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January Beer Club

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Just in the nick of time. This was scheduled for earlier in the month but got delayed due to snow and other such things. But we persevered, and Beer club marched on. For the unawares, beer club is a gathering of beer minded folks from my work, who get together once a month at a local BYOB for beverages and fun.

January Beer Club 2014
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For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As per usual, these are off the cuff responses with no formal notes, so they're basically useless for you, but I'm including them anyway because why should I care what you think of my drunken recollections of these beers? In order of drinking (and not in the order pictured above, and there are definitely a couple beers not pictured at all because I took the picture early and didn't feel like updating it later and why are you so confrontational about this, it's just a thing, and fine, you want to fight about it? Let's do this thing. Or not. Whatever. What were we talking about?)

  • Stone Double Bastard - Probably not the best beer to start off a tasting with, but it worked just fine, and it was as good as I remember. Which is to say, it's good, but not mind blowing. B+
  • Unibroue Éphémère - This is not as apple-flavored as I remember, though that character is still fully present in the beer, which is a pretty solid Belgian Wit style affair and would make a great summer beer.
  • Boxcar CarKnocker IPA - The uber local (i.e. within a couple miles of my house) brewery's take on a standard IPA, it's decent, but not quite as good as their original (kinda, sorta Belgian style) IPA. B-
  • DC Brau The Corruption - A beer I reviewed in more detail just yesterday.
  • Bell's Midwestern Pale Ale - A fine offering, but perhaps sampled too late in the the night, as it sorta suffered in comparison to the other IPAs. B-
  • Boxcar Belgian Tripel - One of uber-local Boxcar's best beers, it's still a pretty straightforward Belgian style tripel. Along those lines, it's pretty good. Not a top tier effort, but quite nice. B+
  • Element Brewing Dark Element - A rather nice India Black Ale (or whatever you want to call that hoppy stout style), this sucker had just a hint of roast, a nice malt backbone, and plenty of dank, piney, resinous hops. One of the best of the night. A-
  • Ken's Homebrewed Hybrid Thingy - A sorta beer/wine/mead hybrid, this was made with some barley, copious amounts of honey, and muscat grapes. This is some crazy Dogfish-head style shit, but it actually worked pretty darn well. Clocking in at around 10% ABV, this thing didn't feel like it at all, making it dangerously easy to drink. B
  • Kaedrin Bomb and Grapnel (Blend) - This is the version that contains a blend of straight RIS and Bourbon Oaked RIS. It turned out pretty darn well, though the oak character is a bit muted here. I don't know that I'd be able to pick it out blind, but regardless, it turned out pretty well and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Look for a triple feature (with all the variants) soon. I'll give it a B+ for now, though it could easily be higher.
  • Spring House Satan's Bake Sale Mint Chocolate Chip Stout - One of my contributions, this was a fascinating sorta Girl Scout Thin Mint beer. Not sure if I would have reacted so positively if I drank the whole thing by myself, but it's a perfect beer for the setting. The mint chocolate chip character comes through strong, but not in an overpowering way. Very nice, and I enjoyed muchly. B+
  • Boulevard and Sierra Nevada Terra Incognita - A whiskey barrel aged beer that shows off that character pretty well. I still think that stouts and barleywines work better on that front, but this was certainly a fine effort. B
And that just about covers it. Good times had by all, and I'm already looking forward to the next installment (which should be sooner, rather than later... hopefully!)

November Beer Club

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Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded friends from work who get together every month at a local BYOB for libations and fun. This month, we hit up a local BBQ joint, which is always nice. Got me some smoked Chorizo, Brisket, and some fixins which made for a great accompaniment to all the beer. And there was a lot of it this time around. The picture is actually missing a bunch of bottles because we did not account for people showing up later with their own stuff.

beerclub-november13.jpg
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So yeah, lots of stuff this month, so these notes are almost certainly useless, but for the sake of posterity, I'm including them anyway. Because I'm a good person, that's why. Yeah, let's get to it: in approximate order of drinking (not necessarily pictured):

