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March Beer Club

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I won't lie, this was a really good night. I went a solid week and a half without beer before completely falling off the wagon this past weekend (as planned, to be sure) and drinking a bunch of beer (and bourbon, and moonshine, and other stuff) during Fat Weekend (a gathering of portly individuals from across the northeast, and some points west, for drinking, fun, and fatness). Now here I am a few scant days later, drinking more beer (again, as planned). For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we returned to a classic Beer Club venue, Jimmy's BBQ. Lots of smoked meat, dirty corn, beer, and fun was had by all:

March Beer Club
(Click for larger image)

Meat induced thoughts on each beer are below. This is for posterity, so I will be sure to be honest, though you might want to take this with a grain (or giant block) of salt, as this BYOB wasn't a hermetically sealed isolation chamber that is ideal for precise tasting notes. Caveats aside, here we go, in order of drinking, not necessarily in order pictured:

  • Kaedrin Fat Weekend IPA - This year's batch finally got that Simcoe and Amarillo loving that I've been trying to get for a few years. My only issue is that I'm still getting a handle on this kegerator operation here, so I feel like I frittered away a significant amount of aroma in the process of trying to get the carbonation and pressure right. I think I've figured out this process well enough that I won't ruin future batches, and it's not like this one turned out bad or anything. Indeed, just a few of us housed 3 whole growlers during Fat Weekend (we would have done so on Friday night if I didn't insist we save one for Saturday). So yeah it was good, and it compared somewhat favorably to tonight's IPA lineup, which was considerable. I'll give it a B for now, though I think it could easily go higher with some slight tweaks to recipe and kegging procedure.
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute - The old standby, I feel like the last couple times I've had this, it hasn't been quite the mindblower it once was for me. Still a rock solid brew, though I might downgrade it to a B+
  • Maine Lunch - One of my contributions. In case you can't tell by the first three beers of the night, we overcompensated for the past couple of beer clubs and brought a shit ton of IPAs this month. Not that I'm complaining, as they were all pretty damn good (to spectacular). This one was a really nice citrus and pine take of the style, in competition for my favorite Maine beer. B+ (though it might go higher outside of this setting)
  • Petrus Aged Pale - Nothing like a sour to cleanse the palate, eh? A very nice oak aged sour beer, something I've had before, and one of those things I'd use to help convert the heathens to the world of sours/good beer. B+
  • DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon - Many thanks to Dana for rocking the DIPAs tonight, including this rarity (at least, to us PA folk), which turns out to pretty much live up to the hype, a super piney, dank take on the DIPA, nice body, really well rounded and delicious beer (along the lines of those Pipeworks IPAs I had a while back). Really fantastic, and I hope to someday snag a few fresh cans of this for myself. A-
  • Sixpoint Hi-Res - Alright, so we're getting to a point where specifics about given IPAs are starting to blend together in my head, but I my thoughts on this one are that it comported itself very well in this rather strong lineup of IPAs and DIPAs, actually better than I was expecting (though I'm not sure why, as Sixpoint has always been a pretty solid brewery for me). We'll go with B+ and leave it at that.
  • John's Homebrewed Porter - A relative newcomer to beer club, John made his first batch of beer in about 20 years recently. He went with a pretty straightforward porter that, to be sure, turned out well. But he's working on some interesting stuff in future batches, including a port wine soaked oak beer, possibly even a wile beer, so I'm quite looking forward to it. B
  • Alchemist Heady Topper - Yeah, we've already beaten this one to death before on the blog.
  • Bell's Hopslam - Another one we've covered before, but I certainly ain't complaining, as I do really enjoy this beer and this is the first time I've ever had it out of a bottle. Thanks again to Dana, who brought a crap ton of DIPAs tonight.
  • Ken's Homebrewed Coffee Porter - No real coffee added, but it used some sort of special coffee malt. Not sure if that's malt soaked in coffee or something like that or if it's just roasted to a point that it gives off coffee character, but whatever, it came through well in the beer and did not overpower it at all. Granted, coffee porters aren't really my thing, but this seemed to work reasonably well. B-
  • North Coast Pranqster - A nice little Belgian pale ale, very sweet for it's relatively middling ABV, but still well carbonated enough that it works really well. I enjoyed, and it fit after all those IPAs. B+
  • Widmer SXNW - It came in a fancy box, so it has to be good, right? Well, it's made with Pecans, Cacao beans, and Green Chiles, so I was fearing another hot pepper beer, but it turns out that the dominant character came from that cacao. Huge chocolate notes in the nose, with a corresponding taste. The chiles are there, but in the background, just providing some complexity. Overall, it's an interesting beer, though not one I'd really seek out again. B
  • Humboldt Black Xantus - So I didn't realize this when I bought it, but this is apparently one of them barrel aged Firestone Walker beers, even if it's bottled under the older Nectar Ales brand. That barrel aging comes through loud and clear, and it's quite nice, but there's also apparently a coffee component that also shows up, though it's not as dominant as, say, BCBCS. One of my favorites of the night, though not quite Parabola levels awesome (but still regular beer levels awesome). A-
So there you have it, an enjoyable night had by all. Already looking forward to the next installment of beer club...

