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Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale

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According to my records, I haven't done a proper review of an Ommegang beer in almost 5 years. Can you imagine that?! Yes, well, you are pretty sharp, so I'm not surprised that you can, indeed, imagine that. My three readers are the best. Anyway, it's perhaps fitting that the last review was Ommegang's XV Anniversary beer, a rock solid Belgian Strong Dark. Since that time, Ommegang seems to be most famous for their Game of Thrones series of beers, popular but mostly unremarkable. Ommegang does occupy a special place in Kaedrin history though (being that they were the ones that introduced me to great beer way back during the turn of the century timeframe), so I'm glad they've stepped up their game for this 20th Anniversary brew.

This beer starts out as something similar to that XV Anniversary beer, a Belgian Strong Dark, but then it spent a few months in old Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels. Sometimes I find that bourbon barrels overwhelm the more subtle Belgian ale characteristics. Will that be the case here? Spoiler: nope, this is great!

Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale

Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale - Pours a clear, very dark amber brown color with a finger of off-white head. Smells great, lots of fruity esters, dark fruit, some spice, clove, and hints of boozy bourbon. Taste hits more of those spice notes than the nose, lots of clove, some sweet, rich caramel, molasses, a little of those fruity esters, finishing on a boozy note. A light touch on the bourbon and oak character, but it's clearly there. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, medium to full bodied, moderately rich, a little booze. Intense, but very well balanced. The bourbon contributes while not overpowering the more subtle Belgian notes. Overall, this is pretty darn good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/14/17. Vintage: 2017.

Good ol Ommegang. It's been far too long, old friends, and I see you've been doing some more interesting stuff, like brett-dosed beers and more barrel aged variants. Nice.

de Garde Oude Desay

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de Garde has made a several variants of a beer called Saison Desay. Near as I can tell, they had no real reason to use the word Desay (I mean, maybe they're big fans of the crappy electronics company or perhaps the unique wooden window found in Kathmandu, but I'm doubting it)... until I saw this beer. Did... did de Garde wait three years to blend this beer just so they could make an Odyssey pun with this beer name? I'm probably just the worst, but I like to think that someone at de Garde was willing to go to such elaborate lengths for such a trivial pleasure.

Anyway, this beer is a blend of one, two, and three year-old oak barrel and oak tank matured Petit Desay. A neat, gueuze-like approach to the blending (though obviously not an actual gueuze, which has additional rules concerning wheat in the mashbill and aged hops, etc...) makes this one of the more intriguing offerings I managed to acquire from these Oregonian spontaneous ballers... I couldn't find any details on the proportions of the blend, but I think it's safe to assume that there is more of the younger components and less of the older. Whatever the case, it's a worthwhile exercise. A beer odyssey, you might say:

de Garde Oude Desay

de Garde Oude Desay - Pours a slightly hazy golden orange color with tons of head that sticks around and even leaves a bit of lacing. Smells great, saison yeast spicy phenols and fruity esters, definitely a light, raisiny character that aged Belgian styles give off, but also some musty, earthy funk lingering in the background. Taste hits those saison notes up front, spicy with cloves, fruity with vinous fruit, hints of raisin, but this is all overtaken by a growing sourness in the middle through the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, dry, highly carbonated and effervescent, with a moderate and pleasant acidity. Overall, this is the best de Garde I've had yet, certainly reminiscent of the others (they're all saisons of similar stock, so I guess this makes sense), but with more complexity and balance. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/8/17. Batch 2 (I think?)

As per usual, I'm always interested in checking out more from these fellows at de Garde. Alas, nothing in the pipeline. Woe is me.

Tusk & Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02

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Saint Archer was an independent San Diego brewery that opened in 2013, but then sold out to some sort of unholy agglomeration of Miller, Coors, and Molson in 2015 (those three macros have been circling each other for a while and while I think they've finally settled on their final form, I don't think it's worth going into too much detail. Suffice to say that they're the number two brewing concern in the U.S. behind AB InBev.) It was one of the earlier sellouts, and of course the news was greeted with much consternation and gnashed teeth amongst the craft beer cognoscenti.

