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Barrel Aged Santa's Little Helper

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Port Brewing's Santa's Little Helper is a solid, if unremarkable, imperial stout. I've had it a couple times, and it's fine, but I always feel like I'm missing something. Perhaps what I was missing... was bourbon!

Port Brewing Barrel Aged Santas Little Helper

Port Brewing Barrel Aged Santa's Little Helper - Pours an oily black color with very little carbonation, just a tiny ring of brown head forms at the edge of the glass. Smells strongly of bourbon, maybe a hint of the underlying roasted malts, but the bourbon (and too a lesser extent the corresponding oak and vanilla character) is clearly the focal point here. Taste is again dominated by bourbon, though there's also a pronounced malt sweetness that comes through, and some roast too. The beer opens up as it warms, with oak and vanilla asserting themselves and more of that caramel and roast malt character coming out to play too. Definitely more complex as it warms. Mouthfeel is almost completely flat, very little carbonation, sticky, some alcohol heat. Overall, it seems like the base beer didn't really stand up to the bourbon barrel treatment so well (perhaps the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the base beer also has something to do with it). It's better than some, and I'm enjoying it, but there are many better BBA beers. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber) Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/12. Vintage 2012.

Port/Lost Abbey continue to put out interesting stuff, even if I'm not totally in love with all of it. But when they're on, they're really on, so I'll no doubt be trying more of their beer soon enough...

Older Viscosity

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As I've made abundantly clear last week, I'm at a point in my beer obsession where I don't mind paying a little extra money to try something new and interesting. As a fledgling beer nerd, I had some initial hesitation on that front and I'm still a little suspicious whenever I see a single bottle going for more than $20. But for the most part, I've found those expensive beers worth the stretch. When I first pulled the trigger on a highly priced beer (The Bruery's Coton), the excuse I gave myself was that I was still relatively new to this whole good beer thing and that I was willing to spend a little extra to experiment with new and interesting beers. I suspected that I would grow out of that phase as I became a more seasoned beer nerd, but a couple years later, I'm not sure about that. I think I'm more willing to pull that trigger now than I ever have been before. It helps when the beer is as good as Coton was (I even went back and bought another bottle to age), though there have been times when I've paid through the nose for a beer I didn't particularly care for.

Now, beer pricing is apparently somewhat controversial. Some think that beer is too cheap, some think it too expensive, some think it's cheap because it's "just beer", others note how much effort goes into creating the beer, and yet others want to know more about why they have to pay a premium to get the latest super-duper beer. In the linked post, brewer Tomme Arthur (of The Lost Abby and Port Brewing) left a comment where he mentions:

It's true,our beers have become more expensive, and over the years, we have developed a reputation for beers outside the boundaries. These are what I refer to as flavor driven beers.

Are they expensive? Depends upon what value you place on them. Stephen is obviously a fan and feels compelled to say so. For me, they are not expensive, they are merely priced at a higher point than conventional beer. And I don't believe we make conventional beer.

He mentions a lot of things in his comment, including the cost of materials and ingredients and how barrel aging is a long and expensive process... but none of that really matters.

Look, we're not communists here. We don't determine value by the amount of effort that went into creating the beer. We pay what we're willing to pay to get a beer that tastes good. It's our decision. Some of us might take into account how the beer was brewed (or supporting their local brewer, etc...), but most of us are more interested in the experience of drinking the beer and not the process of brewing it. Now, doing a high gravity, barrel-aged beer represents a significant investment on the part of a brewer, and thus we're going to have to pay more to get our hands on a bottle. I'm not saying that a brewer should take a loss on selling that kind of beer. But the true value of the beer is ultimately determined by the paying customer, not by the brewery. If that value is less than it costs to brew the beer, well I'm betting that particular beer wouldn't likely be brewed again (unless the brewer's got money to burn). The market sorts these things out, and so far, I don't think we've really seen anything too excessive (with the possible exception of retailer gouging, which the brewery has little control over).

Personally, I love that world class beer is generally available to everyone. Even people on a severely limited budget can save up and buy an amazing beer for a small fraction of the cost it would take to explore the world of, say, fine wine or Scotch. And I don't want to lose that either, but if I have to pay a premium to get my bourbon-barrel beer fix, so be it. Speaking of which:

Port Brewing Older Viscosity

Port Brewing Older Viscosity - I actually reviewed the regular Old Viscosity a while back. I liked it, but was certainly not blown away. As it turns out, the regular version is a blend of 80% "young" beer with 20% bourbon barrel aged beer. That mixture clearly imparted some character to the beer, but I had noted that it seemed more about texture and body than flavor, and even then, it wasn't as full bodied as I would have liked. Well, Older Viscosity is 100% bourbon barrel aged goodness, and I'm happy to report that it was well worth the wait...

Pours a deep black color. Seriously black. Like a black hole, no light can escape it. Also, practically no head at all. Smell is full of bourbon and wood, with some caramel and chocolate aromas making an appearance. Taste is seriously boozy, lots of rich bourbon and oak flavors along with that caramel and vanilla character. Maybe just a hint of bitter roasted malts in the finish. Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, a little low on carbonation, but it works well with this. Overall, I'm enjoying this much more than I enjoyed the plain Old Viscosity... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375 ml mini-magnum, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/21/12. Vintage 2011.

So there you have it. For me, definitely worth the premium, and I've got another bottle of the stuff in my cellar which I plan to check out sometime later this year. Or maybe next year. I also have a few Lost Abbey beers down there, at least one of which I plan to get to in the near future. And there's always the Mongo IPA and Shark Attack Red and probably a dozen other Lost Abbey beers I'd like to try.

