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Philly Beer Week Recap

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As per usual, I did not have my act together for this year's Philly Beer Week, and thus only went to a few events. For whatever reason, this week always seems to sneak up on me and I'm always caught unprepared. I'm the worst. That being said, I did manage to snag a few pretty interesting beers, so here's a quick recap. First stop was the venerable Philly institution Monk's Cafe:

Monks Cafe

The event was all about collaborations, most of which involved Monk's very own Tom Peters... First up was the next entry in the whole PNC collaboration series (last year's collaboration yielded Firestone Walker PNC, a most spectacular beer). This release comes to us from Maine's Allagash brewing, and this beer actually began its journey over four years ago ("Brewed in April 2010 & racked into oak barrels on May 25, 2010"). In a nice touch, the little beer menu actually included details of each barrel (including a couple that were marked as "DO NOT USE", heh). Click for a larger version:

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator Barrel Details

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator - Dark pour, fluffy tan head... darker than I was expecting, but when you look at the barrel details, that makes sense. Smells oaky, almost chocolaty and very sour, I can almost feel the sourness in my jaw (and I haven't even tasted it yet). Taste is bracingly sour, tart puckering fruit with some dark, chocolaty notes, almost a chocolate covered cherry feel. Mouthfeel is surprisingly full, not like a chewy stout but very big for a sour, which is an interesting feel. Extremely acidic, biting, but still nice... Overall, this is a really interesting, complex, unique, and very sour beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

So after that, I sampled a few other brews, including another small glass of Firestone's PNC stout (still exceptional, no change from my initial review):

Dock Street Trappiste Style Pale Ale - Inspired by Orval, this is obviously not a clone or anything, but it's nice. It's got a very dry feel, lots of peppery yeast notes, and some earthy funk in the finish. It's a fine beer, but not quite lighting the world on fire. I heard that this beer was actually made for last year's PBW, so perhaps it was better fresh? Not that it's terrible now or anything... B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Dilewyns Philly Tripel - This is the official Philly Beer Week Collaboration orchestrated by Tom Peters, where one local brewer travels to Belgium to collaborate with a brewery there. This year it was Justin Low from Dock Street who went and collaborated with Anne Catherine Dilewyns from the relatively young Dilewyns brewery (they make Vicaris labeled beers) in Belgium. The result is a relatively straightforward tripel, with some small twists. Pale colored, sticky sweet, lots of honey flavor and fruity esters, less in the way of Belgian yeast spice. This is perhaps not my preferred take on the style, but it's nice. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

De Molen Rook and Leer

De Molen Rook & Leer - The weirdest, most unique beer of the night, I've never had anything like this before. So get this, we've got an Imperial Smoked Porter base that was aged in whiskey barrels with brettanomyces and Rodenbach yeast. Oh, and it clocks in at 11.5% ABV. Um, yeah, ok. The more amazing thing: It actually works. Neither the smoke nor the sourness dominates, leading to an extremely complex beer. Usually high ABV sours don't work so well for me, but this one is just very well balanced. It's certainly odd, and I think the fact that this was originally brewed in 2011 has helped the flavors mesh together (and perhaps even mellow out some). It's a weird beer to rate, but I'll give it a A-, but maybe I was a bit far gone at this point.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

By this time, I was doing pretty well, so I slowed down a bit, got a table with some friends and ate some dinner. I did have a glass of Pliny the Elder, which was great as always, though I'm starting to see where the contrarians are coming. Naturally, I had some mussels, and as usual, they were fantastic. We also got a plate of Frog's Legs, which were basically a lot like chicken wings (I've had Frog's Legs before, but never like this).

