon aged imperial stout. Let's see how that turned out for them.

DuClaw Retribution

DuClaw Retribution - Pours a very dark amber brown that pretty much looks black once poured out, with half a finger of light brown head. Smells strongly of bourbon, with some vanilla, caramel, and oak asserting themselves. The taste is extremely sweet, with plenty of that bourbon and vanilla character, some caramel, a little chocolate, and plenty of sticky booze in the finish. Mouthfeel is sticky, medium bodied, boozy, a little light on carbonation (but just barely enough to make this palatable). Maybe a bit on the cloying side as I near the end of the bottle. Overall, it's a fine barrel aged beer, but not among the top tier. I wonder if it would have been better fresh (or if barrel 8 was a dud). B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV?2 bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/4/12. Label sez: Date in Barrel: 03/11/2011. Date Out of Barrel: 09/19/2011. Barrel No. 08 of 20.

So I like DuClaw and ultimately enjoyed this, but they're no Balvenie. Despite the assumed variability, I'm not sure I want to pick up other bottles of this, though I wouldn't mind sampling it if I ever end up in one of their brewpubs or something. Also, they apparently make something called Divine Retribution which is a blend of Retribution and their massive 21% ABV Colossus. Yikes.

1 - If you are reading this post and your name is Randy, I apologize. Obviously I don't mean you. No Randys were harmed in the composition of this post.

2 - The bottle I have in front of me right now sez 9% ABV, Beer Advocate and Ratebeer say 10.5%, and DuClaw's website clocks it at 11.5%. Perhaps barrel 8 really did suck and only came in at 9%, or this 2011 batch came in lower than expected or something.

Tired Hands Zombie

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Well, I think we all just need to get used to the fact that Tired Hands Brewing Company is going to be showing up on this blog pretty often. These folks are just flat out killing it right now. Everything I've had from them has been solid, and they just keep going.

Lately, they've been getting into the spirit of the season with a series of monster-inspired beers. There's Ghost, a compulsively drinkable Gose-style beer (how's that for obscure?), Vampire, an IPA made with oranges and fancy New Zealand/American hops (that I'm sad to say I missed out on, along with most of these "monster" beers), Goblin, Werewolf, Creature, Black Lagoon, and of course, Creature From The Black Lagoon (which is a black and tan consisting of the two previous beers). Oh, and Zombie, the subject of today's review. An 11% Double India Black Ale (or American Black Ale, or Cascadian Dark Ale, or whatever you want to call the damn thing) brewed with local wildflower honey and dry-hopped twice. Hopped with Simcoe, Centennial, and Nelson Sauvin. Well sign me up:

Tired Hands Zombie

Tired Hands Zombie - Pours a very dark brown color with a couple fingers of light brown head. Smells of big citrus and pine hop notes. Taste starts with a big chocolaty, roasted malt note, then those bright citrus flavors from the hops kick in, with some pine followed by surprisingly well matched bitterness in finish. Very little booze, very well balanced flavors that make this feel like a distinct beer (rather than something that feels more like a stout or IPA). Mouthfeel is medium bodied and surprisingly easy to drink, solid carbonation, mild warming from the booze (and because I'm drinking quickly). Overall, great beer, well balanced, complex, delicious. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 11/4/12. Hops: Simcoe, Centennial, and Nelson Sauvin.

I really hope this is something that they continue to make... I suppose this is one of the drawbacks to tiny, brewpub style breweries. They make so much stuff that you're never sure when something you love will return. While I certainly won't be able to keep up with the brews coming out of Tired Hands (heck, I can't even keep up with reviews for all the things I've had), I think I'm still going to have fun trying. You'll definitely be seeing more from these folks in the coming months.

Alesmith Wee Heavy

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According to the collective wisdom of a bunch of (probably inexperienced, disinterested, hype-driven, haters-gonna-hate hipster1) strangers, this is the second-best Scotch Ale2 in the world. Score one for the home team. I'm sure no one in Scotland knows how to make these things. Incidentally, the number one beer is... a barrel aged version of Alesmith Wee Heavy. Of course it is!3

So it seems that Alesmith's got the style all locked up... though it's not like this is one of them trendy styles that every brewer is pouncing on. Or drinkers for that matter. I mean, I get a nice vibe from the style, but I've only reviewed 3 of them in the past two years (and one of those was a barrel aged version of another), though I will say that Dieu Du Ciel's Équinoxe Du Printemps was a superb beer, even if I probably wouldn't have pegged it as a Wee Heavy in a blind tasting. So let's see how Alesmith fares:

Alesmith Wee Heavy

Alesmith Wee Heavy - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells of rich, sweet caramel along with some malty fruitiness. Taste is very sweet, less caramel and more toast than in the nose (but both are present here), maybe a hint of smoke (perhaps even peat?), and some booze in the finish. Less of that dark fruit than the nose as well, though it's still peeking through. It's not bitter, but it's got enough oomph to balance out the big malt character. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, creamy, full bodied, a bit boozy (nice warming sensation in my belly from that alcohol), very slight stickiness. Overall, this is a very nice, well balanced, traditional Scotch ale, on the upper end of a B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/3/12.

