March 2020 Archives

Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot "B"

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The vaunted Van Winkle line of bourbons ranks as among the most hyped offerings ever offered by people who offer things. Once people who never used to care about bourbon started plunking down massive amounts of cash for bottles of the stuff, the intangibles of the entire bourbon market changed, triggering a bit of a backlash amongst the old guard bourbon nerds. This sort of mainstream appeal "ruining" the experience for former insiders can be witnessed all over the roadmap, from cult movies to comic books to musical acts; you name it, and there's probably some small community on the internet bemoaning the intrusion of philistines. In the bourbon world, Van Winkle has become something of a scapegoat.

To be sure, there's no way in a million years I'd ever pay secondary market prices for something like this1. Even as a beer nerd, I'm not above paying a small premium to try good bourbon, but the secondary prices for this stuff are just ludicrous. I'm fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania, where the PLCB rules over liquor sales with an iron fist, and thus we get these statewide lotteries. I hesitate to say "fortunate" because the PLCB is so awful in so many other ways, but over past few years, the lottery has allowed me to secure a few bottles of premium hooch for basically MSRP. It's the one good thing about the PLCB, though it doesn't feel that way when you get shut out.

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Closeup

While anything with the name "Van Winkle" attached has succumbed to the black-hole-levels gravitational hype associated with it, the Special Reserve or Lot "B" offering seems to be the least prized. It is, of course, the offering with the most bottles available (and we all know that rarity makes bourbon taste better). There's another bourbon called W. L. Weller 12 Year Old that is basically an identical bourbon with different labels (the only difference is that the Van Winkles are apparently picky about barrels and warehouse locations, and thus their picks are supposedly better). Bourbon nerds will take pains to explain that if it's not the 15, 20, or 23 expression, it's not officially a "Pappy" bourbon. Heck, they literally named it Lot "B", presumably because their other offerings represent A levels. Even the label looks like it was an afterthought. The 10 Year Old Rip Van Winkle offering, which you might assume would be similarly stigmatized, has a higher proof and very sexy label.

Most of this is purely academic though, and it's worth noting that 12 year old bourbon appears to be right in the sweet spot, balancing maturity and flavor in harmonious ways. I was fortunate enough to get my paws on Pappy 23 last year, and while I thought it was phenomenal, I can see what people mean when they say it's a bit over-oaked and out of balance. What does the fabled Lot "B" hold in store? Only one way to find out:

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Years Old Lot B

Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot "B" 12 Years Old - Pours clear golden orange color with short legs (if any bourbon nerds are reading, please note that I come from the beer world which is currently dominated by turbid, murky looking hazy IPAs that look like chicken broth, so any alcoholic liquid that is clear is a sight to behold). Also, and this is a stupid observation, but it's significantly lighter in color than the 23. I mean, yeah, duh, right? But still. Smells very nice, caramel, oak, and a little vanilla, with a slight dusting of spice lurking in the background. Of my nose? Sure, I guess, I'm not particularly great at bourbon tasting notes. Really nice balance and complexity in the nose though, and it really opens up after a few minutes; more vanilla and almost cake-like sweetness, I could sniff this glass all night. Taste hits a lot of those same notes, caramel, oak, and vanilla, with some spicy highlights. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and very easy going, obviously boozy to this beer drinker's baby palate (like, I'm not used to drinking high test liquor, not like I eat babies or something, gah), but nowhere near the hazmat monsters I've been known to drink. Overall, this is really good bourbon, but I'm not entirely sure it justifies the hype or premium. The nose is really fantastic, but it's writing checks the taste/palate can't cash. B+ or A-

Bourbon Nerd Details: 90.4 proof, 45.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/27/20. Vintage: 2019

Beer Nerd Musings: Anything in Pappy's orbit, even if it's beer aged in a Pappy barrel, is subjected to that massive gravitational hype. But as mentioned above, this is technically not "Pappy", and thus I don't think I've (knowingly) had anything aged in one of these barrels. Kaedrin's crack research team has managed to find one example though, so they exist (it's a 17.5% ABV imperial stout, sounds delightful, though I've not heard of the brewery/beer and it appears to be rather limited). I mean, it's good bourbon, so it's bound to result in a good barrel for beer. Big shocker. The Weller's bourbon barrels also show up sometimes, which this would be similar to, I guess. Beer barrel provenance can be a weird thing though. Some breweries are extremely clear about which barrels were used. Some use far too many different barrels to be that specific. Some just aren't specific. Is it because they're using some bottom shelf crap? Or is there some sort of weird legal liability issue? Whatever the case, I'm down for more Weller 12/Van Winkle 12 barrel aged beer.

