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Suarez Family Brewing Qualify Pils

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

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

Suarez Family Brewing Qualify Pils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C:\windows\chkdsk /f

Windows has scanned the beer system and found no problems.

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

Cycle Rare DOS 1

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

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

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

Tree House Septuple Feature

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

Tree House Snow

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

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

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

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

Tree House Super Sap

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

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

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

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

Tree House Ma

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

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

Tree House Treat

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

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

Tree House Nervous Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star

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I think I've nailed down the inspiration behind this beer. You see, the crew brought this beach-ball-shaped alien aboard because Sgt. Pinback thought the ship could use a mascot, but then it escaped and messed up the comms equipment, inadvertently triggering one of the thermostellar nuclear bombs. During the countdown, they tried to teach the bomb's AI a little phenomenology in an attempt to abort.

What the hell am I talking about? This is the plot to John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's 1974 debut Dark Star (a clear truckers-in-space precursor to Alien, also written by O'Bannon). I'm positive that this relatively obscure movie is the inspiration for this beer. I mean, sure, it could possibly be the far more popular and famous Grateful Dead song, but we prefer to attribute brewers' chosen names with more goofy or possibly sinister influences.

This is why you should keep reading Kaedrin: Come for the beer, stay for the cutting edge cultural references and unsubstantiated insinuations about breweries.

So, um, anywho, this is a blend of imperial oatmeal stouts that were aged in bourbon barrels. Early releases of this beer were called Kentucky Dark Star, but my guess is that they dropped the "Kentucky" due to some sort of legal snafu (the label still sports the KDS logo). Those releases were aged in older barrels (I've seen references to 15 and 12 year old barrels). The 2018 release was aged in 7-12 year old bourbon barrels, but to make up for that the blend consists of beer that's been aged in those barrels for 24, 18, 12, and 8 months. Proportions are unknown, of course, but the use of longer-aged beer probably makes up for the differences in barrels. Or whatever, this could very well be false data. Let's see what Bomb #20 thinks:

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of light brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smell retains some roasted malt character, but there's still a big dollop of chocolate, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is awesome, caramel and chocolate, a hint of the base roast malt, with a well balanced kick of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, finishing with a well rounded roasty note. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbed, full bodied, rich, and pleasantly boozy. Overall, yup, it's great. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, black wax). Drank out of a snifter on 1/18/19. Vintage: 2018.

Another big winner for Fremont, and we'll definitely be seeing some variants of this beer and the most excellent B-Bomb in the near-ish future. If, that is, we're not all blown up by that pesky thermostellar nuclear bomb.

Gigantic Massive!

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The color of beer mostly has to do with how malt is produced. Barley is soaked in water, allowing it to germinate, and then heat is applied to stop germination. The higher the heat, the darker the malt. The darker the malt, duh, the darker the resulting beer. Pale malts still represent most of the malt used. You don't need a ton of darker malt to make the beer dark, but pale malt by itself isn't especially tasty. The flavors of pale beers come from hops or maybe the yeast used (or maybe they've got an intentionally muted flavor profile.)

Obviously there are other adjuncts that can change the color of beer (i.e brightly colored fruit like cherries, dark sugars, etc...), but another thing that could be done is an excessively long boil time. Most worts are boiled for 60-90 minutes, but that can be significantly increased. Longer boil times results in darker, more concentrated wort and the creation of melanoidins (think browned foods like grilled meats or bread crusts). In other words, long boil times results in a sorta caramelization of the wort.

Enter Gigantic Brewing's Massive! This is a barleywine brewed with British Golden Promise malt (a pale base malt) that's been boiled for 8 hours, resulting in a rather dark colored beer. Age it in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels for two years, and that adds tons of complementary flavors of caramel, oak, and vanilla. My kinda bwizzle #BiL.