To my mind, whilst not a huge fan of massive corporations pushing around smaller breweries (which manifests in a variety of sneaky ways not worth enumerating at this point), I'm also not going to completely close myself off to the possibility of a beer from sellouts. For all the bluster and fury of the beer dorks, it's not like people aren't lining up for the likes of Bourbon County Brand Stout (made by notable sellout Goose Island) on Black Friday every year. What's more, that beer is still phenomenal. And, you know, I like phenomenal beer. So will this Tusk & Grain (i.e. their series of oak aged offerings) beer justify shelling out shekels for a stealth-macro?

As the name implies, this is a blend of several barrel-aged components. Primarily a barleywine that spent two years in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels, with some two year old imperial stout and a one year old "export" stout blended in for complexity (exact proportions not specified). Apparently the big different between this second blend and the original blend is that the components are much older this time around. Sounds good to me. This approach calls to mind Firestone Walker's Anniversary mega-blends, which frankly sets the bar pretty damned high. I don't think they quite managed to clear that bar, but it's an admirable attempt, and one that I'm glad I tried, macro-ownership issues be damned.

Saint Archer Tusk and Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02

Saint Archer Tusk & Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02 - Pours a dark brown color with a cap of light brown head. Smells boozy, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a little roast, a little caramel. Taste hits similar notes, more roast here than the nose, with a crystal malt note, moderately integrated barrel character, typical bourbon, oak, and vanilla notes. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little boozy. Overall, it's a nice blend and worth the stretch, but it takes a clear backseat to the Firestone Anniversary blends. A high B+ (possibly an A- if I was feeling generous, but obviously I'm not right now...)

Beer Nerd Details: 12.94% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 8/19/17.

Jeeze, I don't review anything for a couple weeks and my return review is a stinkin macro? A thousand pardons, I shall endeavor to do better. That said, this beer made a decent enough impression that I'd be curious to try some of their other offerings. So perhaps not a full thousand pardons. But a few, maybe? Something like that? Eh, let's just drink a beer and leave it at that.

Anchorage Darkest Hour

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I have a friend with a penchant for Alaskan beers who was always giving me a hard time for only having two reviews of Anchorage beers on the blog, so this one's for you buddy. Also, if you can get me an extra bottle or two of A Deal With The Devil, I will gladly review that (in all fairness, this person has generously shared a bottle of that right excellent barleywine, and it was indeed glorious, but those weren't exactly ideal reviewer conditions and you know how we do here at Kaedrin - journalistic integrity and all that garbage. Alright fine, it's just laziness, you happy now?)

So what we have here is an Imperial Stout brewed with Summit hops, aged in a variety whisky barrels, and bottle conditioned with a wine yeast. This is apparently different from the original batch (released in 2013), which used a Belgian yeast and incorporated Pinot Noir barrels in addition to whiskey barrels. It still feels like a distinct offering in a crowded BBA stout field. To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, this is the sort of beer that requires "an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth." Or, you know, something like that.

Anchorage Darkest Hour

Anchorage Darkest Hour - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with just a ring of brown head around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet and rich, caramel, liquorish, oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Taste has a sweet, rich caramel to it, with that liquorish pitching in, roasted malt, char, coffee, a hint of spice, finishing on that whisky, oak, and vanilla tip. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, light but appropriate carbonation, sneaky booze bite. Overall, yep, really good example of the style, if not quite as comparatively great as something like ADWTD... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/18/17. Vintage: Batch #3 DEC/2016.

So there you have it. If I ever get my greedy little paws on ADWTD, you will most certainly see that popping up here at some point, but you never know. I've generally enjoyed everything I've had from Anchorage, so maybe we'll get to something else before then...

Cigar City Hard Sauce

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Hard Sauce is a rich mixture of butter, sugar, and booze that is a frequent accompaniment to a large number of holiday sweets, puddings, and pies (as befits its seasonal provenance, other flavorings like vanilla and nutmeg are often added). The term "sauce" doesn't really capture the consistency here though, it's more of a spreadable soft butter than a smooth liquid or glaze. But when paired with warm pudding or pie, it does melt into more of what you'd think. It appears to be English in origin, dating back to King George I (aka The Pudding King), who demanded plum pudding with hard sauce at all Royal Christmas dinners.

