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Allagash Double Feature

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This past Saturday, one of my favorite local beer bars celebrated its fourth anniversary. It's a tiny little place, but they had a rather spectacular tap list for the occasion, so I made my way over there, arriving just a little after opening. It was a total madhouse and took me a while to get anywhere close to the bar, so during this time, I reprioritized the order of desired beers, placing ones I've never had at the top of the list. Insanely crowded bars are not really my thing, and a friend I was going to meet was running way late, so we just called it quits and met up later in the day somewhere else.

That being said, I managed to snag a rare Allagash sour while I was there, and was really happy that I got to try this (there was a brewery-only bottle release not too long ago, but thankfully a keg made its way down here...) Avance is a strong sour aged on Strawberries in bourbon barrels for a whopping three years. Strawberry is not a particularly common fruit used with beer, so I was pretty stoked to try this out. Realizing that I've not been particularly attentive to Allagash's sour and wild beer program, I also cracked open some Midnight Brett that I had laying around; it's a dark wheat beer fermented with Brett. All in all, this was quite a nice Saturday!

Allagash Avance

Allagash Avancé - Apologies for the craptacular picture, but I was lucky enough to be able to extend my hand that far in this place, which was pretty obscenely crowded. Nice bright orange brown color, with a finger of bubbly head and great retention. Smells of oak and fruit berries, with the strawberry actually coming through rather well. Big sour twang in the nose too. Taste hits with a massive wave of sourness up front, tempered by oak and jammy fruit in the middle, the strawberry character less here than the nose, but still present, then returning to an intense sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed and very acidic. This is very intense, and reminds me of high ABV sours like Consecration or Riserva (and yep, now that I know this is 10.8% ABV, that makese a lot of sense. I thought the board said 8% when I ordered it, but it turns out that I neglected to notice the "10." ahead of it!) Really nice stuff, intense, oaky, delicious... perhaps just a hint too intense, but it's still great. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 4/19/14.

Allagash Midnight Brett

Allagash Midnight Brett - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and a couple fingers of tan head with great lacing and retention. Smells of musty, funky brett yeast along with a fruity, vinous aroma that suits it well. Taste has a very Belgian dark feel to it, dark malts but not a lot of roast, maybe some chocolate though, definitely spicy, fruity Belgian yeast that is offset by some earthy, musty, fruity funk. An almost chocolate covered cherry character that really suits this well. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, smooth, and almost creamy. A little bit of tartness and acidity, but very low on that scale. It's a very nice tweak on the Belgian dark style, and a very worthy beer. B+ but very close to an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/19/14. Date Bottled: Oct. 16, 2013.

So there you have it. I've never been supremely impressed with Allagash's wild beers before, but I also haven't had many of them. Both of these are significant improvements over something like Confluence, though of course, you'll have to pay for the privilege (Allagash is great, but their prices are on the high side).

The Emptiness is Eternal

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For 40 days or so, I pretty much gave up beer, mostly just to see if I could. There were a couple of preconceived exceptions to that, but for the most part I was busy expanding my horizons to bourbon, wine, tea, and the like. I really enjoyed all that and my pleasantly reduced waistline thanks me, but I have to say, nothing quite satisfies like beer. Not even a Snickers.

One of the things I missed most during my mini-hiatus from beer was trips to Tired Hands. This was exacerbated by the fact that they're absolutely tearing it up of late, and they've had plenty of newsworthy events in the past month, including the announcement of a new production facility and brewcafé ("we will soon have room for hundreds of oak barrels" - music to my earballs) and two, count 'em, two bottle releases. Of course, I attended these because I am a glutton for punishment, but when I finally got back into the beer drinking swerve, I knew I had something special to start with.

