Recently in Lawson's Finest Liquids Category

At this point, the annual sorty into Vermont for beer (codename: Operation Cheddar) has a consistent plan of attack: Warren Store, CBC in Waterbury, Alchemist Visitor's Center, Lost Nation for Lunch, Hill Farmstead, and Foam are always onboard, with the occasional target of opportunity presenting itself (this year: Fiddlehead came into our sights). It's a fun day trip for me (embedded as it is in a vacation rooted in upstate NY, which is like, totally closer to VT than PA), but since I do it every year, I'll try not to bore you with repetition. Again. Anywho, enjoy some pics from the trip, a recap of the haul, and a few quickie reviews (that are light on tasting notes and heavy on ruminations, so less skippable than usual).

Alchemist Artwork
Some artwork from the Alchemist Building, it's purty.

Lunch at Lost Nation
Lunch at Lost Nation, a smoked chicken sandwich thing that was great. If you're ever ripping through Vermont, it's worth stopping here for lunch, the food is excellent.

Fiddlehead Logo
A Fiddlehead sign

Hill Farmstead Poetica 2

Hill Farmstead Poetica 2 - Operation Cheddar involves a lot of driving, so I'm generally reticent to partake in actually drinking beer at all. The only exception is usually a 5 ounce pour of something at Lost Nation. But since it looked like I was going to be at Hill Farmstead for a while and they actually had this interesting sounding thing on tap, I figured I'd give it a swing. You see, Hill Farmstead was hosting their annual Festival of Farmhouse Ales in the coming weekend, so they were packed with newly arrived beer dorks. Alas, since they planned on releasing a bunch of limited stuff during the festival, I had to settle for their "normal" shelfies (which are still phenomenal, to be sure). This was a special DONG release though, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Poetica 2 is basically Hill Farmstead's Mary, a pilsner, but instead of simply lagering in stainless, they lagered in a single French oak puncheon in their cooler for three months. After that, they moved it to a stainless tank and krausened it with a new batch for carbonation (this is apparently a step they always do when lagering). Anywho, the result is a very good pilsner, much like Mary. Grassy, earthy hops, minerality, quaffable stuff. I was not detecting much in the way of oak and I didn't take detailed notes, but I do want to say that it had more complexity than I'm used to from a pilsner. This, of course, means that the beer was a placebo and Hill Farmstead is now experimenting with mind control and we should indeed be quite worried because they're good at everything so why not world domination? Ok, that got away from me there for a second, so I'll just say that the beer is very nice and fans of Pilsners should look for future iterations on this mind control potion oaked lager. Let's just say B+ and get on with it.

Beer Nerd Details: ~5.6% ABV on draft (10 ounce pour). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/2/18. Batch 2.

And so we come to the haul pics. For the record, some duplicate cans/bottles not pictured, nor did I hoard all these cans for myself. Indeed, I would say the majority of my purchases were passed along to (or shared with) friends. I'm not exactly a full time mule, but I enjoy spreading the wealth. So here goes:

Nice Cans

Can Haul - Part 1: Hill Farmstead Citra IPA (seems to have been rebranded as an IPA, and I'll say that these cans were straight fire, very nice), Hill Farmstead Works of Love: Earl Grey Tea & Lactose, Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #4, Hill Farmstead Walden, Fiddlehead Mastermind.

Moar Cans. Mark likes cans.

Can Haul - Part 2: Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine, Alchemist Holy Cow IPA, Simple Roots New North End, Foam Built to Spill (many thanks to Kaedrin friend Eric for gifting this can and a few others to me when I met with him at Foam), 14th Star Make the Cut (not pictured, see below), Upper Pass First Drop, Alchemist Focal Banger, Alchemist Lightweight, Suarez Family Brewing Palatine Pils (not technically an Operation Cheddar acquisition, full explanation to come in a separate post), Alchemist Heady Topper, and Alchemist Hellbrook.

Funny observation: While Hill Farmstead was packed with long lines due to FoFA, Alchemist had a practically nonexistent line. Each year, the Alchemist gets less crowded. Plenty of people milling about, but I basically just walked up to the counter and got my beer. Go figure.

Haul of growlers

Growler Haul: Foam Galaxie 500, Hill Farmstead Abner (we will be talking more about Abner sometime in a separate post), Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9, Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #4.

Haul of Hill Farmstead bottles that I want to lick

HF Bottle Haul: Hill Farmstead Arthur, Anna, Grassroots Brother Soigne, Florence, Dorothy, and Clara.

Miscellaneous Haul

Miscellaneous Haul: von Trapp Golden Helles Lager, von Trapp Dunkel, Jack's Abby Cordon Rouge Barrel-Aged Framinghammer, Good Measure Tawny (#BiL), Lost Nation The Wind Bretta (not to be confused with the "plain" Wind), Stone Corral Bad Rooster IPA, Rock Art Citra DIPA, Burlington Peak Nostalgia, and Lawson's Finest Liquids Super Session #7.

Moar Miscellaneous Haul

Moar Miscellaneous Haul: 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston 1.5 L Magnum, Suarez Family Brewing Postscript, Proclivity, and Call to Mind (again, not technically Operation Chowder, but we'll cover that in a separate post), and Crooked Stave Blueberry Origins.

The non-beer haul

Non-Beer Haul: Alchemist Red Heady hot sauce and Cheddy Topper cheddar cheese.

