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Rare Barrel Shadows Of Their Eyes

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We covered de Garde, a pioneer in the next generation of American sour beer, on Monday. Today, let's take a look at a contemporary located in California. While perhaps not as ambitious as de Garde's all-spontaneous program, these hippies in Berkeley still managed to come up with a novel approach. They limit themselves to sour beers (still somewhat unusual, even in today's landscape) and periodically initiate an extensive search of their barrel house to find the eponymous "Rare Barrel", the finest sour they have aging at the moment. Naturally, that beer is released, but the barrel is then used to inoculate future batches of beer too. Not exactly natural selection, but evolutionary enough, I guess. And the "search party" isn't exactly filled with scrubs. They've had folks like Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and Lauren Salazar of New Belgium (both early adopters in American Sour beer). I've managed to snag a few tastes of their stuff and I can attest: This approach works.

Shadows of Their Eyes is a dark sour aged in, yes, oak barrels. The name looks to be a reference to Harry Nilsson's song Everybody's Talkin'... I can't see their faces. Only the shadows of their eyes:

The Rare Barrel Shadows Of Their Eyes

The Rare Barrel Shadows Of Their Eyes - Pours a clear, very dark brown color with ruby highlights, appears almost black, with a half finger of off white head that quickly fizzes out. Smells of dark malts, dark fruit, cherries, oak, and vanilla. Taste is sweet and sour, some dark malt presence, oak, dark fruits, cherries, and did I mention sourness? Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, with a richness associated with barrel aging and moderate to high acidity. Overall, this is a pretty fantastic dark sour. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/11/17. Batch 4 (2016).

So we will be seeing more of the Rare Barrel soon enough. Oh yes. Stay tuned.

de Garde Double Feature

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One of the most interesting breweries to open their doors in the past few years, Tillamook, Oregon's de Garde brewing has been making waves in the beer dork community. I got my first taste of their wares at a share last year, their Yer Bu (one of many Berliner Weisse inspired variants) was incredibly nimble at just 2.3% ABV and yet turned out to be one of the highlights of the night. Since then, I've heard enough about these folks to know that they make beer that's worth seeking out.

What makes them so special? While some breweries have worked with spontaneous fermentation (notably Allagash and Jester King, amongst others), it appears that de Garde is the only U.S. brewery to rely solely on spontaneous fermentation for their beer. And what does that mean? They don't use laboratory cultured yeast, they simply cool wort in a coolship, which is basically a huge, wide pan that exposes the wort to naturally occuring yeast and microflora, after which the wort is dumped into oak barrels of varying sizes and left to slumber until ready to be blended. As Pat's Pints opined, "the brewers at de Garde pitch yeast with the same frequency that the Trappist monks in Westvleteren have sex."

I've had discussions with wine-loving friends about terroir in beer, and while I usually point towards hops in said discussions, I think this sort of brewery deserves mention. It turns out that the year round temperate climate mixed with a mess of rivers and estuaries leading into the nearby Tillamook Bay has created conditions ideal for spontaneous fermentation. Indeed, they even experimented for over a year in trying to find a location for the brewery:

So we took wort and exposed it in different areas up and down the coast and tracked fermentation circuits over the course of a year or more. We narrowed it down to a few places and proceeded to do more trials to see if there's consistency. Finally, we narrowed it down to Tillamook for the most viable opportunity. In the US we don't have the benefit of a long history of this truly wild and natural brewing. So it took this extra exploration to see what works.
Tillamook: it's not just for cheese. Anyway, that's some serious dedication there, and from what I've seen, it's paid off. I've had small pours of a few beers from them (all uniformly excellent), but these are the first I've managed to procure for myself. They aren't the most prized releases and indeed are among the offerings that take the least amount of time to produce, but they're quite nice nonetheless and someday I hope to procure the more lambic-like releases (which they seem to be gravitating towards anyway). For now, we've got saisons!