  • Southern Tier Krampus - An "Imperial Helles" is sorta like a contradiction in terms, but hey, it's an amped up Helles, and it works well enough. Nice uncommon hop character gives an otherwise clean beer the punch it needs. Really quite nice. B+
  • Ithaca Excelsior! White Gold - Bottle wasn't quite a gusher, and we managed to not lose any, but it was hugely carbonated and most of us poured a cup of foam that resolved into more normal beerlike appearance in a minute or two. Once we got to it, it was pretty damn good. Nice Belgian yeast character, wheat is there but not as dominant as you might think (slightly reminiscent of something like St. Bernardus Tokyo). This was one of the first beers we tasted, and I liked it a lot, but we revisited it towards the end of the night and damn, it got almost (not quite) sour. Big fruity esters started showing up when it was warm. Again, not quite sour, but it was going in that direction. All in all, I enjoyed this more than the Ithaca Excelsior Rye beer I had recently... B+
  • Victory Root Beer - Yep, it's a root beer! I'm no expert (hay, there's no alcohol in this!?), but it's really good as root beers go.
  • Sprecher Bootlegger's Bourbon Barrel Hard Root Beer - Not sure I would have pegged this as having anything to do with a bourbon barrel, let alone an alcoholic beverage at all, but perhaps the power of suggestion lead me to believe that there was some bourbon present in the taste. Or something. Ultimately, it drinks like a good root beer, which is nice...
  • Avery White Rascal - A beer I've had before and greatly enjoyed, it doesn't quite fit in with a tasting like this - it is easily overwhelmed by the other brews of the night. Still, I like this as a lawnmower beer on a hot day (alas, it's pretty cold here these days). B
  • River Horse Double Wit - I don't know if it's the 7% ABV or the way this was spiced, but it didn't really connect with me. It's not bad at all, and other folks appreciated the different take on spice and booze level, but it never quite hit me where I wanted it to. B-
  • Ken's Homebrewed Schwarzbier - We need to get on Ken to start entering his beers into untappd or something, because these are getting good. Not my favorite style, but it's a nice dark lager style beer, clean and crisp, lighter than it looks, and quite flavorful. Toasty but not quite full on roast. Me likey. B+
  • Kaedrin Xmas Dubbel - My homebrewed dubbel, with a slight dose of cinnamon when I was bottling, is actually drinking really well right now. The regular dubbel has really matured and changed a lot over time, getting more and more raisiny, but this one was more subdued (not that there's anything wrong with that). I'll leave it at B+
  • Lost Abbey Deliverance - One of my other contributions, and a beer I've reviewed before! It's still great. A-
  • Atwater Vanilla Java Porter - While opening this directly after Deliverance was a supremely bad idea, I still get the impression that this would underwhelm. It does have a nice vanilla character, but it's a little thinner than I generally want out of a stout and while I'm not a big fan of coffee, it's nonexistent here. Certainly a drinkable beer and would be welcome change of pace at a macro bar, but it's not something to really seek out. C+
  • Spring House Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout - Can I just point you to a review from a couple weeks ago? No? Well too bad, cause that's what I'm doing. Still a B+ in my book.
  • Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale - The younger, weaker, smaller sibling to Really Old Brown Dog is a rather straightforward brown ale, which naturally has its merits (nice toasted malt and some heft to it) but again, should've probably opened this earlier in the night. Still glad I tried this, just to give context to Really old Brown Dog if not for its regular solid nature. B
  • Saucony Creek Chocolate Cherry Schnickelfritz - An object lesson in things sounding better than they taste, this seems to be a relatively well made imperial milk stout, but it's got this artificial feeling cherry aspect that sorta ruined the beer for me. Not an abomination, but not particularly good either. I guess all the beers I bring can't be winners! C
  • Ommegang Game Of Thrones #2 - Take the Black Stout - These Game of Thrones beers are actually pretty solid introductions to the whole Belgian beer world, and they work well enough for beer dorks too (a neat trick, appealing to the jaded hardcore and mainstream alike). I actually would call this more of a roasty Belgian Strong Dark rather than a full on stout, but to each their own. It's got a nice Belgian yeast character, spice and light fruit, with a hint of that roasted malt too, but the carbonation (and presumably attenuation) cuts through more than your typical stout. Still, it's very good, if not my favorite Ommegang beer. B+
  • River Horse Special Ale - No idea why this was opened so late in the night, but it's such a profoundly average beer that I doubt it would have made that much of an impression earlier in the night. There's absolutely nothing wrong wit it, and it's certainly a step up from fizzy yellow stuff light lagers, but its not really something to get excited about. C+
  • Victory Harvest Ale - I totally fell in love with Victory's Harvest Ale last year (and while I'm not a big Pils guy, the Harvest Pils was pretty good too), but this year's take fell completely flat to me. Not bad, per say, but something about this is rubbing me the wrong way. Perhaps it was a different hop variety, perhaps they used their Kolsch yeast instead of their normally clean IPA yeast, but whatever the case, it didn't inspire like last years. Again, it's pretty good, but it's disappointing. And I had this a couple weeks ago straight from the source too, so it's not just palate fatigue talking here! B
Yikes, that was a lot of beers. Luckily there were a lot of people in attendance, so my tastes were limited on most of these (yet another reason to take my notes with a grain of salt), but this was a really fun installment. Here's to hoping the December one will be just as great!

