Recently in The Alchemist 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!

The Alchemist Beelzebub

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Beelzebub is the name of a demon, sometimes used synonymously with Satan or the Devil, but more often referred to as the second in command, the chief lieutenant of Lucifer, the Emperor of Hell, and other such dubious honorifics. As John Milton sez "than whom, Satan except, none higher sat." It's believed to be derived from the Canaanite god Baal, who was sometimes referred to as the "Lord of the Flies" and there's lots of conflicting accounts of Beelzebub's true nature, almost as if no one has had any actual contact with... him? It? You guys, it's time for some game theory.

Um anyway, there is, in fact, a beer named after Beelzebub. No game theory needed. The label even has a fly on it that our demonic friend is apparently the lord of. It's one of The Alchemist's rotating releases, a hoppy imperial stout clocking in at 8% ABV. This is the first non-IPA I've had from our friends in Vermont, and while it is indeed intense and unique, I don't think it quite nails the style like their various IPAs manage. I got these cans in December and have been slowly working through them to see if a few months has softened the harsh edges. Alas, we have once again run into the this is pretty good, but it's the worst beer from The Alchemist that I've had conundrum:

The Alchemist Beelzebub

The Alchemist Beelzebub - Pours a deep black color, maybe the darkest beer I've ever seen (faintest hint of brown can be seen while pouring, but no light can otherwise escape), with a gorgeous finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, char, roast, some dank hops, roast, coffee, bitter dark chocolate, and did I mention roast? It's roasty. Taste is rich and roasty, a little coffee-like (no actual coffee in it, but reminiscent), maybe some bitter dark chocolate, an intense roast, some dank hops, finishing with a big bite of roast and hop bitterness. Mouthfeel has a light richness to it, full bodied, well carbonated, not dry overall but there's some sort of drying element going on here, tannins or something. Overall, this is an odd duck. This can is from December, and when fresh it was even more intense, but it's held up quite well, and I like it a little better now. I've never had anything quite like it, which is interesting but there's also probably a reason for that. Intense and roasty, certainly unique. B or maybe a B+, but we'll leave it at B.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a snifter on 2/25/17 (also 12/2/17, about a week after release and a couple times inbetween).

Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Adam for braving a snowstorm to acquire his allotment (and, obviously, for sharing with me). I am, obviously, still in the bag to try moar Alchemist beers, as Heady and Focal are some of the best out there and minor missteps like this can't detract from that.

The A+ Class of 2016

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I have this thing where I rarely rate something the highest (or lowest) rating. For once, I am not the worst. I simply have standards, people. Way back when, I wrote about Kaedrin's Grading System, I felt that reaching the highest grade would require a few things. Obviously, it has to be a great beer (that goes without saying even though I'm saying it). Next, it has to be something I have had more than once (a non-trivial challenge, as many top tier beers are one offs or exceedingly rare). Finally, there's that X-factor. Perhaps something personal or a particular experience that simply elevates this beer above its peers. There's a push and pull in the criteria, hopefully leading to some idiosyncratic choices. Maybe you think these are too pedestrian, or maybe you think they're unobtainable, but that's the fun part. Life would be boring if we all loved the exact same things.

Thus far, only 4 beers have earned the coveted A+. Only one doesn't quite meet the conditions (because it was reviewed before the criteria were established). Two are straight up Belgian styles that are both exceptional, but my tastes have evolved a bit since then. The most recent would almost certainly retain its A+ status, but it only kinda sorta lives on (it's part of a solera series, so current bottlings technically have some of that one left in it). Basically, I'm long overdue for some A+ picks. These are three of my favorite beers, which I've sought out and drank (a few times, even) over the last year.

I've reviewed all of these before so I won't bore you with tasting notes, but I will give some quick thoughts on each and why I think they deserve to be elevated to A+ status.

