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Barrel-Aged Tröegs Double Feature

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Semi-local Tröegs has been steadily expanding of late, and one beneficiary of their success has been their barrel-aging program, which they call their "Splinter" series. They've been doing them for a while, but the initial offerings were very rare and dare I say, walezish. Recent expansions have allowed them to step up their game and the availability of these beers has been getting better (though nothing seems to approach those original sour offerings just yet), even for those of us who hesitate to drive out to Hershey on a whim. The two I have here were relatively recent releases, basically just barrel aged versions of standard-lineup offerings. Oddly, their names have changed from "Bourbon Barrel-Aged" to just "Barrel-Aged", though I'm not sure if that means anything. In at least one case, the newer vintage has not lived up to the reputation of its predecessor, but it's still pretty nice. Let's dive in:

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Troegenator

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Troegenator - Pours a dark amber brown color with half a finger of off white head that is short for this world. Smells nice, lots of fruity malt character, raisins, light on the barrel-aged character, but oak and vanilla are definitely there and it's an improvement on the base. Taste hits the barrel aging notes more than the nose, adding rich sweetness, caramel, oak, vanilla, and booze notes to the base fruity malt character, which is lessened here in the taste. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated but smooth, with a warming alcohol note. Overall, this is really nice, certainly an improvement on the base. A strong B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 6/18/16. Bottled: 02/23/16.

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Flying Mouflan

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Flying Mouflan - Pours a deeper, darker amber brown color with a finger of off white head. Smells good, less in the way of fruity malt but the slack is picked up with hops, again the barrel character is light in the nose, but it's there, imparting some of that booze, oak, and vanilla. Taste again plays up those hops, a little dankness here before the booze, oak, and vanilla kicks in... Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, perhaps a bit less smooth, but still with the warming alcohol. Overall, this is very nice, but far from a top tier BA barleywine, and honestly, I think I might prefer BA Troegenator... I could still give it a weak B+ though, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 6/19/16. Bottled: 03/17/16.

Now they just need to put Impending Descent into barrels (and maybe amp up that ABV to original Scratch offering levels before that) and I'll be a happy camper. Regardless, I'm excited to see what comes out of the Splinter series in the coming months and years.

One of the most famous white whales in the beer nerd world is Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. Released in 2010, this sucker took the base Bourbon County beer and aged it in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels for two years. At the time, neither bourbon nor beer were as crazy as they are now, so these expensive bottles were actually on shelves for a bit before their reputation caught up with them. It is arguably considered the best stout ever made. Despite being called "Rare", there were quite a few of these bottles (the name is more about the aging process than the bottle count), so they became one of the most valuable commodities on trading boards. I have, alas, never gotten a taste of that original bottling of Rare, but Goose Island has gigantic balls and went ahead and slapped that label on another beer last year.

Now, living up to that reputation has to be excruciating, but Goose came up with an interesting successor at the least. Heaven Hill found a group of bourbon barrels in their warehouse that had been aging for 35 years*. For the uninitiated, bourbon is never aged that long. I won't get into details, but apparently it's possible for bourbon to get over-oaked and nearly undrinkable because of that. It didn't make sense to me either, but then I drank some over-oaked 20 year old bourbon this one time and now I get it. I'd also guess that 35 years of the Angel's Share would really knock down what's left in that barrel (for reference, the 16 year old Stagg lost 84% of its volume to evaporation, so imagine what happens over 35 years). As a result, the bourbon was never released (at least, not to the public), but Goose Island thought it might make for a nice heir to Rare. So they got their hands on these 35 year old barrels and filled them with Bourbon County base beer, aging them for two years (regular Bourbon county is aged for around 8-12 months). Then they went all out on the packaging (you guys, even the oak box this thing comes in smells fantastic) and sold these things for $60 a pop during last year's November release. Once again, there were a fair amount of these guys out there, but spread out across Goose's now very large distribution footprint. Also, beer dorks are a few orders of magnitude more obsessive these days, so the one place I knew was getting some in the Philly area had people lining up early on Thanksgiving night for the Black Friday release.

