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Cycle Roadtrip - Fresh Blacktop

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Today we tackle another of Cycle's trademark barrel-aged stouts, a "Vanilla Barrel Aged Imperial Stout on Vanilla Beans" that's part of their annual Roadtrip Series. Not sure what constitutes the roadtrip, but the five beers in the series depict what appears to be a twisting and winding road on their labels and would you look at that?

Cycle Roadtrip Set, it spells Cycle!

I see what they did there. I am, of course, only covering the first one and it's pretty straightforward, but others in the series add in other ingredients like cacao nibs, cinnamon, peppers, maple barrels, coffee, almonds, and coconut. I suspect my inner curmudgeon would prefer the simplest of these (plus, that guy loves vanilla), but I've had enough of Cycle's beers to know that they're probably all great. Let's burn some rubber on this Fresh Blacktop though:

Cycle Roadtrip 2018 Fresh Blacktop

Cycle Roadtrip 2018 Fresh Blacktop - Pours black as night with just a bare cap of light brown head that quickly dissipates. Smells great, tons of vanilla, caramel, a little bourbon and oak, but the vanilla is the true star. Taste starts with rich caramel, that vanilla kicks in, and a light bourbon and oak character hits towards the finish, which isn't as boozy as you'd expect. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate but appropriate carbonation, a little booze. Overall, it's fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 5/31/19. Vintage: 2018.

I also shared the most recent iteration of Cycle's Monday (part of their Weekday series), which seems very similar to this beer, but also incorporating honey and aged in maple bourbon barrels (it was pretty great stuff, perhaps a little less focused on the vanilla). I expect we'll see more from Cycle on these pages soon enough (though nothing in the direct pipeline)...

Alright, no dumb, intentionally misleading references for this beer (unlike some other Fremont offerings I've written up), but it's worth noting that the Abominable Snowman on the label is wearing a coconut bra, which is pretty fabulous.

As per usual, Fremont blends vintages of aged beer, this time 9, 12, and 24-months old bourbon barrel aged B-Bomb, then they added toasted coconut. Coconut can be a tricky ingredient. At its worst, it can make a beer taste/smell like sun tan lotion. But at its best, it can transform the beer into something akin to liquid Samoa cookies (or Liquid Caramel deLights, depending on which Girl Scout bakery region you live in). I'm happy to report that this is the latter:

Fremont Barrel Aged B-Bomb Coconut Edition

Fremont Barrel Aged B-Bomb Coconut Edition - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of light tan head. Smells great, tons of toasted coconut, some boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla aromas, but the coconut is most prominent. Taste is very sweet, tons of toasted coconut, some caramel, and plenty of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla. It's kinda like a liquid Samoa cookie. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbonated, plenty of booze. Overall, a fantastic variant and nice change of pace, but my dumb-dumb instincts always prefer the base. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 5/24/19. Vintage 2018.

That basically covers my spin through the Fremont KDS and B-Bomb variants. I didn't post about Coffee KDS or Coffee Cinnamon B-Bomb because of my general ambivalence towards coffee, but I did share both with friends and they were both pretty damn good (especially Coffee Dark Star, which was fantastic) and received well. In general, though, my feeling is that the plain ol' KDS and B-Bomb are the best. I've got one more Fremont beer in the pipeline, and a couple others that I would love to get ahold of, so you haven't seen the last of these folks on these pages. Stay tuned...

Yoda Potato Strikes Back

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I somewhat recently (ok, I guess starting late last year) started playing around with Tavour. For the uninitiated, Tavour is basically an app that has a small number of beers on offer (around 10 at any given time, with a new beer added about twice a day on average). If the beer interests you, you can buy it, and they'll put it in a crate, and after a certain amount of time your crate ships out and you get to enjoy the beer you've selected. Easy peasy. The shipping takes a while though, and to facilitate their cheap, flat-rate (about $15 no matter how much beer you have), it doesn't really go through the big majors, so you need to schedule your shipment at a time when you'll be home.

It's an interesting experience and it's pretty easy to go overboard. The beers on offer range from exceptional brews from not-locally-available breweries to pretty mediocre stuff that isn't usually nationally distributed for a reason. After a couple of shipments, I've settled into a pretty selective mindset, but it's always fun to take a chance on something new and obsure. IPAs are a little tricky given the shipping lead-time (typically it takes two weeks once the crate ships, and the beers aren't exactly right off the line), so I usually only order them during the last week before my crate ships. Full credit to Tavour though - they're very open about packaging dates on IPAs, which is really great of them.