de Garde Saison Facile

de Garde Saison Facile - A wild farmhouse ale aged in an oak foeder - Pours a clearish honey gold color with a finger or two of fluffy, medium bubbled white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells nice, big waft of musty Belgian yeast spice, a little earthy funk, some fruity notes. Taste hits the sweet, tart, lemony fruit notes much harder than the nose would imply, but that yeasty spice and light funk are still there, with a light sour bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, not quite dry but the carbonation lends that impression, with low to moderate acidity. Overall, a rock solid foudred saison. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 2/3/17.

de Garde Petit Blanc

de Garde Petit Blanc - A tart farmhouse ale aged in oak with late harvest Riesling grapes - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy, dense head that quickly dissipates. Smells nice, lots of spicy Belgian yeast, a little oak, plenty of vinous fruit. Taste is sweet, vinous, fruity, with some spice in the middle, followed by oak and a little tartness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, less dry than the Facile but quite nice. Overall, another great saison offering. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/10/17.

Must. Get. Moar. Would love to try their more lambic-inspired beers. Alas, those seem quite prized (see: The Broken Truck) and until production increases, I'm guessing it'll be saisons and Bu variants for me. I know, boo hoo, poor me.

A Trip to La Cabra Brewing

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Longtime readers (all three of you) may remember a couple of posts (a review and an interview) from back in 2013 about an up-and-coming brewery called La Cabra. Well, they finally opened their doors last summer and I figured it's high time I write about them. I've been there a few times at this point, and I'm looking forward to watching this brewery grow.

La Cabra sign

Located in Berwyn, PA, the brewpub has a great, spacious feel without feeling at all corporate or bland like all those old-school, turn-of-the-century brewpubs. Two floors with sizeable bars and some cozy nooks and comfy couches and whatnot. Also darts! And goats! Eclectic decor fits with La Cabra's goat-like attitude which brewer/owner Dan Popernack describes as "independent, rugged, and endearingly crazy".

Goats!

The beer is quite nice and has been getting better over time. Brewer/owner Dan Popernack has been brewing for quite a while and has done a good job dialing in his standard offerings. I haven't taken a lot of formal tasting notes just yet, but highlights include Leo (a standard but tasty IPA), Coquette (a 3.5% Brett beer with mixed berries), Grace (a Brett saison with a touch of oak aging), and Bantlers (A most welcome weizenbock, a style I wish more brewers would tackle. Great weizen yeast character, dark fruit, esters, cloves, spice, sweet warm malt, complex but balanced and true to style. Might be my favorite thing from them yet, off the beaten path. B+ or A-)

La Cabra Bantlers
Bantlers!

La Cabra Coquette
Coquette

To pair with the beer is a full menu of "Latin-inspired gastropub fare" that is absolutely fantastic. Everything I've had from them is delicious, like their Duck Fries, Fois Gras Pierogies, and Chimichurri Flank Steak.

Duck Fries
Duck Fries

Fois Gras Pierogies
Fois Gras Pierogies and Grace

All in all, this is a promising start to a brewery that I know is capable of putting out some true face melters. I'm quite looking forward to trying Brettophile again (it's one of those beers that will really put La Cabra on the map), as well as continuing to sample new brews as they come. It's a good addition to the local scene and I'm sure it will thrive.

A flight of La Cabra beer

Victory Red

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In the dim and distant days of 2012, Victory did a Q&A culled from comments and emails. One asked about sour beers, and the ultimate response was this:

I can tell you that Victory has begun the process of making a sour beer. But we will not release just any sour beer. We are doing small-scale experimentation so that when we do have a sour beer for you, it will be a beautifully balanced, refreshing Flemish-style sour beer. Unfortunately, we are years away from a final product, because once we figure out how to do it, a commercial size batch will be produced and could take more than three years to be ready to blend with younger sour beer.

