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We all know that Three Floyds has a reputation for their hoppy beers (rightfully so), and while I wasn't particularly taken with Dark Lord, they seem to strike a chord on that dark beer front as well. Sours, on the other hand, seem less like their thing. Of course, not having had any, that is just blind speculation based on scattered ramblings of strangers on the internets, which is totally reliable enough for the purposes of this post.

Named after a French knight and military commander who was famous for his use of the Fabian strategy (basically a war of attrition, rather than direct confrontation) during the Hundred Years' War. Supposedly quite the badass and not at all a cheese-eating surrender monkey. Though I do suspect he actually did partake in cheese on occasion. The beer brewed in his honor is an American Wild Ale aged in old wine barrels with blueberries added. The last blueberry sour I tried had a slight case of the Smoketômes, so let's hope this one works out a little better:

Chevalier Bertrand Du Guesclin

Three Floyds Chevalier Bertrand Du Guesclin - Pours a deep, dark amber with a sorta purple tint to it, and the finger or so of fluffy head has a similar reddish purple tint to it. It's actually quite pretty. Smells of tart fruit, blueberries, cherries, maybe even strawberry, a little oak and vanilla peeking through as well as some funk. The taste goes in for that tart fruit pretty hard, again with the blueberries and cherries, maybe some strawberry, a little oak and vanilla to set things off, and a puckering sourness throughout. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, slightly acidic, with a little stickiness in the finish. It never quite reaches fruit-by-the-foot levels of stickiness and the flavors never approach that sort of artificial sweetening, but it feels like a few missteps would have lead that way (this is a good thing). Overall, this is a pretty fabulous blueberry sour. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV? (it's hard to find any info on the ABV) bottled (750 ml blue wax). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/25/14. 2014 Vintage.

This is the best of the beers (so far) I got from my FFF beer mule earlier this year, but now my FFF supply is running dangerously low. Only one more left, a stout. Look for that review soon enough (though it'll probably be a little while).

Avery Pump[KY]n

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And the parade of high-ABV Avery "session" beers continues. What's that? 17.22% ABV isn't a session beer? Well, according to Adam Avery, it is: "I try to just limit myself to one per drinking session. So I'd call it a sessionable beer... your session just ends quicker." In fairness, it's only about 13-14% more than your typical session beer. Someone alert Ding.

I greatly enjoyed Rumpkin, Avery's rum barrel aged pumpkin beer, and what we have here is a bourbon barrel aged pumpkin porter. Oddly, I wound up having this both on tap and from the bottle on Friday night (a local drinkery had just tapped it before we arrived for happy hour), so I've got you covered. Or something like that.

Avery Pump[KY]n

Avery Pump[KY]n - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells full of pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, a little in the way of bourbon, oak, and vanilla as well. Taste is very rich and sugary, but not super sweet, lots of pumpkin pie spice comes through in the middle, with that bourbon, oak, and vanilla coming through more towards the finish, which is fairly boozy when you start drinking, and gets more boozy as you go along. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, full bodied, rich, and chewy. The spice comes through a little as well, as does the warming booze character. Overall, it's pretty damn great, easily the equal of Rumpkin, maybe better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 17.22% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 10/24/14. Batch No. 1. Bottled Sept 12 2014.

At this point, while I'm pretty much done with Pumpkin beers for the year, I'm on board with Avery's barrel aging program in general. It seems to be expanding, so I'm guessing we'll see more of their stuff around here too. Next up, if I can snag one: Uncle Jacob's Stout.

Hill Farmstead Florence

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Breweries like Hill Farmstead represent a problem for us here at Kaedrin, and this is actually a microcosm of a more general problem. We rate beers here and we've been doing so for 4 years now, and I've been noting, especially over the past year, the toll of rating inflation and deflation. Put simply, beers that blew me away 4 years ago, while still great, don't always compare as favorably to what I'm drinking now. Unfortunately, this means that every time I have a new Hill Farmstead beer I find myself reaching for hyperbole and the "A" level ratings in my admittedly flawed grading system.