This is basically a Northeast IPA made with Citra, Lemondrop and Galaxy hops. Listermann was a longtime homebrew store turned brewery (starting a little over a decade ago) in Cincinnati, OH. The beer is named after the brewer's dog (pictured on the can), and apparently Yoda Potato can be found running around the brewpup, scrounging for crumbs and head scritches. Sounds good to me:

Listermann Yoda Potato Strikes Back

Listermann Yoda Potato Strikes Back - Pours a murky yellowish orange color with a solid finger of tight white head. Smells sugary sweet, citrus hops with floral aromas sprinkled throughout. Taste hits those citrus and floral notes, along with some kinda green onion bits, a little balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and a bit viscous. Overall, it's a solid NEIPA, but not quite top tier. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/24/19. Canned on 4/25/19.

Pretty solid stuff, not going to supplant any of my local NEIPA purveyors (of which there are many), but a nice change of pace.

So we all know that the regular Dark Star beer is named after the obscure Carpenter/O'Bannon film (and totally not the popular Grateful Dead song), but this Spice Wars variant is a clear allusion to Dune. And not just any Dune, but the Expanded Dune universe. You know, those novels that were written somewhat recently by Frank Herbert's son Brian Herbert (and co-written with the uber-prolific Kevin J. Anderson). The Spice War in question actually took place before the events of the original Dune and concerned a potential alternative to the Spice Melange (the war ended in disaster as that alternative never panned out). These Fremont folks are probably super-nerds, is what I'm saying (perhaps they should be called Fremen?)

That or this is just, like, a spiced version of BBA Dark Star. Fremont uses their typical practice of blending several barrel ages here as well, this time consisting of a blend of 18, 12, and 8-month Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star in 12-year old Kentucky bourbon barrels. The spice regime includes cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, vanilla, and clove. This sort of thing probably puts this in more of a winter warmer or Christmas season beer, but I couldn't really wait that long, so I just scarfed it down at the first opportunity. Let's delve into this, Harkonnen style:

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star - Spice Wars

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star - Spice Wars - Pours a deep, dark black color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells very nice, lots of spices along the lines of cinnamon and nutmeg, some ginger showing its face too, hints of underlying stout base like caramel and roast, the spices mostly hiding the barrel in the nose. Taste has more of that rich caramel up front, followed quickly by a cavalcade of spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, returning to caramel, with hints of the underlying roast, more spice, and a light bourbon, oak, and vanilla in the finish. It's a real roller coaster of flavor. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbonated, spice combining with booze to provide a little pleasant heat. Overall, it's a very nice winter warmer-ish beer. Doesn't really rival the plain-ol' BBA Dark Star, but it's a nice change of pace (would probably have been better to drink during the holiday season!) I didn't have a problem drinking the bottle, but this is the sort of thing that would be absolutely perfect for a share. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, grey wax). Drank out of a snifter on 5/10/19. Vintage: 2017.

As per usual, the fancily flavored variant is a nice change of pace, but doesn't quite eclipse the original. I will say that the Coffee variant, which I shared with a bunch of friends due to my legendary ambivalence to coffee, went over very well and was actually pretty damn fantastic. Stay tuned for another Fremont variant (of B-Bomb), coming soon to these pages.

Mother of All Storms

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Pelican Pub and Brewery's Mother of All Storms is a stalwart classic of barrel-aged barleywine. Not the first, but among the better examples out there, it began its life as Stormwatcher's Winterfest. The initial incarnations of the barrel aged version of same were dubbed Perfect Storm, but after a couple of years, this was changed to Mother of All Storms. In accordance with the Kaedrin tradition of completely unwarranted and unsubstantiated explanations for such changes, I suspect this has to do with some sort of legal snafu involving the popular book/film, The Perfect Storm. Rather than risk the wrath of George Clooney and Sebastian Junger (as they were obviously angered by a Northwestern brewery appropriating the tale of a tragic Nor'easter) Pelican caved and decided to change the name. As per usual, it's what's in the bottle that counts, so let's hoist a glass in honor of the Andrea Gail:

Pelican Mother of All Storms

Pelican Mother of All Storms - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a half finger of light tan head. Smells of rich caramel, candied dark fruit, boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, with some hops lurking in the undertow maybe? Taste is rich caramel, molasses, brown sugar, candied dark fruit, raisins, plums, and lots of that boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, finishing with a light bitterness. Bottle sez it's an English Barleywine, but I get some of that vaunted American Barleywine hoppy dankness in the taste as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbed, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, yup, awesome. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/25/19. IBU: 40. Bottled: 11-9-18.

