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Victory Double Feature

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It has been far too long since I've written about our friends in Downingtown, PA. Victory's staple IPA, HopDevil, will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was probably the first beer that really got me to love hops. Sure, I'd had other pale ales before and thought they were fine, but HopDevil got me to love those citrus hops and bitter finish. Flash forward a decade later, and their line of IPAs was starting to feel a bit stale. HopDevil is still a staple beer and a sight for sore eyes at a lot of local non-craft focused establishments, and I really enjoy the occasional Hop Wallop, but I get the impression that Victory started to see their sales plateau despite the generally skyrocketing sales of IPAs overall.

Perhaps as a result, Victory slowly started fiddling with hops at their brewpub. In 2009 or 2010, they did a line of single hop pale ales called the Pursuit series. I had one of these by chance and wasn't a huge fan, but clearly the experimental aspect of the series was a success, because it culminated in Headwaters Pale Ale, which is a fantastic yet simple take on the lowly pale ale style (it's also a huge seller and may even have surpassed HopDevil to become Victory's flagship).

In 2011, they started playing with Double IPAs and worked with their contacts at hop farms to create the Ranch series (a name which seems to inspire visions of ranch dressing in all who hear it, but it's actually a reference to the hop ranches that victory sources from). This kicked off with Ranch S, which was Cascade single hopped (and which I quite enjoyed), then Ranch R, which was Centennial single hopped (and which I didn't like as much). Things proceeded from there, with other single hop beers (Chinook, Simcoe, Citra, etc... most of which I did not have) and then some hop combos (Philly Beer Week saw a Simcoe and Amarillo combination that was really quite nice). The Ranch series eventually culminated in Dirt Wolf, which uses Citra, Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic hops. It's also one of the beers I'll review later in this post (sorry for taking so long to get to the point).

Now, to make matters more confusing, in the summer of 2013, there was a short offshoot of the Ranch series that had a lighter bodied malt bill and utilized a cleaner yeast strain. The first of these was called K-Bomb and it used an experimental hop known as ADHA 483 (it has since been named Azacca). It was quite nice! For Philly Beer Week, Victory evolved that recipe to include Mosaic hops as well, and called it Liberty Bell Ringer and that was a very well received beer. So Victory took that recipe, made some minor tweaks, and just released it in December as Hop Ranch (even though it doesn't really taste like any of the Ranch beers).

I suppose this could be confusing to local beer wonks like myself, but who cares about us? Especially since these beers are really very good. I really have to admire a brewery the size of Victory taking the time and effort to revamp their DIPA line into something worth talking about. I've had both on tap at the brewery and even got a growler of Hop Ranch, but I wanted to do a head-to-head comparison, so after I took in Wolf of Wall Street (a little overlong and vulgar, but also vibrant and energetic), I headed home, popped in The Place Beyond the Pines (very ambitious but also overlong, with an oddly structured story) to complete the double feature that would complement my dueling Victory IPAs:

Victory Hop Ranch DIPA

Victory Hop Ranch - Pours a clear, light golden yellow color with a finger of dense white head. Smells beautiful, mango, juicy citrus hops, very "new" IPA feeling. That's not a real thing, but it could be. You with me? No? Fine then, the taste is very sweet, juicy citrus hops (dat mango), nice balancing bitterness toward the finish. Mouthfeel is very light, crisp, clean, and tightly carbonated, smooth and dangerously drinkable. Maybe a hint of belly warming if you drink quickly. Overall, this is fantastic! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/13. Enjoy by May 19, 2014.


Victory Dirt Wolf DIPA

Victory Dirt Wolf - Pours a clear golden color, a little darker than the hop ranch, with a finger of white head and some lacing. Smells dank and resinous, some citrus notes, maybe even some malt and or yeast aromas. Taste definitely has that dank pine and citrus character, maybe even some kolsch yeast or something. Some malt too, more bitterness, and even a little booze (which is funny, because this is slightly less ABV). Mouthfeel is bigger and heavier, but not a monster. Pleasant boozy feel too. Overall, its very good, definitely better than most (if not all) of the Ranch series that I've tried, though I think I like Hop Ranch is better! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass 1/4/13. Enjoy by May 18, 2014.