Phew, that's quite a bit of beer. Now let's take a closer look at a few of these that I drank:

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude 9

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9 - Pours a cloudy, golden yellow with a solid finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells nice, sweet, lots of tropical fruit hops, mango, pineapple, and so on. Taste is also quite nice, sweet, citrusy, pine, balance in the finish. Mouthfeel is perfect, tight, soft carbonation, medium bodied, drinks like a dream. Overall, oh jeeze, another excellent HF IPA, stop the presses. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/4/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Foam Galaxie 500

Foam Galaxie 500 - Pours a very cloudy, milky looking straw yellow color with half a finger of white head that doesn't stick around too long. Smells of bright citrus, tropical fruit, stone fruit, and the like. Taste is very sweet, lots of those bright citrus hops, with a sharp edge to it, finishing sweet and juicy. Mouthfeel is a tad low on the carbonation, medium bodied, with a sharp alcohol note. Overall, this is a really nice Galaxy DIPA, a bit on the strong side, but no less delicious for it. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/4/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Alchemist Holy Cow - Apparently one of their staples during the halcyon days of the old Alchemist brewpub, it was a local favorite long before Heady became the hotness. Pours, well, I don't know, because I drank it from a can. I'm guessing pale. Smells citrusy, bright graprefruit. Taste is light and citrusy, finishing with a nice balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is crisp, clean, and dry, good carbonation, light, quaffable stuff. Overall, it's not going to blow people away, but I could drill a four pack of these with ease. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.16% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can (like a man) on 8/5/18.

Alchemist Hellbrook

Alchemist Hellbrook - A pretty straightforward Amber ale, a style I can appreciate when done well (and when hopped to high heaven), this doesn't quite live up to the reputation of the Alchemist's best work. Indeed, I think the pattern is that after Heady and Focal, there's a distinct stairstep in quality to their other offerings. I don't know that I've had anything outright bad, to be sure, but all of these others are somewhat standard takes, if well executed. None are quite the style-defining heights of Heady or Focal... This one pours a dark amber, almost brown color with a couple fingers of off-white head. Smells of citrus and dank, resinous pine, with crystal malt lurking in the background, light caramel tonez. Taste hits that crystal malt character, with plenty of piney, resinous hops in the middle, finishing with a balancing bitterness and dank hop profile. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and pretty well balanced. Overall, another solid brew here. Not going to make headlines, but it's better than your typical amber ale, if not quite at the top of the style. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/5/18.

Alchemist Lightweight - Look, I'm not sure what I was expecting from this American Blonde Ale, but what I got was an almost Kolsh-like easy drinker, earthy, grassy, and herbal. Nice lawnmower beer, but again, not going to set the world on fire like you might expect from the Alchemist. I feel like I'm bagging on Alchemist here, but in reality, these are all solid little beers. Sometimes they're disappointing due to the high bar set by Heady and Focal, but I will say that I'm still going to continually seek out additional varieties of Alchemist stuff. None of it is bad, and it sometimes approaches the sublime, so why not? B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/5/18.

Frost Beer Works Lush - I had the Plush DIPA a while back, which is a variant of this beer, and heck, they're both really good DIPAs. Typical Northeast IPA type stuff, not going to replace the top tier, but certainly worth a flier if you're making your way through VT's hop laden waters. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/6/18.

Lawson's Finest Liquids Super Session #7 - If you've had any of the Super Session beers, you know what you're in for here (I haven't had them in close enough proximity to notice a major difference, but who knows...) Typical session IPA territory, but it doesn't quite feel like a "diet" IPA like some of them do, it's a really nice, quaffable, citrus IPA that is light and crisp. It may not stand out against a sea of DIPAs, but it's a nice summer beer. B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/10/18.

Foam City Lights: Pineapple & Tangerine - A pretty straightforward kettle soured fruit beer, it reminds me a bit of Burley Oak's JREAM beers, though I think those are better. For whatever reason, this one didn't quite connect with me. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/11/18.

Simple Roots New North End IPA - Pretty straightforward NEIPA stuff, not top tier, but better than the last Simple Roots stuff I had on a previous Operation Cheddar mission. One thing about these non-hyped cans that always gives me pause is that they tend to be a bit less fresh, which will have an impact. This is not entirely their fault either, as I bought this on 8/2 (when it was already a couple weeks old), but didn't drink it until 8/17. Not a ton of time, to be sure, but this wasn't the can I was rushing to try either, and you can see that the highest rated stuff in this post tends to be the freshest as well. Freshness isn't the only lever here, but that's probably a part of it. Regardless, this is a fine beer, worth a flier if you're in VT. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/17/18.

Burlington Peak Nostalgia - This is a Strawberry Milkshake IPA with Vanilla & Milk Sugar, a style that is hyped to high heaven thanks in large part to Kaedrin's local Tired Hands, who make a whole series of Milkshake beers that are awesome. This Burlington take certainly emphasizes the strawberry aspects well (moreso even than the Tired Hands equivalent), but the balance isn't quite on point and it's overall a little disappointing. But my frame of reference is the Tired Hands Milkshakes. I've certainly had worse takes on the style, and while it's a wholly different beer, this beer is far better than Burlington's Strawberry Whale Cake, which I got on a previous Operation Cheddar. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/17/18.

14th Star Make the Cut Saving Grace

14th Star Make the Cut Saving Grace - Apparently there's a local homebrew competition where the winner's recipe is scaled up and brewed at 14th Star. This is a very nice Northeast IPA dry hopped with Mosaic, Citra, and Ekuanot. And it's really good, lots of juicy citrus and pine, good mouthfeel and pretty easy going. Would try again, though I suspect we've seen the last of this particular beer due to its origins. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/18/18.