Yeah, I'm still catching up with some old reviews. Pelican seems like a neat brewery (located right on the coast, it seems like an absurdly photogenic brewery location), and they've built on the success of MoAS with additional barrel aged beers like Father of All Tsunamis (a BBA stout), amongst others, which I obviously need to catch up with someday.

Suarez Family Brewing Qualify Pils

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In this age of bombast and hyperbole, it's hard to write about lagers. Beers prized for their crisp, clean, delicate flavors, and the subtlety contained therein generally take a backseat to the extreme, the intensity or concentration of flavors in something like an imperial doughnut brownie chocolate stout aged in 30 year old rum barrels. For better or for worse, there's a lot to talk about with those beers. Where'd the doughnut come from? Was the brownie batter cooked before added to the mash? Or was it a sorta dry-hopped with brownies? What became of that rum? Why was it aged 30 years? Where was the chocolate sourced from? It better damn well be bean to bar chocolate, or there'll be hell to pay!

Here there's just the requisite four beer ingredients. The only real distinction to make is that Qualify Pils differs from Suarez Family Brewing's other pilsner (Palatine Pils) in that it is a little more "hop-accented". Big whoop; they don't even talk about which hops they used. It's probably an extremely unsexy noble hop of some kind too, given the traditional German take on the style. Of course, both of Suarez's pilsners are pretty damn fantastic, and well worth trying out if you ever get the chance.

Suarez Family Brewing Qualify Pils

Suarez Family Brewing Qualify Pils - Pours a slightly hazy pale yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, fantastic retention, and lacing as I drink. Smells very nice, earthy, almost spicy noble hops, a crackery malt character and maybe a hint of lemon zest. Crisp, clean cereal grains up front followed by earthy noble hops and that hint of lemon zest to put the finishing touch on it. I'd have to try it side by side with Palatine Pils to be sure, but this does indeed seem to have more hop character to it. Or I'm just a weak-willed simpleton who has been bulldozed by the power of Suarez's suggestion. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and clean, light bodied and crushable. Overall, yup a fantastic pils here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 2/24/19. Canned: 1.23.19 , Drink By: 5.1.19

Another winner from Suarez, who is batting 1.000 so far in my experience (at this point, I've had at least 7 of their beers.) I hope to visit again this upcoming summer, so you're certain to see more from them here. Keep a watchful eye.

I've been lucky enough to have sampled some barrel aged Cycle Brewing beers that friends have generously shared with me. I recently managed to acquire a few for myself and noticed something curious on the label: "Drink Fresh! DO NOT AGE." This is the sort of thing I'm used to seeing on an IPA (and it certainly makes a big difference on those beers), but not so much on an 11%+ barrel-aged stout... I figured that enquiring minds would want to know, so I drank some beer and fired off an email to Cycle to see why they were so insistent on this. Their response was interesting and detailed, so let's take a look:

I can go long on this but the short answer is: beer doesn't get better with age generally speaking. There are exceptions, active cultures being the most obvious, and some stouts and other big beers do ok, but how many barrel aged stouts can you honestly say got better?
I pretty much agree! While I have experimented with aging beer, my repeated observation is that while it's always a different beer than it was fresh, it's rarely a better beer.

And on top of that, we do tons of adjuncts, so from that small set of beers that got better, how many had adjuncts? Not many in my experience, the most common discussion is whether or not it held up which is basically hoping it's as good as it once was. We don't find cellaring beer to be worthwhile, most of the time it's not as good, almost as good seems like a win. The tone most often struck in tastings of old beer is "it help up pretty well" and frankly we think our beer should be consumed rather than aged. We make a lot, more now than ever, drink what we packaged and more great beer is just around the corner.

Adjuncts and flavorings are definitely something that does not hold up well with age. I can only think of one example that held up amazingly well to the point of being potentially better than fresh (Bourbon County Vanilla Rye), but who knows if that's repeatable. The observation that most discussion around aged beer centers on whether or not it's "held up" is a good one and it's funny that so many people talk about aging beer when the frame of reference is already pessimistic...

Ultimately it's a subjective decision, I respect that and am not here to argue whether you like it better or not but in our opinion our barrel aged beers don't improve with time. We did learn that non-barrel aged high gravity beers can benefit from them and we think the key component is yeast in suspension, with such a high density from the sugar the yeast is actually buoyant enough to stay floating around for a long time, months possibly, and it doesn't taste better with yeast, we are actually wondering if half the improvement we see in the beer through barrel aging is just giving it enough time for all yeast and sediment to fully settle out. That remains speculation and just something new to ponder, post barrel aging though it's time to drink or hope "it held up pretty well" someday.