It was something I didn't expect to get ahold of easily, and indeed, it's trading pretty well these days and the secondary market is pretty bullish too. Enter local chain of beer establishments, The Pour House. For their third anniversary last Thursday, they broke out a case of Rare and would sell them for $85. It was unannounced too, so the crowds were bearable. This is indeed quite pricey, but we got a free glass out of the deal, it's a fair and typical bar-level increase on the $60 sticker price, far below the secondary market value, and when you split it across 5 people, it's pretty reasonable. And oh my, was it worth it.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout Rare 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (2015) - Yep, it looks like any of the other Bourbon Counties, black as night, minimal head, but if you swirl it around you can rustle some up. Smells amazing, huge wafts of caramel, vanilla, oak, and boozy bourbon. Only had a few ounces, so I made it last and just kept sniffing for a long time. Taste is like Bourbon County, only moreso. Sweet with caramel and vanilla, leavened by tons of oak and boozy bourbon. It's certainly hot and boozy, but I'm told it has mellowed a bit since the release (in November). Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, almost velvety, but very intense. Lots of boozy heat, might turn off some baby palates, but I'm totally into it and the base clearly stands up to the bourbon creating a harmonious middle ground. Obviously a sipping beer, but a glorious sipper. Overall, I hate to buy into the hype, but this was phenomenal. A

Beer Nerd Details: 14.8% ABV bottled (500 ml capped and boxed, 3-4 ounce pour). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/9/16.

It was a great event, and I didn't even mention the best part. Everyone who came got entered into a free raffle, and guess who won? Yep, I'm a lucky SOB and now the proud owner of a bottle of my own. I will, naturally, have to share this with some friends at some point, but I'm quite happy to be in such a position!

* The marketing line here is that they "discovered" these "lost" barrels, which is just the latest in a long line of bourbons that have used this excuse to jack up prices lately. Either these distilleries are just blowing smoke or they have completely incompetent inventory management practices. In this case, at least, the bourbon wasn't released, indicating that maybe they really were lost, but still.

RAR Marylan

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One of the laziest things a brewer can do is make a blonde style beer (ok, not that part, that is kinda interesting as it's an underappreciated style) and then slap a label on it that features a (usually tastelessly buxom) blonde woman. It's been done a billion times before and even if it was the first time anyone had done it, it's still on the nose and not very clever (and that's before we get into how classy the artwork is). And yet... this beer manages to swing it. First, the design is great, a well composed silhouette in black. So how do we know it's a blonde? Well, Realerevival (a sorta play on Real Ale Revival, abbreviated RAR) is located in Maryland and if you remove the "d" you get Marylan, which sounds like Marilyn and I knew that face looked familiar! Gentlemen prefer blondes. It's on the borderline, but I'll allow it. What? Because my opinion matters, that's why? No? Well, you're right, so let's just fire up WinRAR to compress some files, shall we?

RAR Marylan

RAR Marylan American Blonde - Pours a hazy golden yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and great retention. Smells very nice, light citrusy hops with a candied sweetness. Taste starts sweet, again with a sorta candied malt feel, and moves into a nice, mellow hoppiness without a real bitter bite. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, tight, crisp, quaffable. Overall, this is a very nice, aromatic, crushable can, perfect lawnmower or summer beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 6/10/16.

Many thanks to fellow beer nerd Gary for throwing a can my way. Am now much more curious to try me some more RAR beers...

Avery Callipygian

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Venus Callipyge is an ancient Roman statue depicting a partially draped woman with her head looking back and down, as if to evaluate her bare buttocks. Little is known of its origins or the original artist. Indeed, it is thought to be a copy of an even older ancient Greek statue, also of unknown origins. Let's just call the original sculptor Sir Mix-a-Lot, to recall a more modern appreciator of posteriors.