Old Rasputin XIV

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I bought this beer a while ago, and then I saw on the interwebs that the next iteration (XV) was just released, so I figured it was finally time to raid the cellar and drink this sucker. I'm a big fan of the regular Old Rasputin, and that resilient video-game-boss-like historical figure is pretty interesting too, plus we all know my thoughts on barrel aging, so I was excited for this one (despite the rather high price tag):

North Coast Old Rasputin XIV

North Coast Old Rasputin XIV Anniversary - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of tan head, great retention, tons of lacing. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, caramel, and that citrus and pine hop character from the regular Old Rasputin... Taste features that rich bourbon and caramel flavor, some oak and vanilla, maybe a hint of that roasted malt character, and some light hop bitterness in the finish. Not like a Black IPA or anything, though this does retain a lot of hop flavor. The bitterness is appropriate for a big stout though. Mouthfeel starts rich and chewy, but it dries out a bit, finishing with seemingly less body. Sometimes I don't like that, but it works well here. Ample carbonation also helps cut the rich flavors while still allowing them to shine. Overall, a very good Bourbon Barrel aged stout, though I don't know that it really warrants the price tag. Still, if I ever run across a cheaper bottle of the stuff, I'll pick it up in a heartbeat. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/28/12.

This is a sneaky one. I thought it was a 22 oz bottle, and it certainly looks at least bomber sized, but it's only 500 ml (16.9 oz). You can get a 4 pack of BCBS for a couple bucks more (and if some BA nerds are to be believed, some places jack up the price of BA Rasputin to well above that, on the order of $26-$30 which is a little ridiculous), and that stuff will kick your arse. Not that this is bad, the A- is nothing to whine about and I'm glad I tried it, but still. North Coast has not endeared themselves to me with these prices (Old Stock Cellar Reserve is no slouch in that department either, though at least that bottle looks like 500 ml). I'm sure they're all broken up about it.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

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The concept of a "Stock Ale" is somewhat nebulous and laden with cultural and historical notions of brewing beer. Now, we're not talking saison-sized incomprehensibility, but it's not a very common style and the historical idiosyncrasies add complications. The term is often used interchangeably with "Old Ale" or even just "Strong Ale", and it is true that, historically, they are all somewhat related1. As you might guess, the distinguishing characteristics for such beers are also complicated and vague, but as luck would have it, I've already written about Old Ales before:

They're generally pretty high in starting gravity and relatively low in IBUs (sorta like an English Barleywine or a Scotch Ale), but they display a lower degree of apparent attenuation (meaning that there still a lot of residual sugars (dextrin) in the finished product). As the style name implies, these beers are also aged for a long period of time before distribution. This aging develops some interesting flavors along the lines of a lightly acidic, fruity malt character.

Now, the distinction between an Old Ale and a Stock Ale is that the latter, while featuring the same characteristics as the former, was not intended for direct consumption. Instead, brewers would blend the Stock Ale with young beer to establish that distinctive flavor base (you know, like chicken stock, but with beer!) This was particularly useful before the advent of refrigeration. Brewing during the summer was problematic at best, and usually resulted in infected or otherwise tainted beer. However, the cleverest among brewers figured out that freshly brewed summer beer could be "hardened" or "brought forward" by mixing it with older stocks of winter-brewed beer. If those old stocks survived the summer, they were then sold as Old Ale that next winter.