Phew! That's a lot of beer, folks. Many apologies for the lack of blogging recently, I hope this makes up for it. I've still got quite the backlog of reviews, and plenty of things from this trip that I haven't dug into yet, so much moar to come. Stay tuned.

This brings this year's Operation Cheddar to a close. Next year promises to hold at least a minor shakeup in that Lawson's Finest Liquids is finally opening a brewery, taproom, and retail store in Waitsfield, VT (not far from the Warren Store, which was always my scheduled stop to find Lawson's and thus will probably fall out of the rotation next year). Most exciting!

Presumably because my limited sorties into Vermont have all occurred in summer months, most of my acquisitions have been IPAs or Saisons. Obviously the hop fetish is a year round thing (that isn't particularly limited to VT either), but it seems that the colder months of the year are accompanied with some bigger, heavier, darker beers. Aside from Hill Farmstead's Everett (of things labeled "porter", I'd probably put this at the top of the list) and their Society & Solitude #2 (another contender for best in style, this time the waning Black IPA), my exposure has been limited. Until now!

Lawson's Finest Liquids makes a big, burly imperial stout using almost two gallons of VT maple syrup per barrel. This base beer has been given a variety of barrel-aged treatments, and what we have here is the Apple Brandy variant (no provenance on this bottle, though previous releases have specified Lairds or the more local Mad River Malvados). The base is presumably named after the town of Fayston, VT, itself honoring the Fays, a family that figured prominently in the founding of VT. The label sez this beer is "Made for sub-zero nights and pairing with decadent desserts." Well, it was around 19°F when I drank this, so that will have to do (though, come to think of it, that does translate to -7°C, so take that, pedants!)

Lawsons Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout

Lawson's Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout - Pours black with a half finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, vanilla, oak, and maple syrup. Taste hits some rich caramel notes up front, leavened with roast in the middle, oak and vanilla, hints of booze (not bourbon, but not really recognizably Apple Brandy either), maple syrup and roast finish. As it warms, it gets a little sweeter and the maple comes out more. The brandy emerges more too, though I'm still not getting any specific apple notes. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low to moderate carbonation (appropriate for the style), a bit of booze. Overall, this is fantastic! A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/7/17. Bottled November 2016.

This was a Christmas present from an awesome person, so thanks Adam! Lawson's Finest Liquids continues to impress, so I will most certainly be seeking out more from them, hopefully sooner than later...

June Beer Club

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Beer club was tonight! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and fun. Astute observers will notice that we skipped the month of May, which primarily came down to laziness and the fact that a couple of key attendees were embarking on Operation Cheddar/Chowder. That said, our triumphant return was quite the success, good attendance, great beer, and some rather fine sushi.

June Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each are below. As usual, these are mostly from memory because I'm not a total dick and was socializing at the time, so take these impressions with a gigantic nugget of salt or something. Here goes, in order of drinking, not necessarily how they appear in the photo:

  • Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA - This must be the gazillionth time this has made an appearance at beer club, but it made for a nice warm up beer for the folks who arrived early. B+
  • Evil Genius Shut Up, Meg! - Evil Genius is this weird brewery that seems to always be mentioned as a PA brewery, yet they brew all their stuff in Connecticut. Also, almost all of their beers have pup culture reference names, such as this obvious reference to Family Guy. It's a pretty straightforward Belgian farmhouse ale or saison with a hint of hoppy goodness added in for character. Nothing particularly special and suffers in comparison to much better executed examples of the style (which we'll get to in a moment). B
  • Troegs / Appalachian / Pizza Boy (717) Collaboration - Slightly more interesting than Shut Up, Meg!, this one had a similar feel, but it was a little more tart and hoppy focused. Still not going to light the world on fire, but it was decent enough. B
  • Jester King Das Wunderkind! Saison - Ah, now this is more like it. A beer that shares certain characteristics with the above two beers, but is wholly better. It's a funky saison with a light tartness and a nice dry hopped citrus nose. Really pleasant and refreshing, a great summer beer. I really should try to track down more Jester King! B+
  • Hill Farmstead Dorothy - I'm not sure what precipitated this run on hoppy farmhouse ales, but this is certainly the high point in the style (at least, with tonight's entries) and represents a wonderful balance between spicy saison and citrusy hops. Really a beautiful beer that I will most certainly be revisiting in more detail soon enough! A-
  • Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip Of Sunshine - Hey, didn't I just write about this? Of course I did. A-
  • Scotchy, Scotchy, Scotch, Get In My Belly - A friend's homebrew, and it's a fantastic little Scotch ale aged on Scotch soaked oak chips. Really nice Scotch wiskey flavor, but not overpowering the malt backbone, which has a nice caramel and toffee character, accentuated by the Scotch and hint of oak. I've yet to have a homebrew that really gets at the really great barrel character, but this is still quite nice! B+
  • Rock Art Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale - An interesting contrast to the previous beer, a little darker and with more barrel character, but with substantially more carbonation that almost ruins the beer. I'm pretty sensitive to carbonation issues, and that usually means something being undercarbonated, but in the case of a Scotch ale, I usually expect something smooth and rich, and this was effervescent and not quite as rich as it could have been. Certainly not bad at all, but a bit of a disappointment. B
  • Fiddlehead Tejas Marron - Yup, another VT beer I recently reviewed, it perhaps does not fare so well in a tasting scenario as it does on its own, but it's still quite nice. B+
  • Forest & Main Paradisaeidae - Alright fine, it's another beer I recently reviewed, but it's a really good one worth sharing.B+
  • Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA - Yet another beer we'd had before at beer club, and one I do not particularly care for. My feelings have not changed at all, and if anything, I'm less forgiving of this beer than I was last time. I must not be that big of a fan of jasmine... C
  • Shiner Birthday Beer Chocolate Stout - Man, this thing has an absolutely amazing nose. Lots of chocolate brownie character, really sublime. Alas, the taste doesn't quite deliver on the promise of the nose, lots of chocolate, but really thin, almost watery, very disappointing. An imperialized version of this might work wonders, but we're left with something in the middle of the road. B
And that just about covers it. Another successful beer club, and I'm already looking forward to next month's edition...