At this point, we took our leave of Monk's and headed over to the Good Dog Bar & Restaurant, which is a great little place about a block over from Monk's. Well worth a visit if you're ever in Philly, and they also have great food (I'm pretty sure they've been featured on one of them Food Network shows at some point). They were having a Firestone Walker event and included this rarity, which I assumed would never make its way out East:

Firestone Walker Helldorado

Firestone Walker Helldorado - So you know how Firestone does that Anniversary blend where they invite a bunch of local winemakers to their brewery and set them loose on a bunch of barrel aged beers? Many of the component brews are available in bottled form, but most seem to be relative rarities, and Helldorado is one of those. I was shocked to see it at this event and immediately got myself a glass of the stuff. Alas, this is perhaps not my favorite style. It's described as Blonde Barleywine brewed with Honey, and boy can you really tell. It's extremely sticky sweet, with that honey coming through strong. It's supposed to be brewed with El Dorado hops, but I get almost no hop character out of this, so I'm guessing it was a light touch (or just used to balance out that intense sweetness). It's definitely a big, boozy bomb of a beer, and it's got a full body. However, something about the way light colored beers react in bourbon barrels is just not as exciting to me as when you get a darker base beer (the picture above makes Helldorado look darker than it was, though it wasn't super pale either). I mean, it's good, I'm really happy I got to try it, and everyone else who had it seemed to love it, so maybe this is just me, but I'll leave it at a B+ and go from there.

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Firestone Walker Lil' Opal - Now this, on the other hand, was way better than I was expecting. It's a toned down ("lil'") saison that's been aged in barrels with Brett and blended with various vintages, and it's fantastic. Granted, this is right up my alley, but I really loved this beer, a great funky saison, fruity, earthy, spicy, almost quaffable (even at this point in the night). It was a refreshing beer to have right after Helldorado, and it totally stood up to those intense flavors as well. Obviously, I was a little far gone at this point, so I'll conservatively rate it an A-, but I need to find me some more of this someday.

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Firestone Walker Agrestic Ale - Firestone has always been known for barrel fermenting and barrel aging, but they always stuck to non-wild styles, and they apparently greatly feared infections and the like. But when they opened up a completely separate facility, that allowed them to play with all sorts of sour bugs, and we're starting to get the fruits of that labor now (Lil' Opal also came out of that program). This was a really nice, light bodied sour, it reminded me a little of brighter Crooked Stave Origins. Again, I was a little far gone at this point in the night, but I really enjoyed this. I'll give it a B+, but I'd really like to try it again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Phew, it's a very good thing I was taking the train home, and while the above does seem like a lot of beer, it was spread out over quite a long time. Again, I need to better prepare for Philly Beer Week next year, so we'll see what happens. That's all for now. Stay tuned for Beer Club tomorrow! (No post on Thursday though, as I didn't really drink much else this past weekend, for obvious reasons!)

April Beer Clubbing

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we went to a local Pizza place, got our fill of deep fried pizza pockets and other such delights, and naturally partook in lots of beer:

April Beer Club Selections
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, completely unreliable notes on each beer are below. Standard disclaimers apply, and other such waffling. Great, now I have a sudden craving for waffles. Thanks a lot. Anywho, in order of drinking (not necessarily the order pictured above):