Apparently the fine folks at Cigar City prefer their hard sauce paired with warm Pecan Pie, so they brewed this beer with pecans and vanilla, then aged it in bourbon-barrels. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but then, the second half of that quote is "that mediocrity can pay to greatness" so let's not get carried away. So hold on to your hats, Oscar Wilde fans, we're taking a closer look:

Cigar City Hard Sauce

Cigar City Hard Sauce - Pours a dark brown color with a thin cap of tan head that quickly disappears. Smells of, yes, pecan pie, nutty, sweet, caramel and toffee, a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts with rich caramel and toffee, some oak and vanilla, moves into that nutty pecan character, finishing on a boozy bourbon note. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and rich, tightly carbonated, some sticky booze. Could probably use a bit more heft here, but it comports itself well enough. Overall, this is really nice and the pecans come through strong... not their best Barrel Aged effort, but a decent change of pace. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 8/11/17. Bottled on: 12/21/16.

Many thanks to fellow BeerNERD Ray for the bottle (it's one of the El Catador Club beers). Cigar City always worth a try, and I tend to enjoy their barrel aged efforts...

Upper Pass Double Feature

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This isn't exactly Vermont Beer Roulette, that venerable practice wherein I just grab a bottle (or can) of something in Vermont that I've never heard of and hope for the best, but it's close. In accordance with tradition, I did a little asking around before this latest Operation Cheddar to see if there was anything I should be on the lookout for, and one of the things that came up: get some Upper Pass!

They've only been around for about a year and a half, but if these two cans are any indication, they'll be here to stay. Currently brewing on a tiny one barrel system, they do manage to slip in the occasional big batch at the Von Trapp Brewery in Stowe (I believe my two cans hailed from one of those supplementary batches). I don't know what it is about Vermont that breeds great IPAs, but Upper Pass has joined those hallowed ranks. Maybe it's in the water.

Upper Pass First Drop

Upper Pass First Drop - An "American Pale Ale" (but seriously, pretty much indistinguishable from an IPA) made with Golden Promise and Pilsner malt, a blend of two "East Coast" yeasts (and we know how important that is to the NEIPA style), and a lineup of hops that include Azacca, Centennial, Citra, and Mosaic. Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves lacing. Smells great, sweet stone fruit, almost peachy, with some dank pine peeking through. Taste hits that juicy citrus and dank, resinous pine note hard, peaches and pineapple, with a balancing but only moderate bitter bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, relatively dry, and quaffable. Overall, this is fabulous stuff. Very well balanced and crushable. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/11/17. Canned on: 7/27/17.

Upper Pass Cloud Drop

Upper Pass Cloud Drop - Pours a little paler orange, cloudier, and a half finger of white head and lacing. Smells just as good, less stone fruit and less dank but still juicy and citrusy. Taste hits that juicy citrus hop character, sweet and less bitter, but still relatively balanced. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, a little thicker than First Drop, sticky with a faint but pleasant hint of booze. Overall, while I think I might actually like First Drop a teensy bit better, this is still pretty fantastic and earns the same grade! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/11/17. Canned on: 7/27/17.

Always something new and great brewing in Vermont, these folks are putting out some great beer and we will be on the lookout upon future sorties into Vermont.

So this annual sorty into Vermont to secure beer has become a hallowed tradition here at Kaedrin, and is thus well tread ground at this point. Every year, there are some minor tweaks, but the general shape of the invasion has cohered into a firm(ish) state: Start at Warren Store, hit CBC in Waterbury, new Alchemist visitor's center, Lost Nation for lunch, Hill Farmstead, and now Foam, all before heading back to my vacation spot in upstate NY.

