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Boon Vat 77 Mono Blend

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If not for the 10% young lambic blended into this beer (which provides enough lively yeast and fermentables to allow for carbonation in the bottle), it would be something akin to Single Barrel Lambic, an intriguing concept. The other 90% is sourced from a single oak foudre, numbered (you guessed it) 77. This particular cask was originally made in 1907, and while it's survived two world wars and undoubtedly seen other uses during its long history, it's been used by Boon to age three year old lambic for use in their gueuze blends since 1986. Apparently Frank Boon has a particular love for the beer that comes out of this cask, and so when they started this mono-blend series, it was only a matter of time before it was selected for a release. These fine folks even managed to snag a picture of the foudre:

The actual Vat 77
(Click to embiggen)

Of course, these foudres are gigantic (averaging 8,000 liters each), so don't expect to see anything like the Single Barrel Bourbon or Scotch world, where local stores pick a barrel and bottle it, but wouldn't that be neat if beer could pull off something like that? You know someone would take a flier on a Password is Taco barrel or snag a single barrel BCBS, or fly to Belgium and snag a Cantillon barrel. I doubt most breweries would be all that keen on the prospect, but who knows? Maybe one of these big barrel programs will differentiate themselves with this sort of thing (and, you know, do a better job than Retribution). In the meantime we'll have to make due with approximations like this Mono Blend, which was actually a really interesting beer and something I'd like to compare against future releases... Let's take a look at how it's drinking now:

Boon A L ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Gueuze A L'ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend - Pours an almost clear golden color with a finger of fluffy head that lasts for a bit, but not indefinitely. Smells quite funky, lots of earthiness, lots of farmhouse, maybe even some funky cheese character. Taste also goes quite earthy, and frankly doesn't feel all that sour at all, lots of leathery farmhouse character, not as cheesy as the nose would have you believe I guess, but still quite different than I'm used to for a Gueuze. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, only a very slight hint of acidity, much more funky than sour. Overall, this is an interesting beer! I don't quite know what to make of it, actually, as it's really quite nice, but also not your typical Gueuze... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tumbler on 11/7/15. Brewed 10/26/11 and 10/27/11. Bottled 10/24/13. Best before 10/24/2033.

Next up in the Mono Blend series is Vat 79, which is apparently the oldest cask they have, dating back to 1883. Would love to compare these two next to each other someday. In the meantime, Boon is one of the few Lambic producers who you can actually find, so go out there and snag some of those Marriage Parfaits, they're pretty good too.

Jean van Roy at Monk's Cafe

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In what appeared to be a last minute decision, Cantillon brewer Jean van Roy stopped in at Philly institution Monk's Cafe, and with his arrival came a goodly amount of his prized lambic. In a fortuitous turn, Monk's owner, Tom Peters, also dipped into his cellar for a couple of really special beers. Jean Hummler of Brussels' famous Moeder lambic bars was also visiting and helping decant bottles with the staff. Because of the hasty announcement, the crowds were not completely insane (though the place was still pretty stuffed) and most of us got a taste of even the rarest stuff that was pouring. Everything except the Kriek was being decanted from bottles in 4-6 ounce pours, and as per usual, the staff was professional and courteous.

Naturally, I got some stuff I'd had before, like the Classic Gueuze (excellent as always), Vigneronne (even better than I remembered!), Iris (not as spectacular as the last one I had), and Kriek (on tap, and much more jammy and fruity than I remember from the bottle). New to me was the Cantillon Mamouche, a lambic with elderflowers added (it was originally Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they made it a recurring specialty), it was naturally quite nice. I liked it better than most of the above, though I didn't take detailed notes.

Jean van Roy and moi
(Click to embiggen)

Jean was hanging out with the crowd, answering questions, posing for photographs, and being generally personable. I don't normally go in for this sort of thing, but I grabbed a picture with the guy too. He was a good sport. I didn't get a chance to talk with him that much, but I was listening in to a few conversations. Stuff I remember had to do with his use of an abnormally long brewday (starting at 7 or 8 in the morning, ending at 5-6) and that he has a lot of respect for what some of the American breweries are doing. He spoke a lot about Allagash and their coolship program, saying that their first batch was ok, but that each successive batch was getting better and better because spontaneous fermentation relies a lot more on the environment than just regular innoculation. He also mentioned Jester King and Hill Farmstead as brewers who knew their stuff, as if we didn't already know. I was going to ask him about how the Cantillon expansion is going, but didn't get a chance because he was called over to the bar to open those special bottles.