It appears that 2014 has started out Victorious. I got a several Victory beers as gifts over the holidays and it's been fun. Old Horizontal will be making an appearance at the next beer club, and I'm sure I'll be hitting up some interesting stuff this year as well (now that the new brewery is up and running, we don't have to worry about capacity anymore, so I'm hoping for the return of stuff like Wild Devil, or more adventurous BA stuff)...

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
(Click for larger version)

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!

Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folk from my work who get together every month at a local BYOB for drinkening and fun. Minor error in tonight's choice of establishment in that it's summertime, so it's super hot, and this place isn't air conditioned. Great pizza and sandwiches though. It actually wasn't that bad, but it's off the list for summer events from nows on... Anywho, solid turnout and lots of great beer. I event remembered to take a picture (unlike last month):

Beer Club - July 2013

One of my friends was all scared about what she should bring and so she was trying to downplay her contribution, but then was all "So my friend from Vermont thought you might like this," and pulled out two cans of Heady Topper. She wins beer club.

For the sake of posterity, random thoughts on each beer below. Standard disclaimers regarding small samples and less than ideal conditions, but don't worry, next month we're renting out sensory deprivation chambers and using industrial grade palate cleansers between each sip. But for now, you'll have to settle for imperfection:

  • Kona Wailua Wheat - A pretty straightforward take on a wheat beer, unremarkable, but a nice first taste for the night. B-
  • The Alchemist Heady Topper - Hard to believe, but I actually scored a 4 pack of this stuff last week, so there will be a more detailed review in the next couple days. In short, it's superb. Stay tuned for more (review probably posted on Thursday). A
  • San Miguel Pale Pilsen - From the best beer of the night to the worst. This was actually a can of beer from 2007. Vintage! A friend at work visited the Philippines and brought a couple of us back a can of this stuff. It's pretty generic, bland pilsner stuff, but let's just say there's a reason you don't age pilseners. It's actually not undrinkable, but it's definitely started to get that apple-like off flavor and not something I'd ever want to drink except in small quantities as a joke, like it was tonight. D
  • Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse - From unintentionally sour and bad to intentionally sour and pretty damn good. One of my contributions! Berliner Weisse (translates to "Jelly Donut Wheat") is a style that's hit or miss for me, but this one is a definite hit, and it was perfect for the hot summer night. Super light, crisp, refreshing tartness, really nice. Definitely worth trying. B+ or A-
  • Horny Goat Watermelon Wheat - Watermelon can work in beer, but it did not work at all for me here. It had this weird artificial twang to it coupled with a sorta almost spicy note? Really weird and unpleasant. Lots of strange faces made around the group, though one person liked it enough. Me, I give it a D
  • Ommegang Fleur De Houblon - One of the recent Ommegang releases that I've been slacking on, this one is a pretty straightforward Belgian Pale Ale, with a nice floral hop character, maybe some herbalness, but it all matches well with Ommegang's standard Belgian yeast flavors (spicy and banana). I wouldn't describe it as super hoppy, and there isn't a lot of bitterness, but there are some hop flavors here. Not an amazing beer, but definitely worth drinking. B
  • Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire IO - One of my contributions and a beer I've reviewed before. Yep, still a great beer, more fruity and less funky than I remember, but that may be a function of drinking a bunch of other beers and eating food and whatnot. Still fantastic, no matter what, and everyone seemed to enjoy it and would come back to this after some of the next beers (though one person noted that the label artist was stealing the style of another artist!) Still an A- in my book, and I've got another one in the cellar just in case I want another taste.
  • Heavy Seas Holy Sheet (Brandy Barrel) - I like it. It's got a typical Belgian dubbel sorta vibe, but nice rich, boozy Brandy notes hit at the front of the taste before those raisins and molasses kick in during the middle to finish. It was a little too warm when we opened it, but I'll give it a solid B+ for now.
  • New Holland Envious - I got a very cough syrupy vibe off this thing, which wasn't the grossest beer evar, but not particularly great either. The fruit comes through a bit, but there's that syrupy feel that sorta drags it down, and I didn't get much oak at all. Actually very disappointing. I suppose my palate could have potentially been shot by this point, but it still was not very good. D
  • Victory Otto in Oak - My last contribution, I was a little worried about this because I hadn't tried it since it first came out (when I loved it) and I'd traded a few of them out recently, so I was curious to see how it's held up. Apparently pretty well! Indeed, the smoke has faded even more than it had when I first tried it, and the rich bourbon and oak character was really nice. It's not something that beer nerds will go completely wild over, but I really enjoy it and think it retains the A- rating I initially gave it.
At this point I got a phone call telling my that my neighbors (the folks who live under me) had water dripping into their condo, so I had to leave (fortunately, I think we were mostly finished at this point). It turns out that the water leak was not coming from my condo, so all is well at Kaedrin HQ. Stay tuned, some exciting beer on its way, including that Heady Topper review (so good). So all in all, a successful night and naturally, already looking forward to the next meeting.