Russian River Supplication

Russian River Supplication - The prototypical dark American Wild Ale, all oak and cherries, sour fruit and vinegar, it's a beautiful beer that's surprisingly versatile. Works in any weather. Pairs amazingly well with BBQ and dark chocolate, and it's obviously delicious on its own too. There are more complex or intense beers out there, but few reach this level of balance and just as importantly, this is something that is regularly available. Original rating was only an A-. It graduated to an A one time at a share where we were eating BBQ (and it paired exceptionally well), and that's when I first realized this was an A+ candidate. Of course, that was 4 years ago. Maybe I am the worst? No, I'm just thorough. I've had this many times since my original ratings, and it's definitely graduated to the coveted A+

Firestone Walker Parabola

Firestone Walker Parabola - Platonic ideal of bourbon barrel stouts, tons of boozy bourbon, oak, rich caramel, and vanilla. It's a big, intense, complex beer, a bruiser, a character that initially held me back a bit when I first tried this. Funnily enough, Parabola was my backup order at a Philly Beer Week event where I got shut out of Velvet Merkin, which at the time was not being bottled and was exceedingly rare (and which, once I happened upon it, turned out to be mildly disappointing). Upon subsequent tastings, I realized my horrible mistake. Again, part of the appeal is that this is something that is regularly available. I would gladly also induct Pappy Black Magick into the A+ realm, but I'm not even sure if it'll ever be made again, let alone acquired and tasted again. I've built a history with Parabola, a great beer that has only gotten better with each additional tasting. This is not a common trajectory and truly a thing of beauty. A+

The Alchemist Heady Topper

The Alchemist Heady Topper - These beers are all relatively well known, but this may be the most hyped beer I've ever rated. Under such circumstances, it's tempting to play the contrarian, and yet, it lives up to the hype and remains the standard against which all Northeast IPAs are compared. Have I had better NEIPAs? Maybe! I can think of one or two Tired Hands beers I'd put up against Heady... but as with most TH beers, they were one offs. Even for repeated TH beers, it's worth noting their lack of consistency. Not so with The Alchemist. I manage to snag cans of this every year, sometimes multiple times, and yet they're always consistently great. This might be the first beer I truly traveled a great distance to obtain (along with other VT goodies), and I'm so glad that I did. Juicy, balanced, delicious. I think I'll drink one tomorrow. A+

So there, I've nearly doubled the number of A+ ratings on the site. I hope you're happy now. Hopefully I'll be able to do this a little more often than once every three years. In fact, I'd like to find a way to put a saison in here someday. Until then...

Alchemist The Crusher

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I've already wonked out on the history of Alchemist, but basically they started out as an obscure brewpub that was destroyed by the dread Tropical Storm Irene. Fortunately, they had just built a production brewery and canning line, so they survived by making tons of Heady Topper and pretty much only Heady Topper for a few years. The brewpub was never reopened, but a couple years ago, they started reviving old recipes and doing limited releases. Flash forward a couple years, and they've opened a new (gorgeous) production brewery that basically doubled their capacity and allowed them to start making those other recipes on a more regular basis. The focus of the new brewery seems to be Focal Banger, their 7% IPA, but they also have some capacity dedicated to a "rotating" beer, which for now is The Crusher.

The Crusher is an odd duck, something I have a little trouble wrapping my head around. I mean, yeah, sure, it's delicious, but it occupies a weird territory somewhere in the middle of the DIPA, TIPA, and Barleywine triangle, like this diagram I spent a whole 5 minutes creating:

The DIPA TIPA Barleywine triangle

Rich, hoppy, and boozy, it's a tasty little monster. I don't think I like it any better than Focal or Heady, which oddly makes this the "worst" beer I've ever had from The Alchemist, but that's a silly way to look at it since it's still glorious. Let's look closer:

The Alchemist The Crusher

The Alchemist The Crusher - Pours a dark golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head, good retention, and lacing. Smells good, citrus and resinous pine hops, crystal malt, maybe some honey-like aromas, not as aromatic as Focal or Heady but still great. Taste starts off with rich, sweet crystal malt, notes of caramel and honey, with those citrus and resinous pine hops kicking in towards the middle, maybe a little booze too, finishing on a nice, bracing bitter note. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, rich, and well carbonated, finishing dryer than most TIPAs. I wouldn't call it balanced, but that feels like the point. Add some more malt here and you've got a very nice Barleywine. Overall, this is really good. Not quite the paradigm establisher that Heady or Focal represent, but a worthy entry in The Alchemist's portfolio. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a snifter on 8/12/16.

Now I really want to try more of Alchemist's back catalog. Luscious, Beelzebub, Ouroboros, Petit Mutant, the list goes on. Hopefully the "rotating" slot at the new brewery will rotate, even if The Crusher seems quite popular...