The advent of lager beer and modern refrigeration (among other unimportant things, like Prohibition and World Wars) has obviously decreased the need for "stock", but there are still a fair amount of old ales being made these days, and plenty of breweries still experiment with mixing aged and fresh beer2. North Coast makes one of the most popular current incarnations of old ales, called Old Stock Ale. What I drank last week was a Bourbon Barrel aged version of that beer, which is given the subtitle "Cellar Reserve" and fancily packaged in a beautiful, distinctive bottle, thus allowing them to charge through the nose for the stuff. And like a sucker, I paid through the nose, because I just can't resist stuff like this. It being beer that was originally made 3 years ago, I think I can let that slide a bit.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve 2009 - Pours a murky, muddy brown color with half a finger of quickly fading, big bubbled head. Huge Bourbon and oak notes in the nose; also caramel, toffee, vanilla, and even a little fruitiness. Taste follows the nose, lots of caramel and toffee with some dark fruity notes and a whole boatload of rich Bourbon and oak character. Lots of hot booze too, though I find that it's pretty well integrated with the rest of the brew. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated. Not effervescent or fizzy or anything, but ample carbonation that helps temper some of that rich, chewy nature (not that I don't like rich, chewy beers, this is just an interesting twist on the style). Full bodied and complex, with some alcohol warming going on. It's a sipper, but I mean that in the best way possible. Overall, this is an excellent beer. I don't know that it's worth the price tag (you can probably find something similar for half the price), but I'm really happy that I got to try it. It's something I might even seek out again, price be damned! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.16% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 10/06/12. 2009 vintage.

I've already got me some of North Coast's Old Rasputin XIV, their most excellent Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. That's another beer pretty much guaranteed to be drunk in the next couple months. These things certainly are pricey, but the beers are pretty darn good too.

1 - I should note that a key source for a lot of this history is Ray Daniels' book, Designing Great Beers. He's got a chapter dedicated to sussing out the distinctions and characteristics of this vague style, and he's clearly much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, so if this rinky dink blog post interests you enough that you actually want to brew the stuff (and if you're an advanced homebrewer - the book was a bit too much for my amateur operation), he's got you covered.

2 - The example of blending experimentation in old ales that comes to mind is The Bruery's Anniversary Ales series (i.e. Papier, Coton, Cuir, Fruet), which represent blends of new beer with last year's anniversary ale. This is technically referred to as the solera method, but I'll leave that pedantry for it's own post someday (I should really get around to drinking/reviewing those bottles of Bruery Anniversary beer). I suppose I should also note that even traditional blending is still alive and well, one example being those wacky Rodenbach fellows.

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

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Rasputin is quite the interesting historical figure. Most of what's known about him comes from dubious sources, thus many details are unclear, but he is generally referred to as a Russian mystic or visionary, though also as a charlatan and sometimes even the antichrist. I never knew much about him, but what I did know always suggested that he was involved with the Occult and that he died under mysterious circumstances. Indeed, his murder has become the stuff of legend, various sources indicating that he was poisoned, shot (4 times!), stabbed, beaten, and drowned. His enemies apparently even severed... lil' Rasputin (leading to urban legends surrounding ownership of the accursed organ). The dude just wouldn't die; there are reports that he tried to sit up even while his body was being cremated. Quite resilient, I'd say. Like a video game boss.

This, of course, has little to do with the beer that bears his name unless... has drinking this beer made me immortal? Avenues of investigation seem limited. Tests could yield undesirable results. Such as my death. But I digress:

North Coast Old Rasputin

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a couple fingers of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt, but surprisingly, I get some juicy hop aroma in the nose (lots of citrus and a little pine). Those hops show up again in the taste as well, though the roasted malt is still prominent, and you get chocolate, caramel and booze too. Despite all the hop character, it's not super bitter, though the big malt backbone and booze are clearly well balanced by the bittering hops (otherwise, this would be cloying). Mouthfeel is very nice, full bodied, well carbonated, a little warming character from the booze. Overall, very complex and tasty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 2/18/12.

Apparently North Coast does a barrel aged version, but very little of it makes it out through distribution (most of it seems to be distributed at the brewery itself). Ah well. I've got my eyes on a bottle of bourbon barrel aged Old Stock ale, though I haven't quite pulled the trigger just yet (it seems quite expensive!)

