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One of the many things I love about Fifty Fifty's Eclipse series of beers is that it offers me the opportunity to wax philosophic on all manner of barrel aging minutiae. Of course, my ramblings are almost completely unsubstantiated and speculative, but hey, it's fun. By taking the same base beer and aging it in a variety of barrels, as Eclipse does, I feel like you can start to form some idea of what each type of barrel contributes.

One of the things I've always wondered about is the difference between a young barrel (like, say, Rittenhouse Rye), a medium aged barrel (like Elijah Craig 12), and a really, really old barrel... like the most recent Eclipse I tried, aged in 23 year old Evan Williams barrels. There are many other variables, but my experience so far seems to have confirmed my assumption that younger barrels contribute more oak than older barrels, and this 23 year old barrel seems to really cement that feeling. Of course, there's still plenty of bourbon character in the finished beer, but the rich, oaky character is less pronounced.

It makes me wonder about some other beers I've had as well. I remember being disappointed by Stillwater's The Tale Of Van Winkle, a Belgian Strong Dark aged in 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels, but I blamed that entirely on the base beer (high attenuation and moderate ABV don't usually match up well) when it could very well have been that the 20 year old barrel was spent and only contributed that precious, precious Van Winkle juice without incorporating any depth from the barrel itself. Probably a little of both contributed to the boozy, unbalanced result, but it's still interesting.

On the other hand, I suspect you could age the beer a lot longer in the barrel, which might end up yielding more complexity in the long run. I've never had Bourbon County Rare and surely its reputation is partially based on its rarity, but it also did spend a whole 2 years in 23 year old Pappy barrels. The other thought: perhaps these beers can age better in the bottle, as the higher bourbon content integrates and mellows out over time. Eclipse beers all spend a similar amount of time in the barrels, about 6 months, which is fantastic, because I can really dig in and nerd out on the difference between this Evan Williams 23 variant and the Evan Williams single barrel version (a 9-10 year old bourbon). I'd be really curious to see how this bottle ages (alas, I didn't manage to acquire a second bottle for that purpose)...

The other interesting thing about this year's crop of Eclipse beers is that they seem to be higher alcohol than some of the previous batches (11.9% vs 9.5%), which is certainly fine by me, but does add a little variability between vintages. Alright, I guess that's enough wanking, let's get to the beer:

Fifty Fifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Evan Williams (23 Year)

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Evan Williams (23 Year) - Pours black as night with half a finger of light brown head that fades at a moderate pace. Smells lightly of roasted malt, char, and some rich caramel and lots of bourbon. Taste is sweet, with some complexity in the form of roast hitting in the middle, along with a heaping helping of boozy bourbon and some rich caramel hitting towards the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied with moderate carbonation and plenty of boozy bourbon heat. The balance isn't quite the same as other Eclipse variants, a little more bourbon, not much oak - perhaps a function of the rather old barrel (perhaps a lot of residual bourbon had soaked into the barrel, which was pretty well spent over 23 years). Overall, this is quite an interesting entry in the Eclipse series, very good, but very different than the other entries. Certainly worthy, and I absolutely love the opportunity to nerd out on the older barrel treatment, but it's not my favorite treatment. A low A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce dark blue waxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/17/15. Vintage: 2014. Bottle Run: BR 1.

I managed to put together enough sheckels to go in on a few other variants of this stuff, and have been considering doing a tasting with some friends, so we'll see how that plays out. In the meantime, I'm sure some won't survive the wait, so look for some additional variants (in particular, I'm looking forward to the Four Roses and Woodford Reserve variants)...

Another Forest & Main Visit

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Forest & Main is a tiny little brewpub in Ambler, PA, which is not really that far from Kaedrin HQ in the grand scheme of things, but is probably a hair too far across the border of what is actually convenient for me, so I don't get my butt up there as often as I probably should. Also, as I've noted before, they share a certain DNA with their chums over at Tired Hands, and I always feel like I'm cheating on my favorite brewpub when I hit up F&M. That being said, they're a solid little brewery and I'm always intrigued by their offerings. Also I don't actually feel like I've been cheating on Tired Hands. That's absurd. Anywho, I've been very neglectful of posting about my visits, so I actually took some basic notes this time. Not great notes, but notes nonetheless. Work with me here. I was drinking.