There are probably numerous reasons for this, chief among them is that I'm the worst. Seriously, this is one of the reasons I started the blog. I knew nothing of beer, and writing about a subject has always been a good way to learn for me. Along the way, I started to develop an actual palate and became more comfortable with my subjective tastes. For instance, we all know of my ambivalence to coffee in beer (I won't shut up about it), and at this point, despite the fact that there are some coffee beers that I appreciate, I have admitted that there is a genuine issue of taste there. But when you're still a fledgling beer nerd, unique experiences and flavors are exciting. Straight up Belgian styles like Dubbels and Tripels were my gateway into good beer, and my fondness for them is reflected in early ratings, even as I drink less of them today. It took me a while to get into stouts and sours, but now they're a mainstay of my drinking cycle. And so on.

I fully admit that Blogging is an ultimately selfish pursuit, and this learning process is one of the many benefits I've reaped from the process. Ratings are ultimately an arbitrary exercise, they're subjective and don't always make wholistic sense, but I feel like they're useful to me, and even recognizing that rating inflation is going on feels important. Perhaps even something that applies outside of the other things I frequently rate, like books or movies. I won't claim a universal truth or anything quite so profound, but as I grow older and my tastes (literal and figurative) evolve, I see this sort of process happening elsewhere in my life.

Expertise is a funny thing. You don't become an expert by being perfect. For anything I'm good at, there was a time when I was terrible at it. I made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. Writing this now, it feels rather trite, but it's worth bearing in mind. Everyone is so impatient these days. With beer, you can't just work your way through the Beer Advocate Top 100 or whatever Best-Of list you've discovered, as that will give you a very distorted view of beer. True, you will probably drink some great beer, but if you don't have anything to compare it to, what is that really worth? There aren't any shortcuts. Indeed, my typical response to gaining a lot of experience is to continually feel like I know less about the subject as time goes on. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense from a relative perspective. When I first got serious about exploring beer, I had a few tactics and strategies and after a bit of time I thought I had a handle on this stuff, but then I kept finding new areas to delve into. My perspective of what beer was kept growing, such that my actual beer knowledge, while also growing, simply wasn't keeping up with what I knew was out there. This isn't just a beer thing, it's a knowledge thing.

So we return to Hill Farmstead, considered by many to be the best brewery in America, and yes, I seek it out as much as possible. But in the grand scheme of things, that translates to a few opportunities a year. Whatever bottles I obtain (i.e. not many), I squirrel away for semi-special occasions (trying not to be too precious about it, but that's a topic for another post). Of course, I generally consider those to be blog-worthy beers to review, so perhaps even this blog might give a newbie the wrong impression. I don't crack open massive face melters at every opportunity, but it's not really worth blogging about the hundredth local pale ale I've quaffed either. Newbie advice might be it's own topic and I've blathered on quite enough for now, so lets get to it: If Florence, a wheat saison, was more regularly available, I would be crushing it at every opportunity. Look at this stuff:

Hill Farmstead Florence

Hill Farmstead Florence - Pours a very pale, almost radiant straw yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and great retention. Absolutely gorgeous. Smells deeply of wheat and musky, slightly funky yeast, and hints of spice. Taste hits up front with wheat and some spicy yeast notes that very quickly transition into a tartness that further blooms in the middle, some vinous white wine and tart lemons, finishing with that wheat and both the spicy and tart notes. Mouthfeel is very light bodied, highly carbonated, crisp, refreshing, effervescent, and downright quaffable. This is straightforward and simple, in the best way possible. Overall, another winner from Hill Farmstead. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glass on 10/19/14.

So this probably marks the last HF beer I'll try this year (certainly the last of the Operation Cheddar II spoils), barring the outside chance of a trip to Vermont (which I think may happen later in the winter). As per usual, I will usually seek out more when I can. In the meantime, I'll just have to settle for the world class beer I get at Tired Hands. Poor me.

Belated BBQ Beer Club Recap

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Last week was Beer Club, and in a heinous act of negligence, I'm only getting to the recap now. I know, I'm the worst. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which part is not optional). This month we hit up a local BBQ joint, loaded up on smoked meats, and cracked open quite a few beers:

October Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. The usual disclaimers apply, and you'll want to amplify your skepticism even further due to the fact that I'm writing this about 5 days later than normal. Great, so now that we've established that the proceeding descriptions are completely devoid of merit, we can begin. In order of drinking, not necessarily the order in the picture, and in fact, there are several beers not pictured (and we didn't get to some of the ones that were):