It's a fun little day trip, and I'm happy I get to do it, but I'll try not to bore you with repetition, so enjoy some brewery pictures, hauls, brewery pictures, hauls, brewery pictures, hauls, and a few quickie reviews (that are light on tasting notes and heavy on ruminations, so less skippable than usual, heh).

The Alchemist Brewery
A wide shot of the new Alchemist site, it's purty

The Alchemist Brewery Interior
Some brewery equipment at the Alchemist

A Sandwich from Lost Nation
Lunch at Lost Nation, some sort of smoked beef sandwich with pickled onions on top, glorious as always

I know I post a picture of this Hill Farmstead sign every year, but I like it, so you get another.
Obligatory Hill Farmstead sign that I post every year because I like it and you should too

The Hill Farmstead Compound
A wide shot of the Hill Farmstead compound, which kinda makes it sound like a cult and, um, that's not too far off for a lot of visitors (sadly not excluding myself)

The entrance to Foam
The entrance to Foam

Hill Farmstead Difference and Repetition

Hill Farmstead Difference & Repetition - First things first, this is a perfect name to describe the never-ending succession of IPAs that everyone offers these days. To outsiders, this must seem ludicrous. When I got back from Vermont, my brother asked what the difference was between all these IPAs and it's like, ugh, he doesn't want a lecture on yeasts and hop terroir and it's funny, because these mostly taste the same to him. Even to a grizzled veteran, drowning in IPAs can lead to a sorta palate fatigue. You can see differences, but it all starts to feel samey after a while. Or... different but repetitive, if you will. Anyway, this orangish yellow IPA is brewed with Simcoe, Amarillo, & Galaxy hops (just a citra away from my own Crom Approved homebrew) and smells and tastes fabulous, ripe mangoes, citrus, a hint of dankness, with a well balanced, light bitterness towards the finish. Easy going and quaffable. Overall, yeah, no crap, stop the presses, this Hill Farmstead IPA is great. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/5/17. Growler filled 8/3/17.

Foam Experimental Jet Set

Foam Experimental Jet Set - Named after a Sonic Youth album (all of Foam's names appear to be indie-rock references), I don't really know much about it. At first, I assumed it used experimental hops, and maybe that is indeed why they referenced this album, but who knows, the details of the recipe aren't readily available. I was quite impressed with Foam during last year's Operation, and loved their Built to Spill (I snagged another growler of that this year for a friend), so I was excited to get another taste of their wares. It turns out that this is one of the murkier, more turbid entries in the NEIPA style (cleaning the growler revealed lots of sediment gunk in the bottom of the bottle, which seems pretty rare for a growler), but it's pretty darned tasty. It looks like milky orange juice, smells of sweet, juicy citrus hops with a taste that follows the nose. The mouthfeel is a bit chewy and sticky, with some booziness too. Overall, an interesting NEDIPA, a bit boozy for my tastes (I tend to prefer my DIPAs in the 8%ish range), but worth checking out. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.27% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/5/17. Growler filled 8/3/17.

Hill Farmstead Dharma Bum - An all Simcoe IPA, this one takes me back. Simcoe was, perhaps, one of the first hops I kinda grew to recognize and differentiate. It's always been a favorite for my homebrewing (my first homebrewed IPA was single-hop Simcoe and I still always use it for bittering, at least, when making an IPA). It's got a nice citrus and pine character that isn't entirely overwhelmed by the juicy flavors and aromas imparted by whatever yeast strain HF uses. It makes for an interesting, almost transitional NEIPA beer. Really nice Simcoe character imparted here, and just enough NEIPA juiciness to keep tings interesting. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/6/17. Growler filled 8/3/17.

Simple Roots Citra and Amarillo

Simple Roots Citra And Amarillo - When I was walking into the Warren Store (my usual first stop of Operation Cheddar, usually just to get some Lawson's, but I always end up taking a flier on something I've never heard of), I noticed someone carrying two cases of beer from their car into the cooler. I asked, and it turned out it was these Simple Roots cans. After Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo have also been a mainstay in my homebrewed IPAs, and are definitely favorites. Pours a, a, a... is that clear? What the hell guys? Clear golden yellow with finger of white head that leaves lacing. Floral, citrusy hops, a little cereal grain in the background. Light bodied and crisp, well carbonated and quaffable. Overall, do we call these things throwbacks now? Clear, almost west-coast inspired APA? It's nice. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/12/17.