2000 Cantillon Fou Foune
2000 vintage Fou Foune

First up was Fou Foune, a pretty special beer in any scenario, but then add in the fact that these bottles were from the year 2000 and jaws were dropping all over the room (even Tom Peters didn't realize how old they were until he opened the bottle and saw the date on the cork). Pours of this were slightly smaller since there were only 5 bottles available, but a pretty large proportion of folks got a glass (and those that didn't generally got to take a sip of someone else, as everyone was being generous). It was supremely funky, wonderful nose, lots of earth and almost cheese rind character, a little fruit. Taste wasn't quite as funky, but had a very Gueuze-like feel to it, but with hints of oak and tart fruit (not identifiable as peach, for sure). Nothing at all like the nimble, light, and airy fresh Fou Foune, but pretty spectacular in its own right. It's nice to take down a teenager, and it feels well worth the experiment of aging a lambic for absurd amounts of time like this.

Cantillon LH12
Cantillon LH12

Finally, another true rarity, Cantillon LH12, an unblended lambic aged in a Cognac barrel. Yes, singular, they only made one barrel of this stuff, meaning that there were fewer than 400 bottles in existence back in 2010 when they bottled this. Who knows how many are left right now?! As an unblended lambic, this pours almost still. Given my extreme sensitivity to carbonation issues, I was a little worried, but it turned out to be pretty fantastic. As van Roy noted when he introduced it, "This beer is very, very fine, you have to compare it more to a wine than a beer." And he's dead on, this felt very vinous, a little funk and oak, but that vinous fruit carries the day. Supposedly Cantillon 50°N-4°E incorporates something similar (cognac barrel aged lambic) into its blend, though that's another rarity I've never glimpsed.

This was a pretty fabulous night of drinking and proves that you would do well to monitor Monk's Cafe's events page (actually, Framboise For a Cure is coming up in a week or so, I may need to head back there!) Tick another two off the infamous White Whale list. A few more and I'll be completely insufferable.

September Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and general revelry. This time, we stopped in at a local Pizza place for some deep fried dough, strombolis, and yes, pizza. It's not a big place and the pizza isn't as spectacular as the last beer club gathering, but we always manage to make due. Good attendance tonight too, and plenty of beer.

September Beer Club Selections
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some half-addled thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, this was a social gathering, so I wasn't paying too close of attention to what I was drinking and you should totes ignore what I'm writing and make up your own mind because I'm totally the worst and this post is definitely an ill-advised idea that I'm only doing out of tradition because I've done it for all previous iterations of beer club and are you even reading this? Why? The beer notes are below, in order of tasting, not necessarily in the order pictured (and some later attendees brought some stuff that is not pictured):

  • Platform Speed Merchant White IPA - Not expecting much out of this Ohio beer brought back by a visitor, fantastic citrusy nose, more typical IPA-like taste. Quite solid though, and worth a look on its own. B+
  • Pizza Boy Hop Test #1 (Cascade Single Hop) - Yep, it's a pale ale. The very definition of cromulence, this does nothing particularly special, but it's an enjoyable little pale ale. B
  • New Belgium Pumpkick - Whoa there, this is quite perfumey, moar ginger than anything else, but that perfumey character really overpowers everything else with this beer. Not horrendous, but not a particularly good pumpkin beer either. C+
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack - Back in the early days of this blog, this would have been an A worthy beer, but grade inflation is a bitch. It's still an accomplished and emminently accomplished IPA, well worth checking out. Delicious citrus/pine/malt balance. B+
  • Weyerbacher Tarte Nouveau - Very nice little tart beer, tart, crisp, refreshing, very light bodied and easy going, sorta beginner sour stuff but quite nice on its own. B+
  • Overshores Tripel Brun - Bottle a bit of a gusher, and thus carbonation levels a bit off, but this is basically a very raisiny Belgian strong dark. B
  • Brasserie De Blaugies / Hill Farmstead La Vermontoise - I know I've had this before, but apparently I never reviewed it. It's not quite up to speed with the best of Hill Farmstead, but it's a rock solid saison, earthy and spicy, quite delicious. B+
  • Fantôme Coffee Ruby - One of my contributions, this came off as surprisingly muted. There's some coffee character that is definitely present, but it's not overpowering at all, despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be a ton of other stuff going on with this beer. It's got a very, very mild funk to it, and the combination of the base with coffee doesn't entirely blesh, but it's certainly an interesting beer. A little weird, but could more interesting with more funk. Keeping in mind my legendary indifference to coffee, I'll give it a B
  • Cascade Figaro - This is typical Cascade sour here, which is to say, it's a fantastic little sour. I don't get a lot of fig or lemon peel out of it, but it's got that trademark Cascade lactic sour and oak character that just work so damn well. Generally agreed to be one of the best of the night. A-
  • White Birch Indulgence Ale (2014) - Not sure which version of this beer I tried (I think it's this retired 2014 version), but it was labeled as a Belgian Imperial Stout, and it definitely had a sorta brighter take on the imperial stout style that worked really well. Lots of rich malt, light roast, some hints of Belgian character, but with the style's inherent dark malt sweetness (i.e. not a dry or highly carbonated beer). Actually quite nice and among the better of the night. B+
  • Brewmaster Jack Barrel Aged Prinsipia Quad - Sounds great, but came out kinda limp, very boozy, a little raisiny Belgian character, but not at all balanced. Not terrible, but not quite getting the job done either. B-