  • Green Flash Le Freak - Labeled a Belgian IPA, I didn't get much in the way of hops out of this, but it remained a pretty solid Belgian Strong Pale nonetheless. Nice spicy Belgian yeast character. B
  • Ovila Abbey Saison - Bog standard saison material, nothing special at all, though certainly not bad or anything like that. Still, there wasn't much to make it really stand out in a setting like this. Mild Belgian yeast character, maybe a hint of lemon peel if you are really looking for it. B-
  • Stone Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA - Rock solid IPA that feels like it's actually made with grapefruit (as opposed to only hops that lend a grapefruity character). I don't actually know if that's the case for sure, but that's what it feels like. Beautiful nose, what seems like Stone's trademark hop profile, and a heaping helping of citrusy but astringent grapefruit. An interesting beer. B
  • Evil Twin / Crooked Stave Ryan And The Gosling - One of my contributions for the night, this is dominated by funky Brett. This is quite welcome in the nose, and the front end of the taste is fantastic, but the finish is very odd. That funk turns super earthy, almost savory in the finish, which brings this down a bit. Still an interesting beer to try though. B
  • Allagash Midnight Brett - Hey, look at that, a beer I just reviewed yesterday. And it held up rather well in this setting as well.
  • Ken's Homebrewed Honey IPA - Brewed with a bunch of New Zealand hops, this was quite nice.
  • Sly Fox Nihilist - An interesting take on the imperial stout style, huge carbonation, dryer than I'd normally expect, but a nice roast character, with hints of booze (but not overpowering). It's definitely a decent brew. B+
  • Kaedrin Bomb & Grapnel - Straight up imperial stout, this one compared very favorably to the Nihilist, definitely thicker and more creamy, less roast, but really quite nice. B+
  • Kaedrin Bomb & Grapnel (Bourbon Oaked) - Interestingly, I feel like the char that came through on early bottles has mellowed out, and the bourbon seems to be lessening the roast as well, making this an interesting blend of flavors. It's turned out quite well, though not at all like your typical bourbon barrel aged stout. Still, not bad for a first attempt, and quite nice on its own. B+
  • DuClaw Dirty Little Freak - Holy hell. Huge chocolate nose, like powdered cocoa. Less chocolate in the taste, as it takes a back seat to a big coconut character. Surprisingly not super sweet, and it works well enough I guess (certainly a unique beer), though I was a little disappointed. B-
  • DuClaw Cocoa Fuego - Brewed with dark chocolate and chipotle peppers, its the latter that seems to dominate this beer, even contributing a sorta smokey flavor that's pretty tough to overcome. There's some peppery heat that takes up residence in your jaw, but it's not punishing or anything like that. Not the worst hot pepper beer I've had, but not a beer that I connected with either. C+
  • DuClaw Hell on Wood - Ah, now this is more like it. This is DuClaw's excellent Devil's Milk barleywine aged on bourbon barrels, and it turned out reasonably well. Clearly not a top tier BBA barleywine, but it works really well on its own. B+
So all in all, quite a nice night. As per usual, already looking forward to next month... In the meantime, stay tuned for another .rar wale review tomorrow.

Allagash Double Feature

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This past Saturday, one of my favorite local beer bars celebrated its fourth anniversary. It's a tiny little place, but they had a rather spectacular tap list for the occasion, so I made my way over there, arriving just a little after opening. It was a total madhouse and took me a while to get anywhere close to the bar, so during this time, I reprioritized the order of desired beers, placing ones I've never had at the top of the list. Insanely crowded bars are not really my thing, and a friend I was going to meet was running way late, so we just called it quits and met up later in the day somewhere else.

That being said, I managed to snag a rare Allagash sour while I was there, and was really happy that I got to try this (there was a brewery-only bottle release not too long ago, but thankfully a keg made its way down here...) Avance is a strong sour aged on Strawberries in bourbon barrels for a whopping three years. Strawberry is not a particularly common fruit used with beer, so I was pretty stoked to try this out. Realizing that I've not been particularly attentive to Allagash's sour and wild beer program, I also cracked open some Midnight Brett that I had laying around; it's a dark wheat beer fermented with Brett. All in all, this was quite a nice Saturday!

Allagash Avance

Allagash Avancé - Apologies for the craptacular picture, but I was lucky enough to be able to extend my hand that far in this place, which was pretty obscenely crowded. Nice bright orange brown color, with a finger of bubbly head and great retention. Smells of oak and fruit berries, with the strawberry actually coming through rather well. Big sour twang in the nose too. Taste hits with a massive wave of sourness up front, tempered by oak and jammy fruit in the middle, the strawberry character less here than the nose, but still present, then returning to an intense sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed and very acidic. This is very intense, and reminds me of high ABV sours like Consecration or Riserva (and yep, now that I know this is 10.8% ABV, that makese a lot of sense. I thought the board said 8% when I ordered it, but it turns out that I neglected to notice the "10." ahead of it!) Really nice stuff, intense, oaky, delicious... perhaps just a hint too intense, but it's still great. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 4/19/14.