Cut to four years later, and Victory quietly releases Red, a Flemish-style red beer. Well, they did say it could take more than three years, and indeed, Red is comprised of beer aged in oak barrels for three years and blended with younger beer. It wasn't a big event like the Java Cask releases, but I'm quite happy I grabbed a bottle of this:

Victory Red

Victory Red - Pours a brilliant, clear golden amber color with a finger of white head. Smells fabulous, tons of oak, vinegar, tart fruit, sour cherries, and the like. Taste follows the nose, is also fabulous, lots and lots of oak, a little tart fruit and vinegar, light on the sourness which is balanced by the oak. Mouthfeel is perfect, medium to full bodied, rich, light acidity. Overall, I tend to like my Flanders style beers oaky, and this one really pulled that off. It's wonderful. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 1/21/17. Bottled on 18 Nov 2016. Released on 15 Dec 2016.

Always nice to see Victory continuing to expand their horizons, and I look forward to seeing what they do next with this sort of thing. If you're local, you may still be able to snag a bottle of this (even though it was released in late December), well worth the effort.

Draai Laag Geestelijke

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Draai Laag is roughly translated from the Dothraki as "turncoat". Or is it translated from Dutch? Probably Dutch, but I'm betting founder and brewer Dennis Hock named his daughter Khaleesi. No? Damn. Still, the "turncoat" moniker stems from both a local historical figure and a more metaphorical reference to Draai Laag's unconventional practices, like not filling growlers or solely focusing on wild ales. As far as I can see, everything these folks make uses some form of wild yeast (and bacterial beasties), some brews even relying on spontaneous fermentation.

The aforementioned brewer Dennis Hock has been brewing since he was a teenage science nerd fascinated with the concept fermentation. Coming from a strict teetotaling family, he even promised not to drink what he was making until he turned 21 (perhaps a dubious claim, but one that makes for a nice story), using only sight, smell, and tasting notes drinking-age neighbors to hone his craft. Once he reached drinking age, he began exploring the world between military deployments, eventually returning home to build a brewery, starting with a whopping $800 brewing system made from salvaged spare parts. They've obviously grown since then, but their brewhouse is still hand-made and fits with their unconventional ethic.

They've been around since 2009, but despite their relative proximity to Kaedrin HQ (they're just north of Pittsburg), this is my first taste of their wares. Geestelijke (Dothraki Dutch for clergy or monk) is a straightforward farmhouse ale made with pilsner malt and Draai Laag's signature Wild Angels yeast strain, cultivated from the Pittsburg air. It supposedly doesn't like fermenting fruit or mixed fermentation, but works wonders all on its own, as we're about to find out:

Draai Laag Geestelijke

Draai Laag Geestelijke - Pours a hazy golden yellow color with a couple of fingers of fluffy, fizzy, short-lived white head. Smells sweet, tart fruit, pineapple, light funk, yeast spice. Taste also hits sweet, fruity notes with a light funk that I'm having trouble describing (earthy but in a different way than normal, which makes sense given the unique yeast strain here), and some spice. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated but cut a bit by booze. Overall, this is very nice! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/13/16.

So that's a nice first impression and now that I know more about these folks, I'm definitely curious to try more of their stuff. Stay tuned!

Bell's Black Note

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There's an urban legend dating from the 1950s that a certain jazz musician stumbled upon an unconventional series of chord and tempo changes, resulting a hypnotic effect that put audiences into a sort of trance. Supposedly the unorthodox arrangement culminated with a single note that rendered some unconscious, ultimately leading to the death of four patrons of a New Orlean's jazz club. That note became known as the "Black Note". Of course, by "Urban Legend", I mean that I just made this whole thing up because the picture on the label looks like a record and when I Googled "Black Note" and got past all of the E-liquid vaping references (yeesh), I saw a couple of things related to jazz. I almost had you there, eh? No? Fine then, be that way.

Anywho, this is one of those fabled beers I used to hear about back when I was getting into beer and it felt like the sort of thing I'd never have the opportunity to try. Even obsessive beer traders were coughing up ridiculous beers or engaging in tawdry Craigslist endeavors to get a taste. The last couple of years have seen an increase in production that even allows for some limited distribution, which is how goofballs like myself can luck into a bottle without having to resort to offering my entire collection of Mercury Dimes. The corresponding hype has theoretically died down a bit (especially now that I've got a bottle!), but it's still at a place where this has a lot to live up to. Wanting to try something for 5 years is perhaps not the best way to keep expectations in check.