Spring House Big Gruesome

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The fine folks at Spring House must be big fans of Hanna-Barbera, as this beer's title is derived from an obscure and short-lived 60s cartoon called Wacky Races. The show pitted eleven different racing teams against one another in a series of road rallies in order to award the title of "World's Wackiest Racer." The Gruesome Twosome are modeled after Frankenstein (Big Gruesome) and Dracula (Little Gruesome) and they drive a hearse-like car called the Creepy Coupe. It's got a belfry on it. Of course.

If you look closely at the label of this beer, I think both of the Gruesome Twosome are represented, though they don't quite look like the actual cartoon characters. Anywho, befitting Big Gruesome's Frankensteinian origins, Spring House decided to brew a big, lurching stout using all sorts of wacky ingredients: chocolate malts, raw cacao nibs, vanilla beans, more cacao nibs, a human brain marked "abnormal"*, and, of course, peanut butter**. Does all this tomfoolery really work? Let's find out, shall we?

Spring House Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout

Spring House Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of coffee, chocolate and just a whisper of peanut butter. Taste follows along with lots of coffee, a little chocolate, and just a hint of that peanut butter. Given the kitchen sink approach to ingredients, I was expecting a much sloppier affair, but it actually came out rather well balanced. Mouthfeel is on the upper end of medium bodied, with a nice richness and appropriate carbonation. Overall, a very interesting beer, not quite as gimmicky as you might think, really quite a nice stout, with some added complexity from all those other ingredients. Well done! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 10/5/13.

Spring House also makes something called Lil' Gruesome Peanut Butter Jelly Stout, which isn't as strong as Big Gruesome, but clearly has just as much wacky crap going on. I most certainly need to get off my butt and visit Spring House sometime, so stay tuned... Might even want to do it in October, as it seems like those fine folks really get into the spirit of the season (actually, it seems like their branding is Halloween-like all year round, good on them!)

* Allegedly. By me. So basically, not true at all.

** Not sure what it is about peanut butter beers, but there seems to be a rash of them gaining popularity of late. Heck, even I had that Rogue Voodoo abomination recently, but that's barely worth mentioning. Everyone around here won't stop talking about Sweet Baby Jesus! though, and it's certainly a fine beer with a strong peanut butter kick. And by everyone, I mean this one I guy I was talking to the other day. So basically, just ignore this. That's why I put it in a footnote.

Spring House Braaaiins!

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As expressed recently, I love this time of year. Horror movies, candy, and beer, what else do you need? From a seasonal beer standpoint, you've got the old standby of Oktoberfest beers that have a big following, and I certainly give one or two a shot every year (I certainly quaffed that Oktoberfest Revolution a couple weeks ago), but they've never really blown me away and made me look forward to the season. As the Beer Rover notes, the most exciting fall beers are the "fresh hop" ales... but he lives in San Diego, which has a better proximity to fresh hops than us East Coasters. We certainly get our fair share of them (I really enjoyed Tröegs' take from last year), but nothing like the glorious insanity that overtakes the west coast.

But the most popular seasonal tipple appears to be pumpkin beers, though plenty of folks just don't care for them. There's also this constant whinging about pumpkin beers showing up on shelves earlier and earlier every year, which is a bit odd to be sure, but no one's forcing you to buy this stuff in July either. The Beer Rover himself calls it a novelty and sez he's "good for one about every three to five years." It's a fair point, but he also mentions that "better beer bars" in his area don't seem to stock pumpkin beers. That doesn't really hold up around here though. The first place I checked, Teresa's, has Pumking on their menu right next to Pliny the Elder, and other decent beer bars out here in the burbs have similar lineups. Not that any of this means anything, no one sez you have to like every style and is it really worth spending this much time on it? As someone who just wrote this post, I'll say no (I'm wasting time so you don't have to).