And that just about covers it. We just got this one in under the wire, last day of the month. Will need to try and plan the next beer club soon. Great time, as always.

Drie Fonteinen Hommage (2007)

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A couple weekends ago, I celebrated my birthday, and with it, uncorked a few prized possessions including this hallowed lambic from Drie Fonteinen, a blend of lambics aged on mostly whole raspberries from the fabled Pajottenland, but also includes some cherries and probably some other twists and turns. They don't call Drie Fonteinen's Armand DeBelder a master blender for nothing, and this beer was made in honor of his late father, Gaston DeBelder, so you know Armand went all out with this one. They've only made this twice, once in 2007 and once in 2013. I figured 8 years was enough aging for this one and dug into that first. It did not disappoint.

I don't put much credence to the pretty ridiculous White Whale list, but on a hunch I just looked it up and yes, this marks the first time I've had a beer from that ridiculous list (note that the 2013 vintage didn't make the cut). As you all know, rarity makes beer taste better, so let's fire up those three big fountains and get a load of this amazing beer:

Drie Fonteinen Hommage

Drie Fonteinen Hommage (2007) - Pours a very pretty pink hued amber, robey tones, finger of fizzy off white head that nonetheless sticks around for a bit. Nose is beautiful, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, berries galore, along with a deep, earthy funk and a little oak too. Taste goes in hard on that jammy berry front, again with the berry cornacopia, predominanty raspberry, but some other berries for good measure. Things get a little acetic and sour in the middle, followed by some of that deep, earthy funk, a unique character actually, but quite tasty. Finishes off with a nice oak and vanilla component that yields to a lingering sour note. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of full bodied and rich, jammy, slightly acidic, moderate to high carbonation cuts through nicely, certainly not a gulper, but very well balanced and a great sipping experience. Overall, this is intense, complex, funky, and balanced, leaning more to the rich and oaky side of fruited lambics (like Cantillon Kriek) than the light an airy (like, say, Fou Foune or St. Lamvinous), a wondrous beer, absolutely delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/13/15. Bottled: 14/02/2007.

Bottling date for the doubters

Wales, bro. Well that was impressive. After this one, I cracked a 2012 BCBS, which was holding up exceptionally well. Let's just say it was a good night. I actually have a 2013 vintage Hommage that I may have to hold onto a little longer, but I'm betting it will be opened sooner rather than later. I love these lambics, but they're a bear to get ahold of these days. Even Kaedrin secret Tilquin is starting to disappear from shelves these days. I have a couple Drie Fonteinen Gueuze in the cellar as well, and hope someday to try some of their other stuff. Cantillon has the reputation for better fruited lambics, but if this beer is any indication, they're basically on the same hallowed field.

Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre

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Started by a pair of married schoolteachers in their hometown of Blaugies, these folks have been brewing in their quaint farmhouse garage since 1987. That's a pretty long time for an American brewer, but in Belgium, where some brewers have histories dating back centuries, it's a young brewery (Michael Jackson once quipped that this beer was "A fine revival"). Everything they make is a saison, so you know it's a good bet, even if you're playing Belgian roulette. This particular example is made with Spelt and Dupont's yeast strain, but despite being very yeast-driven, it manages to remain distinct from most of Dupont's classic beers:

Blaugies Saison D Epeautre

Brasserie de Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre - Hoo boy, the pressure in this bottle must've been massive, that cork could have punctured the ceiling if I wasn't careful. Pours a slightly cloudy straw yellow color with massive amounts of bubbly head and decent retention, though little in the way of lacing. Smells of dusty, musty belgian yeast, a little spice, like clove and coriander, and faint hints of fruity esters. Taste has a big spice note to it, the clove and coriander from the nose, plenty of musty yeast, with hints of bright fruit coming through. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, quite dry as well. Overall, this is a fantastic, very well executed example of a rather straightforward saison, one I'd like to revisit for sure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/2/15.