What does this have to do with beer? Well, Avery seems to think this 17.4% ABV monster is "well-rounded", which is a bit of a stretch. Full bodied and bodacious? Certainly! This is along the lines of something like Uncle Jacob's Stout, but with the ever-so-popular kitchen sink approach to ingredients. A big, bourbon barrel aged stout with coffee, cocoa, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans added. I would make some sort of additional Baby Got Back reference, perhaps adapting it to beer, but I will not sully such a lyrical masterpiece and instead, will just get to it:

Avery Callipygian

Avery Callipygian - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of short lived tan head. Smells of rich caramel, oak, bourbon, and vanilla, a little of that coffee is apparent and gets more prominent as it warms, but this is no coffee bomb (nowhere near something like Tweak). Taste hits similar notes, rich carmel, oak, vanilla, coffee, and lots of boozy bourbon. Again, the coffee is there, but far from dominant. Still, there's enough to raise my coffee indifference meter a bit. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lots of boozy heat. To some people a 17% ABV beer will never be balanced, but this one seems a little more out of whack than similar efforts, though it gets more unified as it warms. Overall, a nice tweak (pun intended? Sure, why not.) on the bourbon barrel stout, kinda like a more complex, even less balanced version of Uncle Jacob's... B or, what the hey, I'm feeling generous: B+

Beer Nerd Details: 17.4% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 6/3/16. Bottled: Apr 25 2016. Production: 1174 Cases.

I'm liking that these barrel aged efforts are becoming more widely available around here, even if my favorites tend to be the simpler versions. Still, looking forward to trying more of these in the near future...

Free Will Ralphius

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I have often mentioned my quest to find a local imperial stout that is aged in bourbon barrels and yet this goal still remains elusive (what we have seen recently is a rash of exceptional BBA coffee stouts, but my legendary antipathy towards coffee always makes me pine after the non-coffee variants). There have been many candidates over the years, and several of those have been very good on their own, but there's nothing that really approaches BCBS or Parabola levels, let alone anything that transcends the style, like Pappy Black Magick... Now we've got Free Will's take, dubbed Ralphius which, coupled with the picture of a dog on the label, presumably means this was named after a beloved pet named Ralph (or maybe my mind just goes there because I once had a beagle named Ralph). At 14.2% ABV with ample barrel character, I think we've gotten as close as ever:

Free Will Ralphius

Free Will Ralphius - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of striking brown head that sticks around for a bit and even leaves a bit of lacing. Smells very nice, caramel, oak, vanilla, hints of chocolate and roast. Taste goes sweet up front, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, hints of roast, just a bit of hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated but appropriate for the style, a sipper, but not unapproachable. Overall, this is a great BBA stout, not quite top tier, but close enough and perhaps the best straight up local BBA stout that is regularly available! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (12 Ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 05/21/16...

Free Will has been upping their game as of late, especially with their barrel aged stuff. I'm sure we'll see more from them soon enough...

2SP Bourbon Barrel Aged The Russian

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Delaware County is a weird place. I say this as a man born and raised there. Blue collar with lots of Irish Catholics (I wen't to St. Dot's and Cardinal O'Hara). I'm surprised there's not a Delco flag. It's weird for a place to choose its identity based on its county, but Delco is a way of life. Apparently. Alright, fine, I'm exaggerating for effect here, but there is something a little... off about Delco. The point is, when a brewery opens up there, you can expect them to embrace their roots and take pride in their county. Whatever that may be.

2SP is the recently opened (er, last year) brewery arm of Two Stones Pub, a small chain of solid little beer bars located mostly in Delaware. Head brewer and Delco's native son Bob Barrar made a name for himself brewing for Iron Hill Brewpub in Media, earning numerous medals at GABF and other big contests. One of his most famous creations is Iron Hill's Russian Imperial Stout, a beer that he's adapted for new life at 2SP. As local imperial stouts go, it's great and I look forward to seeing it around more often. Now they've put it in Bourbon Barrels and aged it for 8 months? Sold, even if it is a pricey bottle. I've often mentioned the need for a more regularly available local BBA stout; will this beer fill that need? Well, maybe?

2SP Bourbon Barrel Aged The Russian

2SP Bourbon Barrel Aged The Russian - Pours a deep, dark brown color, almost black, with a solid finger of light brown head that sticks around for a bit. Smells of molasses, caramel, vanilla, with hints of the bourbon and oak pitching in as well. Roast comes out a bit more in the taste, along with similar elements from the nose, light caramel and vanilla, with just a bit of vanilla and oak. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated (moreso than typical for the style - not inappropriate, but it does lighten this beer up a bit more than it probably should), a nice sipper. Overall, it's solid, but not a top tier affair. Honestly, I might like the regular The Russian better... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 5/20/16. Batch No. 001. Bottle No. 459.