Gigantic has been around since 2012 and is considered one of the best Portland, Oregon breweries (in a town known for breweries, that's saying something) and they're known for their eclectic experimentation. They are apparently well known for their artwork too, which seems to reflect their brand pretty well. Let's take a look at this beer that lives up to the brewery's moniker:

Gigantic Massive Bourbon Barrel Aged  Barleywine

Gigantic Massive! Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine - Pours a murky brown color with barely a ring of head around the edges of the glass. Smells great, caramel, toffee, dark fruit, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is full of rich caramel, toffee, a bit of dark fruit, and lots of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, with some bitterness balancing out the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, but not flabby or underattenuated, light on the carbonation (but well matched to style), warming booze. Overall, yep, it's a reeel gud bba barleywine. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/31/18. Vintage: 2018.

I've also had Gigantic's Most Most Premium Russian Imperial Stout, which was quite nice and probably should have been reviewed here. I shall endeavor to do better in the future.

I've basically given up trying to keep pace with Tired Hands. Even as they've started re-brewing various beers, I've found that I'll probably not even reach my previous pace. Accordingly, I haven't really been talking about them much here on the blog either. As of right now, I've written 37 posts covering literally hundreds of Tired Hands beers, most of which will never be seen again. There's not a whole lot to say about the beer that hasn't been said, though the intangibles have shifted considerably in the past few years. Once the Fermentaria opened, production ramped up. Then they started canning beer, which generated huge "lines" on a weekly basis. Scare quotes around "lines" because what you'd usually find were hundreds of empty chairs put out around noon on a release day, and maybe a few bearded dudes standing around a few hours early.

But the new hotness can't stay hot forever; entropy took hold and these releases started to unravel, only really getting crazy for their insane Milkshake beers. Bottle releases had long since dwindled (once they started canning hops, the demand for saison bottles dropped off a cliff), even for more prized and limited releases like the Parageusia bottles. During an impromptu visit on a random Tuesday, it turns out that the previous Wednesday's release was still available. The hype cycle has officially reached its end, I think. Perhaps insane popularity, long lines, and hype lead to backlash. Or maybe other local breweries stepping up their NEIPA game had an impact. Are NEIPAs are getting overexposed these days? Do insane "foraged" ingredients and other gimmicks grind people down? Maybe the polar vortex has people bunkering down and actually drinking the beer they have? All of the above?

I regularly waited in line for Tired Hands bottles back in the day. The can releases were never really my thing because they typically happened on Wednesdays and I have this thing called a "job" which generally prevented me from participating even if I wanted to. But frankly, I didn't care too much. There are always great things on tap, often the same beers that are being released in cans, so why bother? I know some folks used it as trade bait, but I suspect that's on the downswing as well. Still, I love me some Tired Hands beer, and it's been a while, so I figured I'd write up this goofy Milkshake variant. I've already gone over the amusing origins of the Milkshake IPA before, but this is a little more amped up from those original releases, and it incorporates more wacky ingredients. Let's take a closer look:

Tired Hands Cacao Hazelnut Tangerine Double Milkshake IPA

Tired Hands Cacao Hazelnut Tangerine Double Milkshake IPA - Pours that beyond murky pale yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink. Smells great, juicy hops, orange juice, tangerine, no real cacao or hazelnut... but I count that as a blessing? Taste is very sweet, lots of juicy hops, that tangerine coming through, maybe a hint of the cacao and hazelnut, but it's not really identifiable and I'm only saying this because I know its there so it's probably like some sort of phantom flavor that I'm detecting, mostly towards the finish. Or, like, maybe I'm just really suggestible. Mouthfeel has that great TH milkshake character up front, medium to full bodied, well carbed, but this skirts the edge when it comes to the boozy factor, which throws it a bit off balance when comparing to the non-double milkshakes. It's still absolutely delicious and it's not like the booze is overpowering, but the balance isn't quite as great as the regular-strength milkshakes. Overall, a really nice milkshake IPA that is better than its name (or some of its ingredients) would imply. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV canned (16 ounce). Drank out of a tulip on 1/25/19. Canned on 1/16/19.

There was a time when I would end up at Tired Hands once a week, but that time has passed. On the other hand, almost every time I do go, I think to myself "self, we should come here more often!" and then for some reason it still takes a month or two to get back.