Double Feature: Victorious Monkeys

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So just what the hell is being depicted on the Golden Monkey label? Let's take a closer look:

Victory Golden Monkey Logo

This label never made sense to me until someone told me that it was referencing the Three Wise Monkeys, a famous Japanese pictorial maxim that embodies the proverb "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". And yeah, I can kinda see that. There's clearly a finger being jabbed into an ear (only one ear, but I'll go with it) and a hand over the eyes and mouth too. But then, why does this monkey have four arms and a gigantic eyeball protruding from it's belly?

Anywho, Golden Monkey is one of my old favorites, one of the brews that got me into "good" beer back in the day (near as I can tell, it remains a draw to "non-beer drinkers"). I haven't had one of these in, oh, say 2 or 3 years. Will it hold up to scrutiny, or have I grown beyond it? And will sticking it in old white wine barrels make it even better? There's only one way to find out, so I picked up a bottle of each, and drank them both last Friday. First up, the regular ol' Monkey:

Victory Golden Monkey

Victory Golden Monkey - Pours a bright, mostly clear golden color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. Smells of bready Belgian yeast and lots of spice, particularly coriander and maybe some clove too. The taste starts of sweet and bready, with spice (coriander and clove) hitting in the middle, and a well matched bitterness lingers in the finish. Not bitter like an IPA or anything, but enough balance that this doesn't quite feel like a 9.5% beer... Mouthfeel is medium bodied and well carbonated, a slight slickness in the finish. No real booze notes, but it's easy to drink this fast enough that you get that warming sensation in your belly. Overall, this is a really solid, spiced take on the style. I probably would have rated this higher a couple years ago, but it's still a really nice beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 3/8/13. Bottle sez: Enjoy by Jan 9 2016

Victory White Monkey

Victory White Monkey - Pours a slightly darker, clear golden color with a finger of bubbly white head. Smells similar, bread and spice, but with a nice white wine aspect. That wine character doesn't come through quite as strongly in the taste, but it's still there, and it's got a light buttery, vinous character to it. Mouthfeel is still medium bodied, but less carbonated, lending a more sticky mouthfeel to the brew than the base beer. Overall, a nice variant of a nice beer, though I don't know that it's any better than its base. After drinking the bottle, I found myself a little disappointed in this, but I guess it's an interesting change of pace and I'm glad I got to try some. I suspect it's just that I'm not much of a white wine guy, unless we start talking about sours... B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/8/13. Bottled on Feb 13 2013.

Well, I was hoping the Monkey would hold up to my original notions, and to be sure, it's a fine beer, but I'm just not as taken with it these days. And I'm just not that big a fan of white wine either, so perhaps the deck just wasn't stacked that well for me on Friday. Again, both fine beers, a gazillion times better than macro stuff, but a little underwhelming. Probably shouldn't have bought an extra, but hey, maybe some white wine fanatics would love this. This just about wraps up Victory's announced barrel aging efforts, of which the clear winner is Oak Horizontal. However, their new brewery comes on line soon, so I'm looking forward to some more experimentation, perhaps even the return of the most excellent Wild Devil (Hop Devil with Brett)...

January Beer Club

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I've more or less run out of beer puns for beer clubs, so you'll just have to deal with it. I know, you all love puns, so you're all broken up about it, but you'll just have to deal. Beer club is a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. As per usual, this gathering is anchored by a core group of stalwarts, along with assorted return guest stars. So it was a solid turnout, lots of beer, good BBQ and just an all around good time.