Look, if you're in a quasi-hiatus from beer and in quarantine and you haven't even worn shoes in 6 days, a bourbon like this will brighten up your day. One more non-beer post before we return to beerland, and it will be bourbon related mad science.

1 - During my team's extensive research process, we found some online stores that have this bourbon in stock... for $900. I feel pretty confident in saying that this is not worth that, which is more than 10 times as much as MSRP and what I paid for it.

Colonel Ricketts Beautiful Blend

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The eponymous Colonel Ricketts was an artillery officer in the American Civil War, playing a notable role in the defense against a Confederate attack on Cemetery Hill on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Ricketts was apparently somewhat diminutive, but as he was in command of artillery, there's a (probably apocryphal) quote by a confederate veteran, "And did this little cuss command Battery Hell!" After the war, Ricketts (along with some extended family) bought up a bunch of land in Northeast Pennsylvania. Upon his death, the heirs sold the land back to the state, and thus the Ricketts Glen State Park was born.

This is all relevant because one of Kaedrin's regular R&R escapes is to the Pocono mountains near Ricketts Glen (for reasons I will not get into, my family has a connection with Lake Jean that has driven a few trips). On one weekend last fall, my brother and I spied this little Colonel Ricketts location on a trip into Benton for supplies. It's basically located in an old barn-like structure, very rustic (a thousand pardons, I didn't take any pictures). We did a quickie tasting of a bunch of their offerings, all apple ciders (more like apple wine, actually) and thought it was good stuff. I liked this one the best, so I bought a bottle.

As previously established, I've never really caught the cider bug, but it is something that a lot of beer nerds seem to gravitate towards at one time or another. Will this change the tide? Not really, though it's a nice change of pace and a welcome diversion now that I'm in my annual semi-slowdown from beer.

Colonel Ricketts Hard Cider Beautiful Blend

Colonel Ricketts Hard Cider Beautiful Blend - As the name of this cider implies, this is actually a blend of two other Colonel Ricketts offerings: 1. Apple Sip, a semi-sweet cider with strong apple flavor aged in barrels and 2. The Original, a semi-dry cider with more of a barrel finish. The result has a very distinctive, earthy, almost nutty character that impressed me. More boring tasting notes: Pours an extremely clear, very pale yellow color, perfectly still. Smell has some of that sweet apple, but also something almost nutty lurking in the background that keeps me sniffing the glass like an idiot. Taste has that same sweet apple character, not really nutty but with a slight earthiness that's pleasant. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, no carbonation, only a hint of underlying booze. Overall, I enjoy this... It's no replacement for beer or anything, but it's a nice change of pace.

Cider Nerd Statistics: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml replaceable cork). Drank out of a flute glass on 3/22/20. Vintage: 2019

Beer Nerd Musings: These ciders were aged in barrels, and while there's something to that, it definitely doesn't provide the bold, intense flavors that barrel ageing brings to most beers. In talking with the guy who ran the place, he said they used a variety of barrels, including Jack Daniels, wine, and so on. I got the impression they reused the barrels though, which could perhaps lessen the impact over time. Would these second use cider barrels make for a good third use with beer? Maybe? It wouldn't be as big an impact as Apple Brandy barrels (which tend to be a mildly popular and distinctive choice for beer barrel aging), that's for sure, but maybe for sours it could be a good vessel.

And that about wraps up the cider portion of this year's beer slowdown. Stay tuned, we've got some bourbon coming up later. Then: a triumphant return to beer (both in terms of reviews and, like, actually drinking beer).

Tilquin Triple Feature

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In the before time, the long long ago, I had some trouble getting into sour beer. Like the Monolith teaching the apes how to use tools to kill one another in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Oude Gueuze Tilquin that made a believer out of me, and to this day, their Gueuze remains a staple of my lambic diet. A relatively new enterprise (at least, relative to other lambic producers/blenders), Tilquin has slowly but steadily increased their output, including various fruited offerings. These have mostly been great, but the Gueuze remains my favorite offering. Will these three new fruited variants change my mind? Spoiler alert: not really. Sorry. Still, it's always intriguing to try a new offering from Tilquin:

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin à l'acienne - "produced by the fermentation of frozen organic redcurrants in one year old lambic and then blended with 1, 2 and 3 years old lambic to reach a final concentration of 260 grams of fruit per liter of lambic." Pours a hazy orange color with a solid finger of tight bubbled white head. Smells nice, tart fruit with some underlying funky earthiness and a touch of minerality. Taste hits those funky earth notes pretty hard, a little Boon-esque minerality, and plenty of tart fruit. I mean, I don't think I've ever had red currants before, but I'm guessing the tartness is partially from them. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderately carbed, and lightly acidic, pretty easy-going. Overall, it's a solid variant, not quite the revelation that other fruited variants were. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/19. Vintage: 2017-2018. Best before: 21/02/2028.