Operation Cheddar V: Bride of Cheddar

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When I was a teenager, I drove cross-country with my brother and uncle. One feature of such a trip is that once you get past major population centers, you tend to see the same people over and over again. There are only so many major highways and if you're both traveling in the same general direction, you'll find yourself stopping at the same gas stations, eating at the same roadside stops, and even camping at the same campgrounds. There's a (admittedly trashy) movie called Road Games that relies on this dynamic, making it a sorta moving version of Hitchcock's Rear Window.

I noticed something similar going on during Operation Cheddar V: Bride of Cheddar, only instead of gas stations and campsites, I kept seeing the same people at breweries. Go figure. This is my fifth such trek through the wilds of Vermont in search of beer, and as per usual, it was a lot of fun.

This started off, as per usual, at the Warren Store, where I always go to pick up some of Lawson's Finest Liquids. Alas, both available options were things I'd had before, but then, they're both great:

Lawsons Finest Liquids (and a Frost too)
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That's Sip of Sunshine and Super Session #2, for those keeping count. I also snagged a freshish bottle of Frost's Plush, as I'd heard good things about them.

The Alchemist in Stowe
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From there, I headed up to The Alchemist's new digs in Stowe, VT. For the uninitiated, during the first Operation Cheddar I was able to go to The Alchemist's cannery in Waterbury, VT. However, due to the high level of traffic and with consideration for their town and neighbors, they closed that location to the public and started distributing their beer throughout the state. This made their beer more difficult to snag (at least, for passers-through like myself), but due to intense demand, they were able to open a new brewery facility in Stowe. While the cannery still puts out as much Heady Topper as possible, the new brewery focuses on their other brews, notably Focal Banger and Crusher.

Mixed Case of Alchemist Beerz
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Limit of one case, but you could get a variety, so I got a mix of Heady Topper, Focal Banger, and The Crusher. That last one is something I've never had before, so you will most certainly be seeing more about that in the near future.

Just a hop and a skip away from there is Lost Nation, which has become a mandatory stop, if for no other reason than their food is just astonshingly good. I had some sort of smoked beef sandwhich, which was great, of course. And I snagged some Gose and The Wind while I was at it.

Amazing sandwich at Lost Nation
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Next up is another mandatory stop, Hill Farmstead. They've been doing some expansions of their own, and while lots of folks were there, the lines and waiting have been reduced considerably (though now you get bottles and growlers at two different locations). They also had some vintage bottles for sale, though only for onsite consumption (a bit pricey, to be sure, but probably worth it). I must have hit them at a weird time, as their bottle selections were dwindling rapidly, but hey, it's hard to complain when you get bottles of world class beer:

Beer haul from Hill Farmstead
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That's Casita Cerveceria Del Arboles (this is a contract brewing operation that brews at Hill Farmstead, which is something that obviously requires more scrutiny that will be provided at a later date), Dry-Hopped Arthur (I believe this is another beer that uses Segal Ranch Cascades), Table Dorothy, and growlers of Sumner, Single-Hop Citra, and Single-Hop Nelson Sauvin. What the hell, let's review some of those growlers right now, while we're here and all:

Hill Farmstead Citra

Hill Farmstead Citra Single-Hop Pale Ale - This is pretty much what it sez. I missed out on this during my first exposure to Hill Farmstead many moons ago during Philly Beer Week, so I was glad to finally catch up with it. Pours a cloudy orange-yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head and decent retention. Smells wonderful, bright, juicy citrus leavened by that floral note I tend to get out of Citra. Taste follows the nose, lots of juicy hops, a little of that earthy floral character, finishing on a bitter note. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with fine carbonation and a bit of dryness, quite drillable. Overall, yep, it's fabulous and I feel like even grading on a curve, this rates an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/5/16. Growler filled 8/4/16.

Hill Farmstead Sumner

Hill Farmstead Sumner American Pale Ale - Brewed with Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic hops? Well, ok, if you're going to twist my arm. Pours a little less cloudy, paler yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells similar, but with less floral character and more dank, resinous pine - still plenty of citrus though! Taste is again more on the dank side, plenty of citrus, a little less bright, but juicy enough, with a little less bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, finely carbonated, less dry, very crushable stuff. Overall, less intense, but still quite good. Again grading on a curve, maybe B+ or A-? This is getting impossible you guys.

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/6/16. Growler filled 8/4/16.