Hill Farmstead Abner

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Anyone who's observed ratings systems has probably encountered something like this: most people rate things 5 stars (out of 5 - or the highest rating possible). Some people are so upset with their experience/product/whatever that they'll go out of their way to rate things 1 star (out of 5). When YouTube figured this out, they simply switched their rating system to the good ol' thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating. Netflix recently did something similar on their streaming service (though stars are still around on the DVD side, I guess). My day job is at a retailer, and back in the day (jeeze, well over a decade ago), when we launched product ratings, we weren't sure what to expect, but the pattern holds. Most people rate 5 stars, some rate 1 star, and few go inbetween (of note for retailers: products and sometimes even brands that consistently get poor ratings tend to be dropped, which perhaps adds a form of bias to the process, but still.)

Personally, I'm almost always finding myself in the middle ratings. It's pretty rare that I hand out the highest rating available, and even more rare that I can find so little value in something that I rate it the lowest rating. When I shop any retailer with ratings, I always seek out the three star reviews. Why? Because those are people who put some thought into their review, acknowledge pros and cons, but ultimately approve of the product. You get a much better feel for what the product is by reading that than the person who's just like "best movie ever dudez!" or "this thing sux".

On this blog, it's true that I've suffered from ratings inflation. I'm pretty easy on a lot of beers, and the most common rating is a B+ followed by A-, which is probably high. Plus, even when you consider my reticence to rate things with the highest possible rating (an A+), things that I rated at an A or even A- eight years ago might not warrant such a rating today. This is the way of things, but a couple years ago, I tried to put some rigor around giving something an A+. Naturally, here I am years later, not having rated anything else that highly. However, I did have one beer somewhat recently that I think deserves the bump up to the vaunted A+. Ok, by "recently" I mean back in August. I was hoping to pad this out with some other A+ beers to do a whole class of 2018 thing, but that never happened, so I'm finally just pulling the trigger, because this is a great beer:

Hill Farmstead Abner

Hill Farmstead Abner - In 2012, I attended a Philly Beer Week event at the local beeratorium Teresa's Cafe. The event featured an up and coming brewery called Hill Farmstead, and the first beer I had from them that truly blew me away was Abner, a Double IPA made with somewhat trendy for their time but not so much anymore and you know what, probably not even then hops like Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe, and Warrior. I didn't know it at the time, but as it turns out, this was probably my first real Northeast IPA (or Hazy IPA, or whatever you want to call it). In fact, local favorite NEIPA purveyor Tired Hands had literally just opened a few days earlier and I only learned of their existence at this event (someone was wearing their t-shirt). I managed to get my greedy hands on several more glasses of Abner throughout the years (fun fact: the linked post there contains a meme that is one of this blog's crowning achievements), but I grabbed a full growler of the stuff on my most recent jaunt to Vermont, and boy does this thing hold up. Classic citrus and pine hop flavor profile heightened by the juicy character imparted through whatever English yeast strain Hill Farmstead uses. Perfectly balanced and utterly crushable. I didn't drink this entire growler by myself, to be sure, but I probably could have. Congratulations Hill Farmstead, you've earned a coveted A+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV growlered (2 liter swingtop). Drank out of a tumbler on 8/3/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Abner forever. Already excited for my next trip to Vermont, but then, when aren't I.

Free Will Ralphius Variants

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Free Will makes what is probably the best local barrel-aged stout, dubbed Ralphius. To be sure, there are plenty of one-offs that could contend (both Levante and Tired Hands could compete in this arena) and if you widen the "local" area, others will put up a good fight (or, uh, dominate).

Free Will Ralphius Variants

This year, Free Will has decided to expand their program with variants, which is what we'll cover today. Released in a low-pressure Black Friday event, they're clearly providing an independent, local alternative to Bourbon County and associated variants. As per usual, this sort of stout variant game represents nice changes of pace, but mostly I come back to the idea of straight bourbon barrel aged stouts, and regular ol' Ralphius is probably still my favorite. Because I'm boring? Sure, let's go with that. Now that I've killed all the momentum and suspense, let's take a look at these variants....