So Dieu Du Ciel remains my standard bearer, but this one comes in a close second. Alesmith continues to impress, and while this doesn't make me want to explore every Wee Heavy I can get my hands on, it does make me want to explore more Alesmith beer. Go me.

1 - I am, of course, just kidding, but sometimes it's hard to take reviewers on these sites seriously. On the other hand, who am I kidding? I have a blog with hundreds of reviews of varying quality and I'd still consider myself inexperienced. So fiddlesticks. Wait, what? Am I still typing? Dammit, stop.

2 - Also known as Wee Heavy, a phrase I pedantically dissected a while back. You're welcome.

3 - This might sound sarcastic or snarky, but I'm so in the bag for barrel aged stuff that I wrote this with the utmost sincerity and didn't realize that the tone might be interpreted in another way until I reread the post, hence this footnote. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you have one of these things, we should set up a trade or something.

Ommegang Scythe & Sickle

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Unlike the harvest ales I've covered so far this year, Ommegang's take on the trend is decidedly less hop-based, instead focusing on a complex malt bill consisting of freshly picked barley, oats, wheat, and rye. This is pretty much in line with Ommegang's identity of Belgian brewing in America, as traditional Belgian styles aren't very hoppy, instead focusing on malt and yeast for their flavor profile (perhaps part of the reason for good Belgo-Scotch relations, but I digress). Clocking in at 5.8% ABV, it's also one of the lower-gravity offerings I've seen from Ommegang (the only thing lower that I can think of is Witte). Let's see how they fared with this harvest ale:

Ommegang Scythe and Sickle

Ommegang Scythe & Sickle - Pours a darkish golden orange color with a few fingers of fluffy white head and plenty of lacing. Smells strongly of banana esters and a little clove, big Belgian yeast character. Taste pretty much follows along, big and bold bready, biscuity flavors along with a lot of assertive Belgian yeast spice, a light fruitiness, and even a little bitterness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but medium bodied and easy to drink. Spicy with a dry finish too, probably a good accompaniment with food. Overall, this is a really enjoyable beer, and it would make a fine go-to beer during this time of year. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 10/28/12.

So Ommegang recently redesigned their website and rebranded their entire lineup of beers. I have to say that I find most of this unnecessary, though not entirely unpleasant. I suppose their label designs were in a bit of a rut, and the only label I'll really miss is Hennepin, but the new labels with all the silhouettes. Their website certainly needed an update and the new design is pretty but... damn, it's pretty much unusable. It's like one of them horrible Flash sites from '02 or something. As usual, it's what's in the bottle that counts, so as long as Rare Vos, Hennepin, Abbey Ale, and Three Philosophers are the same beer, I don't really care about the labels... Next up on the Ommegang front is their 15th Anniversary ale, which appears to be another Belgian Strong Dark Ale...

The Bruery Coton

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As a lowly beer neophyte reading raves about California's The Bruery on all the cool blogs, I made a pact with myself to hunt down some of their beer. This was the first thing I found, and I purchased it blind, price tag be damned. I had no idea what I was in for, but the label was pretty and it even had a fancy strip of tape covering the cap. The guy who sold it to me said "It's really good. Boozy, but good." Well, I drank it and my face melted. My original notes on this said it was very good but "maybe a bit too powerful". It was a real eye opener though. I'd never had anything like that beer before and it really pushed the boundaries of what I thought beer could be. It was a memorable experience and I can still recall the night vividly, right down the movies I was watching as I partook. I even saved up some shekels and bought another, with the thought that some of that booze would mellow out over time. And thus it's been burning a hole in my fridge for about 2 years now.

The Bruery Coton Label and Taped Cap

Coton was The Bruery's second anniversary ale, part of a series of beers named after traditional wedding anniversary gifts. The first anniversary beer was called Papier (French for "paper") and it was brewed in the style of an English Old Ale, but using The Bruery's house Belgian yeast strain. Coton uses the same recipe as Papier, but they blended a portion of Bourbon Barrel Aged Papier into the "young" beer to add complexity. The fancy shmancy term for this process is the Solera method. Each year, young beer is blended with previous batches, adding complexity and creating an older average age to the beer. The process is typically used in the production of wine and appears to be exceedingly rare in the world of beer. Aging beer is an expensive proposition for most breweries and a Solera project requires a great deal of foresight, ambition, and planning. Fortunately, The Bruery is clearly up to the task.

I've been purchasing these Anniversary beers every year, but truth be told, knocking back a 750 of 14.5% ABV beer takes something of a commitment. But it's been nearly two and a half years, I figured it was time to clear a few hours of the ol' schedule and bite the bullet on this thing. I've had beers that were rare or hard to get before, but this one weighed on me more than I expected, perhaps because it loomed so large in my mind. I know the general beer nerd consensus on this beer is mixed, but I have a personal connection with this beer that most don't share. It was a beer of firsts for me (first Bruery, among my first Barrel Aged brews, first time I broke the $20 barrier, and probably the highest ABV beer I'd had at the time, though I've long since surpassed that), and while I loved it the first time I had it, I'm always a little anxious about revisiting beers from that period.