Then I popped over to Burlington Beer Company, the first time I'd visited. There I met with Kaedrin friend Cian McGuire, who works at the brewery and was busily bottling some beer when I arrived. We had a nice chat and I picked up plenty of beer. Naturally, I forgot to take pictures of the facility, so you'll just have to deal with the haul pic:

Burlington Beer Company haul
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That's It's Complicated Being a Wizard, Peasant King, Peach of Mind, Brettanomyces Incident, and Chunky. Check out that artwork, so nice. Looking forward to these!

Finally, I stopped in at Foam brewery to visit with Lipstick n Lager and try some of their wares. They've only been open for about 4 months, but they're really nailing their IPAs, which in Vermont is really saying something. I only snagged a single growler from them, but you will most definitely be hearing more about it in the near future. And I will almost certainly stop here again next year.

Foam Brewing
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From there, it was a simple jaunt back to the Adirondacks (where I was staying last week) to enjoy my spoils. I should also mention that I went back to Fulton Chain brewing, which was within walking distance of where I was staying. If you recall, during Operation Cheddar IV: Smoked Cheddar, I stopped in to this place mere weeks after they had opened. I was glad to see that they seem to be well established at this point, with a healthy crowd and many more taplines open.

Fulton Chain Flight
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Highlights were Go Fluff Yourself (made with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff) and Flooded Tent (a cucumber lime saison). Not quite Vermont levels awesome, but hey, walking distance. I should also add that Officer Bob enjoyed Eskimo Strong, an imperial red/amber:

Officer Bob
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Also of note, Wakely's Speakeasy on the other side of town (awesomely named Thendara, NY) that had probably the best Bourbon selection I've ever seen. Very secretive, need a passphrase to get in, and no cell phones/pictures allowed. But live music and again, great whiskey selection (not so good on the beer front, but whatevers). Apparently the owners were from Kentucky, so they've got their connections. Well worth stopping in if you're ever in the area...

And that just about covers another successful Operation Cheddar. Now if you'll excuse me, all this VT beer ain't going to drink itself. I'll leave you with some pictures of Tired Hands beers that I was drinking all week in preparation for Operation Cheddar...

Tired hands Milkshake IPA
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Tired Hands Pineal
(Click to Embiggen)

It was a fun vacation, is what I'm saying. Already looking forward to my next VT odyssey.

I Drink Your Milkshake IPA

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The beer nerd world is all aflutter about the so-called "Northeast IPA" (aka "Milkshake IPA", which we'll get to... er, later in this post), exemplified by the juicy, unfiltered, cloudy looking wares of The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Treehouse, Trillium, and I'll include local favorite Tired Hands too. This isn't really a new observation, but the current kerfluffle kicked off a few weeks ago with an article in Willamette Week called IPA Is Dead, Long Live IPA in which the author cites Northeast influence on the famed Portland, Oregon brewery scene:


When Portland beer geeks sampled the beers blind, it turned out they preferred brighter, juicier versions like those in the Northeast, which have only recently popped up in Portland. The five best IPAs in the city come from brand-new breweries, and most of those have been influenced by Heady Topper, Julius and Sculpin, beers that present hops as a reward rather than a challenge.

There are a few different things to parse here. One is the transition from punishingly bitter IPAs to pleasantly bright and juicy takes on the style, which is unquestionably happening. Another is that this trend originated in the Northeast; an assertion that is more dubious, as Jeff Alworth points out:

The Northeast, like the rest of the country, is not a monolith. Martin seems to be talking about New England here, but New England was actually very late getting to the hops party. Heady Topper is a fascinating beer, but its influence was basically nil in the pubs and breweries of New England, which have largely tended toward English-inflected, balanced, and notably malty beers. (Its influence among the uber-geeks of BeerAdvocate is another matter.) Martin proves this pretty ably because in the three examples of Northeast IPAs he offers, one is from San Diego. It's not an old trend there. Those small New England breweries didn't even drive a palate shift in Portland, Maine, so I have a hard time believing they drove one in Portland, Oregon.

Certainly a fair point, and Alworth goes on to try and break down the trend to it's constituent parts: American Hops, Flavor, and IBUs. It's here that I think his argument doesn't really capture what's going on in the New Guard of Northeast, though his points are part of it and are also more widespread than just the Northeast (I left a comment on Jeff's blog that covers some of the below.)