  • Neshaminy Creek County Line IPA - I know "East Coast IPA" isn't a real thing, but I think it kinda describes stuff like this. A local IPA with plenty of hop character that's balanced out by plenty of crystal malts (much more than you get in typical West Coast IPAs). Its enjoyable, but it won't blow minds. The very definition of a B, though sometimes I want to bump that up to a B+, which I guess means it's not the very definition of a B, but give me a break, I'm not under oath here.
  • Anchorage Whiteout Wit Bier - Belgian Wit beer aged in Chardonnay barrels with Brettanomyces? Sign me up. Nice funk to it, with plenty of typical wheat beer character. Worth checking out. B+
  • Upstate I.P.W. - A friend brought a bunch of beers that he grabbed whilst in New York, and this India Pale Wheat ale was quite nice. One of those things I could see myself reaching for, were I a local. Great citrus/pine hop character, light wheat, crisp, and refreshing. B+
  • Ken's Homebrewed Pecan Brown - Wow, that pecan character really comes through on the nose and in the taste. A little lighter in color than your typical brown ale, but that pecan character really sets this apart, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • Sly Fox Incubus - A beer I've reviewed before (a looong time ago), but I'll just say that this bottle had a more distinct raisiny note than I remember. On the other hand, it is a bit high on the booze and stickiness factor, something I'm not huge on when it comes to Tripels. Still a solid B in my book.
  • The Beer Diviner Very! Brown Ale - Another New York beer, my friend apparently stumbled on it by asking his phone to point out breweries near his location. This one turned out to be a guy brewing out of his house on a farm or something like that. This particular beer was a pretty standard brown ale, nutty and toasty, if a bit stronger than normal. B
  • Cascade Apricot - One of my contributions, and a beer we've reviewed relatively recently, so I don't have much to add to that. A-
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - A beer I've had many times at this point, and as Black IPAs (or whatever you want to call them) go, it's probably the best regularly available option out there. Big citrus and pine hop component along with the typical roast of a stout, without letting either character overwhelm (or making you wish you had a straight IPA or stout). B+
  • Founders Dark Penance - This is a relatively recent addition to Founders lineup, and like everything Founders makes, it's a solid take on the style. However, having it in close proximity to Wookey Jack made me feel like this was lacking. It was fine, to be sure, and it'd probably be worth trying in a less chaotic environment. B
  • Two Roads Conntucky Lightnin' Bourbon Ale - Well, I didn't get a ton of Bourbon out of this, and it seemed a bit thin for what it proclaims on the label. Not really bad, or anything, but a bit of a disappointment. B-
  • Breckenridge Agave Wheat - Seemed pretty bland, though that sweet agave does come through in the taste. Probably should have opened this much earlier in the night, but here we are. C+
  • Pizza Boy Bean Dream - It's supposed to be a milk stout with vanilla beans, but I don't get a ton of vanilla. On the other hand, it is a pretty solid milk stout, smooth with a nice chocolatey roast character. I really need to get out to Pizza Boy one of these days... B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Bourbon Porter - This was a pretty solid take on the style, and the bourbon oak character comes through well enough, actually much better than that Conntucky Bourbon stuff from earlier. Go Ken!
  • Bonus Beer: Otter Creek Brewing / Lawson's Double Dose IPA - Whilst at beer club, someone found out that a local drinkery tapped some Lawson's Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, so after beer club, a small cadre of attendees made a slight detour. Now, both of the beers we had were actually collaborations that are more widely available than the typical entries from those breweries (HF sometimes sends kegs down here, but Lawson's never does), but I'm not complaining, because these were both great beers. This DIPA is fabulous. Huge hop character, citrus and pine and something almost zesty. Not quite Double Sunshine great, but definitely something I want more of. B+
  • Bonus Beer: Grassroots Convivial Suaréz - A sorta funky saison made with hibiscus, I really enjoyed this, though I didn't take any real detailed notes. Nice funky character, and the hibiscus actually does come through. B+
And another successful beer club, fun and smoked meat had by all. Already looking forward to our next meeting...

Avery Rumpkin

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Sometimes the Kaedrin beer acquisition department conspires to kick my ass with their high-ABV game, which of course, means they've gone on a purchasing jag of Avery beers. First, there was the rather fantastic 5 Monks a couple weeks ago, a beer which has earned the dubious title of most-alcoholic-beer-I've-ever-consumed. Then their machinations directed me to a bar serving a recent incarnation of The Beast Grand Cru, which depending on its exact vintage was somewhere between 16%-18% (and with that one, you could really tell*). This reminded me of the Kaedrin cellaring department's meticulous aging of a bottle of 2010 Beast, which I figure is about ready to drink (the cellarman has been instructed to make preparations).