Free Will Maple Ralphius

Free Will Maple Ralphius - Aged in Bourbon and Bourbon Maple Barrels - Pours a deep black color with only a crown of brown head. Smells of rich caramel, a hint of chocolate and roast, with some brown sugar, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, only a little of that maple barrel. Taste is rich and sweet, caramel, a touch of maple syrup, hints of underlying roast, and plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lightly but well carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Overall, it's a great little variant, maple is present but not overpowering or cloying, I probably should have bought more of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coconut Chocolate Ralphius - Aged with, you guessed it, coconut and chocolate - Pours deep black with a bit more head, half a finger that quickly resolves to the crown. Smells... a lot like regular Ralphius, some roast, caramel, and lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. As it warms and if I do the olephactory equivalent of squinting, I get some coconut. Taste is again pretty light on the coconut, but it's there, but the Ralphius base is its standard self. I guess chocolate is there too, but it doesn't really stand out. Mouthfeel is on point as well. Overall, a good beer, a bit light on the Coconut, but the Ralphius base keeps it going. Not especially sure how to rate this, as it's probably an A- due to the strength of the base, but if you're looking for a Coconut stout, this might not fully scratch that itch, making it more of a B+. I never managed to snag the Iron Abbey Collaboration that Free Will made last year, which sounded an awful lot like this variant of Ralphius, so I can't really make the comparison, though I'd like to try sometime!

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Chocolate Orange Ralphius - Aged with, big shocker, chocolate and orange - Pours that same deep black with a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells similar to the standard Ralphius profile, but the orange and chocolate do pop, especially as it warms. Taste is sweet, lots of that base Ralphius character, but the citrus and chocolate do make an impression. Mouthfeel is par for the course. Overall, a good beer, a nice variant, but original Ralphius still rules. This is perhaps more subtle than the BCBS take on same, for what that's worth. And I'm not really sure what that's worth. Is it worth having a variant if the added flavor doesn't come through too strong? B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Cinnamon Chile Ralphius - Aged with cinnamon and ancho chilies - Yeah, looks the same, almost no head this time. Smells heavily of cinnamon, a little chile too and hints of the usual Ralphius base, but the cinnamon is dominant here. Taste features more of the Ralphius base than the nose would have you believe, but the cinnamon is still powerful with a lighter touch on the chile, though you get a teensy bit of lingering spicy heat in the finish (nothing untoward though, and the cinnamon is still front and center). Mouthfeel is the usual full bodied stuff, a little spicy heat from the chile that lingers a bit, but again, it's a light touch that adds complexity, rather than overwhelm. The cinnamon, on the otherhand, almost feels like it's adding something to the mouthfeel. Grainy? Chalky? Not sure how to describe it, but the cinnamon is not just tasted, but felt. Overall, way more heavy handed than any of the variants, especially when it comes to the cinnamon, which is prevalent despite the strength of the base, which is the only thing keeping it remotely in check. I happen to like cinnamon, but this is perhaps a bit much. I'm enjoying it, but I could see it being a turnoff to some. I'm finding it to be a nice accompaniment to the holiday season though. B

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coffee Ralphius

Free Will Coffee Ralphius - Yes, the dreaded coffee (apparently from local Speakeasy Coffee Company) - Same general appearance, a nose with lots of coffee and a little of that base caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste has that standard Ralphius character with a prominent coffee bite coming in the middle and lingering through the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a little boozy heat. Overall, it's a well balanced bba coffee stout, very well done. If you're missing BCBCS this year, this one should tide you over. Even my coffee ambivalence can sometimes be conquered. This is the highest rated of all the Ralphius entries this year, and I can see why, even if my general taste still prefers regular. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Pretty sure the beer nerd details are, er, estimated, since they're all identical (except for when I drank it, which is precise and accurate), but you get the picture.

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