January Beer Club 2013
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In accordance with tradition, my thoughts on each beer we sampled are recorded below for posterity. Standard disclaimers regarding non-ideal tasting isolation conditions apply, so all you pedants better stay frosty, as nearly all of this will be untrustworthy/awesome. Roughly in order of tasting (not necessarily the order in the above picture):

  • Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer - Things started off on a bizarre note. It's basically alcoholic ginger ale, which is fine for what it is, I guess, and definitely attracts the non-beer folk due to it's high sweetness and ginger spicing, but I found it kinda poopy. It's actually good that we had it in this sort of setting where I only had to try a tiny sample, but I'll give it a D, because fuck ginger beer. Seriously guiz.
  • Belhaven Scottish Ale - Belhaven is supposed to be one of the top Scottish ale styles out there, but man, we must have gotten a bad bottle. It has that gross diacetyl buttery flavor that I get out of a lot of British pale ales and have grown to hate. I'm not sure if that's just the beer, or if it's the clear bottle, or what, but it felt kinda skunky too. Not totally undrinkable, but I was again glad that I only took a very small sample of the stuff. D
  • Abita Jockamo IPA - While a big improvement over my first two tastes of the night, this strikes me as being a fairly unremarkable IPA. It reminds me of the sort of thing you'd get in a John Harvard's brewpub, circa 1998. Totally an improvement over BMC (or, since we're talking about my college years, Natty/Beast), but nothing special at all. A nice hop aroma, but a taste that fell a little flat and bland. B-
  • Old Forge Overbite IPA - Ahhh, now that's more like it. A really nice semi-local IPA, lots of that citrusy, floral hop goodness, maybe a little pine too, was a real breath of fresh air after the first three beers of the evening. It's not a world beater, to be sure, but these guys are totally making a name for themselves in the Philly area, and this makes for a pleasant enough IPA. B+
  • Birrificio Del Ducato Nuova Mattina - Guest star Steve contributed this very nice Italian beer to the proceedings, a Belgian style pale with lots of sharp carbonation, sweet and spicy (lots of spices used in making this, and they contribute, but not overwhelmingly so), bready, with a touch of light fruit. Overall, it's got a really nice rustic quality, an almost quaffable beer, really enjoyable. B+
  • Widmer Brrr - A totally solid winter warmer, pretty light on the spices actually, though it works well enough. It's not the sort of thing that stands out in a tasting like this, but it's totally serviceable and would probably get the job done if needed. B
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - A vintage bottle of my very own homebrew? It's still doing pretty well, actually, though I do believe it has peaked and is now on a bit of a downward swing. It's still retained that sorta creamy vanilla caramel base, and the spices are still there, particularly clove with a hint of cinnamon, though those are diminished from last year. It's held up about as well as I could have hoped, though it's not quite as fantastic as it once was. B+
  • Allagash Fluxus 2012 - Another of my contributions for the night, it's a totally solid Belgian pale ale, actually quite similar to that Nuova Mattina beer, though with less carbonation. Still, a very nice Belgian yeast character, spicy and biscuity. Not especially a standout, especially amongst Allagash's lineup, but a solid beer nonetheless. This could be tasting fatigue setting in, but I'll go with min instinctual rating of a B
  • Traquair House Jacobite - Ah, now this is a Scottish brewery I can get behind. Of course, this is a slightly stronger style, but I like me some Wee Heavy/Scotch Ales, and this is a pretty superb example of the style. Big rich malt character, brown sugar, some fruitiness, a light booziness, and all of this is very well balanced against each other. Truly a solid beer, and widely available too, well worth checking out for the Scotch Ale fan and a contender for best of the night. A-
  • Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale - Once again, this might be tasting fatigue setting in, but I was expecting more out of this. Don't get me wrong, it's a totally good beer. Not very red in appearance, but it certainly smells/tastes like an imperial red, big, well integrated citrus and pine hops mixed with those crystal and red malts. Very nice, would like to try again in better conditions. For now, we'll give it a provisional B+
  • DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus - Perhaps the strangest beer of the night, but it worked surprisingly well. You could say it's gimmicky, it being a "Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter", but this is quite possibly the perfect beer for a tasting like this. Exclamations of "Whoa" and "It smells like peanut butter" all around the table. It tasted like peanut butter brownies that were perhaps a bit overcookied so that you got that roastiness. Kinda like the edge/corner piece (which, you know, I love). It worked surprisingly well in this setting. I have no idea how I'd react if I were to drink an entire bottle, but I'm feeling generous enough to hand it a B+ (though it's probably more of a B)
  • Victory Oak Horizontal - Another of my contributions for the night, it's just as good as I remembered it. The bourbon, while prominent, was not overpowering at all, which endeared it to some folks who don't tend to like bourbon. Still an A- and a fitting end to the evening.
So there you have it. After a shaky start, things livened up quickly, and this sort of ratings distribution is actually quite nice. I mean, this isn't the most exclusive of beer clubs, after all, and only a few of us a really huge beer nerds, but it's a lot of fun and I always look forward to beer club. February's meeting will come soon enough!