So while I can certainly understand the lack of enthusiasm from some corners of beer nerdery for this style, I'm personally always down for trying a few during this season. After all, It's Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers, and why not chuck those gourds into some beer and spice the crap out of it. What we have here is semi-local brewery Spring House's zombie-themed offering, a decidedly cinnamon-forward take on the style that's been popping up in the area regularly for the past month or so.

Spring House Braaaiins!

Spring House Braaaiins! Pumpkin Ale for Zombies - Pours a clear golden orange color with a finger of dense white head and decent retention. Smells strongly of cinnamon with a sweet, bready note, like pie crust. Maybe some maple and pumpkin in the nose as well. It's a great aroma, but the taste doesn't quite follow through. That cinnamon is still in full force throughout the taste, but that bready note from the nose never quite materializes, and neither does the maple or pumpkin. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, spicy, medium bodied. Overall, well, I hope you like cinnamon, because this thing is filled with it. I happen to like that particular spice, but it could have used perhaps a few other tweaks for complexity, as this comes off as a sorta one note beer, though I enjoyed that note well enough. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/28/13.

I've got another Spring House seasonal, Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout, that actually has pretty good word of mouth, and I've got at least one or two more pumpkin beers in the hopper too. Stay tuned!

Two Front Teeth Holiday Ale

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So I bought this beer last summer. Damned if I remember why I bought it then, but I did. Heck, I've never even really heard of the brewery (as it turns out, they're a very small, semi-local brewery)... But it's been sitting in my fridge since then, and it actually seemed appropriate for New Years, so here we are.

Why is it a New Years beer? When you hear the phrase "Holiday Ale" you're probably thinking about something that's Christmassy. Darkish beer with spices and/or lots of warming alcohol, with maybe the odd imperial red ale making an appearance. But there's definitely a different connotation for New Years. When it comes to alcohol, people tend to think of Champagne as the spirit of choice for that holiday. Jim from the Beer & Whisky Brothers blog recently laid out his 5 Rules for New Years Beer and while I normally find such proclamations kinda silly, I thought I'd play along anyway. Because I'm a silly guy, after all.

So let's see here. The beer is corked, so check that off. The label is a bit iffy. It's well designed and everything, but it's not like a fancy, classy Champagne label. It is light colored and as it turns out, you can see through it, so we're back on track. It's definitely quite effervescent and bubbly, so there's another criteria met. The name "Two Front Teeth" isn't quite nasty, but neither is it properly festive, unless you're hanging out with a bunch of hockey players for new years. So that's a strong 3 out of 5, with the other two criteria on the borderline. Call it 4 out of 5. Not too shabby:

Spring House Two Front Teeth

Spring House Two Front Teeth Holiday Ale - Pours a bright, clear golden color with tons of fluffy head. Smells deeply of musty Belgian yeast and typical banana/clove aromas. Taste is candy sweet with a punch of spiciness and a nice dry finish. There are definite hints of fruitiness in the taste, but I'm not getting any cherries out of this. As it warms, that fruitiness becomes more pronounced, but I still couldn't pick out cherries... It's light colored, but it feels a bit on the heavy side. Medium to full bodied and a little alcohol warming effect, but still smooth. Not an everyday beer, but it's working well as a new years beer! From what I've heard about this beer, I'd like to try a fresh bottle of this stuff, as it seems like it may have mellowed out in my fridge after such a long stay... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.75% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 12/31/11. No date on the bottle, but I'm guessing it was bottled in late 2010.

Interestingly enough, the past two years worth of New Years beer for me have been strong saison style beers (last year's being Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont, a hard beer to beat and one of my favorite beers period, let alone holiday beers). They do strangely seem to fit the mold. I'd also assume that a light colored sour beer would work - think Russian River Temptation (I suspect Jim would take issue with the name of the beer and the Scythe imagery on the label, but who cares what he thinks). In fact, that beer is quite champagne-like. Perhaps if I can't find a new saison for next year...

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

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