So what is this thing all about? It's a blend of Bell's fantastic Expedition (one of the best non-BA stouts this side of Surly Darkness) and their Double Cream Stout, all aged in Bourbon barrels for unspecified "months". Sounds delightful, but can it live up to expectations? Alas, while this is indeed very good, I think perhaps I let the hype get to me...

Bells Black Note

Bell's Black Note - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells of piney, resinous hops, maybe some liquorice and chocolate. Taste hits those resinous hops pretty damn hard, a little bit of sweet booze, hints of vanilla, dark chocolate, finishing with a bitter hop bite. Not much barrel character, but it gets a little more prominent as it warms. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin, by which I mean medium bodied, well carbonated, just a little bit of booze. Overall, this is actually pretty disappointing. It's not bad or anything, maybe it was just overhyped for me, but the barrel character is minimal and I think I might just like Expedition better by itself... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/13/17.

It's actually reminiscent of the recent Tröegs Bourbon Barrel Aged Impending Descent or an aged bottle of Dark Intrigue. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Danur for snagging a bottle for me. Much appreciated!

Presumably because my limited sorties into Vermont have all occurred in summer months, most of my acquisitions have been IPAs or Saisons. Obviously the hop fetish is a year round thing (that isn't particularly limited to VT either), but it seems that the colder months of the year are accompanied with some bigger, heavier, darker beers. Aside from Hill Farmstead's Everett (of things labeled "porter", I'd probably put this at the top of the list) and their Society & Solitude #2 (another contender for best in style, this time the waning Black IPA), my exposure has been limited. Until now!

Lawson's Finest Liquids makes a big, burly imperial stout using almost two gallons of VT maple syrup per barrel. This base beer has been given a variety of barrel-aged treatments, and what we have here is the Apple Brandy variant (no provenance on this bottle, though previous releases have specified Lairds or the more local Mad River Malvados). The base is presumably named after the town of Fayston, VT, itself honoring the Fays, a family that figured prominently in the founding of VT. The label sez this beer is "Made for sub-zero nights and pairing with decadent desserts." Well, it was around 19°F when I drank this, so that will have to do (though, come to think of it, that does translate to -7°C, so take that, pedants!)

Lawsons Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout

Lawson's Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout - Pours black with a half finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, vanilla, oak, and maple syrup. Taste hits some rich caramel notes up front, leavened with roast in the middle, oak and vanilla, hints of booze (not bourbon, but not really recognizably Apple Brandy either), maple syrup and roast finish. As it warms, it gets a little sweeter and the maple comes out more. The brandy emerges more too, though I'm still not getting any specific apple notes. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low to moderate carbonation (appropriate for the style), a bit of booze. Overall, this is fantastic! A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/7/17. Bottled November 2016.

This was a Christmas present from an awesome person, so thanks Adam! Lawson's Finest Liquids continues to impress, so I will most certainly be seeking out more from them, hopefully sooner than later...

Vintage Victory

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So I've been aging beer for a while now, both intentionally and unintentionally, and it's often an interesting exercise. However, it's also pretty rare for a beer to get better over time. It's usually different and sometimes worse than fresh, but better is, again, rare.

In general, my advice continues to be to drink fresh. If you can only get one bottle of something special, drink it fresh. If you can get a second bottle, it's a fun exercise to age it, but seldom does a beer age incredibly well. At least, not for very long periods of time. Lots of beers can get better or be just as good over a few months, but not many will last over a year and the ones that can last 5 years are even more rare. Of course, there are many variables. My "cellar" doesn't exactly have ideal conditions, so you may have better luck. Bottle variation exists, especially when it comes to wild ales. Some people don't like harsh booziness and time can clear that up sometimes. And so on.