I've generally enjoyed everything I've had from 2SP, so I'm looking forward to keeping tabs on them in the coming years. As for a world class local BBA stout? This isn't quite there yet, but we've got another candidate coming soon. Stay tuned.

Wicked Weed Double Feature

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One of these days, I'll have to make my way down to Asheville, North Carolina and check out their brewpub scene, but for now, I'll have to make due with muled bottles of Wicked Weed. I've had good luck with their barrel aged sours, but was really happy to get my grubby little hands on these IPAs. They have a pretty good reputation as a standard West Coast take on the style, which is a nice change of pace for those of us enmeshed in that whole Northeast Milkshake IPA thang. Let's not waste any more time babbling about this and dive in:

Wicked Weed Pernicious

Wicked Weed Pernicious IPA - This appears to be their flagship IPA, lots of hops and minimal malt influence. Pours a crystal clear golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head. Smells primarily of citrus and floral hops. I feel like I should say more, but that's pretty much what it is, and it's great. Taste has a nice light sweetness to it providing an ample platform for those citrusy, floral hops, maybe a bit of pine emerging here too, finishing with a light bitterness. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and tightly carbonated, making for a nice, quaffable glass. Overall, a rock solid IPA, maybe even above average, but this is a crowded category... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (11.2 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 5/20/16. Bottled 04.21.16

Wicked Weed Freak of Nature Double IPA

Wicked Weed Freak of Nature Double IPA - They call this a "San Francisco inspired hoppy monster", but I'm not entirely sure what makes it so other than the West Coast approach. They mention adjunct additions to dry out the beer, so maybe they used Rice-A-Roni. You know, the San Francisco treat? No? Alright, that's stupid, let's just get to the beer: Pours a slightly darker, but still clear golden yellow color with a finger of white head. The smell has a sweeter note to it, but the hop profile is similar to Pernicious, lots of citrus and floral aromas, also some pine peeking in. Taste is definitely sweeter, but the hops are more prominent to match, citrus and pine with floral notes. On the other hand, the finish is less bitter. Mouthfeel is definitely a bit heavier, medium bodied, well carbonated, relatively dry. Overall, this is bigger and bolder, but still approachable and tasty. An improvement on Pernicious, but still a B+, but, like, a higher B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/20/16. Bottled 05.03.16.

Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Danur for procuring these bottles for me. Will definitely be on the lookout for more from these fellas, and if I ever make my way down to Asheville, I will most certainly be spending time at their establishments...

Sante Adairius Saison Bernice

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When I was in college, my friends and I were on the Campus Activities Team (I ran the movie program, natch) and we had this (in retrospect) utterly bizarre habit of designating office supplies with old-people names. Of particular note were tape dispensers named Phyllis and Gertrude. I don't think we had anything named Bernice, but we certainly should have. I'm... glad I was able to write about this, and I know you are too.

I'll let eponymous owner Adair Paterno describe this Brett dosed saison in more detail: "I think that Saison Bernice is the purest expression of what our house culture can do to a base saison, specifically, our house saison, Anais, without oak and/or a significant amount of aging time." Presumably they named it after someone important in their lives, but I'd like to think that somewhere at the SARA headquarters there's a tape dispenser with the name Bernice scrawled on the side in whiteout. Let's dig in:

Sante Adairius Saison Bernice

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Saison Bernice - Pours a bright, luminous yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells wonderful, nice earthy funk component, especially as it warms up, with lots of vinous fruit, lemons, tangerines, nectarines, you know, fruit type stuff. We get real technical here at Kaedrin, get used to it. Taste hits those same elements, a little more in the way of earthy funk here, but it's all brightened up by those notes of juicy fruit, lemony tartness creeping in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, and utterly quaffable, very refreshing and croosh. Overall, this is a fabulous saison in the Logsdon Seizoen Bretta mold, maybe even a little more nimble; definitely funky, complex, juicy, and delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/6/16.

Drinking SARA beers is always a pleasure. Many thanks to the hibernating blogger Jay from BeerSamizdat for sending this one my way. Fortunately, there is another SARA beer in the pipeline, so look for a review in the near future...

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

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