Septembeer Club

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Today was beer club! The event seems to have waned a bit in recent months, but we've always got a core group of about 4-5 folks who always come and always bring new beers. I'm pretty excited for the next beer club meetup in about two weeks, which will be at The Whip, an English style pub that we went to a while back. Anyway, tonight's offerings included:

Septembeer Club

No real theme this month, though one member had just gotten back from a cruise and thus had smuggled some Caribbean beer. Otherwise, it was kinda stoutish this month. Here's what we had (listed in order of left to right from the picture above):

  • Cayman Islands Caybrew - This is apparently the premium beer of the Cayman Islands. And it is quite bad! Well, no, it's not the worst beer ever, but it's got a very typical American Macro aroma and flavor going on, very Millerish (think High Life or MGD), and it's packaged in a green bottle! Would probably be decent after sitting in the sun all day, but it didn't really do anything for us tonight. D+
  • Belize Belikin - Another Caribbean lager in the style of a Macro, this one even less flavorful and nondescript. It's pretty horrible. D-
  • North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout - My contribution for the night, and probably the best beer I had all night. Nice and sweet, with a surprising hop aroma and flavor. Perhaps because of that, it's got a nice, almost fruity character to go along with the typical sweet and roasty flavors. At 9%, it's got a bit of a booziness to it, but very well matched. I quite enjoyed it. I've had a couple of these before, and I believe I have another one in the fridge, so perhaps I'll do a dedicated review at some point. For now, let's give it a B+, though it might eek its way into A- territory, depending on my mood.
  • Mackeson Triple XXX Stout - Apparently once a classic British Milk Stout, this beer has since been acquired by Inbev (scourge of the beer world) and discontinued, though for a time it was contract brewed in the US (but even that brewery is now defunct). There is apparently a 3% version (non XXX?) brewed by Wells & Young in England, but this one was a 4.9% Milk Stout brewed in Trinidad & Tobago (no idea if this is the same recipe as the discontinued beer, or if it's still owned by Inbev). Whatever the case, it's actually a pretty solid Milk Stout. It reminded me a lot of the Lancaster Milk Stout I reviewed recently. Not especially my style, perhaps a little too roasty or coffee-like, but definitely well made. B
  • My Homebrewed Stout - My other contribution. It's definitely come out a bit more on the roasty side than I planned, but then, it's also got a nice caramel characteristic as well. It seemed to go over very well with the Beer Club crowd. Some even preferred it to Old Rasputin! Personally, it's not exactly what I was going for, but I do really enjoy it. I should probably catch up on all my homebrews in terms of reviews at some point, but for now, I'll give it a solid B (it's also still a bit on the young side, so it may even get better).
  • DuClaw Naked Fish - The bottle sez it's a Chocolate Raspberry Stout and boy does that aroma sell it. It smells very much like that raspberry syrup that you get on fancy dessert plates, with some chocolate and very faint roasty aromas also around. In terms of taste, it's more dark chocolate than raspberry, again with just a hint of roastiness. I did enjoy this, but it also seemed a bit on the light side (which makes a bit of sense for a 4.6% beer). I'd rather have it hit with more sweetness and a richer, deeper body. Still, this is pretty well done. I'd try it again. B
  • Allentown Brew Works Funky Monkey - Beer club member from Allentown brought this local brewpub growler of a beer I can't seem to find any listing for. It's a saison-style beer, and from the aroma and taste, I'd say it's got a very light dose of Brettanomyces as well (and given the title "Funky" Monkey and that the Brew Works makes other saisons Monkey Wrench and Space Monkey, that sorta makes sense). It's actually quite good, nice and sweet with just a bit of that distinctive Brett twang. Not sour at all, but definitely funky. B
  • Dana's Homebrewed Imperial Wheat - The bottle was a bit of a gusher, but once we got it settled down, it was pretty darn good, though the Imperial Wheat style can be a bit weird. The typical wheat flavors are there, but in a muted fashion. Very sweet and extremely boozy - so much so that it sorta overwhelms the typical wheatines. Not sure if that's typical of the style or what, but I did enjoy drinking this, even if it was a bit on the strong side. B
And that about covers the beer. As usual, take the ratings with a grain of salt, as conditions were not ideal for uber-beer-nerdery (but they were ideal for fun, so there). I do kinda fudge the club name a bit, as it's more of a "beverage club" or even just a "supper club", meaning that not everyone who comes drinks beer. In the past, we've had Sake, root beer, and almost always wine. This month was no exception - we had a bottle of Coppola Merlot, which to my palate tasted quite sweet, with a nice dry finish. But then, I just finished sampling a bunch of roasty stouts. All in all, another successful outing. Look for the Whip recap in about two weeks! And it would probably make sense to do a fall seasonal theme next month too. Exciting!

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

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