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin à l'ancienne - Pretty much the same process for this, except they used wild blueberries. For reasons beyond remembrance, I did not take tasting notes on this one, but I do know that it was my favorite of the three covered in this post. Blueberries are a difficult fruit to use with beer, but these Tilquin blokes did a mighty fine job balancing the lambic with fruit character. Sometimes blueberries get an almost smoky character to them when added to beer, but if it was here, it was well balanced and added complexity without overwhelming (which can sometimes happen with the smoky notes in other offerings). I wonder if this offering being fresher than the Groseille is what made me like this better? Fruited lambic can age well, but it's often very different fresh. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/28/19. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 21/03/2029.

Oude Cassis Tilquin

Oude Cassis Tilquin à l'ancienne - Like the first two, this is the same process, except they used blackcurrants. Pours a reddish hued brown color with half a finger of off white head. Smells nice, bright fruit, citrus, and a light funk. Taste is sweet and tart, lots of fruit, a bit of sourness, with the funk emerging more in the finish. Mouthfeel is lightly carbed, but still appropriate, lowish acidity. This feels balanced but a little more straightforward than the other fruited variants. Not bad, per say, just less distinctive. On the other hand, definitely my least favorite of the three in this post (and the only one that came in a 750 ml bottle, hrm). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/20. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 15/03/2029.

For my money, the best fruited Tilquin is still the Pinot Noir, but hey, I'm up for anything Tilquin puts out these days, so you never know. I haven't managed to snag a peach or apricot variant, but you know that's coming, and they tend to fare better than some of these fruits they've been using...

Anchorage Endless Ending

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One of these days, I'll write a post covering the trials and tribulations of A Deal with the Devil, the ultra-hyped barleywine made by Anchorage. I've managed to finagle my way into a few tastes of that stuff and I'll be damned (pun intended!) if it doesn't live up to the hype. Well, mostly. Not, like, $1000 a bottle supernatural hype, but, like, normal earthly hype. To get a bottle for my lonesome, I'll likely need to make my way to the crossroads and make my own deal with the devil. Fortunately, I have connections: demons, imps, ghouls, politicians, goblins, bureaucrats, zombies, Chinese hopping vampires, and of course, other beer nerds. It will happen someday (assuming we're not still in the middle of a pandemic and in quarantine mode), but in the meantime, this newish offering is readily available and tangentially related (for, uh, certain definitions of "readily available" that include lots of cash).

Endless Ending is a blend of A Deal With the Devil (the aforementioned barrel-aged barleywine) and Darkest Hour (a barrel aged imperial stout) that has been aged for 18 months in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon barrels, then again in Missouri Oak foudres for an additional 3 Months. Unlike the last blend of beers I covered, this one seems more harmonious. Slap one of those fabulous WolfSkullJack labels on there and dip the cap in copious amounts of white wax, and you've got a very attractive package. Speaking of the art, I found this interview with the artist, and she talks about her general style and this label in particular:

Endless Ending is at the moment the only custom piece that Anchorage has purchased! They specifically wanted Dall sheep to proudly represent Alaska, and it was Gabe Fletcher's idea to have the human skeletons inside the sheep to reflect previous can art, like "Within Us" and "Origin". ... The human skeletons inside of animals theme is a reoccurring image of mine because I like to explore the hostile relationship between man and the natural world within my artwork.

Neat, and the end result looks great. Of course, it's what's inside the bouttle that counts, so let's get to it...

Anchorage Endless Ending

Anchorage Endless Ending - Pours a very dark brown almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells amazing, roast, caramel, toffee, candied raisins, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrels. Taste is extremely sweet, rich and stoutlike upfront, with the barleywine character taking over in the middle and evolving through the finish. Hints of roast and caramel up front turning to toffee and dark fruit notes, caramelized raisins with a solid backdrop of bourbon, oak, and vanilla throughout. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, perfect moderate carbonation, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, a complex treat. Maybe not quite full-bore ADWTD level (this is sweeter and somehow less balanced), but still amazing in its own right. A- or A

Beer Nerd Details: 15.5% ABV bottled (375 ml, waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 10/18/19.

More to come on that Deal With the Devil, but this will certainly tide me over in the meantime.