It's funny, but the most successful aging experiments I've had involve things like Lambic (i.e. bottle conditioned beer with active cultures, etc...) or non-barrel-aged behemoths like World Wide Stout or Samichlaus. We could probably quibble over the degree to which the barrel contributes its own character (I think it's probably more than half), but it's a fascinating observation that some of the benefit of barrel aging doesn't come from the barrel itself, but rather allowing the time for yeast and sediment to settle out (and perhaps other age-related processes). As they say, this remains speculation, but it makes logical sense.

Ultimately, my feelings on aging beer remain the same. It can be fun, but it rarely improves the beer, and barrel-aged beer tends to be just right when "fresh". Usually, if anyone asks me about aging beer, my response is always that you should drink it fresh first. If you can get your hands on another bottle, feel free to age it, but it probably won't get better over time (though it can still be interesting and a lot of fun). The lone exception in my book tends to be Lambic, but that's a sorta unique situation. All of this is academic, of course, since the three barrel-aged Cycle beers that I managed to get my grubby fingers on were all gone within a week or two of acquiring.

In the grand Kaedrin tradition of speculating on goofy or obviously wrong influences for beer names, I'm guessing Cycle named this beer after MS-DOS 3.0, an extremely rare release due to Microsoft's battles with IBM (3.1+ were much more common). Or, possibly DOS is just an acronym for Double Oatmeal Stout. This particular iteration was aged in whiskey barrels for a full year.

C:\windows\chkdsk /f

Windows has scanned the beer system and found no problems.

This beer is pretty damn great. 0 KB in bad sectors.

Cycle Rare DOS 1

Cycle Rare DOS 1 - Pours an inky black color with just the barest cap of light brown head. Smells great, rich caramel, fudge, and a strong bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste hits that rich caramel up front, sweet but some of the underlying roast character emerges here too, chocolate, char, toast, and of course, lots of that bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, thick and viscous, moderate carbonation, and a really well integrated booze profile. Overall, yup, pretty spectacular stuff, and you know how much I like the unadorned BA stout. Just barrels and stout, and it's great. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/15/19. Vintage: 2019.

I also shared the Barrel Aged Hazelnut Imperal Stout with some friends, which was phenomenal (even given my general antipathy toward coffee and hazelnut). The Bourbon Barrel-Aged Baltic Porter was a little less successful (relative to the others), but quite nice. It's a bit pricey to get these beers sent up to PA, but it feels worth the stretch, and you will most certainly be seeing more Cycle on this blog in the future...

Tree House Septuple Feature

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I keep thinking that I'll visit Tree House up in Massachusetts someday, but on the other hand I'm blessed with friends who not only go up there who also buy way too much beer and are anxious to unload, for example, a mixed set of 13 beers from their spoils. At this point, I've been lucky enough to have a pretty wide swath of Tree House's offerings, but one thing I appreciated about this batch was the inclusion of some *gasp* non-IPAs. And I didn't even have to wait in their infamously long (but apparently very well organized and snappy) lines. We've got a lot to get through here, so let's buckle up:

Tree House Snow

Tree House Snow - An IPA with a significant amount of wheat in the malt bill, hopped with Citra, Centennial, and Sabro. Drats, I'm getting out of touch, I don't recognize that last one; Sabro was formerly known as HBC 438 and hails from New Mexico (pro tip - most hops, even ones grown here in the US, have their origins in Europe). It appears to be a typical new world flavor hop, lots of citrus and fruit characteristics which naturally dovetail with the juicy Northeast IPA profile. Pours a hazy pale orange, almost yellow color with a solid finger of head that has good retention and leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of juicy citrus, pine, and readily apparent wheat. Taste has a nice lightly sweet touch up front, followed by citrus and pine hops, and a nice balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed, low to medium bodied, with a reasonably dry finish. Overall, it's a rock solid NEIPA, not going to blow the hazebois away, but a real nice beer to pair a meal with. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/15/19. Canned: 01/17/19 (OUR SNOW IS BETTER, HARPER).