Of the holy triumvirate of Vermont breweries, Lawson's Finest Liquids seems to be the most difficult to find. The past couple years, I've been lucky enough to snag a few bottles of Double Sunshine IPA, a truly fantastic and highly sought after Double IPA. I can't really complain about that, but I'm also a novelty whore and I really wanted to try more of their wares. During the latest Operation Cheddar, I managed to get a taste of Super Session IPA #2 (and maybe another variant in that series, though I'm not sure which one), which was welcome. At ACBF, I managed about 5 ounces of their beer, including a truly glorious taste of Triple Sunshine, and some decent Rhubarb Basil Saison too. But 1-2 ounce tasters don't really satisfy, not like the snickers of beer (which I guess in this context means a full pour, bottles, or cans. Alright fine, it was a poor analogy and I don't even particularly care for Snickers. I'm more of a Twix man. What were we talking about?)

Recently though, it looks like Lawson's has established a flagship beer, a Double IPA called Sip of Sunshine that is planned to be available year-round. Yes, they really seem to enjoy drinking sunshine at Lawson's. To make this possible, Sean Lawson travels to Connecticut once a month to brew a very large batch at Two Roads brewing, packaging them in handsome 16 ounce cans for good measure. These seem to be much more widely available than anything else I've seen, and while I only picked up two 4 packs during my recent trip, I could have probably bought a full case if I wanted to. This is excellent news, though I'm really hoping that my triumphant return to Vermont in early July means I'll be able to snag a different bottle from Lawson's. Otherwise, I might just have to settle for more Sip of Sunshine. The horror!

Lawsons Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine

Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip Of Sunshine - Pours a mostly clear golden orange color with a finger of creamy white head. Smells fantastic, sugary sweet citrus, fruit, and some resinous pine. Taste is very sweet, some crystal malt hanging around, but the dank, citrusy hops are the real star here, some pine and bitterness emerging in the finish. Feels a little more dank and resinous than Heady, but it's not a pine bomb either. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, hints of sticky resin but not at all boozy, drinking like a lighter ABV beer. Overall, it's not Double Sunshine, but it's up there and certainly contends. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/12/15. Canned: 05/06/15.

Fingers crossed that I can find some other variety of Lawson's on the forthcoming Vermont trip, but I certainly won't complain about scoring more of this stuff.

Operation Chowder

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"That's 'chowdah'! Chowdah! I'll kill you! I'll kill all of you, especially those of you in the jury!"

The encore to Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder was a trip to Boston for more beery fun, with the centerpiece being the American Craft Beer Festival, though due to my late addition to this trip, I only went to the Friday evening session (the Saturday sessions were sold out). This was no big loss to me, for reasons I'll get into later, but I'm getting ahead of myself. After Thursday morning's sorties on the Warren Store, Burlington, and Worthy Burger, we high tailed it to Boston (or, to be more accurate, Cambridge). First stop while we were there, was the most excellent bar, Lord Hobo:

Lord Hobo
(Click to embiggen)

What a fantastic place. It was a little more crowded than we were used to (it turns out that the weekday crowd in Waterbury doesn't quite compare to happy hour during the weekend in Cambridge, go figure), but what do we have here:

Fiddlehead Second Fiddle.jpg

Yes, after flinging ourselves all over Vermont for a few days, we had to go to Boston to get us some Second Fiddle cans. And it was fantastic! No formal tasting notes, but it's got a great juicy citrus thing going on, a little more dank and resinous than your Heady Topper or Hill Farmstead stuff, certainly holds its own with the greats and represents a cool alternative if you can find it (perhaps not as under-the-radar as you might think, if the folks in the bar are any indication). The other highlight of Lord Hobo was the relatively local Wormtown Be Hoppy, though I can't really remember anything about it other than it being a really fabulous IPA. We also had a duck-based charcuterie plate (I'm not normally a pate guy, but I'll be damned if the duck pate wasn't delicious) and the cheese plate, one of the better dining decisions we made (remember, we loaded up on Worthy Burgers not that long before this time, so these plates were perfect). Super duper.

Friday morning, we hop on the T and head into Boston proper for a trip to Trillium Brewing, a tiny little operation that only does growler fills and bottle releases at this point. There was a short line, so we popped in and bought us some bottles:

Trillium Haul
(Click to embiggen)

So the haul includes: Trillium, Congress Street IPA, Sunshower Super Saison, and Vicinity Double IPA. Pretty darn good.

From there, we hopped over to a restaurant called Row 34, which from all appearances is an amazing seafood place with a pretty solid beer selection. It was right during the lunch rush though, so we didn't get any food here, instead standing at some of the pillars (which had little ledges for your beer, etc...) and drinking a pre-fest beer just to get the system primed (we're still 4-5ish hours away from the start of the fest though).