Double Dan PA

Double Dan PA - Made with two dudes named Dan and a generous helping of American and Australian hops (um, the Dans in question were not, like, ingredients or anything. This isn't a drink of my blood situation or anything). Fantastic citrus nose, with a little pine sneaking around too. More dank resin and pine in the taste, with that citrus brightening things up... Medium bodied, well carbonated, crisp, refreshing, well balanced stuff. Overall, this is probably the best IPA I've had from Forest & Main (though it's not like I've had a ton) and a worthy, distinct take on the style. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV on tap (16 ounce). Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 12/30/14.

Telemachus - Described as a golden Barleywine made with orange blossom honey. It has a very distinctive, flowery, sweet nose, probably that orange blossom honey coming through strong. Taste is similar, mostly that honey character coming through with very little in the way of malt backbone, though you do get a bit in the way of booze. Low carbonation (if I remember correctly, it was on cask) and medium bodied. This is a very interesting beer, but it doesn't really tickly my subjective fancy, if you know what I mean. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap (10 ounce). Drank out of a wine glass on 12/30/14.

Rum Barrel-Aged Gmork - Black as night, not much head. Smells of caramel, brown sugar, molasses, rum, vanilla, and the faintest hint of roast. Taste follows the nose, very, very sweet, no roast at all, brown sugar and molasses, rum, almost fruity. Mouthfeel is full bodied, moderate carbonation, slight booziness. Overall, a unique take on the style, I wish I'd actually had the base beer to compare it to, but this is pretty darn good on its own. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV on tap (10 ounce). Drank out of a nonic half-imperial-pint glass on 12/30/14.

And there you have it. I had a saison that was on tap that night with my burger, but I neglected to take notes because my hands were full and as we've already established, I'm the worst. Hopefully I'll make this more of a regular thing in the future. In the meantime, I think I hear Tired Hands' siren song...

Bourbon County Vanilla Rye

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I thought I had missed out on this Bourbon County variant that people are losing their minds over. Back when Goose Island started doing Bourbon County variants, there was a Vanilla version that has been highly sought after ever since (despite apparently having fallen off a cliff). This new release has also been turning some heads and my local beermonger missed out on a case and I was too apathetic to go hunting for it until a friend mentioned that a local beeratorium was tapping a keg. Peer pressure, it gets things done.

The difference between this and the 2010 variant? Those fine Chicagoan Geese Cellarmen used Rye barrels instead of Bourbon, and even incorporated some "rye spice" into the base beer recipe (not sure if that's some rye-derived spice or if they're talking about stuff like fennel or cardamom). The vanilla beans are different as well, using a 70/30 split of Madagascar and Mexican vanilla.

For some unfathomable reason, the word vanilla is often used to indicate that something is bland or boring, but vanilla is one of my favorite flavors. There's a reason it's often used as a base for other flavors, and when you combine the intensity of something like BCBS with vanilla, well, the results are pretty impressive. Many thanks to Danur for holding my beer for this rather pedestrian picture. It was pretty damn crowded. Let's get to it:

Bourbon County Vanilla Rye

Bourbon County Vanilla Rye - Yep, looks like regular ol BCBS, pitch black with a tan head (maybe the head is lighter in color in this version?) Smells great, that vanilla comes through strong, a great complement to the bourbon and oak, but I'm also getting a sorta ice cream cone feeling mixed with a little roasty malt, chocolate, and even some coffee. Taste has that BCBS base awesomeness, lots of caramel, oak, and bourbon, plenty of booze too, but the vanilla really comes through and brings out some of the roasty and chocolatey elements, perhaps even a little coffee-like flavor. It doesn't feel quite as huge as regular BCBS, but as a result the complexity rises, yielding new tastes on each sip. I usually hate it when people pepper their tasting notes with ridiculous comparisons, but here I go: Pizzelles (the ones my mom makes, without anise), chocolate covered coconut, malt balls, sugar cookies, I feel like I'm drinking a bakery. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and velvety, with ample carbonation and a pleasant boozy bite, not quite the beast of regular BCBS, but that's a high bar to clear. Overall, this is a fantastically complex, tasty treat. Being boring, I probably still prefer regular ol' BCBS, but I'm weird that way - this is a superb beer worth seeking out. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV on tap (6 ounce pour). Drank out of a mini-snifter on 1/10/15.

Of the variants of BCBS, this is my favorite (with special mention to Bourbon County Barleywine, which is it's own animal) so far. Of course, I've not had Rare or the original vanilla or Proprietor's Reserve, so take that with a shaker of iodized salt, and it's not like I won't be seeking out new variants next year. I'm just a sucker for Bourbon County anything.