That one time I poured Heady Topper into a glass, what a rebel I am
That one time I poured Heady Topper into a glass, what a rebel I am

To my mind, the whole trend culminating with the likes of Heady Topper (et al.) started with Greg Noonan at the Vermont Pub and Brewery in the 1990s. It's true that the Northeast is not a monolith and Alworth accurately pins down the old-school Northeastern style as "English-inflected, balanced, and notably malty beers" (think Hop Devil). However, beers like Bombay Grab IPA were precursors to what we're seeing today. Noonan alone was quite influential in the brewing world, having authored several books and just plain helped lots of other brewers.

Yes, American hops, dry hopping, and less bittering hops are part of the shift, but what I associate with the Northeast beers is yeast - Conan and other English strains that aren't as clean fermenting (i.e. they accentuate the fruitiness and juiciness of the hops) as the Chico American Ale stuff that drove so much of the West Coast IPA craze. Where did this come from? Greg Noonan.

Looking at the Northeast breweries listed above, there's also a tendency to use other adjuncts in place of something like crystal malt, so you get oats, wheat, maybe rye, and so on. The hops change with what's available, and a lot of breweries experiment with new or experimental hops, but when I started drinking IPAs (turn of the century timeframe), things seemed very different from the new guard of Northeast IPAs.

I'm not claiming causality here and can't speak to the influence of these beers outside the Northeast, but there's clearly something going on here that is more than just hop-driven. Heady Topper didn't happen by accident; John Kimmich worked for Greg Noonan. That's where he got the Conan yeast from. Heady was available in 2004, but it remained somewhat obscure until they started canning it. After that? you get an explosion of new breweries with a similar core approach.

Do all the Northeast Breweries take this approach? Of course not! But that doesn't mean there isn't a trend. Do some folks take the approach too far? Ah, now this is the next part of the controversy. Witness Jamil Zainasheff on Twitter:


And now we come to what is termed the "Milkshake IPA"; beers that are so cloudy that they barely look like a beer (interestingly, the beer that so offended Zainasheff looks pretty middle of the road in this respect). Part of this is the old-school BJCP emphasis on clarity in beer. It's true, a clear beer sure looks pretty in the glass. But as a result of using low flocculation yeast, starchy adjuncts like wheat or oats, and excessive dry hopping, you get a beer whose flavors are great, but which can appear hazy or worse (Ed gets into it more here).

For some reason, this really gets on some people's nerves. Which is fine! No one is forcing you to drink all the Hill Farmstead and those of us who enjoy their generally limited beer will thank you for leaving more for us. Instead, we just get a lot of whining. A few months ago, one of the Alstrom Bros (of Beer Advocate fame) visited Tired Hands and gave this review to HopHands:

Not feeling it with this brew, extremely cloudy and a mess to say the least. Staff at the pub should not be pouring it. Milkshake beers are not a trend or acceptable with traditional or even modern styles... No excuses. Carbonation seemed off, a muddled mess.

Yikes! In typical Tired Handsian fashion, Jean responded by putting out a series of "Milkshake" beers. IPAs brewed in their typical style, but with added lactose and usually some sort of high-pectin fruit puree in order to really amp up the cloudiness factor. I'm not positive about all of the beers in the series, but I know the recently released canned variety, Strawberry Milkshake IPA, also used wheat flour(!) for that extra turbid look:

Tired Hands Strawberry Milkshake IPA
(Click to Embiggen)

Now, I can see why this particular pour might not be your thing, but it was absolutely delicious! Knowing the context, I think the appearance is perfectly cromulent (especially given how good it tastes). Most of the beers in question don't actually look like this, except maybe Hoof Hearted... and, um, look what they named their brewery! Those are clearly people who don't care what you think. But even standard Tired Hands IPAs can be pretty hazy, and this group of Northeast brewers all seem to have a taste for such beer. When visiting Tired Hands one time a couple years ago, Jean filled a couple of growlers and gave them to a customer who was making a trip to Hill Farmstead. Since Sean Hill apparently likes his beer cloudy, Jean renamed "Communication is the Key" to "Communication is the Murky" and "We Are All Infinite Energy Vibrating At The Same Frequency" to "We Are All Hazy As Hell Vibrating at the Same Cloudiness".

Tired Hands Murky Growlers
(Click to Embiggen)

I think that's another thing worth noting about this whole Northeast phenomenon - these guys all know each other. They collaborate, they swap beers, they're clearly feeding off of one another. The Bros have rated some other beers with similar comments (one I noticed a while back was Trillium Vicinity), so they're clearly bugged by hazy beer. I guess it's possible to get a bad pour. I mean, according to Untappd, I've had well over 300 checkins at Tired Hands, and I've never gotten something that was unintentionally milkshakey. Very hazy? Certainly. But nothing like the Milkshake beers (which, again, were made with tongue firmly in cheek).