Allagash Midnight Brett

Allagash Midnight Brett - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and a couple fingers of tan head with great lacing and retention. Smells of musty, funky brett yeast along with a fruity, vinous aroma that suits it well. Taste has a very Belgian dark feel to it, dark malts but not a lot of roast, maybe some chocolate though, definitely spicy, fruity Belgian yeast that is offset by some earthy, musty, fruity funk. An almost chocolate covered cherry character that really suits this well. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, smooth, and almost creamy. A little bit of tartness and acidity, but very low on that scale. It's a very nice tweak on the Belgian dark style, and a very worthy beer. B+ but very close to an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/19/14. Date Bottled: Oct. 16, 2013.

So there you have it. I've never been supremely impressed with Allagash's wild beers before, but I also haven't had many of them. Both of these are significant improvements over something like Confluence, though of course, you'll have to pay for the privilege (Allagash is great, but their prices are on the high side).

January Beer Club

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I've more or less run out of beer puns for beer clubs, so you'll just have to deal with it. I know, you all love puns, so you're all broken up about it, but you'll just have to deal. Beer club is a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. As per usual, this gathering is anchored by a core group of stalwarts, along with assorted return guest stars. So it was a solid turnout, lots of beer, good BBQ and just an all around good time.

January Beer Club 2013
(Click for bigger image)

In accordance with tradition, my thoughts on each beer we sampled are recorded below for posterity. Standard disclaimers regarding non-ideal tasting isolation conditions apply, so all you pedants better stay frosty, as nearly all of this will be untrustworthy/awesome. Roughly in order of tasting (not necessarily the order in the above picture):

  • Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer - Things started off on a bizarre note. It's basically alcoholic ginger ale, which is fine for what it is, I guess, and definitely attracts the non-beer folk due to it's high sweetness and ginger spicing, but I found it kinda poopy. It's actually good that we had it in this sort of setting where I only had to try a tiny sample, but I'll give it a D, because fuck ginger beer. Seriously guiz.
  • Belhaven Scottish Ale - Belhaven is supposed to be one of the top Scottish ale styles out there, but man, we must have gotten a bad bottle. It has that gross diacetyl buttery flavor that I get out of a lot of British pale ales and have grown to hate. I'm not sure if that's just the beer, or if it's the clear bottle, or what, but it felt kinda skunky too. Not totally undrinkable, but I was again glad that I only took a very small sample of the stuff. D
  • Abita Jockamo IPA - While a big improvement over my first two tastes of the night, this strikes me as being a fairly unremarkable IPA. It reminds me of the sort of thing you'd get in a John Harvard's brewpub, circa 1998. Totally an improvement over BMC (or, since we're talking about my college years, Natty/Beast), but nothing special at all. A nice hop aroma, but a taste that fell a little flat and bland. B-
  • Old Forge Overbite IPA - Ahhh, now that's more like it. A really nice semi-local IPA, lots of that citrusy, floral hop goodness, maybe a little pine too, was a real breath of fresh air after the first three beers of the evening. It's not a world beater, to be sure, but these guys are totally making a name for themselves in the Philly area, and this makes for a pleasant enough IPA. B+
  • Birrificio Del Ducato Nuova Mattina - Guest star Steve contributed this very nice Italian beer to the proceedings, a Belgian style pale with lots of sharp carbonation, sweet and spicy (lots of spices used in making this, and they contribute, but not overwhelmingly so), bready, with a touch of light fruit. Overall, it's got a really nice rustic quality, an almost quaffable beer, really enjoyable. B+
  • Widmer Brrr - A totally solid winter warmer, pretty light on the spices actually, though it works well enough. It's not the sort of thing that stands out in a tasting like this, but it's totally serviceable and would probably get the job done if needed. B
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - A vintage bottle of my very own homebrew? It's still doing pretty well, actually, though I do believe it has peaked and is now on a bit of a downward swing. It's still retained that sorta creamy vanilla caramel base, and the spices are still there, particularly clove with a hint of cinnamon, though those are diminished from last year. It's held up about as well as I could have hoped, though it's not quite as fantastic as it once was. B+
  • Allagash Fluxus 2012 - Another of my contributions for the night, it's a totally solid Belgian pale ale, actually quite similar to that Nuova Mattina beer, though with less carbonation. Still, a very nice Belgian yeast character, spicy and biscuity. Not especially a standout, especially amongst Allagash's lineup, but a solid beer nonetheless. This could be tasting fatigue setting in, but I'll go with min instinctual rating of a B
  • Traquair House Jacobite - Ah, now this is a Scottish brewery I can get behind. Of course, this is a slightly stronger style, but I like me some Wee Heavy/Scotch Ales, and this is a pretty superb example of the style. Big rich malt character, brown sugar, some fruitiness, a light booziness, and all of this is very well balanced against each other. Truly a solid beer, and widely available too, well worth checking out for the Scotch Ale fan and a contender for best of the night. A-
  • Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale - Once again, this might be tasting fatigue setting in, but I was expecting more out of this. Don't get me wrong, it's a totally good beer. Not very red in appearance, but it certainly smells/tastes like an imperial red, big, well integrated citrus and pine hops mixed with those crystal and red malts. Very nice, would like to try again in better conditions. For now, we'll give it a provisional B+
  • DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus - Perhaps the strangest beer of the night, but it worked surprisingly well. You could say it's gimmicky, it being a "Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter", but this is quite possibly the perfect beer for a tasting like this. Exclamations of "Whoa" and "It smells like peanut butter" all around the table. It tasted like peanut butter brownies that were perhaps a bit overcookied so that you got that roastiness. Kinda like the edge/corner piece (which, you know, I love). It worked surprisingly well in this setting. I have no idea how I'd react if I were to drink an entire bottle, but I'm feeling generous enough to hand it a B+ (though it's probably more of a B)
  • Victory Oak Horizontal - Another of my contributions for the night, it's just as good as I remembered it. The bourbon, while prominent, was not overpowering at all, which endeared it to some folks who don't tend to like bourbon. Still an A- and a fitting end to the evening.
So there you have it. After a shaky start, things livened up quickly, and this sort of ratings distribution is actually quite nice. I mean, this isn't the most exclusive of beer clubs, after all, and only a few of us a really huge beer nerds, but it's a lot of fun and I always look forward to beer club. February's meeting will come soon enough!

Allagash Bourbon Barrel Black

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

Allagash Bourbon Barrel Black

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

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

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

Allagash Odyssey: A Screenplay

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1. INT. BANK OFFICE

MARK sits at a desk across from a LOAN OFFICER. The desk is covered with large stacks of paper.

LOAN OFFICER: Greetings Mark! What can I do for you?

MARK: I'd like to take out a third mortgage.

LOAN OFFICER (suspiciously): Are you going to use the money to buy beer?

There is a pause before MARK answers.

MARK: No?

LOAN OFFICER: Okay Mark, that little pause you just did there suggests to me that you actually are going to use this money to buy more beer. Also, I could hear the question mark in your voice. You actually pronounced it that way.

MARK bows his head and looks EMBARRASSED.

LOAN OFFICER (sighing): What beer?

MARK: Huh?

LOAN OFFICER: What beer were you going to buy that was so expensive that it would require you to take out a third mortgage?

MARK: Allagash Odyssey.

LOAN OFFICER: Oh, I see. It is an exceptional beer that is worth the stretch. But I'm afraid we can't give you another line of credit to make this investment in a consumable commodity. A few years ago, maybe, but not now.

MARK: That's okay, I could afford it anyway, I just thought this would be a kinda funny way to illustrate how expensive this beer is on my blog.

LOAN OFFICER (looking confused): So this whole thing is just for yucks? We filled out all this paperwork just for shits and giggles?

MARK: Pretty much. In fact, I've already bought and drank this beer. Months ago, actually. I just wanted to spice up the review with something interesting before I got to the boring tasting notes. I don't even have the second mortgage that would necessitate a third, but I thought it would be funny to imply that I spent all my money on beer.