Am I putting it on a pedestal? Will this hold up to my expectations? Well, I'm happy to report that it actually managed to exceed expectations... to the point where I'm even going to award it the vaunted Kaedrin A+ (only beer so far this year to earn that distinction).

The Bruery Coton

The Bruery Coton - Pours a deep dark amber (mahogany!) color with a sliver of light tan head. Smells strongly of brown sugar/molasses, dark fruits, and boozy bourbon with just a hint of oak and vanilla. Taste is very sweet, lots of that crystal malt character, rich caramel flavors, brown sugar/molasses, raisins and other dark fruits, even some spiced character, like cinnamon, and of course, that vanilla, oak, and bourbon killer combo. Big, complex flavors. Mouthfeel is full bodied, a little syrupy, but surprisingly drinkable. I don't want to call it thin, but it's not as thick and chewy as you'd expect for such a monster, and this is a very good thing in this beer, which has the potential to overwhelm, but never really does so. The carbonation is ample, which keeps this from feeling too syrupy and may help contribute to that drinkability too, keeping things smooth and almost creamy. It seems ridiculous to call a 14.5% ABV beer balanced, but it kinda is... The booze seems to have mellowed out with time as well, though I still get that warming alcohol feeling in my belly as I drink. This thing is drinking like a massive bourbon barrel, Belgian style barleywine, or something like that. It's exceptional, and it is kicking my ass tonight. A unique, complex, just all around superb beer, and it seems to have mellowed a little with time, which I think may have been for the better. I don't hand these out often, but this earns the coveted Kaedrin A+

Beer Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and taped). Drank out of a goblet on 10/27/12. Bottled May 2010. Bottle Number 02592. 75% Ale, 25% Ale Aged in Bourbon Barrels.

So there you have it. I've got bottles of Cuir and Fruet (3rd and 4th anniversaries, respectively) in the cellar, and some other Bruery whales are incoming, so stay frosty folks. This is looking like a Bruery-filled, liver-destroying, wallet-lightening winter.

I've been kinda orbiting sour beers for the past couple years. Like the scared apes at the beginning of 2001, I'll cautiously approach the sour beer monolith and give it a tap every now and again. Sometimes I come away disappointed, but lately, I've been having more revelatory experiences than not. The first sour beer I ever had was Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René, a beer that nearly puckered me into oblivion. As it turns out, gueuze is one of the more intense, harsh sour styles, so that beer set a strange reference point for me. It almost certainly should not have been my first sour beer, but I'm older and wiser now, and I thought it was time to revisit the style.

Gueuzerie Tilquin opened its doors a little over a year ago, when it became the first new Belgian lambic blendery in nearly 15 years. You might be tempted to ask: So what? But this is a pretty big occasion, as opening a brewery specializing in lambics is a very long, cost prohibitive venture. Tradtional lambics are spontaneously fermented (meaning none of them cultivated strains of brewer's yeasts are used, instead relying on wild yeasts and bacteria that live in the air all around us) and aged in oak barrels. And gueuze is an even trickier business, as it requires a blending of young lambic (about 1 year old) with old lambic (2 and/or 3 years old). So we've got a large initial investment, a tricky, uncertain process of fermentation, and no revenue for at least 2 years? This is pretty much a miracle.

So Pierre Tilqiun is a visionary. A patient one too. But he knows what he's doing, having done tours of duty at Drie Fonteinen and Cantillon (for the uninitiated: these are legendary lambic breweries). I'm a little unclear on the distinctions, but I'm guessing that the reason it's called a "Gueuzerie" is because Tilquin doesn't actually make any of the wort they use to make their lambic, instead buying it from Boon, Cantillon, Girardin, and Lindemans. Apparently Tilquin is the only gueuze blender that Cantillon will sell their wort too, so good on them. Anyways, this beer was fantastic, and I think I'm now a full born believer in sour beer.

Oude Gueuze Tilquin

Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne - Pours a golden color with half a finger of bubbly white head. Smells strongly of musty funk and twangy, sour fruit. Taste has a more sugary component than expected, though still lots of tart fruit flavors, a little earthy funk, and a well rounded sourness that intensifies through the finish (but never reaches the gargantuan puckering levels I feared). Definitely picking up an oak aged vibe, though that may be more of a mouthfeel thing. Speaking of which, mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth, not quite as effervescent as champagne and better for it, and there's a richness to it that I associate with oak aged beers. Overall, this is fantastic stuff and makes me want to go out and buy every damn sour beer I can find. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/26/12. Label sez: 2010/2011 Best before: 15/04/2021.

The lament of the sour beer nerd: doesn't it seem like it's much harder to find Cantillon these days that it was a few years ago? For crying out loud, I saw Cantillon at Total Wine a couple years ago, but I can't find any of it anywhere these days (except for $60 a pop for old bottles at a few local bars). But this is only a matter of time, expect to see some Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen stuff reviewed, uh, as soon as I can find it. In the meantime I'll have to settle for some Rodenbach vintage and Bruery sours. I know, poor me.

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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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