Pivovar Kout 12

The standout on the menu, surprising to me, but I'm super glad I made the stretch, was Pivovar Kout Koutská 12° Dvanáctka, a glorious Czech pilsener that I grabbed because I recognized the name from Evan Rail's short little book The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest (apparently a refurbished brewery in the middle of nowhere, the recipes come from a book discovered in the old brewery, or something like that). Pilseners aren't really my jam, but this hit the spot, grainy, earthy, almost spicy hops, but still light, crisp, and refreshing on a warm day after a long walk, and I'm really glad I gave it a shot. Would be really interested in checking out some more of Kout's brews if they ever become available over here!

From there, we had a sorta lazy afternoon, grabbed a Lobster sandwich from Alive and Kicking Lobsters (it's not a Lobster roll, it's a sandwich!) hit Whole Foods for some Massachusetts beer (the source of those Night Shift Morph cans in my previous post) and generally relaxed until we hopped on the train for the ACBF.

Longtime readers (all 3 of you) might recognize that I'm not much of a beer fest kinda guy given that I've covered approximately zero of them in the five-ish years of this blog. Large crowds, drunk people, tiny samples, and did I mention the large crowds? I'm not anti-social or anything, but I hate crowds and as a massive introvert, I just get exhausted by these types of events. Also, whatever you may think about the amount of beer I drink, I don't generally enjoy getting smashed. I've been to festivals in the past, and after the first several tastes, I start to get a little woozy, but my novelty instinct is still engaged full force, so I feel like I need to keep sampling at top speed or else I'll miss out. By the end, I have no idea what I'm tasting, not just because I'm drunk, but because I've been obliterating my palate. The other thing about beer festivals, at least the local ones around here, is that they tend to be comprised mostly of local breweries... most of which I've already had a lot of before (or could easily get anytime). It's not that there's nothing special being poured, but they're few and far between, and again, after your first rush of tastes, your palate gets wonky and perceptions get weird.

That being said, the ACBF was actually great! There were lots of crowds, but the space was huge, so that wasn't too annoying. The crowds also meant lines, especially at the more prominent breweries, but that had the benefit of keeping me going at a sustainable pace rather than rushing through everything. I ended the fest with a nice buzz on, but not shitfaced at all. And because the fest was in Boston, there were a ton of Northeast Breweries that don't often make their way down here, and even the ones that do, don't often send the special stuff. I didn't really take many pictures during this leg of the trip because I'm the worst, but here are some highlights from the fest:

And there were a ton of other great beers, but those were definitely the standouts and I don't want to sit here and list out the other 20 beers I liked (or the handful that I didn't). Lawson's definitely had the longest line (it moved well enough, and we were able to get through 3 times pretty easily - I heard things were considerably more difficult on Saturday), though Fiddlehead was also doing pretty well for itself (indeed, there was even a staffer who had to provide traffic control because of the location of their booth). Definitely a worthwhile pursuit that I'd do again, but I was also perfectly fine with the one session. I got pretty much everything I could have wanted and a bunch of stuff I didn't even know I wanted (about half the highlights above were completely unexpected). I was told that the Saturday afternoon session was way more crowded and the lines were a lot longer, which I probably wouldn't have liked. We hit up brunch at a place called Cafe Luna, and got this beautiful Lobster Eggs Benedict plate:

Lobster Eggs Benedict

Delicious! And my friend got the Steak and Lobster BLT Benedict, which was the same thing, with added slice of steak, some bacon, and a big slice of tomato. He had trouble finishing. I was more than pleased with my "regular" dish. While my friends went to the early ACBF session, I met up with a local friend and we tooled around Boston for a while. We hit up the MIT museum (totally worth checking out for the Arthur Ganson Gestural Engineering exhibit alone), had a couple drinks at Meadhall, which has a huge taplist, but also seemingly less in the way of local stuff, and ate dinner at Regina Pizzaria in the North End ("The Original"). It's a tiny little place, and you actually need to wait in line to get in, but we got there early enough that the line was short, so we got in pretty quickly, and hot damn, that is some fantastic pizza. Best I've had in a while, crispy crust, chewy interior, well proportioned sauce, cheese, and toppings, and totally worth looking up if you find yourself in Boston. (As we exited, we seemed to run into a bizarre ritual of two dudebros having a pushup contest on the street... quite amusing!)

Phew! That about covers the festivities, and what a lovely week it was! That being said, I think perhaps Operation Cheddar and Operation Chowder would do better with some time between them for recovery and emptying of trunk space, rather than crammed together like this. I was pretty worn out in the end, though I regret nothing! Time will tell if we go through this again next year. Right now, it's a distinct possibility! And believe it or not, I may end up in Vermont again sooner rather than later, stay tuned! In the meantime, there will be a crapton of reviews headed your way...

Not long ago, in a watering hold not far away, a few friends mentioned that they might be taking a trip to Vermont to visit a few breweries and squirrel away some bottles for rainy day (or just regular day) fun. As a veteran of two invasion campaigns (Operation Cheddar and Operation Cheddar II: Sharp Cheddar), I was fully on board. As it turns out, there was a secondary operation to this trip which took us to Boston for the American Craft Beer Festival and other wanderings. I shall dub this portion of the trip Operation Chowder and cover it in more detail tomorrow1.

