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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...


Allagash Curieux

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I should drink more Allagash. Along with Ommegang, they're the other major east-coast brewery that seems to specialize in Belgian style beer, so it's no suprise that I tend to enjoy their beers. They make the standard Belgian styles, but they aren't afraid to experiment either. Their 2009 Fluxus was a bit of a revelation for me. "Ale brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper." It certainly doesn't sound all that appealing, but it was a unique take on the Saison style. I would love to try it again, but alas, it was only a one-time brew (Fluxus is released once a year, but the recipe changes - 2010 was an Imperial Chocolate Stout). Sometimes their experimentation isn't quite as successful, but I'm always game for a new one. However, I've been a bit neglectful of late. Indeed, I've had this bottle sitting on my shelf for a solid six months (and according to the label, it was bottled in May 2010).

Allagash Curieux is a Belgian-style Tripel aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. It was apparently their first foray into the world of barrel-aged beer, though they've clearly expanded their scope in the past few years.

Allagash Curieux

Pours a cloudy golden color with minimal head. Smells of sugary sweet fruit, spicy Belgian yeast and maybe even a little of that Bourbon. Tastes very sweet. Candi sugar, fruits, some spiciness. Finishes dry with some sticky alcohol in the aftertaste (perhaps a hint of Bourbon in there too). Mouthfeel is quite harsh, making this more of a sipping beer. A good thing, too, considering the 11% ABV. As it warms, the beer becomes more clear and a little more smooth, though it's still full bodied and the alcohol still asserts itself. It's perhaps a bit too hot for the style, and certainly not an everyday beer, but it's another interesting offering from Allagash. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Bottled May 2010. Drank out of a Goblet on 5/14/11.

In case you can't tell from the past several reviews, I'm in the midst of a bit of a drink-down right now. I've collected quite a few bottles over the previous months, and despite my best efforts, quite a backlog has accrued. Most of them tend to be high ABV monsters, which partially explains it, but I've also been a bit overzealous in my procurement. This is, of course, a good problem to have. I'm a bit behind on reviews as well, and may end up grouping a few together here and there. In any case, whenever I manage to dig out of this wonderful hole of great beer, I plan to try out a few more of Allagash's limited releases. I've had their standard stuff, and several of the limited releases, but I'd really like to explore more. However, looking at the beer on my shelf (not to mention the homebrew that's building up), that may be a while.

Allagash Black

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Regular readers (all 2 of you), may recognize this as the beer I mentioned a few weeks ago for my entry to the "Regular Beers" Session. Of course, that entry only touched on this specific beer... as an example of a non-regular beer. For most breweries, at least. For Allagash, it's one of their "classic" beers. For them, this is a regular beer. But they're one of the few American breweries that specializes in Belgian styles, and we all know that the Belgians don't make regular beer. Except for Stella Artois. That stuff sucks.

Allagash Black

Allagash Black - I don't know why, but when I popped the cork on this one, I took a whiff of the bottom of the cork and it smelled... light and fruity (more like a saison or tripel style). Unexpected for a beer that bills itself a "Belgian Style Stout". Of course, Beer Advocate classifies it as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, which makes a sort of sense. Belgian styles are notoriously vague anyway, so I don't see why this wouldn't qualify as that. Belgian beers don't usually emphasize roasty flavors though, so perhaps it could be classified as a stout. In reality, it's probably more of a hybrid. Sometimes I like this sort of thing, sometimes I end up craving one of the styles being mixed instead of enjoying what's in front of me.

Anyways, perhaps too vigorous of a pour lead to a massive head. The beer underneath appears to be a very dark amber/brown color. The nose is all Belgian yeast, spicy and fruity. Perhaps just a hint of roastiness. Taste is rich, chocolately and roasty. A little dry bitterness lingers. Carbonation is just a hint low (and possibly the result of the aforementioned pour), but it works very well. Its smooth and quite drinkable. At 7.5% ABV, it's no monster, but it's big enough that I was expecting some booziness... yet none is apparent. Quite an easy drink. It's an interesting combination of flavors, though I'm not entirely sure it ranks among the best Stouts or the best Belgian Strong Darks... and quite frankly, I would probably rather have had one or the other, rather than this combination of both. It's kinda doing its own thing though and it is well made, but it didn't really strike a chord with me the way some other mixtures have. I'll give it a B, though I suspect a bigger fan of stouts would like this a lot more.

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet. Drank on 3/4/11 (Yes, I'm behind on my reviews. Again.)

Allagash has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. As makers of Belgian style beers, they will always interest me, but I can't say that they brew one of my favorite beers or anything. Yet. But I've mostly only had their "Classic" series, which are the more normal styles. The most interesting beer of theirs I've had was the 2009 Fluxus, which I remember as being fantastic. I was a bit worried when I read that it was "Ale Brewed with Sweet Potatoes & Black Pepper", but it turned out to be fantastic. Unfortunately, it was a one time batch and I can no longer find it. In any case, I'm very much looking forward to the bottle of Curieux (a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Tripel) I've recently procured.

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

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Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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