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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...

September Beer Club

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Due to various scheduling mishaps and vacations and whatnot, the August beer club never happened, and September ended up being a little on the delayed side. But we finally made it, and a good time was had by all. For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of like minded coworkers who get together for food and optional libations at a local BYOB. Tonight we hit up a regular Mexican establishment and had a rather good time.

Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, tentative thoughts on each beer are below, though they should be taken with a grain of salt, since tastings like this are not exactly ideal conditions. So here we go, in order of drinking (not necessarily the order pictured).

  • Kona Castaway IPA - A surprisingly decent IPA, lots of mango in the aroma and flavor, tropical fruit hops and so on. It's not a mind-blowing beer by any stretch, but it's actually pretty damn decent. B+
  • Devil's Backbone Catty Wompus - A Belgian IPA that kinda come off a little light on the Belgian and even IPA character, though it did have a pretty solid amount of bitterness towards the finish. That being said, it felt like the Belgian elements were canceling out the hop character, rather than combining with each other. Certainly not a disaster, but not really my thing either. B-
  • Victory Prima Pils - A beer I've obviously had on numerous occasions, and it's as good as it ever was. Pilsners are not really my style, but if I was asked what I would want to drink within the style, this would be a worthy candidate. B
  • Victory Headwaters Pale Ale - I always forget how good this beer is, even if it's still not my favorite pale ale evar or anything that silly. Still, it's a rock solid take on a standard style. More thoughts here. B+
  • Sly Fox Oktoberfest - A decent take on a standard style. Nice toasty malt character, and a very drinkable beer for this time of year. B
  • Round Guys The Berliner - This Berliner weis is almost like a sorta crazy lemonade/beer hybrid. It's got a nice tarness to it, and the color is crazy pale, almost white. It's an interesting beer, something I'd like to try someday on its own, though it seems ideally suited for hot weather, and we're sorta heading away from that these days. B+
  • Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black - Not quite as good as I remember from last time I had this, but it's still got a nice roast and coffee base with a bit of hoppiness to follow. The first one of these I had a while back seemed a little more balance and hop focused, so who knows what's going on here. That being said, it was still quite nice to revisit this beer. B
  • Kaedrin Trystero Barleywine - So I gave up on hoping that my barleywine bottles would carbonate, dumped everything I had into my keg, and attempted to force carbonate the stuff. The result is decent, though I need to figure out a better way to transport the stuff (carbonation is better from the tap, but loses some of its punch in traveling in a resealable bottle). On the other hand, this turned out rather well, with a really nice bourbon and oak character to it. B+
  • Element Extra Special Oak (ESO) - This is quite an interesting beer, even if it's not particularly fantastic. It's a sorta amped up English ESB, with a little more alcohol and some oak aging. For something oak aged, there wasn't a whole lot to salvage, but it does have that sorta rich barrel feel that often pervades these types of beers. B
  • Neshaminy Creek Punkless Dunkel - Basically the same thing as last year's Punkle Dunkle (no idea why the name had to change), with a slightly different label (that, so far, is the only meaningful difference we've found yet. Big pumpkin and spice (cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, and the like) notes, fabulous carbonation and smooth, wheatey mouthfeel. Really fantastic brew, just as good as last year, and probably my favorite of the night. A-
  • Elysian Oddland Ginger Berry Brown Ale - Doesn't seem like much of a brown ale, it's very pale, like an IPA. But this is brewed with ginger and wheat, so it should work itself out. On the other hand, I don't care much for ginger, so I'm obviously not going to love this. Still, it was decent enough. C+
  • DuClaw Bourbon Barrel Aged Serum - I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of BBA pale ales, or pale beers in general (i.e saisons, etc...). It comes off as more of a barrel aged barleywine than a DIPA... It's got the richness imparted from the oak and bourbon, but the playfulness has disappeared. Decent enough, but nothing particularly famous. B+
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to the next meetup...

Punkel Dunkel Pumpkin Wheat Ale

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Even amongst pumpkin beer haters, there's a tacit acknowledgement that yes, The Bruery's Autumn Maple is awesome even though it kinda, sorta fits the category, despite using yams instead of pumpkins. Aside from the yams, it differs in a few other key ways. First you've got molasses and maple syrup, which, you know, sploosh. But the yeast is what ties it all together. The Bruery's house strain of Belgian yeast is fantastic and pairs well with the traditional pumpkin pie spices, not to mention all that other junk.