LOAN OFFICER: I don't think this is very funny.

MARK: Unfortunately, neither do I. This entry is not nearly as funny as it was when I envisioned it in my head.

LOAN OFFICER: You were drunk when you came up with this idea weren't you.

There is another pause before MARK answers.

MARK: No?

2. INT. COMPUTER DESK - 11:15 PM

MARK: So is this your way of admitting to yourself that you spend too much money on beer?

MARK: I don't think so.

MARK: But you are talking to yourself.

MARK: Yes, but that is probably indicative of other psychological problems completely unrelated to the purchasing or consumption of beer.

MARK: Probably?

MARK (ignoring self and addressing the actual audience of the blog): Seriously, though, I'm doing fine. No loans needed. But this beer is expensive. (Is it worth writing the above in an attempt to draw out a joke that could have literally been made in 5 words? I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.) Fortunately, as the LOAN OFFICER mentioned, it's worth the stretch (though not a second mortgage - at best, this would be something you borrow money from the Mob for). This is apparently a wheat beer that also features roasted malts, not to mention the 10 months of aging in new oak barrels that a portion of the beer got. I think I can see why this stuff is expensive:

Allagash Odyssey

Allagash Odyssey - Pours a dark brown color with a beautiful amber hue and a finger or so of light tan head. Smells strongly of spicy Belgian yeast (lots of clove), and I'm getting some fruity notes out of it too. Taste starts out richly sweet, with plenty of spice and a hint of dark malt roastiness peeking through, very subtly at first, but more prominent as it warms. And I got some molasses mixed with that roastiness too, quite interesting. Not getting a ton of oak and vanilla (though it is there), but that might be for the best, and these flavors all work well together. Harmonious, if you will. Mouthfeel is full, highly carbonated and effervescent, with a very dry finish that makes this go down quite easy. As it warms, a slight booziness emerges, and you can get a warming alcohol feeling, but it's still quite pleasing. Overall, a complex, very well balanced beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 4/28/12. Bottling: December 2011. Cases Bottled: 1160.

I haven't always found that Allagash's expensive beers (of which they have many) are worth the extra money, but this one is, and their beers are usually quite interesting in any case. I don't have any of their other beers in the immediate pipeline, but I always look forward to their Fluxus beers...

Allagash Fluxus 2011

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A couple years ago, just as my beer nerdery began flourishing in a big way, I picked up a bottle of Allagash Fluxus 2009. This is a series of beers where the gloves come off, and Allagash's brewers feel free to push the limits of beer. Fluxus comes from the latin, meaning "continuous change", and so many of these beers represent odd mixtures of style or beers with uncommon ingredients. The recipe is very different from year to year. The 2009 version that I had was a saison brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper. This seemed absurd to me at the time, but it really knocked my socks off. The 2010 variety was apparently an imperial chocolate stout. I never did manage to catch up with one of these (though it was certainly available, I just found myself pursuing other beers at the time). Here in 2011, I see it the beer described as a French-Style Farmhouse Ale (and also as a Biere de Garde). I generally find this a favorable style, so I picked it up:

Allagash Fluxus 11

Allagash Fluxus 2011 - Pours a medium amber brown color (copper?) with a finger of light colored head that sticks around a while, but doesn't really leave much lacing. Aroma is strongly influenced by noble hops - earthy and floral, with just a hint of sweetness, maybe even candi sugar or caramel peeking through. It's almost like the nose of an... Oktoberfest beer*? Not what I was expecting at all. The taste has some of that same character, though perhaps the yeastiness is adding complexity too. There are some kinda toasty notes here as well, maybe even some nutty flavors, further lending credence to the Oktoberfest hypothesis. Mouthfeel is actually quite nice. Well balanced carbonation and medium body. Not a quencher at all, but easy to drink and it hides the alcohol well enough. It's a strange melding of styles here. We've got the hopping of a Euro-lager with the spicy yeast character of a French or Belgian ale. A most unusual experiment with an intricate blend of well matched flavors, probably very much in line with the goal of the Fluxus line of beers. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's really my thing. Hey, this happens from time to time. It's a very well crafted and complex beer, and I'm glad I tried it, but I find myself appreciating it more on an intellectual level than with my taste buds. Perhaps if I was more of a Euro-lager kinda guy, this would rock my world. Alas, I am not that guy. B