This is the third beer in the Emptiness series of barrel fermented saisons made with various fresh fruits from "rockstar farmer" Tom Culton (in this case, we've got Hachiya persimmons). So for my triumphant return to beer, I cracked a bottle of this stuff and experienced a Highlander-style quickening (fortunately, my electronics are hardened against such disturbances). I'm sad to say, the emptiness of this particular bottle will now be eternal:

Tired Hands The Emptiness is Eternal

Tired Hands The Emptiness is Eternal - Pours a beautiful, hazy but radiant straw yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of oak, fruit, berries, and funky, musty yeast. The taste is perfectly balanced between sweet, bright, and tart fruit, berries, oak, and finishing with a puckering sourness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated (perhaps the highest carbed Tired Hands beer I've ever had!) with medium bodied, a beautiful oak character, and a well matched dry acidity. It's crisp and refreshing, bright and damn near quaffable. This may well be Tired Hands' best sour since the superb Romulon, and is certainly playing with the big boys of farmhouse sours (Hill Farmstead, Sante Adairius, etc...) This beer is awesome, in the true sense of that word. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/18/14. 400 Bottle Release.

This will be a tough act to follow, but then, I said that about the last Emptiness series beer... So It Goes? We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, I had some interesting Allagash stuff this weekend, and dipped into my cellar for another wale that we'll cover later this week. Stay tuned. In other news, I have to get my ass to Tired Hands sometime this week. Godspeed, uh, me.

March Beer Club

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I won't lie, this was a really good night. I went a solid week and a half without beer before completely falling off the wagon this past weekend (as planned, to be sure) and drinking a bunch of beer (and bourbon, and moonshine, and other stuff) during Fat Weekend (a gathering of portly individuals from across the northeast, and some points west, for drinking, fun, and fatness). Now here I am a few scant days later, drinking more beer (again, as planned). For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we returned to a classic Beer Club venue, Jimmy's BBQ. Lots of smoked meat, dirty corn, beer, and fun was had by all:

March Beer Club
(Click for larger image)

Meat induced thoughts on each beer are below. This is for posterity, so I will be sure to be honest, though you might want to take this with a grain (or giant block) of salt, as this BYOB wasn't a hermetically sealed isolation chamber that is ideal for precise tasting notes. Caveats aside, here we go, in order of drinking, not necessarily in order pictured:

  • Kaedrin Fat Weekend IPA - This year's batch finally got that Simcoe and Amarillo loving that I've been trying to get for a few years. My only issue is that I'm still getting a handle on this kegerator operation here, so I feel like I frittered away a significant amount of aroma in the process of trying to get the carbonation and pressure right. I think I've figured out this process well enough that I won't ruin future batches, and it's not like this one turned out bad or anything. Indeed, just a few of us housed 3 whole growlers during Fat Weekend (we would have done so on Friday night if I didn't insist we save one for Saturday). So yeah it was good, and it compared somewhat favorably to tonight's IPA lineup, which was considerable. I'll give it a B for now, though I think it could easily go higher with some slight tweaks to recipe and kegging procedure.
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute - The old standby, I feel like the last couple times I've had this, it hasn't been quite the mindblower it once was for me. Still a rock solid brew, though I might downgrade it to a B+
  • Maine Lunch - One of my contributions. In case you can't tell by the first three beers of the night, we overcompensated for the past couple of beer clubs and brought a shit ton of IPAs this month. Not that I'm complaining, as they were all pretty damn good (to spectacular). This one was a really nice citrus and pine take of the style, in competition for my favorite Maine beer. B+ (though it might go higher outside of this setting)
  • Petrus Aged Pale - Nothing like a sour to cleanse the palate, eh? A very nice oak aged sour beer, something I've had before, and one of those things I'd use to help convert the heathens to the world of sours/good beer. B+
  • DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon - Many thanks to Dana for rocking the DIPAs tonight, including this rarity (at least, to us PA folk), which turns out to pretty much live up to the hype, a super piney, dank take on the DIPA, nice body, really well rounded and delicious beer (along the lines of those Pipeworks IPAs I had a while back). Really fantastic, and I hope to someday snag a few fresh cans of this for myself. A-
  • Sixpoint Hi-Res - Alright, so we're getting to a point where specifics about given IPAs are starting to blend together in my head, but I my thoughts on this one are that it comported itself very well in this rather strong lineup of IPAs and DIPAs, actually better than I was expecting (though I'm not sure why, as Sixpoint has always been a pretty solid brewery for me). We'll go with B+ and leave it at that.
  • John's Homebrewed Porter - A relative newcomer to beer club, John made his first batch of beer in about 20 years recently. He went with a pretty straightforward porter that, to be sure, turned out well. But he's working on some interesting stuff in future batches, including a port wine soaked oak beer, possibly even a wile beer, so I'm quite looking forward to it. B
  • Alchemist Heady Topper - Yeah, we've already beaten this one to death before on the blog.
  • Bell's Hopslam - Another one we've covered before, but I certainly ain't complaining, as I do really enjoy this beer and this is the first time I've ever had it out of a bottle. Thanks again to Dana, who brought a crap ton of DIPAs tonight.
  • Ken's Homebrewed Coffee Porter - No real coffee added, but it used some sort of special coffee malt. Not sure if that's malt soaked in coffee or something like that or if it's just roasted to a point that it gives off coffee character, but whatever, it came through well in the beer and did not overpower it at all. Granted, coffee porters aren't really my thing, but this seemed to work reasonably well. B-
  • North Coast Pranqster - A nice little Belgian pale ale, very sweet for it's relatively middling ABV, but still well carbonated enough that it works really well. I enjoyed, and it fit after all those IPAs. B+
  • Widmer SXNW - It came in a fancy box, so it has to be good, right? Well, it's made with Pecans, Cacao beans, and Green Chiles, so I was fearing another hot pepper beer, but it turns out that the dominant character came from that cacao. Huge chocolate notes in the nose, with a corresponding taste. The chiles are there, but in the background, just providing some complexity. Overall, it's an interesting beer, though not one I'd really seek out again. B
  • Humboldt Black Xantus - So I didn't realize this when I bought it, but this is apparently one of them barrel aged Firestone Walker beers, even if it's bottled under the older Nectar Ales brand. That barrel aging comes through loud and clear, and it's quite nice, but there's also apparently a coffee component that also shows up, though it's not as dominant as, say, BCBCS. One of my favorites of the night, though not quite Parabola levels awesome (but still regular beer levels awesome). A-
So there you have it, an enjoyable night had by all. Already looking forward to the next installment of beer club...

The Bruery Mash

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I've made no secret of the fact that I don't drink coffee and thus am not a huge fan of it in beer. Indeed, longtime readers (all three of you) are probably rolling their eyes right now, as I probably mention my apathy towards coffee too often. While I do feel like I've come around a bit on coffee beers and have had several that I really enjoyed, I usually still find myself wondering what it would be like without the coffee. Fortunately, that option is actually available most of the time, and in this case, the Bruery came up with an interesting experiment.

I imagine the process of infusing coffee flavors into beer to be a complicated one with many variables that are difficult to control. What coffee are you using, how does it match with the base beer, when in the process are you adding the coffee, are you using the beans, the grinds, or actual brewed coffee (or some combination thereof)? Each one of those questions has a lot riding on it, so when the Bruery went to make a coffee-infused barleywine, they did some pilot batches and played around with a bunch of factors, but ultimately decided to release two beers: one unsoiled without any coffee at all (called Mash), and one with a very, very powerful coffee component (called Mash & Grind), the idea being that Reserve Society members will get bottles of each beer, open them at the same time, and blend them together to find their ideal level of coffee.