Well, now I need to go find everything Blaugies ever brewed. Super.

BBQ Beer Club

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Due to the capricious whims of Mother Nature, we had to push beer club back a ways, very nearly missing the month of January. But thanks to a no-show on yesterday's storm, conditions were fine (if a little cold) tonight, where we hit up a new BYOB BBQ place, shared some beer, did some "Adult" Mad Libs ("I need a noun." "Assless Chaps."), and generally just had fun. For dinner, I ordered something called "Loose Meat", and drove everyone crazy attempting to make double entendres about it. In case you were wondering, this is what loose meat looks like:

Loose Meat
(Click to Embiggen)

It has a nice phallic arrangement, but the feng shui could be a little better if the brisket and pulled pork were a little far back, don't you think? Also of note, the parsley merkin. Anyways, it was good stuff, and we had some decent beer to go with it:

January Beer Club 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, thoughts on each are below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply. I'm sorry, but the BBQ place did not have a hermetically sealed environment suitable for proper note taking. Also, I didn't really take notes. I'm the worst. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Kaedrôme Saison - Hey, remember that saison I dosed with Brett, like, a year ago? It's doing reasonably well right now. It's carbed up to a drinkable state, though still not as effervescent as I'd like. But the flavor is there, and it's doing reasonably well. B
  • New Belgium/Three Floyds Lips Of Faith - Grätzer - My first Grätzer, and um, it's a weird style. Light smokiness, very thin, with a weird tartness in the finish. A perfect beer for this situation, as I'm happy to try something like this, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for more. C+
  • Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel - A pretty standard American take on a tripel, a little too sticky, but a nice palate cleanser after the Grätzer. B
  • Wicked Weed Terra Locale Series - Appalachia - I've heard great things about Wicked Weed, so I was really looking forward to this, and a Brett saison made with sweet potatoes and grits sounds like it could work, but I found it a bit on the bland side. Nothing wrong with it, per say, but there's not a lot of funk, and it just felt a little on the dry side. It's certainly cromulent and I could probably drink plenty of it, and maybe it was just that this is not ideal for a tasting like this, but I was disappointed. B
  • Chimay Red - Yep, it's Chimay all right. I've never been a huge fan of this particular expression though. B
  • Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale - Rock solid take on a brown ale. Not going to knock your socks off, but it's a tasty alternative to macro slop. B+
  • Almanac Devil's Advocate - Another fantastic little sour from Almanac, very tasty, vinous, sour, oaky, delicious. I don't normally think of "hoppy" and "sour" going together very well, but these folks are doing it right. Probably my favorite beer of the night. A-
  • SoChesCo Valentine's Day Chocolate Milk Stout - A friend's homebrewed milk stout, asolid take on the style, very tasty. B
  • SoChesCo Pennsyltucky Chocolate Milk Stout - The same stout as above, conditioned on bourbon soaked oak, which wound up as a light character. You could definitely taste the difference drinking them side by side, but I don't think I'd have pegged this as a bourbon oaked beer if I drank it blind (my own Bourbon Oaked Bomb & Grapnel fared little better on that account). B
  • Bière De L'Amitié (Green Flash & Brasserie St. Feuillien) - A very interesting and different beer. Standard Belgian yeast spice and fruit, but also some citrus hoppiness, and something that really felt like they dosed it with white grape juice (I don't think they did, but that's what kept coming to mind). B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Creme Brulee Stout Clone - Holy vanilla, Batman! Like the Southern Tier inspiration, this is incredibly sweet and it's got a great nose that I could just sniff all night long. I think there might be more vanilla here, but I love me some vanilla. B
  • Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale - Another beer that I was looking forward to, but which didn't quite live up to expectations. It was a fine beer, one of the better of the night actually, but I didn't get a tone of Bourbon barrel character out of this. It felt like the barrels muted the aromatic aspects of the hops while leaving the bitterness. Fortunately, the Bourbon sweetens it up a little, so it's still reasonably well balanced (er, for Arrogant Bastard), but it's not something you really need to drop everything and try (like, for example, Stone's Fyodor's Classic). B+
At this point, we decided to call it a night, and we didn't get to the last two beers. Oh well, there's always next month, which should come up soon!