January Beer Club: Hoppy New Beer!

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. We had an average turnout this month, with 5 folks drinking beer and one pregnant club member who actually brought some non-alcoholic beer for us to try:

January Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so take it all with a grain of salt. Or a giant hunk of salt. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale - I already reviewed this beer last month, but this bottle seemed a lot better than the one I had before. Not sure what the deal is there, but it was a better balanced brew than I remember, and certainly not a C. Maybe an upgrade to a B- is warranted.
  • Clausthaler Premium - The first of our non-alcoholic beers, this one was actually not the worst thing I've ever had. It's not particularly great either, but it's certainly comparable to a solid macro lager, maybe even better. If you're pregnant, this would certainly hit the spot (though apparently there's an amber version that is better). I give it a C
  • Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale - I've had this a few times before, but it's actually better than I remember. Very nice, lots of hop character in the nose and the taste (nice floral and pine notes), but not overwhelmingly bitter or anything. I don't get a ton of oak out of this, but it's definitely more complex than the standard Arrogant Bastard. A-
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale - Rogue's collaboration with the Voodoo Doughnut shop generated a lot of buzz when it was announced, but once it was released, it got denounced as a "foul abomination". Fortunately, it's not that bad, though it's certainly not a mainstream beer. It smells very strongly of maple syrup with a little smoke coming through. The bacon comes out a little in the taste, but I'm still getting more maple syrup than anything else. There's some smoke there too, but it's not an overpowering flavor. Mouthfeel is actually quite nice, though it's still not an easy drinkin beer. I'm not sure I'd want to drink an entire bottle, but I did seem to like it a lot more than most beer club peeps. Perhaps because I was drinking this along with the burger I had ordered? Whatever the case, it is a bit of a gimmick, but I kinda enjoyed it. B-
  • Kaliber - This is the other non-alcoholic beer we tried, and we had high hopes. It's brewed by Guinness, and when my pregnant friend asked around, this was one of the recommendations she got. But yeah, this is horrible beer. Bland and watery with some off flavors or something. The only good thing I can say about it is that it was a kinda nice palate cleanser after the strong character of the Voodoo Doughnut (but then, water would probably have done just as well or better). F
  • The Bruery Mischief - A classic. I reviewed this a while back, and it's just as good as it was the first time. Still an A and probably my favorite beer of the night.
  • Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock - Very sweet and malty beer, I rather enjoyed this, though it was far from my favorite beer of the night. Perhaps a bit too sticky sweet, though still quite solid. I actually have one of these in my fridge somewhere, so I'll have to give this some closer attention at some point. For now, I'll give it a B
  • Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper - During a beer run in early December, I actually bought one of these (along with a few others) and put it on my passenger's side seat for the trip back home. At some point, I had to brake suddenly and my beer went flying... and this one broke open. I knew what happened right away, but since I was driving I couldn't really address it until I got home. For the next week or so, my car smelled of imperial stout... which, actually, wasn't that bad. I eventually picked up another bottle, but never drank it, so I brought it to beer club. It's quite a solid imperial stout. Roasty aroma with a taste that features a lot of dark chocolate and roasted malts. It was quite good, though perhaps my taste buds were a bit shot at this point of the night, as this wasn't quite as great as I was expecting. I'll give it a B for now.
  • My Homebrewed Christmas Beer - I think this is perhaps my best crafted beer yet and other folks at beer club certainly seemed to enjoy it (it went pretty quickly, which is pretty gratifying). I keep saying this, but I should really do some reviews of my homebrewed beers at some point.
  • Dana's Homebrewed Tripel - This did not come out as Dana had planned - there was a bit of a sour flavor present in the beer - but it actually turned out ok. Very citrusy nose and the taste, while not a typical tripel, was actually pretty good.
And that covers all the beer that we drank. As always, a great time was had by all, and we're already looking forward to February.

Old Viscosity

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So apparently, back in the day, there was a place called Pizza Port. They served, naturally enough, pizza. Later, they added a small brewery on the premises and became a brewpub. In 2006, they bought a brewery formerly owned by Stone, and started up Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey as independent brewing ventures. The big name brewer at all these locations is a guy named Tomme Arthur, and he seems to be wracking up the kudos ever since. Seriously, they make comics out of him and everything. I'm not all that familiar with his beers, so I've been angling to get my hands on some of late, including this one:

Port Brewing Old Viscosity

Port Brewing Old Viscosity - While certainly not the first beer to use old engine oil as a metaphor, I do have to wonder how appetizing that association really is. Well whatever, I still say if you're going to make that distinction, you should just go whole-hog and package your beer in an old-timey oil can, complete with that funky spout that you have to jam into the can in order to open it. Uh, yeah, so onto this beer: Pours a very dark brown/black color with a finger of light tan head. The aroma has a lot of roastiness, but also some of those oak notes and even some booziness. The taste is sweet, roasty, and very boozy. You get a lot of heat from the alcohol and there's also a nice dry dark chocolate bitterness that emerges in the finish. The oak aging has clearly imparted some character here, but it's more about texture and body than flavor. It's not as full bodied or rich as I'd expect though, perhaps because of that strong alcohol presence, but it's very bold and aggressive stuff. It's certainly good and very complex, but something about this just isn't gelling for me. I like it and had no problem polishing off a bottle, but it's not something I'd go out of my way to try again. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/2/11.

I'm still looking forward to trying their Mongo IPA, which has a great reputation, and of course, the entire Lost Abbey line holds interest for me. Nothing in the cellar as of yet. I'm sure you're worried about that, and I thank you for your concern, but I assure you I'll get there. Really. Scout's honor (A cub scout still counts as a scout, right?)

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

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