Now, I usually try to write my reviews based solely on my initial tasting of the beer, but with beers that come in 750 ml bottles, I tend to try accompanying the second glass of the beer with something to eat. This combination of flavors sometimes produces unexpected results** and sometimes even improves my feeling on the beer***. Usually, this is a snack of cheese and/or crackers, but this time around, I opted for an unconventional accompaniment. For whatever reason, I associate nuts in the shell with the holidays, and I recently picked up some. Given the Oktoberfesty nature of this beer, I thought the toasted, nutty character of the brew would go well with the mixed nuts, so I broke out the nutcracker, and yes, it did indeed match up****. It actually made the second glass from the 750 ml magnum a more enjoyable experience than it normally would have been. I don't think I'd increase the rating of this beer because of this, but I did want to mention it because I found the combination interesting.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip on 11/25/11.

Ironically, this is probably the best Oktoberfest beer I've had all year (not that I've had a ton, but still). It's not one of my favorite styles, but this one worked well enough, and I loved the unconventional holiday feeling I got from drinking the second glass.

* According to Allagash's website, the beer is hopped solely with "Alsatian Brewers Gold", which is not technically a noble hop, but it apparently is a very European variety that is used in German lagers, and often appears on Oktoberfest beers. So I'm not crazy. Or rather, I'm not crazy because I detected these aromas/flavors in the beer. I may or may not otherwise be crazy.

** And sometimes it does not. Matching beer with food can be difficult due to the depth and breadth of flavors possible in beer.

*** I think a large part of how I came around on stouts is that I managed to match it well with various cheeses and meats. In particular, I find that Havarti cheese goes well with stouts, and of course, any grilled meat goes well with the roasty flavors. Beer Advocate usually has some suggestions on their sidebars for each beer, though I think it's all based on style and not the specific beer. Nevertheless, I've found it helpful.

**** And now my floor is covered in nut shrapnel.

Allagash Big Little Beer

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For Beer Advocate's Belgian Beer Fest, the Allagash folks apparently collaborated with the hallowed Alström Bros to create two beers. First was Little Big Beer, a funky 10.5% wild ale. Then, using the second runnings of the Little Big beer, they made Big Little Beer. This one turned out to be more like a straightforward Abbey single. At least, on paper, that's what it looks like. But damn, this thing turned out to be quite flavorful, almost like a Tripel without the alcohol:

Allagash Big Little Beer

Allagash Big Little Beer - Pours a very cloudy golden color with a finger of creamy white head. I actually didn't pick up a ton in the nose (I'm assuming that's more a function of the full glass and bar atmosphere than the beer), but it did have a typical Belgian yeast aroma. Musty and spicy. The taste, though, is very powerful. Full of spice and fruity citrus, almost perfectly balanced with a nice dry finish. The mouthfeel is light, refreshing, and compulsively drinkable, with that perfect dry finish. The amazing thing about this beer is that it seemingly packs the flavor of a Tripel (or at least a Belgian Strong Pale) into a very lightweight beer. At 5.5%, I would have expected this to be much less flavorful, but it's now obvious why it's called Big Little Beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 10/8/11.

I totally lucked out in finding this beer. It just happened to be on tap when I went to dinner (though, granted, I went to the Station Taproom, which always has an interesting selection). According to Greg, Allagash is considering making this a year round brew, but I'm guessing that's just wishful thinking (I would totally buy tons of this stuff if it was readily available though, so if Allagash is reading this, please go for it). Greg's also got some additional details about the recipe used for Big Little Beer, in case you're interested...


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

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