Almanac Dogpatch Sour

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In San Francisco, they grow dogs right out of the ground like those orcs from Lord of the Rings. This beer is named after these "Dogpatches", which are really only present in one specific neighborhood because ewwww, Doggie Orcs. I... don't know where the hell I'm taking this, so I'll just note that no dogs were grown or harmed in the brewing of this beer. To my knowledge. California Rainier cherries, on the other hand, were slaughtered by the bushel. Cherries come in bushels, right? Jeeze, what is wrong with me tonight? I'm the worst.

Seriously though, this is one of Almanac's standard Farm to Barrel offerings where they incorporate uber-fresh locally sourced fruits into their beers which are then aged in old (presumably also somewhat local) wine barrels with their, yes, Dogpatch yeast. The Dogpatch is actually a real neighborhood in San Francisco, and I'm pretty sure they don't grow dogs there, orc-style. However, there is no definitive explanation for name, so let's not rule it out just yet. Instead, let's just drink some of this mighty fine beer:

Almanac Dogpatch Sour

Almanac Dogpatch Sour - Pours a beautiful, clear golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells very funky, lots of musty barnyard and a little in the way of cherries and tart fruit. Taste starts of sweet, with some oak kicking in towards the middle, as well as the fruit, sour cherries and tart fruit, with a more intense, puckering sourness picking up in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, relatively dry but also quite acidic. Overall, a rather nice sour beer, complex but approachable. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/9/15. Batch No. 2. Bottled March 2014.

Almanac is one of those quietly awesome breweries that probably deserves more acclaim than they get. Seek these out, I know I will continue to do so. I already have something Called Devil's Advocate, billed as a hoppy sour ale... which has actually never been something that completely worked for me, but if anyone can do it, I'm thinking these folks can...

Tired Hands You Are the Emptiness

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The latest in a series of saisons aged in wine barrels that usually incorporate local fruits sourced from the likes of rockstar farmers like Tom Culton. This sixth installment is the one we've all been waiting for, bringing the sour with peaches. It's worth waiting in line for, though I have to admit, I'm going to really enjoy when the new production facility opens up and I don't have to wait out in the cold, rainy Sunday morning for bottles of my precious. But to the patient, come the spoils:

Tired Hands You Are The Emptiness

Tired Hands You Are the Emptiness - Pours a cloudy but bright, almost radiant yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells utterly fantastic, big fruit notes, those peaches coming through strong, lots of musty funk. Taste is sweet and sour, lots of musty funk, juicy peaches, oak and vanilla. It's not as sour or oaky as other entrants in the Emptiness series, but it's well balanced and more quaffable. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and refreshing, reasonable carbonation, light acidity, and quaffable. This went down a heck of a lot faster than previous entrants. Overall, another delicious entry in the Emptiness series, well balanced, great match with the peaches, complex, me like. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV (allegedly) bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/31/14.

Merry new year to me. Oh look, the original batch of Emptiness, Out of the Emptiness (made with plums) has a new batch coming out. Dammit, when will this Believer's Club thing kick in? It's going to be cold on Sunday.

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

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Firestone Walker's excellent barrel aging program essentially grew out of their Anniversary beers. For their first entry in that series, they brewed 4 different beers and aged them in 6 different barrels (yielding 10 lots to blend, as it was their 10th anniversary). Some of these have gone on to become standard annual offerings on their own, like §ucaba or Parabola, but some have only been released in minute quantities at the brewery itself (or perhaps the occasional beer week surprise). For the past few years, Firestone Walker has been releasing larger doses of individual components in one-off bottles, and Stickee Monkey was 2014's entry.

They describe the base of this beer as a Central Coast Quad, and unlike many of their other beers, the ingredients are mostly "undisclosed". What we do know is that it "formulated to sit on the sweeter and malty side so that we could utilize it for blending" (bottle sez 22 IBU, which is indeed pretty low for such a big beer) and that it incorporates Turbinado brown sugar from Mexico in place of the traditional Belgian candi sugar. The result is decidedly more barleywine-ish or perhaps old-ale-ish than Quad-like, but I'm not complaining about this barrel of monkeys, it's delicious:

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee - Pours a striking clear chestnut brown color with a cap of tan, fizzy head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of rich caramelized fruits, plums and the like, maybe some molasses, with huge barrel character, vanilla, oak, and bourbon. Taste follows the nose with a large, rich caramel presence, very sweet (but not cloying), a hint of fruit in the background, molasses, and that huge barrel presence brings the vanilla, oak, and bourbon, big time. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with ample carbonation to offset the sweetness, though it does finish with a bit of a sticky presence. Pleasant booze makes itself known with a little heat and warming in the belly. Overall, what we have here is a superb, complex, and intense barrel aged brew. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.4% ABV bottled (22 ounce boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/14. 2014 Vintage. Bottled 04/18/14.