Burlington Amber Ridge

Burlington Amber Ridge 2017 - A "robust" maple amber ale aged in bourbon barrels, my kinda stuff. This beer changes from year to year (last year was a brown ale base), but the idea remains the same. Presumably named after Amber Ridge Maple farm and the maple syrup they provided, it was also aged in Stonecutter Spirits whiskey barrels (of which, I don't know much about.). The result is a pretty darned good take on the style. Nice amber color with off white head, good barrel character, maple, caramel, oak, and vanilla, relatively light and nimble for its 12% ABV (I mean, still medium bodied, but something like this is usually much heavier), I liked this a lot. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 8/12/17. Vintage: Limited Release 2017.

Moar reviews to come, so stay tuned. I'll leave you with some haul pics because that's always fun too:

Can Haul

Can Haul: Alchemist Skadoosh IX, Heady Topper, Pappy's Porter, and Beelzebub. Burlington Strawberry Whale Cake. Upper Pass First Drop and Cloud Drop. Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine. Simple Roots Citra and Amarillo (see above).

Miscellaneous Bottles Haul

Miscellaneous Bottle Haul: Central Waters BBA Scotch Ale, BBA Barleywine, BBA Stout. Crooked Stave Nightmare on Brett with Blueberries and regular ol Nightmare on Brett. Tilquin Gueuze. Burlington Amber Ridge (see above)

Hill Farmstead Bottle Haul

Hill Farmstead Bottles Haul: Farmer Wave, Anna, Arthur, Clara, Edith, Florence, Brother Soigné, and Convivial Suaréz.

And if you think that's a lot, well, I didn't actually capture, *ahem*, all of the bottles and cans I bought. I know that's the cool kid thing to do, but that was, like, way too much work and you don't need to see a hundred bottles and cans splayed all over your monitor. Anywho, this basically concludes Operation Cheddar VI: Night of the Living Cheddar. More to come in terms of actual reviews, so stick around...

Hill Farmstead Sue

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An overdue recap of Operation Cheddar VI: Night of the Living Cheddar (my latest foray into Vermont hunting for beer) is on its way, but in the meantime, let's look at a beer I drank in anticipation of that momentous undertaking.

Sue is a wine barrel-aged version of Susan, which is one of Hill Farmstead's trademark bright, juicy, tropical fruity IPAs. This is... not the most likely candidate for extended aging. However, after two years in the barrels, the beer picks up lots of wine character and lemony tartness, making it much better than what an "aged IPA" would normally conjure.

So let's get dressed up all in black, head over to San Quentin, and drink a beer named Sue*. "My name is 'Sue!' How do you do!?"

Hill Farmstead Sue

Hill Farmstead Sue - Pours a yellowish golden color with a solid finger of long lived head. Smells quite nice, oak, vinous fruit, lemons, and sneaking in the background are some of those dank, faded hops (very delicate aroma, it works). Taste has a nice sweetness to it, tons of that vinous fruit, wine, lemons, a bit of earthy funk, almost no sign of hops until well into the finish. MOuthfeel is medium bodied, crisp, and effervescent, with a relatively dry finish. Overall, much better than its description would imply - it feels like a solid, complex saison rather than an IPA (I'll slap the American Wild Ale label on this one, but you could easily call it a saison). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 7/28/17. Bottled: 2017 05 11.

Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Dana for picking this up on her own invasion of Vermont recently. Several more Hill Farmstead offerings to come, as well as a full recap of Operation Cheddar VI, so stick around.

* Get it? Screaming hot Johnny Cash reference here. Somewhere I have a list of potential beer names, and one of them was A Beer Named Sue. I mean, not "Sue" (like the above beer) but literally "A Beer Named Sue". I have no idea what it will be, and at my current rate of 1 batch per year it may be a while, but I will brew a beer and call it that. Someday.

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

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