Finally, this past weekend, a chance occurrence lead a Kaedrin rep to overpay for a bottle of Rumpkin (amongst other treasures). In a bit of serendipity, circumstances sought to keep clean and sober for most of Saturday, so when I finally had a chance to dip into my fridge for a libation, this single bottle seemed mildly appropriate. Clocking in at 16.73% ABV, it's not quite the monster that 5 Monks was, but it shares a lot of similar flavors. It is basically a huge imperial pumpkin ale that has been aged in rum barrels, one of their regular barrel aged releases. The flavor profile is similar to 5 Monks, but it's got those additional pumpkin pie spice notes that really do differentiate it. It's an admirable and intense take on a much maligned style, but it matched well with my annual horror movie marathon (which is being chronicled over at my generalist blog, if you are so inclined) and of course, 'tis the season for mutated fucking gourds:

Avery Rumpkin

Avery Rumpkin - Pours a very dark amber color, brown in the glass, but with beautiful highlights when held up to the light, finger of off white head that has decent retention. Smells intense, lots of pie spice, cinnamon and ginger coming through loud and clear, and the rum barrel character adds a rich sweetness to the proceedings, a complement to the spice rather than something that overpowers. Taste is very sweet, lots of rich, sugary molasses, a little caramel, with a spicy/fruity note emerging in the middle (that pumpkin and pie spice coming through), followed by boozy rum, vanilla, and oak. Mouthfeel starts of very smooth, full bodied, rich, and syrupy, with ample carbonation, ultimately yielding to a more boozy, hot finish. Overall, this is very complex and interesting, a little sweet and boozy, but well, this is my kind of pumpkin beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.73% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 10/11/14. Batch No. 4. Bottled Sept 22, 2014.

Alas, aside from the cellared Beast, no more Avery brews on the future horizon, but I wouldn't put it past the acquisition department springing a couple monster Avery beers on me. Bring it on, I say. In the meantime, they've got some other treats in store, and a line on some others.

Update: I have spoken too soon. A particularly ambitious Kaedrin purchasing rep from the acquisition department has informed me that I have a bottle of Pum[KY]n (Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin Porter) incoming. I'm pretty sure he's trying to kill me. Please send help.

* Seriously, The Beast was uber boozy and hot. I didn't take copious notes, but I plan on comparing this one to a cellared bottle in a few weeks or so. A friend got a coffee stout called Tweak, which also clocks in at around 16% ABV (I took a sip, and boy, the alcohol was much more hidden in that sucker. A pity it had so much coffee in it. Worth trying if you like coffee beers...)

Laird's Apple Brandy Black Magick

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This is the last of my Voodoo Barrel Room Collection, so I find that I have little to say about it. I mean, there's only so many ways to work terrible jokes about Defense Against the Dark Arts into these posts, and I've pretty much exhausted them. The previous two iterations of this beer, respectively aged in Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace barrels, were exceptional beers. While I'd say that the Pappy variety was the clear winner, the Buffalo Trace iteration was very similar. This one is aged in Laird's Apple Brandy barrels, which should bring a distinctly different note to the series. They certainly worked wonders with Voodoo's Gran Met, so I was really looking forward to what a more substantial base would do. It ends up being a little less barrel forward and despite the higher alcohol, somehow less boozy. At this point, I also think it's showing its age a bit, and I probably shouldn't have waited quite so long to crack this sucker open. So prep your jinxes and counter-curses, it's time to drink some Black Magick:

Voodoo Lairds Apple Brandy Black Magick

Voodoo Laird's Apple Brandy Black Magick - Pours black as night with a finger of brown head that quickly resolves into a ring around the glass. Smells of rich caramel, vanilla galore, chocolate, oak and booze (not a whole lot of apple in the nose, actually). The taste has lots of caramel and vanilla, sugary sweet, chocolate fudge, almost brownie-like, oaky, boozy, with that bright apple character emerging towards the finish. It's not quite the apple pie like character I got out of Grand Met, but it's there. Mouthfeel is reasonably well carbonated, full bodied, rich, and chewy, with a certain sugary stickiness in the finish. Boozy heat makes itself known as well. Overall, it's very good, though not fresh Pappy Black Magic good. But then, few beers are. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (12 oz. Green Wax). Drank out of a snifter on 10/4/14. Bottle #214. Bottled 1-18-13.