I will never tire of Firestone Walker's barrel aged beers, despite being somewhat difficult to procure using standard methods. Even their sours and wilds are starting to come along. Up next: Firestone XVIII (14% of which is actually Stickee Monkey, heh). After that, well, Firestone has said that Double DBA will no longer be bottled, setting the stage for some sort of replacement. To my knowledge, this has not been chosen yet, but I'm guessing Parabajava (a coffee infused version of Parabola, relatively new) or Bravo (BA imperial brown ale, been around since the beginning). In any case, I'll still be hunting down bottles of §ucaba and Parabola, because they're so reliably great.

Miscellaneous Holiday Beer Roundup

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Once upon a blog, I used to really hit the holiday beers hard. And yeah, I wrote about a few of them recently, but this year, I kinda reserved all these beers for the actual holiday itself. Alas, it seems silly to be writing about some of this stuff after the holiday has passed, so I'll just lump it all together and call it a season. First up, a beer I should have drank on December 23:

Manayunk Festivus 2014

Manayunk Festivus 2014 - Man, I haven't been to the Manayunk brewpub in probably a decade. It's not a place I've ever been particularly in love with, but when you live near there, it's convenient. Now they've started canning and distributing, and I have to admit, this holiday beer for the rest of us (or uh, you) makes me want to put up my aluminum pole, air some grievances, and conduct some feats of strength. But how's the beer? Pours a deep dark brown with dark amber highlights and a finger of white head. Smells very unique, lots of brown sugar, plums, raisins, and some sort of spice that I cannot place (apparently: cardamom!) but which is definitely familiar. Taste is less intense than the nose implies, but it's decent, a fruit and spice come through well in the middle and finish. Mouthfeel is on the lighter end of medium bodied, well carbed, a little bit of dry spice. Overall, an interesting and unique change of pace for the style, thus fitting for this singular holiday. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/24/14. 2014 Vintage.

Samichlaus Barrique

Samichlaus Barrique 2013 - Every Christmas Eve, I break open some vintage of Samichlaus as last minute wrapping fuel. Given the 14% ABV, it's amazing that I don't cut off a limb in a scissor mishap or label the presents wrong or something. I have vintages of this dating back to 2009, and of my experiments with aging, these have been among the best. This year, though, I took a flier on the Barrique variant, which is the standard Samichlaus (what with its already long 10 month conditioning stage) aged in German wine barrels (apparently Chardonnay) for an additional 5 weeks. I wasn't quite sure how well this would work, but it turns out to be a really good idea. Pours a clear dark amber color with a bit of big bubbled head that quickly subsides. Smells of dark fruits, sticky sugar, and of course, booze. The taste is rich and sweet up front, lots of dark, vinous fruit flavors pepper the middle, and the booze hits pretty hard in the finish. The barrel character is not super strong, but I feel like it does take some of the bite out of the booze considering the young vintage (which is usually quite hot at this stage) and it contributes to a more well rounded mouthfeel. Speaking of which, this is rich, more carbonated than I remember from Samichlaus, but still very sticky, with a heaping helping of booze. Again, I feel like the barrel character maybe contributes a bit to the richness of the mouthfeel, though it's not a huge impact. In general, it feels like the barrel aging smooths out some of the sharp edges of young Samichlaus. B+ but I'm wondering if age will treat this even better than the standard stuff.

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/24/14. 2013 Vintage.

HaandBryggeriet Nissefar

HaandBryggeriet Nissefar - We're big fans of these Norwegians here at Kaedrin, and this beer, not particularly exciting on paper (a 7% Old Ale?), turns out to be possibly my favorite holiday beer of the year. Named after the Nisse, one of the many European precursors/contemporaries/versions of Santa Claus. A gift giver, but much more gnome-like in appearance. The beer itself pours a deep, dark brown with the barest hint of amber in the highlights and half a finger of light tan head. Smells faintly of dark fruit (plums and raisins), brown sugar, caramel, and maybe even some unidentifiable spice. Taste has a hearty malt backbone, some dark malts, dark chocolate, brown sugar, with more fruity notes emerging in the finish, which also throws up some bittering hops to dry things out a bit. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of full bodied, substantial but not a monster, with a very well matched, tight carbonation, and while I wouldn't call this "dry", it does veer in that direction towards the finish. Easier to drink than a sipping beer, but not really a chugger either, they've found a fine middle ground here. Overall, this is my kinda winter beer! Complex, well balanced, tasty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/25/14. Batch: 611. Total Bottles: 2280.

Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal Imperial Stout

Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal Imperial Stout - Narwhals are Christmassy, right? How about barrel aged Narwhals? Alright that's pushing it, I guess, but this was my nightcap on Christmas night, and it was a nice one. Perhaps not quite the surprise that BA Bigfoot was, but it's a solid BA stout. I didn't really take extensive notes, but this was a pretty good, but standard take on the barrel aged imperial stout: dark color, tan head that quickly disappeared, nice barrel character with bourbon, vanilla and oak in both the nose and the taste, mellowing out some of the stronger roast character of the base stout, and leaving this with a nice caramel and chocolate character that worked very well. Perhaps not a top tier BA stout, but close. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 12/24/14.

And there you have it. We shall move on to regular fare soon enough, but I'm already thinking about taking a break again this year, like I did last year. That will probably be a few months away at this point because I have some great beer incoming, so stay tuned.

Anchor Christmas Triple Feature

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Every year, I grab a sixer of Anchor's Our Special Ale, their Christmas/New Year's beer. I drink one or two, and reserve the rest for vertical tastings in the future. This marks the second year in a row where I've managed to save 3 years worth of beers for comparison, and the fifth year I've been drinking these beers. I also have a lone 2011 bottle that I'm reserving for a larger vertical at some point in the unspecified future (for the record, 2011 hase been my favorite vintage so far, though granted, I've only really been following since 2010...) On the other hand according to Anchor's brewer Bob, I might be hitting the sweet spot right now anyway:

I prefer years one through three myself, depending on the hop and spice profile of the original vintage. Obviously, if there is more hop and spice to begin with, there will be more carryover from year-to-year as the product ages, but by year five they all pretty much taste the same. Not necessarily bad, but not very interesting either.

I did a ten-year vertical tasting of our Christmas Ales once and found that by year seven, they really all did taste the same - and frankly, not very good.

I don't believe you Bob! In actuality, I do believe that, but I still want to see for myself. In the meantime, I'll follow Bob's advice and just look at the last three vintages to see what's up.

Anchor Christmas 2014

Anchor Our Special Ale 2014 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a finger or two of fluffly, light tan head that leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Smells of mulling spices, cinnamon, ginger, maybe a little clove. Taste has a strong malt backbone, almost more like a brown ale than previous years, and those spices are more subtle and well matched as well. As it warms, that toasty, nutty brown ale character comes out a little more, as do the spices. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and well carbonated, with the spice taking hold in the finish. Overall, solid beer, not going to bowl you over, but well crafted and balanced. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2013 (Anchor Christmas) - Similar appearance, but a more amber hue to it, with beautiful highlights when held up to light (those are not present in the 2014). Spices more prominent in the nose. It feels like the ginger has taken over here, but the standard retinue of mulling spices are around somewhere. Taste is not quite as deep as the 2014, less of a malt presence, spices again more prominent, with the ginger standing out more here than I remember from last year. Mouthfeel is lighter bodied than 2014. Overall, it's fine, but I like the 2014 better! B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Very similar to the 2013. Amber highlights, more prominent mulling spice in the nose and taste, though it's clear that the age is tempering that spice a bit too. The spice seems to have fared better here than the 2013, and retains a certain complexity, but again, age is clearly having an impact here. I suspect the reason the spices feel more prominent in the 2013 and 2012 vintages is that the malt backbone is lighter, which means that the spice stands out more. Once again, I'm left with the 2014 as the best of this lot, but this 2012 is pulling in at number 2 (so age has treated this better than the 2013)... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Overall, I still think the 2011 has been the best vintage I've tried so far, but 2014 took the honors tonight. I also suspect that it will age better than other recent vintages. Next year, I will technically be able to do a 5 year vertical, but I may want to wait a year or two before going too crazy (I should be able to do a 4 year vertical next year and still have enough 2012 to last another year or two). Per Bob, after 5 years, things apparently get samey, but who wants to believe that guy?! Happy Holidays everyone, see you next week!

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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.

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