Unlike the surgical strikes of Operation Cheddars I and II (single day affairs, with only a few tactical maneuvers), part III was a more extended campaign, stretching out across three days (with some travel time embedded in the first and last day) and reaching a more varied list of targets. It turns out that Vermont Beer is more than Hill Farmstead, Lawson's Finest Liquids, and Heady Topper. Not that we didn't partake in that holy trinity as much as possible, just that we hit up other places as well:

Fiddlehead sign
(Click to embiggen)

First stop was Fiddlehead brewery, before we even arrived at our hotel. It's a pretty small little tasting room for filling growlers and selling cans, but alas, no cans of the fabled Second Fiddle were available. We partook in some small samples and snagged a 4 pack of something else (covered below). There is also an attached pizza place, which a friend in Boston mentioned was better than the grand majority of pizza available in Boston (he also mentioned that this was not a particularly high bar - moar on Boston pizza tomorrow), though we did not partake as we wanted to get to our hotel, which was the Best Western just north of Waterbury.

The Waterbury Triangle

When I mentioned my trip to Vermont on twitter, VT beer peeps came out of the woodwork to provide recommendations and planning for our attacks. The Vermont Beer Bros mentioned that we were near the fabled Waterbury triangle, a series of bars in "downtown" Waterbury arranged as the picture above shows. It was a bit of a lengthy walk, but totally doable (and honestly, I find walking a bit before and after drinking to be a good thing and enjoyed the walks, though my friends were a little less excited, especially at the big hill near the hotel). The first place we went was the place I'd heard the most about:

Prohibition Pig
(Click to embiggen)

The Prohibition Pig is a bar that has a little brewery attached in the back. They serve their own beer, but also a pretty fantastic selection of local VT beer. It turns out that there was a Waterbury-wide Hill Farmstead tap takeover the previous weekend, so while we missed out on some of the more limited brews (we shall meet someday, Flora), there were a bunch of things we hadn't had on tap. Not to mention some Lawson's (Sip of Sunshine and Super Session IPA), amongst others. I sampled some of Pro Pig's brews too, and would recommend Bantam, a DIPA that holds its own against the other stuff I was drinking (the other stuff I had was not as successful, but still nice). Also of note, Pro Pig has a rather fantastic Bourbon selection:

Pro Pigs Bourbon Selection Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15
(Click to embiggen)

BTAC, Pappy, and lots of other stuff you don't see too often (at least, around here!) I was on the fence, but when the bartender mentioned that Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 was on its last pour and didn't quite have a full 2 ounces left so he'd charge half price, I was on board. It was fantastic, rich and spicy, silky smooth and didn't drink at all like a highish proof bourbon... but I don't think it's really worth the $48 pour (and while I'm glad I tried it, $24 was still a bit much for the 1.5ish ounces I got, though obviously much more manageable). I can see why the hype is there, but that doesn't make it any less overhyped. This basically represented my only non-beer drink during the trip, and I was pretty glad I chose it.

Of the other bars in the Waterbury Triangle, the other one that really stood out was the Blackback Pub (the one in the center of the triangle). The taplist was great (if similar to Pro Pig and the Reservoir), but we made immediate friends with the bartender and scored some beer that wasn't available at Pro Pig either (more on this in a later post!) Also of note is that the Blackback has some pretty good food, and as a Philly native, I was very tickled to see their emphasis on using Amaroso rolls (Italian rolls that they somehow get delivered up to them). It's a great bar, a little smaller, but seemingly more lively, perhaps because we were chatting with the bartender for a while. The Reservoir was also pretty great, comparable beer selection, though we never ate there (but they seemed like they had a decent menu). The Blue Stone was the only one we didn't really get much out of... we were actually planning on grabbing some pizza there, but by the time we got there (around 9 or 9:30), their kitchen was closed (!?) so we didn't really stick around (and headed over to the Blackback for some snacks). Next time, Blue Stone!

Ultimately, staying in Waterbury was a fabulous idea, and as there's plenty to do and it's a pretty central location when you start to visit breweries, etc... Recommended!

Day 2 started off at a little supermarket and a rather fantastic bottle shop called Craft Beer Cellar (right across from Pro Pig), where we picked up some cans of Heady and Sip (more on that later), amongst other miscellaneous beers:

Miscellaneous Haul
(Click to embiggen)

What we have here are some Jack's Abby Framinghammer Baltic Porter, Barrel Aged Framinghammer, Vanilla Barrel Aged Framinghammer, and Saxonator. Also some Switchback Citra-Pils and Foley Brothers Fair Maiden. Super excited for pretty much all of this! Next stop, that old chestnut:

Hill Farmstead Sign
(Click to embiggen)

Hill Farmstead Haul
(Click to embiggen)

Not much to say about Hill Farmstead. The beer is excellent as ever, and seemed more plentiful than the last times I made the trip (though it appears we missed out on more limited stuff like Flora the previous week... and dammit, this week too - poor timing, I guess). As for the haul, I got some Dorothy, Arthur, and Grassroots Brother Soigné bottles, and growler fills of Susan, Harlan, and Double Citra. Quite a successful sortie. Next up, Lost Nation:

Lost Nation
(Click to embiggen)

It was starting to rain at this point and we were hungry, so we decided to get some lunch here and holy crap, that was the best decision ever. They have some fantastic food here. I had a smoked lamb flatbread thing (with some sort of garlic feta aioli) that was out of this world good. Definitely a recommended stop! I was driving, so only had a couple sips of beer, but it seemed good enough to snag some bottles/cans.

Not far away from that is Rock Art, which had a little tasting room and lots of other bottles and general stuff for sale. Once again, I was driving, so I didn't really drink much beer, but snagged a few bottles:

Lost Nation and Rock Art Haul
(Click to embiggen)

So the haul from those two breweries begat us a few bottles (cans covered somewhere below), including: Lost Nation Lamoille Bretta and The Wind and Rock Art Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout (Smugglers Notch Barrels) and Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale. Another successful sortie, and thus day 2 closed with another trip around the Waterbury triangle (already covered above).