I'm pretty sure that my ideal blend wouldn't be a blend at all, just Mash - the bourbon barrel aged 12.5% ABV English style barlewine, all by its lonesome. So I was pretty happy to see this in a LIF haul a while back (and that I got this one and not the "Grind" version) and have been hankering for a taste every since. The Hulk would totally smash this, but I'll just mash with it:

The Bruery Mash

The Bruery Mash - Pours a murky brown color (dirty penny) with half a finger of white head that sticks around a bit at the start. Smell is nearly the platonic ideal of a bourbon barrel barleywine. Rich caramel and toffee, fruity malt, figs, coconut, a little booze, and a well balanced bourbon, oak, and vanilla kicker. And amazingly, the taste lives up to the nose (though maybe Platonic ideal was a bit overkill, eh?). Lots of rich malt character, molasses, caramel, and fruit coming through strong, coconut, raisins, and figs in the middle with the bourbon, oak, and vanilla pitching in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, but smooth, very rich, a little boozy bite towards the finish. Extremely well balanced. Overall, this is superb and absolutely delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 2/28/14. Bottled 05/24/13.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I'm really glad there was no coffee in this. I'm sure that if there was, I still would have enjoyed it, but it would been a "It's good... for a coffee beer" kinda situation. In any case, it wasn't, and I loved it, so there is that. Anyone want to be my Bruery Reserve Society proxy? It's a long shot, but I'm sure I could make it worth your while.

Nebraska Sexy Betty

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In my grading system for this here blog, a B is actually a pretty good score. It's not going to melt your face (that's, uh, a good thing for me) but it's unambiguously good beer that is worth seeking out. So the fact that every Nebraska Brewing Company beer I've ever had has been a B in my book isn't a hideous disaster, but it's starting to get a little tiresome (Indeed, I see that my previous foray into their beer contains a similar lament). Granted, this is only my fourth beer from them, but on the other hand, buying four of Nebraska's reserve series beers means that I had to seek council from a local loan shark (because I already have three mortgages and the bank has long since cut me off). I don't normally factor price into my reviews because it's all about the taste. But in general, when shelling out $20+ for a bottle of beer, I can at least talk myself into thinking it was a worthwhile affair. For whatever reason, Nebraska, while never truly disappointing, has also never really delivered in that respect.

In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't really matter because I'm just some dork on the internets, and like a dope, I keep coming back for more. Like Jay suggests, I should really just admit that I've been beaten here and leave it be. In this case, I talked myself into the purchase because it's a barrel aged imperial stout, truly one of my favorite things in the world, and while I'm a BA nut, I really haven't had many Brandy barrel aged beers. And this one boasts 50 year old American Brandy barrels, which sounds pretty cool to me. Alas, it was not quite as Sexy as it sounded, though again, it's not really bad either.

Nebraska Sexy Betty

Nebraska Sexy Betty - Pours a dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head that fades relatively quickly. Par for the course so far. Smells of rich dark malts, roast, a little caramel, maybe a hint of that Brandy barrel, but it's very faint. Taste is similar. It's got a big roasty note, maybe some chocolate, grainy stuff, and if I really look for it, a hint of that Brandy coming out a bit towards the finish, but again, not much in the way of oak. If I didn't know this was barrel aged, I might not pick it out blind. Mayhaps a 50 year old barrel has already given all its going to give? Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, heavy but still a bit nimble (perhaps that Brandy lightening the mood a bit), though definitely still a sipper of a beer. Overall, it's a solid imperial stout, but I would have really liked to see more barrel character. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 3/1/14. Bottled 09/23/13.

Apparently the initial incarnation of Sexy Betty used 50 year old Cognac barrels (so French, not American brandy), was sufficiently more rare, and more highly regarded too. Whatever the case, I don't know how much more Nebraska you're going to see on this blog. Maybe in another year or two, I'll forget again and decide to take a flier on Black Betty (the base beer for this one), but I wouldn't hold my breath because I have to figure out how to dodge this loan shark for a while.