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

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The process of blending to create a new or maybe more consistent end product is something you see quite often in the laboratories of mad scientists and other practitioners of super-science. Picture lots of bunson burners, beakers, test tubes, and those weird spirally things where strange liquids are being shunted around. I'm pretty sure that's how they do it with whiskey and to some extent in wine as well. In particular, alcohol that's aged a while tends to go through a number of unpredictable and uncontrollable maturation processes, resulting in "good" and "bad" barrels. Due to the inherent cost in production and aging (especially for whiskey, which is aged for very long periods of time), you don't necessarily want to just chuck the entire barrel. Blending allows you to mask some of those "bad" barrels with the good ones or at least drown imperfections (in the whiskey world, blending often has a bad connotation due to using neutral grain spirits that haven't been aged at all). It also allows you to keep out-of-work supervillains employed, thus preventing their bored meddling with super-science. Ultimately, though, this can result in something bland, yet very consistent. That being said, the proliferation of "single barrels" and "single malt" Scotch does indicate that there's a desire for more expressive offerings. The grand majority of beer doesn't really come close to "blending" (our mad scientists tend to experiment much more with weird ingredients), but there's a growing coterie of brewers and drinkers that are very much into barrel aging and thus, blending. So let's break out some beakers and test tubes, it's time to blend.

Now that I've downplayed it, I'm realizing that blends do actually take many forms when it comes to beer. You've got your Gueuzes, which are blends of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic. Indeed, as I understand it, many barrel aged beers will have a small proportion of "fresh" beer blended in to liven up the finished product. Then there are the situations where brewers will take a bunch of different releases, and blend them together in a hopefully harmonious way. Think about The Bruery's Melange series or Firestone Walker's Anniversary Beers. Then you've got breweries that manage some sort of Solera-like process, like The Bruery's Anniversary beers. A lot of sour beers utilize blends to even out what is an even more unpredictable process than usual (the added variable of wild yeasts and bacteria make for an interesting ride). One of the most fascinating beers I've drank was Allagash's PNC Broken Elevator, a blend of many barrels. The beer was good, but the interesting thing was that they actually released notes for each barrel included in the final blend, including barrels that were not used (mostly because they had too much "solvent" character).

Then you have situations in which the same beer is given different barrel treatments, then blended together afterwords. You'll often see beers getting a double barrel treatment (sometimes both of the barrels used would be the same type, but sometimes you get a mixture like Bourbon/Apple Brandy, or Bourbon/Rum, and so on). In today's review, we're covering a beer that is a blend of 9 different barrels, from 5 different types of spirits:

  • 22% double barrel aged for 20 months, first in 8yr (for 9 months), then in 11yr bourbon barrels for 11 months
  • 22% aged 16 mo in 12yr apple brandy barrels
  • 11% aged 23 mo in 12yr brandy barrels
  • 11% aged 23 mo in 10yr rye whiskey barrels
  • 11% aged 21 mo in 14yr bourbon barrels
  • 11% aged 19 mo in 10yr bourbon barrels
  • 11% aged 15 mo in 12yr Jamaican rum barrels

The average age of the beer is 19 months, which is a pretty impressive number for beer. The barrel selections all seem pretty interesting (44% are bourbon barrels, 22% apple brandy, with the brandy, rye, and rum barrels all hitting 11%). Alas, this seems to be an object lesson in how blending can mute some of the most expressive aspects of each barrel. That doesn't make it a bad beer, but it's telling that while I've had about 6 or 7 different variants of Medianoche, my absolute favorite was a single barrel bourbon one that I had in Denver before GABF. This beer has some complexity, but it feels like they may have overdone it on the number of components in the blend, as no one barrel feels particularly distinct here. It's not a bland beer, that's for sure, but it doesn't stand out as much as the other variants.

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1 - Pours a deep, dark black color with just a faint collar of light brown head. Smells great, lots of boozy barrel character, caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, molasses, and a hint of roast in the background. Taste is also pretty good, lots of caramel, brown sugar, and booze (I get bourbon and brandy the most, but obviously there's more going on here). Mouthfeel is low carbed but appropriate, full bodied, rich, with a pleasant boozy hotness. Overall, the blending of different spirits barrels seems to make the components less distinct in the finished product, which is still pretty fantastic, though not the equal of some of the other Medianoche variants I've had... I want to give it an A-, but in relation to other Medianoche variants, it's probably more of a B+ or even B

Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, gold wax). Drank out of a snifter on 10/11/19. Bottling Date: 09/17/19

Plain ol' Medianoche appears to be my favorite expression, but some of the more out there variants (i.e. Malibu Medianoche or the Peanut Butter Medianoche) are pretty interesting, and everything I've had has been pretty damn good. I'm definitely in the market for more of these suckers... I didn't go to WeldWerks when I was in Denver, but their beers did represent some of the highest highlights of the week...

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

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2020 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2020 is the previous archive.

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