The Warren Store. Again!
(Click to embiggen)

Day 3 began with a trip to one of my favorite little VT stores, The Warren Store. Got some nice cans and the requisite breakfast sandwich (fantastic, as always, eaten outside on the deck by the creek).

We also managed to pop over to the Burlington to hit up a couple of breweries, Zero Gravity and the Vermont Pub & Brewery. Alas, we ran out of time and had to begin the trek to Boston before I got a chance to stop at some of the other Burlington targets, particularly Four Quarters Brewing. Ah well, next time.

All in all, a pretty successful trip, and here are some more of the beer we picked up:

Nice Cans
(Click to embiggen)

What we have here is some Lawson's Sip of Sunshine, Alchemist Heady Topper, Fiddlehead Tejas Marron, and some cans of Lost Nation Lost Galaxy and Gose. On the end there, two lonely cans of Night Shift Morph that are actually from Operation Chowder, but included here as a bonus or something.

Glassware
(Click to embiggen)

The glassware haul turned out well too, with Pro Pig, Lawson's, and Blackback Pub glasses, which I guess you'd call snifters, though they're also kinda tulip-ish. Whatever they are, the VT breweries seem to love them, because everyone had one like that, and most restaurants had them in several sizes...

Syrup, Hot Sauce, and Jelly, Oh My!
(Click to embiggen)

I also bought some things that were not beer. Astounding, I know. What we have here is some VT Maple Syrup aged in Bourbon Barrels (hnng), some VT Habanero hot sauce, and some sort of weird beer jelly stuff (from Rock Art). I also snagged a couple of tshirts, not pictured here because come on, this post is long enough and we still have to cover our final Vermont stop:

Worthy Burger beer menu
(Click to embiggen)

Per a recommendation from our bartender friend Eric from the Blackback Pub, we stopped at Worthy Burger on our way to Boston for some lunch. As you can see, it's another fabulous tap list, and they have this great wood burning grill where they cook their burgers, which are rather fabulous:

An actual Worthy Burger
(Click to embiggen)

Quite tasty! Once again, I was driving, so I partook in some local root beer, which was also rather nice. Oh, and we shared a strip of heavenly deep fried bacon as well (let's just say it was good). While a bit out of the way of most other VT beer stops, if you can make it work, it's worth a trip...

Well, this trip was quite a bit more eventful than previous Operations Cheddar, but totally a good time. Stay tuned for the slightly more tame Operation Chowder, wherein we actually managed to snag some of the VT beer we missed out on in our travails above!

1 - I named this Operation Chowder despite the fact that no Chowder was actually consumed at any point in our Boston wanderings (not exactly Chowder weather). We did, however, get a fair amount of Lobster, but I'm saving Operation Lobster for the inevitable Maine invasion, should that ever happen.

Belated BBQ Beer Club Recap

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Last week was Beer Club, and in a heinous act of negligence, I'm only getting to the recap now. I know, I'm the worst. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which part is not optional). This month we hit up a local BBQ joint, loaded up on smoked meats, and cracked open quite a few beers:

October Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. The usual disclaimers apply, and you'll want to amplify your skepticism even further due to the fact that I'm writing this about 5 days later than normal. Great, so now that we've established that the proceeding descriptions are completely devoid of merit, we can begin. In order of drinking, not necessarily the order in the picture, and in fact, there are several beers not pictured (and we didn't get to some of the ones that were):