Victory Oak Horizontal

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Twas the night before my Christmas vacation, when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a tweet from Victory and the promise of oak aged beer. I sprang from the cubicle, visions of caged and corked bottles dancing in my head, and dashed to the brewery in my horseless sled.

Uh, yeah, so a poet, I am not. And this isn't even technically a Christmas beer! For shame. I beg the forgiveness of Clement Clarke Moore. But Victory's Old Horizontal is a winter seasonal, a big, strong barleywine that's perfect for the season. Due to capacity issues, Victory actually hasn't brewed any of that base beer for the past couple years, much to my chagrin. This year, Victory "bribed" their brewers to put in extra hours and make up a batch, but instead of simply releasing it, they chucked it in Bourbon barrels for three months. This barrel aged version was dubbed Oak Horizontal, and it was released just two days ago.

Victory Oak Horizontal Boxes at the Brewery Store

Of Victory's planned barrel aged brews, this seemed to be the most exciting, perhaps just because I tend to love me some Bourbon barrel aged barleywines. This was a quasi-stealth release, so like Red Thunder, there was no Sturm und Drang normally associated with bottle releases. Pretty much everyone I saw walking out of the brewery had at least a bottle or two, if not a whole case, so I'm guessing it's all gone by now, though the clerks said it would be getting limited distribution in PA and NJ as well. They also said less of this was made than Red Thunder (presumably due to those capacity issues), so make of that what you will. Whatever the case, I've got my allocation, so let's see how Victory did:

Victory Oak Horizontal

Victory Oak Horizontal - Pour a very pretty, dark, clear amber color (ruby tones, so much clarity) with a finger of light tan head. Smells of caramel, oak, and vanilla, with just a bit of bourbon and maybe some fruitiness too. Taste is filled with rich caramel and that vanilla oak character, with a well matched bourbon flavor and just a bit of fruitiness. No booze apparent at all. Server at the brewery sez it's 14% ABV, but I cannot believe it's that strong. The base beer is 11%, so this is certainly no slouch, probably at least 12%, but who knows? Mouthfeel is full bodied, but not overly chewy or heavy. Well matched carbonation, certainly not a gulping beer, but it doesn't feel like a monster even if it is. Overall, this is a great beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV (probably somewhere in the 12-13% range) bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/21/12. Bottled on 12/20/12. Bottle also sez: B15 1552 (batch and bottle number?)

I would put this beer on par with Weyerbacher's most excellent Insanity, another barrel aged barleywine that's got quite a following. Will be curious to see how the beer nerd community responds to this one. In other news, my cellar is growing unwieldy again, so I may need to chill out for a bit and drink some of that down. Lots of exciting stuff down there, though, so you'll have some interesting reading/jealousy issues coming. But ohh, the BA Eclipse beers were just released. Dammit. And soon enough, Victory will be releasing White Monkey. Golden Monkey was one of those formative craft beers for me... it's a beer I'm almost scared to revisit at this point... but I am curious to see what the white wine barrel aging will do to it. Perhaps a double feature is in order. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

To a certain type of beer dork, saying that these were bottle releases is probably overselling their significance. Near as I can tell, Dock Street doesn't actually distribute their bottles, and Victory is doing a limited distribution in the general region, but in practice, these releases consisted of my walking up to a counter and asking for a few bottles. No waiting in line for hours (in the rain!) like some bottle releases, just good beer and friendly conversation.