Incidentally, I have no idea what beer Jamil Zainasheff was talking about above. This is becoming a bit of a pet peeve for me. People like to whine about "bad breweries" and "offensive" beers, but it seems like they rarely ever actually name names. I mean, I'm sure these things exist, but it's hard to accept your hot take if you won't actually tell us what you're talking about. Strawman arguments are bad enough even when you name the strawman. At least the Bros are clear.

But I digress and I have rambled on for far too long. My ultimate points are that the Northeast IPA appears to be more than just hop-based (yeast and starchy adjuncts seem to play a big role), there is a long tradition with traceable influence, and you know, drink what you like. I happen to have no problem with this trend. If you do, more power to you, but maybe tone down the rhetoric a bit. As for a causal relationship with newfangled Oregon beer, I have no idea. Cloudy beer is certainly not a new thing, even in Oregon, but part of the point is that it's not necessarily the cloudiness that defines Northeast IPA. That's just a symptom of the way these folks are brewing.

Or maybe I'm full of it. As mentioned yesterday, comments are working again, so feel free to register your disgust (assuming you have a Google, Wordpress, etc... account). What say you? I made this post too long didn't I? None of you are actually reading this, are you? I'm the worst. Or the Würst. Are you still here or not? What's going on? Get off my lawn! Or no, wait, leave a comment. So it's getting late and I'm obviously getting loopy, so I'll stop now. Or will I? No, I will. I just haven't yet. Annnnd scene!

Alchemist Focal Banger

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In the dark days of the aughts, The Alchemist was basically an obscure little brewpub that made a name for itself by perfecting IPAs and DIPAs. In 2011, they expanded their operation to a production brewery and cannery... right before Tropical Storm Irene laid waste to the pub. Having just opened the cannery, they opted to just sell cans of Heady Topper for a few years while they recouped their losses. They only made that one beer for a couple years, but I guess you can get away with that when it's the single highest rated beer on the planet. Nevertheless, The Alchemist certainly had a growing stable of recipes that were languishing in obscurity, and starting last year, they started doing limited runs of some other beers and dialing in the recipes to be scaled up and brewed on their new system.

One such beer was Focal Banger, a 7% ABV American IPA made with copious amounts of Citra and Mosaic hops, yielding a beer that is distinct enough from Heady Topper while retaining the DNA that serves that flagship so well (presumably that Conan yeast in action). The canned runs of this were severely limited last year, and they didn't even have approval to send them out via traditional distribution channels (they sold them at little pop up events). Well, they recently got their new artwork approved, and started producing proper cans, though distribution is still severely limited. We managed to snag some cans at the Blackback Pub during Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder a couple weeks back (and we were lucky enough to grab another at The Reservoir the next night). According to the bartender, once The Alchemist's new brewery and retail space opens (presumably next Spring, fingers crossed), production will increase dramatically, and Focal Banger will have similar availability to Heady Topper (and here's to hoping some other stuff makes its way into the mix as well!) Enough preamble, let's get to it:

Alchemist Focal Banger

Alchemist Focal Banger - It doesn't pour because you DRINK IT FROM THE CAN, as ordered (the artwork on the can is beautiful though). Beautiful citrus nose, maybe more tropical than Heady, I keep sticking my nose into the can like a dope (or, come to think of it, like the guy on the can). Taste is hugely citrus, tropical fruits, light bitterness in the finish. The Mosaic hops seem to be dominant here. Citra is no slouch, but it has some more subtle components that tend to fall by the wayside when Mosaic is in play, but then, Mosaic really plays well with that Conan yeast, yielding a really juicy, citrusy feel. Mouthfeel shines, well carbonated, silky smooth, almost creamy, compulsively quaffable. Overall, hot damn, another beautiful Alchemist beer, distinct enough from heady, but in a similar vein... A!

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can, like a man, on 5/26/15.

Totally worth trying to track down if you find yourself in Waterbury, but it sounds like we won't have to wait too long until production ramps up either. Can't wait to be able to actually bring some of this stuff home. Also hoping that the expansion will also include some of their other brews... would love to try one of their imperial stouts, just to see how they handle that sort of contrast. In the meantime, I've got plenty of other Vermont beer to get through, so stay tuned.

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...

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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 The Alchemist category.

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