So there you have it. I really enjoyed all of these beers, and in terms of local folks doing really great non-sour barrel aging, there really aren't that many. I'll keep an ear open for future releases, but I'm afraid the 5 hour drive to Meadville, PA is a bit prohibitive. For only a couple hours more, I could end up in Vermont!

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

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The beer nerd line these days is that pumpkin beers are mere gimmicks and they come out too early and pumpkin spice is an evil abomination that infects everything with its misery and that beer buying is a zero sum game and if there are pumpkin beers on shelves that means I can't buy other beer. Or something like that. To be fair, my interest in pumpkin beer has waned in the past couple of years and there are legitimate reasons to not like the style, but I like to get in the spirit of the season at least a little every year (and while some brewers around here do Fresh Hop beers, we don't have it quite as good as the West Coasters or, in particular, the Pacific Northwest). Sometimes this is a big win, most of the time, perhaps not as much. About a month ago, I wound up at a friend's house and he broke out a bomber of Pumking and I could have sworn I liked this better before. When I think about it, most of my favorite pumpkin beers are not your traditional style. Stuff like a stouts or weizenbocks or whatever Autumn Maple is seem to be more my thing.

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale appears to be a straightforward pumpkin ale. No wacky yeasts or imperial stout malt bills, just a good old fashioned amber base with pumpkin and spices. It does have a decent reputation though, so I figured I'd give it a shot, and I was quite pleasantly surprised to really enjoy this. After all, it is Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers, so it's always nice to have something legit to drink along those lines:

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale - Pours a very dark amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells of pumpkin pie spice, lots of cinnamon and clove, no detectable ginger (which is a good thing in my book), with some other spicy aromas floating around. Taste has a nice, substantial malt backbone to match with the pie spice from the nose, which picks up in the middle and lasts through the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but it's got a significant carbonation that cuts through all that. Overall, this is an extremely well balanced Pumpkin beer. It's complex, but none of the elements overpower, and it's very tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/3/14. Bottled: 08/20/2014.

Schlafly has always put out pretty solid beer, and this is no exception. At this point, I'm really curious to try their Christmas beer. And, of course, the BBA Imperial Stout (which I used to see around a lot, but not at all lately, weird).

Modern Times Fortunate Islands

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The lament of the modern beer nerd: There are way too many new and exciting breweries popping up all over the country. I know, it's a good problem to have, and I only have one liver, so it'd probably not be wise to sample every brewery, even if I could easily acquire them all. But I'm not blind, and I do find myself intrigued by a lot of breweries that I'll probably never sample. And that's ok, but I certainly won't turn down the opportunity, should it present itself.

Enter San Diego's Modern Times. I first heard about them from Michael Tonsmeire (aka The Mad Fermentationist), a prolific homebrewer of some repute who was hired by Modern Times as a "Consultant". From reading Tonsmeire's blog, I'll wager that this was a pretty safe move on Modern Times' part. Then the brewery opened last year, and The Beer Rover gave it solid marks. And finally, a can of Fortunate Islands, a hoppy American wheat ale (made with Citra and Amarillo hops), shows up at my doorstep. What's a guy to do?

Modern Times Fortunate Islands

Modern Times Fortunate Islands - Pours a bright golden yellow color with a couple fingers of head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smell of citrusy tropical fruits, pineapple, and dank, resinous pine. Taste favors the dank, resininous pine side of things, with the citrus taking a back seat, some wheat in the middle and a big floral note emerging in the slightly bitter finish. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, a little thin, and refreshing, definitely a quaffable pint. In fact, I downed half of the pint whilst writing the first draft of these notes. Overall, rock solid hoppy wheat beer here, great summer/lawnmower beer, but it's comporting itself just fine on this brisk fall evening... would probably be a reliable go-to if it was actually available around here! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 10/3/14.

A good first impression, and when I look at their website, they have links to their recipes too. And not those lame recipes that don't specify the proportions, they have the full recipes. On the can, they even say "You should totally tinker with the recipe for this beer. It's on our website." This is most endearing. I shall endeavor to secure more Modern Times beers. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get this David Bowie "Modern Love" song out of my head.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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