Crooked Stave L'Brett d'Or

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We've already established that Chad Yakobson is a mad scientist who makes all of his beer using various strains of Brettanomyces. He's a fan of wild yeast, and apparently also a fan of Luis Buñuel's surrealist films from the 1930s:

The idea spur for the name of this beer came from a 1930′s Surrealist film L'Age d'Or by Luis Buñuel and written by himself and Salvador Dali. In the opening scenes footage of scorpions are shown from a short science film. During this are captions in French talking about 5 prismatic articulations which finally culminate in a stinger.. For this reason we chose to use 5 prismatic strains of Brettanomyces for our surreal golden sour and name the beer L'Brett d'Or "The Golden Brett".

The movie is on YouTube, if you dare. Lord knows I've not seen enough Buñuel, and there's no time like the present.

So primary fermentation with 5 strains of Brett (picked to emphasize "citrusy type characteristics"), then a dose of Lactobacillus (a bacteria that produces sour flavors in beer) and a lengthy nap in old Napa Chardonnay barrels. Sign me up:

Crooked Stave LBrett dOr

Crooked Stave L'Brett d'Or - Pours a yellow color with half a finger of fluffy white head that nonetheless sticks around a while. Smell is pure funk, earthy, fruity Brett, and a light but well matched oak note. Taste follows suit, lots of funky Brett, some earthiness and oak up front, followed by a strong tart fruit sourness. The oak is a really nice presence throughout the taste and helps keep that sourness in check. Mouthfeel is a bit light on the carbonation, but it still works very well. It's bright and refreshing, with a pleasant acidity. Overall, this is yet another fantastic effort from Crooked Stave. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (375 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/28/14. Vintage 2013/Batch 2.

It's pretty amazing that a brewery can sustain itself by brewing only wild beers, and I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for more from them. In fact, I have another of their beers just sitting on the shelf, ready for drinking. We'll get to it soon enough.

Back Into The Emptiness

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Celebrity farmer. Rockstar farmer. Now those are words you don't normally see put together, but they're both used to describe Tom Culton, who cultivates a small patch of land in Lancaster County, PA (let's say it's about 70 miles west of Philadelphia), generating obscure, heirloom produce to supply trendy restaurants in Philly and New York. And let's not forget about Ardmore, PA, as Culton is a good friend of the whole Tired Hands crew, and we often see beers made with fresh fruits or cider from Culton's farm (most recently, we had Culton Hop and Culton Sour, both made with 51% Culton-supplied apple cider, though there have been a bunch of others that I simply haven't mentioned in my crazy long recaps).

This particular beer is part of a series of saisons aged in wine barrels with fresh, local fruit. The first was called Out Of The Emptiness, and it was aged on local plums (not to get all Portlandia on you, but I'm not sure if these plums were actually from Culton Organics). I missed out on bottles, but was fortunate enough to get a glass at the release because people are nice. It was awesome enough that I was ready to stand in line for the next one (not that I wouldn't anyway, because I has a problem, but still). Back Into The Emptiness is the followup, and it's aged on French Policeman grapes. I tried to do some research on these suckers, and found out the backstory:

After a few trips to France, he began growing heirloom crops. Then he cold-called restaurants. His first major "get" was the venerable Le Bec-Fin, which bought small table grapes from 75-year-old vines that Culton says a French policeman gave to his grandfather.

Add in some local wine barrels, Tired Hands' house microflora and "ambient microflora from Lancaster, PA", and we've got this beauty:

Tired Hands Back Into The Emptiness

Tired Hands Back Into The Emptiness - Pours a golden orange color with a finger of fizzy, short lived head, though once it settles down it actually left a bit of lacing. Nose has a beautiful oak character, some musty funk, and a very pleasing fruity sour note too. Taste is delicious, starting off sweet, with a tart, vinous fruitiness emerging quickly and escalating into sourness towards the finish. I don't know that I would have picked out grapes, but this does have a fruited sour feel. The oak comes out in the middle and tempers the sourness through the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp and light, good carbonation (higher than your typical Tired Hands bottled beer), and a moderate but pleasant and well balanced sour acidity. The finish dries things out a bit, but not all the way. Overall, damn if this isn't their best bottled beer yet (at least, that I've had). A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/21/14.