Tree House Sap - Originally brewed as a Christmas beer, utilizing mostly Chinook hops for their infamously piney character. Pours a hazy pale yellow color with a finger of head that has good retention and leaves lacing. Smells of citrus and pine, some floral and spice notes, not quite as intense as other Tree House beers, but it works. Taste has that same old-school citrus and dank, resinous pine expression, with more of a wallop of bitterness towards the finish than your typical NEIPA (but nowhere near the bracing levels of some West Coast IPAs...). Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, and quaffable. Overall, another rock solid IPA... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/16/19. Canned: 01/31/19 (GOIN' DOWN THE CAN LINE FEELIN' BAD)

Tree House Super Sap

Tree House Super Sap - Imperialized version of Sap, also apparently brewed in the holiday spirit and presumably using the same Chinook-heavy approach. This is going to get repetitive, it looks much like Sap, hazy, pale, yellowish, well retained head and lacing. Smells like Sap, only moreso - citrus and pine, some floral and spice notes, a little more intense. Taste hits the same old-school note as Sap. Mouthfeel is a bit bigger, but similar. Overall, yup, it's really good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Snifter on 2/16/19. Canned: 02/06/19 (BOILING HEAT MAPLE STEAM)

Tree House Haze - One of the more popular Northeast DIPAs that Tree House makes, and thus one of their regular rotational beers. Yeah yeah, pale and hazy with good retention and lacing, like the others. Smells great though, much more juicy citrus, sweet, tropical fruit hops. Taste has that same juicy citrus character, lots of tropical fruits, with a well balanced bitterness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, relatively dry. Overall, yup, similar to the others, but maybe one tick above. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip glass on 2/17/19. Canned: 02/01/19 (IF THE JULES DON'T GRONK YA, THEN THE TOMMY BILL)

Tree House Ma

Tree House Ma - A hoppy imperial amber, a style I enjoy, but which doesn't always work out. Named after one of the brewers' Irish grandmother, it's a sorta take on an Irish Red. Made with meatloaf because of their enduring love for Wedding Crashers (alright, probably not, but I enjoy making unsubstantiated allegations like this about brewers I like). Pours a dark, warm amber color with a solid finger of off-white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus and pine, heavier on the pine. Taste is sweet up front, some of those citrus hops lending a fruitiness to the malt, followed by dank, resinous pine hops towards the balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and quaffable. Overall, it's a rock solid hoppy amber ale and I wish more breweries made this sort of thing these days. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip Glass on 2/22/19. Canned: 02/05/19.

Tree House Treat

Tree House Treat - Originally brewed for Halloween, I'm not sure what makes it Halloweeny, but I'm still endeared to it because I love Halloween so much and I like the label. I guess they tried to make it have a sorta candy like sweetness, but really it's just a DIPA. Maybe they played down the bitterness a bit, but that ain't exactly outside of the NEIPA playbook. Pours a cloudy very pale yellow color with a finger or two of head with good retention and lacing. Smells fantastic, sweet, juicy citrus hops, tropical fruit, mango and the like. Taste has that big juicy mango kick to it, sweet up front with less bitterness in the finish than the others in this roundup. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and pretty well balanced. Overall, it's another really good IPA, a tasty treat for sure. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip Glass on 2/23/19. Canned: 02/08/19 (TREAT YOURSELF)

Tree House Nervous Energy

Tree House Nervous Energy - A sorta french toast inspired milk stout made with maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla. Pours a clear, very dark brown color, almost black, with just about a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet, a little maple syrup, caramel, and some roasted malt. Taste is sweet up front, that maple comes out to play, then some spice kicks in, cinnamon, balancing hop bitterness and hints of roast in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but silky smooth up front, a little spice emerging in the finish, full bodied, sweet but not cloying. Overall, it's a complex little bugger, but reasonably well balanced, flavors that play nice together and don't overwhelm. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Snifter on 3/1/19. Canned: 02/08/19 (POUR ME ON WAFFLES TAKE ME TO HEAVEN)

Tree House Double Shot (Vanilla Bean) - Bonus beer! A rich, sweet, and less roasty base stout provides a nice platform for a pair of coffee infusions in addition to, in this case, some vanilla bean. I had this at a share and thus did not take detailed notes (therefore I'm not going to call this an Octuple Feature, as I won't be rating this), but my admittedly vague memories are that this was a fantastic little beer. Lord knows I'm not the biggest fan of coffee stouts, but in this case the sweet base combined with the vanilla bean managed to wrangle the beer into something rather great. Nice to finally get a load of some non-IPAs from Tree House. They are justifiably famous for both of these styles. I had a couple of other Double Shot variants as well, and they were also pretty darned good, even to a coffee skeptic like myself...

Beer Nerd Details: 7.6% ABV Bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/21/19.

Another successful batch of Tree House in the books. Still hoping to get there someday, but hey, I'm not complaining about the ones that do come my way. Special thanks go out to Kaedrin friend and fellow BeerNERD Gary for sending these beauties my way...

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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