Things kicked off with Dock Street Brewing's annual holiday release of limited brews last night. They claimed that only around 2-6 cases were available for each variety, so I was a little wary, but I got there early enough to get everything I wanted:

Dock Street bottles
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Lots of barrel aged rarities there, some aged for 3+ years. As luck would have it, frequent commenter and newfound beverage compatriot Rich on Beer was also in attendance, along with some other beer geeks, so we engaged in much beer dorkery. I had a good time and it was great to meet up with Rich.

I had a Rye IPA, which was quite a solid, juicy American hopped ale with well matched spicy rye notes, and also a non-barrel aged Prince Myshkin's Russian Imperial Stout, which managed to exceed expectations. Big beer, light roast, lots of chocolate and caramel, not overly sweet, very well balanced stuff. I'm now really looking forward to the Hungarian Red Wine Barrel Aged bottle I got. I don't have any pictures or detailed notes, but look for some more detailed reviews in the coming weeks. Dock Street seems like a pretty small operation, but one that I think should probably garner a better reputation... at least, based on my limited exposure, which is admittedly small.

I've already mentioned this morning's bottle release, Victory's Red Thunder. This day-before-Thanksgiving release slot was occupied by Dark Intrigue last year, one of them wait in line, braving the elements kinda releases. This year was significantly more subdued. Victory opened early with a special breakfast menu, and the place was indeed as crowded as I'd ever seen it, but it seems most folks were more interested in breakfast than the bottle release (though I think you could order a few bottles from your table). I arrived a little over an hour after opening and there were only two people in line in front of me. I don't know if anyone lined up before opening, but on the other hand, red wine aged baltic porters aren't exactly the most hyped styles.

I've had the base beer, Baltic Thunder, a few times now, and I've always enjoyed it. I'm not a huge fan of porters, but this one is a little bigger and richer, hence the Baltic appellation. I'm hoping the barrel aging will tone down some of those elements as well as add some complexity. Let's find out, shall we:

Victory Red Thunder

Victory Red Thunder - Pours a dark brown color with pretty amber highlights and minimal, light tan head. Taste has those typical roasted malt and chocolate aromas, but I feel like the fruitiness is much more pronounced than the base beer, presumably from the wine. Even getting a hint of oak in the nose. Taste leans heavier on chocolate, vanilla, and caramel than roasted malt flavors, and that oak is definitely contributing a richness to the whole affair. I'm not picking up much in the way of red wine in terms of fruity flavors, but there's a pleasantly dry astringency that comes out in the finish that works quite well. Tannins and all that (probably just as much an oak thing as a wine thing). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little mouth-coaty with a long finish. It's no quaffable session beer, but it's not quite a sipper either. The alcohol is reasonably well hidden, and it's all rather well integrated and balanced (unlike the recently reviewed Mikkeller Black Hole beer, though I think that had its charms as well). Overall, I really like this beer a lot. I can see porter fanatics being disappointed by the toned down... porterness... of this beer, but it worked well for me. Admittedly, I'm not a huge porter fan, so take this with a grain of salt, but I consider this an improvement over the base beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/12.

Good stuff. Probably not going to inflame the passions of your typical beer nerd, but it hit the right notes for me. All told, I've had a pretty cool couple of days here. And when combined with my yearly holiday beer purchases and a couple upcoming trades, my cellar is reaching capacity. Well, not really, but I should tone things down for a bit while my liver catches up to my acquisitions. This will, of course, be chronicled right here, so stay tuned. Gonna be an interesting few months...

Update: Dropped Red Thunder to a B+. Still very good, but I was perhaps too enthusiastic upon first taste...

Novembeer Club

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together once a month to share good beer, a good meal, and good company! We typically congregate at a local BYOB to share all our brews and wines and whatnot. As per usual, much merriment was had by all, lots of beer and wine and good food. It ended up being a rather small gathering by our normal standards, but still plenty of fantastic beer shared by all.