Fantôme Pissenlit

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I've been marveling at Fantôme beers for years now, how is it that I've never heard of the story behind its name? Fantôme plainly translates to "ghost", but it's actually a specific reference. According to legend, the ghost in question is that of Countess Berthe de La Roche, who was murdered on her wedding night and allegedly haunts the ruins of her home to this day. The full story is pretty wild.

It seems the Countess' wealthy father organized a tournament in order to find a man worthy of his daughter (and sole heir to his inheritance). Enter the Count of Montaigu, a knight famed for his jousting skills. He was already betrothed to Countess Alix de Salm, but abandoned her in favor of the more wealthy Countess. Due to his well-known prowess, there was only one last-minute challenger, a much smaller man who boasted little in the way of strength or even equipment. But this small rival was quick and nimble, and used those qualities to defeat his opponent (and this ain't no Disney tale, "defeat" in this case means the Count's throat was cut). And so the smaller rival won the affections of the Countess and were married that evening. In the morning, both were found dead. It turns out that the small rival was actually Countess Alix de Salm. Infuriated by her fiance's betrayal, she made a deal with the devil, disguised herself as a man, and took her revenge on both her former fiance and the object of his desire. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or George R.R. Martin, because this is some Song of Ice and Fire shit right here.

Because it's always hard to tell what makes one of these different from another, this particular Fantôme is made with dandelion flowers and the typical melange of spices and funky yeasts. The label sez none of that, but it does feature some goober blowing the leaves off a dandelion so I'm pretty sure that's right. Let's see if this is worthy of the Countess' name:

Fantome Pissenlit

Fantôme Pissenlit - Pours a murky, dark orange/amber with finger of off-white head. Smells of grassy, almost vegetal hops (or perhaps that's just the dandelions) at first, then you get a little of that more traditional musky Belgian yeast, maybe a hint of dried fruit, raisins and the like. Taste is sweet, with an uncommon but only slightly funky middle, unidentifiable spices, vegetal flavors (again, presumably the dandelions coming through), raisins, dried fruit, and just faint hints of tartness towards the finish. It's weird, some sips feel much different than others, emphasizing one aspect of the flavor over another. I guess this keeps the sips coming though! Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderate carbonation, slightly spicy, a little funky note, slightly sticky at times. Overall, gone are the days of the Smoketôme, but I feel like the funk factor has gone down considerably as well. Perhaps this will reassert itself in the near future. I certainly enjoyed this for what it was though and give it a mild B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a teku on 1/23/15.

I also snagged a regular Fantôme, my first since the famed Smoketômes of yore (in fact, I think I might even still have a Smoketôme down in the cellar somewhere), so I'm excited to see how that one's doing.

Fantôme Été

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A most elusive ghost, this is one of a series of seasonal Fantôme offerings based on, uh, the seasons. Insert hoary history lesson about how "Saison" translates to "Season" and was made on farms for the seasonal workers to drink out in the fields or some such. Été is the summer entry, and I don't believe I've ever even seen this one in the states. From what I understand, for whatever reason, it hasn't seen much distribution over here for several years... until now, apparently. Perhaps their year long bout of smokey latex funk has loosened demand a bit, thus freeing some stock for distribution. And the days of the Smoketôme are long gone, which is good, but does this beer stand up to the celebrated vintages of yore? I think not, but it was still fun to try. But then, Fantôme's charming lack of consistency is one of my favorite things about them - you never know what you'll get when you strap on your proton pack and catch some ghosts:

Fantome Ete

Fantôme Saison D'Erezée - Été - Pours a deep, murky reddish brown color with barely any head at all, just some bubbles from pouring vigorously. The nose is sweet, with some sense of spice (perhaps a faint hint of ginger in the nose - I'm not normally a fan, but it is very light here) and a little bit of that sour twang (not powerful, but it's there). Taste is mildly sweet, with a fruity kick, light sour cherries, maybe a little fruit by the foot. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, almost no carbonation, and quite sticky, especially in the finish. It feels a little under-attenuated and gloopy, but sometimes that sort of thing clears itself up in the bottle. I'd like to try one of this batch in a year and see what's going on with it. Plus, I know I'm particularly sensitive to carbonation issues, and while this is far from the worst example I've had, it's still too low. Overall, carbonation issue aside, it's got a nice character to it. Sort of like a fuller bodied but less sour Flanders Red. I actually had no real problem drinking this thing, I just really wish the carbonation was higher. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and capped). Drank out of a wine glass on 12/12/14.

A disappointing tick, but I will forever be intrigued by Fantôme. I have some of the new batch of the standard saison, as well as another specialty that I've not tried before.


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