  • Neshaminy Creek County Line IPA - I know "East Coast IPA" isn't a real thing, but I think it kinda describes stuff like this. A local IPA with plenty of hop character that's balanced out by plenty of crystal malts (much more than you get in typical West Coast IPAs). Its enjoyable, but it won't blow minds. The very definition of a B, though sometimes I want to bump that up to a B+, which I guess means it's not the very definition of a B, but give me a break, I'm not under oath here.
  • Anchorage Whiteout Wit Bier - Belgian Wit beer aged in Chardonnay barrels with Brettanomyces? Sign me up. Nice funk to it, with plenty of typical wheat beer character. Worth checking out. B+
  • Upstate I.P.W. - A friend brought a bunch of beers that he grabbed whilst in New York, and this India Pale Wheat ale was quite nice. One of those things I could see myself reaching for, were I a local. Great citrus/pine hop character, light wheat, crisp, and refreshing. B+
  • Ken's Homebrewed Pecan Brown - Wow, that pecan character really comes through on the nose and in the taste. A little lighter in color than your typical brown ale, but that pecan character really sets this apart, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • Sly Fox Incubus - A beer I've reviewed before (a looong time ago), but I'll just say that this bottle had a more distinct raisiny note than I remember. On the other hand, it is a bit high on the booze and stickiness factor, something I'm not huge on when it comes to Tripels. Still a solid B in my book.
  • The Beer Diviner Very! Brown Ale - Another New York beer, my friend apparently stumbled on it by asking his phone to point out breweries near his location. This one turned out to be a guy brewing out of his house on a farm or something like that. This particular beer was a pretty standard brown ale, nutty and toasty, if a bit stronger than normal. B
  • Cascade Apricot - One of my contributions, and a beer we've reviewed relatively recently, so I don't have much to add to that. A-
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - A beer I've had many times at this point, and as Black IPAs (or whatever you want to call them) go, it's probably the best regularly available option out there. Big citrus and pine hop component along with the typical roast of a stout, without letting either character overwhelm (or making you wish you had a straight IPA or stout). B+
  • Founders Dark Penance - This is a relatively recent addition to Founders lineup, and like everything Founders makes, it's a solid take on the style. However, having it in close proximity to Wookey Jack made me feel like this was lacking. It was fine, to be sure, and it'd probably be worth trying in a less chaotic environment. B
  • Two Roads Conntucky Lightnin' Bourbon Ale - Well, I didn't get a ton of Bourbon out of this, and it seemed a bit thin for what it proclaims on the label. Not really bad, or anything, but a bit of a disappointment. B-
  • Breckenridge Agave Wheat - Seemed pretty bland, though that sweet agave does come through in the taste. Probably should have opened this much earlier in the night, but here we are. C+
  • Pizza Boy Bean Dream - It's supposed to be a milk stout with vanilla beans, but I don't get a ton of vanilla. On the other hand, it is a pretty solid milk stout, smooth with a nice chocolatey roast character. I really need to get out to Pizza Boy one of these days... B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Bourbon Porter - This was a pretty solid take on the style, and the bourbon oak character comes through well enough, actually much better than that Conntucky Bourbon stuff from earlier. Go Ken!
  • Bonus Beer: Otter Creek Brewing / Lawson's Double Dose IPA - Whilst at beer club, someone found out that a local drinkery tapped some Lawson's Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, so after beer club, a small cadre of attendees made a slight detour. Now, both of the beers we had were actually collaborations that are more widely available than the typical entries from those breweries (HF sometimes sends kegs down here, but Lawson's never does), but I'm not complaining, because these were both great beers. This DIPA is fabulous. Huge hop character, citrus and pine and something almost zesty. Not quite Double Sunshine great, but definitely something I want more of. B+
  • Bonus Beer: Grassroots Convivial Suaréz - A sorta funky saison made with hibiscus, I really enjoyed this, though I didn't take any real detailed notes. Nice funky character, and the hibiscus actually does come through. B+
And another successful beer club, fun and smoked meat had by all. Already looking forward to our next meeting...

Various and Sundry

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Astute readers will note that the grand majority of reviews here are for beers that I drink at home. This is not to say that I don't visit any local drinking establishments, just that I'm usually with other people and I don't want to be that dork who ignores his friends to write obsessive tasting notes. However, I do take my fair share of pictures and maybe check in to Untappd or somesuch. So I do have a fair amount of beer porn in my picture repository that doesn't really see the light of day. Until now! Enjoy these pictures and muddled recounting of various and sundry beers I've had recently, including a rather epic Birthday lineup. In fact, let's start there. It all started, naturally, at Tired Hands:

Tired Hands Cant Keep Up 8

Tired Hands is a small but very popular operation, so every once in a while, especially on weekends, they sell through more beer than is ready. At that point, Jean dips into the cellar and blends up a stopgap, often using some proportion of barrel aged awesome. The resulting beers are called Can't Keep Up, and this was the 8th installment in the series, made with beer from one of Christian Zellersfield's barrels (if he really exists). And my oh my, it was spectacular. Perhaps not quite Parageusia levels awesome, but for a beer that was whipped together under duress, it was rather spectacular. Speaking of spectacular, the other highlight of Tired Hands that day was a Citra IPA called Psychic Facelift. It turns out that I'd already visited Tired Hands earlier in the week and loved this, indeed, I even housed a growler of the stuff.

Tired Hands Psychic Facelift

It seems like Tired Hands always has great IPAs on tap, but this wan was exceptional even for them. Huge, juicy citrus character, absolutely quaffable stuff. Just superb. It's rare that I drink the same beer more than twice in short succession these days, and I think I had about 2 liters in the course of a couple days (I totally should have filled the larger growler, but hindsight is 20/20). Anywho, after some time there, we headed over to Teresa's Cafe (a few miles down the road) for some more substantial food and, of course, great beer. I had a Pliny the Elder, because how can you ignore that when it's on tap? Then my friends proved adventurous and generous, and we went in on a bottle of Cantillon Iris:

Cantillon Iris

It was fantastic, great balance between funk, sourness, and oak, really beautiful beer. And you can't beat the full pomp and circumstance, what with the proper glassware and pouring basket thingy... I had a few other beers, and they were all good, but I had a great birthday.

Some more random beer porn:

Double Sunshine

I guess I could have put up some Double Sunshine for trade, but I just couldn't handle having these in my fridge. I had to drink them.

Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA Citra

It's no Double Sunshine, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA (Citra). I usually don't enjoy IPAs when they get into the 10% ABV range, but this was extremely well balanced between sweet and bitter, and it had that great Citra hop character, tropical fruits, floral notes, and even a bit of herbal goodness. I've always enjoyed Citra-based beers, but I think I'm starting to really crave the stuff, which is going to be dangerous.

Bulldog Top Banana

This was from a long time ago, but it was another surprise, ordered totally at random one night. It's Bullfrog Top Banana, and it was a really solid saison made with bananas. I know that sounds a bit gimmicky and it's not one of those crazy funkified saisons either, but the banana fit seamlessly into their standard saison yeast profile, and it was an absolutely refreshing and tasty brew. Worth checking out if you see it. I should checkout this PA brewery sometime, perhaps go to a bottle release or something. Time will tell.

And that just about covers it. I hope you've enjoyed this rather lame stroll down beer lane. Until next time!

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

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Lawson's Finest Liquids category.

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