Novembeer Club
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. Standard disclaimers about the fact that I wasn't in a sensory deprivation chamber whilst tasting these, and in a lot of cases, I was only sampling rather small pours, but whatevers. Take these descriptions with a grain of salt if you're really concerned, but you really shouldn't be, because I'm pretty awesome. Or not. Whatever. Here's what I had (in order of drinking, not necessarily in order of the picture above):

  • Kaedrin Abbey Dubbel - My homebrewed abbey dubbel style beer seems to still be conditioning, though it's getting better every week. Right now, it's quite tasty, if a bit boozy, and the carbonation doesn't seem to have fully taken hold of the brew. This is actually somewhat expected, given that the brew came in much stronger than I had originally intended. I suspect this will be drinking fabulously in a few weeks or so... I wll refrain from rating right now, just cause I want to give it some more time to mature...
  • Turkey Drool Homebrew - A friend of a friend of a friend contributed this homebrew, which actually seemed to fall a little flat, especially when compared with other brews we had tonight. There didn't seem to be any off flavors, per say, but on the other hand, what was there was very subtle if not non-existent. From the ingredient list, I was expecting much more out of this. Again, not the worst thing evar and certainly drinkable, but also completely forgetable. C+
  • New Belgium Snow Day - A strange, but mostly enjoyable brew. BeerAdvocate classifies it as an American Black Ale, but I would say that it's more of hoppy red ale than that implies. Maybe some winter warmer base here, but quite a nice hop character to it. Overall, very drinkable stuff, a nice hop presence, but it's not going to light the world on fire either. B
  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale (2011) - Kaedrin friend Dana procured this last year, and has held on to it since then. Apparently a highly sought after beer, this is a very light colored winter warmer style offering, reminiscent of a deeper English pale ale that doesn't quite contain any of that diacetyl character I associate with it. Sweet, a very light spiciness, flavorful, but not quite blowing me away either. I can see why this is a prized holiday brew, but it's not something I go out of my way for... B
  • Westmalle Trappist Tripel - A classic, which I have already reviewed in detail. For the most part, it's as good as evar. On a personal level, I've cooled somewhat on the tripel style, though I still quite enjoy one every once in a while... A
  • Kona Pipeline Porter - Holy coffee, Batman! This is apparently a porter, but it's heavily influenced by coffel flavors all throughout, sorta light a lighter Founders Breakfast Sout. I'm not really a fan of coffee or porters in general, so it's pretty amazing that I didn't tink of this as the worst thing I've ever tasted. It's actually pretty solid and goes down easily. That being said, I don't think I'd ever really seek to try this again... B-
  • Weyerbacher Winter Ale - Another beer I've had and reviewed before. For the most part, my feelings remain unchanged. It's a fine beer, a pretty standard winter warmer, but I'd like to see more complexity and flavor out of this one. B
  • Monk's Café Flemish Sour Red Ale - One of my contributions for the night, this is one of those beers often recommended to sour newbies, and it actually did seem to go over really well with the beer club folks, even those who don't go in for normal beertastic stuff. A nice malt backbone and sweet fruit character followed by a very slight sourness that nevertheless cut through and made this one of the more flavorful brews of the night. Overall, definitely a nice beginners sour beer, something I'll probably try again at some point as well... B+
  • Nebraska Hop God - Reserve Series Aged In French Oak Chardonnay Barrels - Yet another of my contributions for the night, this one turned out to be interesting, if not quite what I expected from a beer called "Hop God". Hops certainly play a role in the flavor profile, but it's mostly defined by that oak Chardonnay character, with some booze peeking through as well. It's really quite nice, though I wish I had a better palate for white wine. B or B+
  • Victory Storm King Stout - Once again, we get a beer I've had before. It's a beer I've come to appreciate more and more over the years, but I still wouldn't rate it among the highest imperial stouts. Still a solid stout with a big hop presence. B+
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout - My last contribution for the night, this is just as good as it was the last time I had it. Beer club peeps seemed to enjoy, though there were a couple that don't particularly enjoy those bourbon flavors, and thus didn't care for this. Me, I'll leave it at an A.
And there you have it. Another successful outing, as per usual. Alas, we didn't get to all the beers we brought (I was particularly interested in Lancaster's Winter Warmer, but I'm sure I'll catch up with it sometime). Already looking forward to next month and some more holiday brews...

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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.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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