Since Victory is local, I've stockpiled plenty of their offerings over the years. Readily available, not too pricy, and quality beer - they make good candidates for aging experimentation. Let's see if this patience has paid off:

Victory V-Twelve 2011

Victory V-Twelve (2011) - This is a special one. I loved it fresh back in the day and squirreled this away to see how it would age. High alcohol, darkish beer, I thought it would do well. Naturally, I haven't thought too much about it in the intervening time, especially as my tastes evolved over the years. In a recent attempt to drink down a bit of my cellar I noticed something curious. The bottle sez "Should be enjoyed within 5 years" and the bottling date was Nov 11 2011. So of course, I popped the cork on Nov 11 2016. Nailed it.

Victory V-Twelve Bottling Date

Pours a murky amber orange brown color with just a cap of off white head. Smells nice, lots of yeast-driven, rich, dark fruit, brown sugar, maybe even a little floral aroma, toffee too, hints of spice. Taste is rich and sweet, ample malt backbone, dark fruit, raisins, dates, yeasty esters, a little oxidation definitely showing, but nothing overwhelming, sherry, toffee, brown sugar, finishing with hints of Belgian yeast spice and a bit of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a sipper for sure. Overall, this is still fantastic. I haven't had it fresh since, oh, 2011, but it's holding up pretty darned well. A high B+ (I originally rated this an A, but taking into account ratings inflation puts this about on par with my feelings on it fresh.

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/11/16. Bottled: Nov 11 2011. "Should be enjoyed within 5 years" (Nailed it.)

Victory Java Cask (2015) - The story on coffee beer is that the coffee tends to fade over time and hoo boy is that the case here. For the coffee ambivalents like myself, that's not a huge deal, but this was a huge coffee bomb when fresh, and while the coffee character is still there if you look for it (or if you're particularly sensitive to it, ahem), the bourbon barrel stout character is now the majority of this beer. It's actually quite pleasant, but then, I'm one of the aforementioned coffee ambivalents, so I would be like that. I'm still hoping that Victory will put out a non-coffee version of this same beer someday, but that's not in the cards this year (FYI, this was written in November 2016 - ed.). We've got a Rye barrel variant this year, as well as a rebrew of this, but I hold out hope. Still, I'm quite enjoying this and won't even drop the grade. Again, coffee-heads will be disappointed by an aged bottle of this stuff (and anecdotally, I'd say most of the dropoff had occurred within 6 months). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/8/16. Fucking election day. Enjoy by: 10 Nov 2016, cutting it close.

Victory Otto (2011) - A smoked dubbel? Not your common style, and at the time, the smoke completely overwhelmed any Belgian yeast characteristics. Pours a dark amber color with a finger of almost white head. Smells of belgian yest, raisins, and just a bit of smoke. Taste goes similarly, the smoke has really mellowed out over time (fresh, the smoke was potent and overpowering, now it's barely there). Proooobably held on to it too long, but it's held up much better than your typical dubbel. Will try the Bourbon Barrel version next (it was a massive improvement over the original). B- (Update, I brought Otto in Oak to a share recently and it has fared a little better, but is also well past its prime. Solid B material.)

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/1/16. Bottled: Sept 21 2011 (I think that's what it sez)

Victory Old Horizontal 2013

Victory Old Horizontal (2013) - No fancy stories here, just realized it had been about 3 years, which is plenty for a beer like this. Turns out, I think it could probably stand up to more, but I'm still really glad I opened this when I did. Pours a dark amber color with a finger of white head. Smells of caramel and toffee, hints of dried, candied fruit. Taste also has that rich caramel and toffee character, sweet but not cloying, some modest hop character too. Some oxidation present, but nothing overwhelming and it ends up adding complexity. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, moderate carbonation, hints of booze. Overall, this has aged very well, would do again. I still have a couple of Oak Horizontals laying around, so I should probably strap one of those in next. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/22/16. Enjoy by Oct 25 2018. (deduced bottling date: October 25 2013)

So there you have it. 5 years probably too long, even for something like V-Twelve. Three years, though, seemed fruitful. Stay tuned for more vintage drinking, including one that was 7 years old (and still drank incredibly well).

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