Not quite Romulon-level, but spectacular nonetheless. Already looking forward to getting a taste of The Emptiness is Eternal, which is due to be conditioned on persimmons (watch out, Pediobear!) from Culton's farm, of course.

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale

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Every year, Firestone Walker invites their neighboring Winemakers to the brewery to tie one on and blend a series of barrel aged component beers for their Anniversary Ale. The Winemakers (no strangers to blending) are divided up into teams and compete to make the best blend. It's apparently quite cutthroat, though fortunately, no murders this year. I'm trying to be concise here, because this is a subject I've already described in wonky, exhaustive detail before. Suffice to say, for barrel aged fanatics like myself, this is one of the most interesting releases each year, and they can vary dramatically too.

The XV blend heavily favored barleywines, and most of the component beers were aged in bourbon and/or brandy barrels (and oh yeah, it was spectacular). The XVI blend was more equitable, a much darker brew though barleywines still had a slight edge overall. The other big change in XVI was the inclusion of Tequila barrels into the blend. This year, things swing back towards the barleywine a bit, though not as much as XV. Here's the component beers:

  • 30% Bravo (13.6% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 25% Stickee Monkee (15.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 15% Velvet Merkin (8.7% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 15% Parabola (12.8% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 8% Double Double Barrel Ale (12% ABV) Double Strength English Pale Ale. Aged 100% in Firestone Union Barrels.
  • 4% Helldorado (11.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 3% Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV)- Black Rye India Pale Ale. 100% Fresh, Dank & Hoppy 100% Stainless Steel

So we've got around 67% barleywines, 30% stout, and 3% Black Rye IPA (which sorta splits the difference between the two). Also notable is that this year's blend "only" utilizes 7 component beers (while the previous two used 8), and that PNC with Tequila barrels is nowhere to be seen. So this comes in somewhere between XV and XVI in terms of the components, and I will say that it does taste more like a barleywine than anything else, though I don't quite think it reached the heights of XV:

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale - Pours a brown amber color, garnet tones, a finger of light tan head that sticks around a bit. Smells of various spirits, boozy but not hot, some caramel-like notes and bready malt too. Taste starts off sweet, quickly moving into a rich caramel note, maybe a hint of fruity malt character, then comes various spirits and the one-two punch of oak and vanilla. The spirits here seem much less Bourbon focused than in years past, and looking at the component beers, perhaps that Brandy is asserting itself more than in previous years, though not in a dominant way. Call it the power of suggestion if you like, but this taste is very complex and evolves as it warms up, with the various flavors emerging or mellowing as I drink. The taste profile is more akin to a barleywine than anything else, closer to XV (which was clearly barleywine) than XVI (which was much more muddled, though still very nice). Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, but velvety smooth. Some pleasant booziness, a bit of heat, but given the cold weather of late, this is a welcome feature, not a bug. Overall, yep, it's fantastic. Better than XVI, but not quite at XV levels. But when you're playing at this level, these distinctions are really splitting hairs. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.3% ABV bottled (22 oz. boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/14/14.

Of course, all of Firestone Walker's barrel aged beers are spectacular and worth seeking out. It's seeming like I've missed out on last year's release of Velvet Merkin (local beermonger sez that government shutdown last year delayed and maybe even limited distro in this area, which could be total BS, but I still hope to track down a bottle somehow, someway). Rumor has it that Stickee Monkee will be coming to bottles and seeing distribution for the first time this year as well, and then there's their first wild ale, The Feral One. So what I'm saying is that I'm going to be hunting for lots of Firestone beer in 2014 (because don't forget about world class bottles like Sucaba and Parabola)

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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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