So those punkels up at Neshaminy Creek, not wanting to do the same old thing in the oversaturated pumpkin beer market (i.e. bland amber base, pumpkin, and shit tons of spices), went all German on our asses. They amped up their recipe for Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen, added the requisite pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, and fermented using traditional Bavarian weizen yeast. The result is something Autumn Maple-like, which is high praise. Definitely worth checking out, even for the pumpkin haterz.

Plus, check out that label, it's awesome. And for those of you disgusted by pumpkin beers showing up in July, those fine Neshaminy Creek folks made sure to release this after the "unofficial" end of summer, Labor Day Weekend. Not that any of that really matters, but still. Oh yeah, beer:

Neshaminy Creek Punkel Dunkel Pumpkin Wheat Ale

Neshaminy Creek Punkel Dunkel Pumpkin Wheat Ale - Pours a very murky, cloudy brown color with a cap of light tan head. Smells beautiful, huge spicy character, and while some of that is typical pumpkin pie spice(cinnamon, ginger, clove, brown sugar, etc...), it matches really well with the weizen yeast character (bananas and even more clove). Taste is similar, lots of Weizenbock spice and wheat, brown sugar, with the pumpkin pie notes (cinnamon and the like) hitting in the middle and lasting through the finish. Mouth feel is medium bodied, very well carbonated, spicy, and yet somehow almost creamy. Hint of sticky booze, but that works well here. Overall, a very good, uncommon take on the pumpkin genre, well worth trying even for folks who don't normally go for pumpkin beer. It actually reminds me more of The Bruery's Autumn Maple than anything else... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/5/13.

Rich suggests they make a Doppelbock pumpkin beer next year, which, yeah, sounds awesome. Of course, due to the lagering period, they'd either have to make it without fresh pumpkin (though it's not like most pumpkin beers actually do that these days) or release it much later than normal, but I'd totally be down with applying pumpkin to other beer styles (pumpkin stouts are actually pretty great). Anywho, Neshaminy Creek continues to make some interesting stuff, so you'll probably hear more about them in the future...

September Beer Club

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Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folk from my work who get together every month at a local BYOB for libations and fun. I should note that what I call beer club is offically called "social club", and there are frequently attendees who want nothing to do with beer. We've often had folks who bring wine or even stuff like sake or just plan, non-alcoholic root beer. In short, usually, only a portion of attendees are drinking the beer. Well, we had a great turnout tonight, and most everyone drank most every beer. I think only one beer was left unopened (a Brooklyn Oktoberfest), and most everything else was kicked almost as soon as it was opened. So it was an impressive showing tonight! Check it:

September Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some half-remembered thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, these are not ideal tasting conditions and I was only half paying attention and you'd be a fool to trust most of these ratings. Except for the ones I've had before. Those are mostly awesome. Here goes:

  • Ken's Homebrewed Pumpkin Ale - Really nice pumpkin ale homebrew from my friend Ken. He had kegged it and transferred to a growler this morning, so the carbonation was a bit on the low side, but it was otherwise a pretty damn good take on the style. I was going to say that it's the best homebrewed pumpkin ale I've ever had, but it's also the only homebrewed pumpkin ale I've ever had, so that doesn't really tell you much. But it was good, and I liked it. B+
  • Stone Enjoy By 09.13.13 IPA - I know, heresy! We drank this almost a week after we were supposed to "enjoy by", and yet, I can't help but thinking that I enjoyed this more than the fresh bottle I had. I didn't get that weird plasticky character that I had from the fresh version, though I could kinda see where it came from. The slightly faded hops actually improved this for me! I know, heresy, right? I still feel like I'm pretty sensitive to faded hops these days, but this one tasted fine. Perhaps it was stored better than my last bottle? I'll still leave it at a B, but better than the last bottle I had (which was also a B)
  • Neshaminy Creek County Line IPA - I've not reviewed this, but I've mentioned it before on the blog, and I enjoy it. A local brew, this is your typical East Coast IPA, well balanced, more malt character than your West Coast IPAs, but a nice light hop character too. B or B+
  • Kaedôme Saison (regular version) - My regular ol' homebrewed saison is still drinking pretty well. The hop character has mellowed a bit and never quite achieved the Nelson Sauvin awesomeness I was hoping for, but it's still a pretty kickass saison and seemed to be very well received by the beer club crew. The Brett version of this is still in secondary, and probably has a solid month or two left it in before I bottle. I'll leave this at a B+
  • Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale - Proof that "Bourbon Barrel Aged" does not always translate to "good"... this wasn't especially bad or anything, it was just sorta bland. It was pale in color, and I didn't get much bourbon or oak out of this at all... nor did I get much else. Which is to say, it's better than most macros, but nothing to write home about. Perhaps it would fare better in a non-sampling context, but for tonight it was a lowly C+
  • Erie Brewing Mad Anthony's APA - Oh wow, this is just awful. It's got a certain blandness to it, but also a diacetyl note that I always hate. Some might be willing to put up with that, but not I. F
  • The Alchemist Heady Topper - I don't need to say much beyond my review, but yeah, it went over pretty well with the beer club peeps. Still a solid A in my book.
  • Saucony Creek Captain Pumpkin's Maple Mistress - Extremely sweet and a little boozy, this is an interesting take on the pumpkin ale. It's got some spice, but not quite your typical pumpkin spice, and I can sorta detect that maple syrup character as well. It's unbalanced, but in a sorta endearing way. One of those beers that's excellent in this sort of sampling context, but which would probably become cloying if you tried drinking a whole bottle. I enjoyed it well enough and will give it a B
  • Finch's Fascist Pig Ale - I didn't really get much of this, just the dregs of the can, but it seemed like a nice enough amber ale. I'll give it a provisional B, but even considering the context of beer club, I need more of this to really give it a fair shake.
  • Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin - You know what, I really enjoyed this beer. It's a more-or-less traditional take on a pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie flavors all the way, but perhaps the lopsided affair of Captain Pumpkin's Maple Mistress made this one appear better by comparison. It's not as interesting, but it's maybe a better crafted beer. B or B+
  • Cascade Kriek Ale - One of my contributions for the night, this sucker is just as good as I remember it, maybe even better. It was a big hit with beer club peeps as well, and definitely the most unique beer of the night. I love this stuff and might be tempted to upgrade it to A status, but I'll leave it at A- for now, trusting my previous judgement.
  • FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye - My other contribution, and another eye opener for the beer club crew. I've had this before and absolutely loved it, which is one of the reasons I wanted to bring it to beer club. Happily, it went over very well. A
And that just about covers it, another successful night, and I am already anticipating the next meeting!

Some Notes From Philly Beer Week

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Now that it's officially ended, I think it's fair to say that I failed at Philly Beer Week. I went to a few things, but it seemed that all of the week's most interesting events were happening at inconvenient times for me (not complaining here, as it's a total pain to get into the city and I don't do it often enough). To be sure, I went to a few events and sampled a few beers, but nothing like last year's Hill Farmstead adventure, though I suppose the two Tired Hands events warrant excitement (technically not part of the official proceedings, I'm going to say they count anyway). You've already heard about their anniversary event, but they had an Only Void bottle release yesterday too, and I was fortunately able to get there early enough to snag some fancy glassware and bottles (sub-250 bottle release for each variant detailed below).

Tired Hands Only Void bottles and glassware

The black waxed one is straight up Only Void aged in stainless steel, which I got to sample at the Anniversary last week (it's spectacular). The light greenish waxed one in the middle is local rye whiskey barrel aged Only Void (I'll have to confirm this the next time I'm at Tired Hands, but I'm guessing that "local rye whiskey" is Dad's Hat Rye, which is a distillery I've been meaning to check out). I'm particularly excited for that one since, to my knowledge, it's the only non-sour whiskey barrel aged beer Tired Hands has ever made... Finally, we've got the red waxed variant, which was actually barrel fermented and then aged in local red wine barrels. They had some of this on tap at the release and I managed to snag a sample before it kicked (which happened within the first hour - there were still people waiting in line for bottles). Very nice fruity sour notes to this one. Special thanks to Rich on Beer for gifting his seat at the bar to me when he was leaving, much appreciated.

Other Philly Beer Week highlights included some Firestone Walker stuff (but nothing I haven't seen before, which was a slight disappointment), lots of Tröegs Scratch series beers, and a couple of relatively new local brewery Neshaminy Creek beers that I've been waiting on for a while now. I was a little disappointed by their Leon imperial stout (also known as the S'more beer, as it's brewed with graham crackers, marshmallow fluff, and chocolate), but I thought perhaps a 6 month stay in bourbon barrels would improve it. They had a lot of events last week, so it wasn't hard to track down the bourbon barrel stuff:

Neshaminy Creek Bourbon Barrel Aged Leon

I was a little worried about it when I first took a sip. Super boozy and bourbon forward, I think it may have even been worse than the base beer... but it turns out that it was just served way too cold. As it warmed up, there was a big transformation. Still bourbon forward and a little boozy, but it evened out quickly, and more stoutlike flavors joined the party. All in all, I think it was a nice improvement over the base beer, but it's no top tier face melter either. I think the base is just too well attenuated to really stand up to the bourbon. Or something. I still enjoyed it quite a bit and will give it a B+

They also had a firkin of their Coconut Mudbank Milk Stout with Samoas and Caramel Delights added into the firkin. Not sure if it was those Girl Scout cookies or what, but this thing had an overpowering coconut aroma/flavor that sorta dominated the taste. I like coconut, so I guess there are worse things out there, but it ultimately felt a little unbalanced. Still enjoyed it. B-

And that just about covers my Philly Beer Week exploits. The Tired Hands stuff was great, but I wished I could have gotten my arse into the city for the Lost Abbey event, where there were apparently pours of Cable Car and Duck Duck Gooze happening. Oh well, I guess there's always next year...

Neshaminy Creek Leon

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Continuing a look at the tiny new breweries in my area, I stopped by Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company this past weekend. Another homebrewer turned pro story here, Neshaminy Creek opened doors in early June (coinciding with Philly Beer Week, which seems to be the trend for these local breweries) and has slowly been making a name for themselves.

Neshaminy Creek tank board

They've got a couple standards in their lineup, including the County Line IPA, which is nice, lightly hoppy with a bigger malt character than expected (this winds up being a good thing in a market full of "hop it til it's nasty" beers). I also sampled their Croydon Cream Ale, a nice, light lawnmower beer. Not really my style, but it was tasty and much better than typical light lager fare. Their Tribute Tripel just might be my favorite of their brews, a great take on the style. Filled with fruity esters, sweetness, and plenty of spice from the yeast (clove), it comes off as being well balanced, but still big and delicious, just like a Tripel should be (in the B+ to A- range of my ratings, I think). According to their tank board (pictured above), they've got some sort of Hefeweizen coming too.

But the beer that everyone's talking about is Leon... also known as the 'Smore beer. Yep, it's an imperial stout brewed with baker's chocolate, marshmallow fluff, and crumbled graham crackers. They've made a couple of test batches of the stuff, but it turns out that what I got was the first full batch (and probably the last we'll see of it this year - big beers like this tend to use up an inordinate amount of resources for small breweries). Knowing I wanted a closer look at this one, I got a growler of it and have been sipping my way through it for most of the weekend. At 11.6% ABV, it's big and burly, but the alcohol is pretty well hidden. Ah well, there goes my glycemic index. Let's take a closer look:

Neshaminy Creek Leon

Neshaminy Creek Leon - Pours a deep, dark black color with a finger of dense tan head. Nice retention too, plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells strongly of chalky roasted malts, maybe some coffee character, but also a sorta light sweetness in the nose as well. Taste is again dominated by those roasted malts, coffee flavors, and maybe just a hint of dark chocolate. Nowhere near as sweet as I'd expect, but it's not super bitter either. As it warms (or perhaps as my palate adjusts to the roastiness), the coffee goes away and chocolate emerges more. I have to admit, I don't get any real 'smore flavor here, but that don't mean it's not good. I know it's obnoxious to tell a brewer stuff like this, but for a smore beer, I'd love to get more in the way of caramelized sugar flavors and less in the way of roastiness. Mouthfeel is heavy, but smooth, with plenty of tight carbonation. It's a sipper to be sure, but the booze isn't as pronounced as I'd expect in a 11.6% ABV beer. Very well hidden. Overall, a solid imperial stout. Not quite the beer I was looking for, but I'm sure it will make stout fanatics happy... B

Beer Nerd Details: 11.6% ABV from growler. Drank out of a snifter on 8/25/12. Beer was apparently kegged on 8/24/12, so it's about as fresh as possible.

I'm curious to see how Leon evolves over time. According to the brewer, this one came in a little lighter than their test batches, and they've also reserved a bunch to age in Bourbon barrels. This excites me to no end, as bourbon barrel aging tends to temper the big roast and coffee flavors in a beer like this while adding a touch of sweetness and complexity from the oak. This sounds quite exciting. Otherwise, I'm going to be on the lookout for their Tribute Tripel, which I think was my favorite of their beers. While I was there, I heard talk of wild yeast and other barrel aging stuff, which sounds exciting. They're mostly only on tap right now, but I believe they do some limited bottling of their brews too. Definitely a brewery to keep an eye on...

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

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