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BBQ Beer Club

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Due to the capricious whims of Mother Nature, we had to push beer club back a ways, very nearly missing the month of January. But thanks to a no-show on yesterday's storm, conditions were fine (if a little cold) tonight, where we hit up a new BYOB BBQ place, shared some beer, did some "Adult" Mad Libs ("I need a noun." "Assless Chaps."), and generally just had fun. For dinner, I ordered something called "Loose Meat", and drove everyone crazy attempting to make double entendres about it. In case you were wondering, this is what loose meat looks like:

Loose Meat
(Click to Embiggen)

It has a nice phallic arrangement, but the feng shui could be a little better if the brisket and pulled pork were a little far back, don't you think? Also of note, the parsley merkin. Anyways, it was good stuff, and we had some decent beer to go with it:

January Beer Club 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, thoughts on each are below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply. I'm sorry, but the BBQ place did not have a hermetically sealed environment suitable for proper note taking. Also, I didn't really take notes. I'm the worst. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Kaedrôme Saison - Hey, remember that saison I dosed with Brett, like, a year ago? It's doing reasonably well right now. It's carbed up to a drinkable state, though still not as effervescent as I'd like. But the flavor is there, and it's doing reasonably well. B
  • New Belgium/Three Floyds Lips Of Faith - Grätzer - My first Grätzer, and um, it's a weird style. Light smokiness, very thin, with a weird tartness in the finish. A perfect beer for this situation, as I'm happy to try something like this, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for more. C+
  • Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel - A pretty standard American take on a tripel, a little too sticky, but a nice palate cleanser after the Grätzer. B
  • Wicked Weed Terra Locale Series - Appalachia - I've heard great things about Wicked Weed, so I was really looking forward to this, and a Brett saison made with sweet potatoes and grits sounds like it could work, but I found it a bit on the bland side. Nothing wrong with it, per say, but there's not a lot of funk, and it just felt a little on the dry side. It's certainly cromulent and I could probably drink plenty of it, and maybe it was just that this is not ideal for a tasting like this, but I was disappointed. B
  • Chimay Red - Yep, it's Chimay all right. I've never been a huge fan of this particular expression though. B
  • Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale - Rock solid take on a brown ale. Not going to knock your socks off, but it's a tasty alternative to macro slop. B+
  • Almanac Devil's Advocate - Another fantastic little sour from Almanac, very tasty, vinous, sour, oaky, delicious. I don't normally think of "hoppy" and "sour" going together very well, but these folks are doing it right. Probably my favorite beer of the night. A-
  • SoChesCo Valentine's Day Chocolate Milk Stout - A friend's homebrewed milk stout, asolid take on the style, very tasty. B
  • SoChesCo Pennsyltucky Chocolate Milk Stout - The same stout as above, conditioned on bourbon soaked oak, which wound up as a light character. You could definitely taste the difference drinking them side by side, but I don't think I'd have pegged this as a bourbon oaked beer if I drank it blind (my own Bourbon Oaked Bomb & Grapnel fared little better on that account). B
  • Bière De L'Amitié (Green Flash & Brasserie St. Feuillien) - A very interesting and different beer. Standard Belgian yeast spice and fruit, but also some citrus hoppiness, and something that really felt like they dosed it with white grape juice (I don't think they did, but that's what kept coming to mind). B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Creme Brulee Stout Clone - Holy vanilla, Batman! Like the Southern Tier inspiration, this is incredibly sweet and it's got a great nose that I could just sniff all night long. I think there might be more vanilla here, but I love me some vanilla. B
  • Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale - Another beer that I was looking forward to, but which didn't quite live up to expectations. It was a fine beer, one of the better of the night actually, but I didn't get a tone of Bourbon barrel character out of this. It felt like the barrels muted the aromatic aspects of the hops while leaving the bitterness. Fortunately, the Bourbon sweetens it up a little, so it's still reasonably well balanced (er, for Arrogant Bastard), but it's not something you really need to drop everything and try (like, for example, Stone's Fyodor's Classic). B+
At this point, we decided to call it a night, and we didn't get to the last two beers. Oh well, there's always next month, which should come up soon!

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...

BFM XV (√225 Saison)

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It's January! Cold, desolate January! You know what that means? It means it's time to drink some obscure saisons from Switzerland. Brewed for the 15th anniversary of BFM (hence the square rooting of 225, though it's unclear why they squared it in the first place), those wacky swiss brewers that make Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien, this is a rustic saison style beer aged in old Bon Chien barrels (i.e. mostly third use wine barrels). There appears to be some sort of blending of aged beer and fresh beer, but Google translate produces text that is charmingly vague on the matter. So grab your slide rules, nerds! It's time to take the square root of saison:

BFM XV Saison

BFM XV (√225 Saison) - Bottle isn't quite a gusher, but it could easily get that way if you're not careful... Pours a very cloudy golden yellow color with huge amounts of billowing, dense head and visible sediment. Smells funky, with tart, vinous fruit, oak, and a little mustiness. Taste hits standard saison tropes pretty hard up front, sweet with spicy Belgian yeast, but then the tart, vinous fruit emerges in the middle, white wine, grapes, a little oak with some musty funk closing things out. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, low to medium bodied, oak tannins and yeasty spice dancing around. Overall, this is an excellent little saison. Don't let it linger on the shelf (or do, it will be more for us). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (33 cl swing top). Drank out of a teku on 1/17/15. Batch 3. Best by 2016.

I've got a bottle of 2013 Bon Chien that I'm hoping to spring on some unsuspecting friends next week, which should be fun. And I may need to snag something else from these folks, though who knows what I'll tackle next.

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.

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.

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood

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We're big fans of Truckee, CA's FiftyFifty Brewing, particularly the barrel aged variants of their Eclipse stouts. Each uses the same base stout recipe, but is then aged in a different expression of bourbon (or rye) barrel. There's a surprising difference in each variant and it's a fascinating (if wallet lightening) exercise to work through them.

Given the success they've had with Eclipse, it's only natural that they have started to expand their barrel program into other styles, like this American Barleywine called Old Conundrum. The base beer is one of their staples, and they've been releasing it aged on different whiskey expressions (Eclipse style) on tap for a while. I believe this is the first year they've bottled it, though it just says "on wood" and does not seem to indicate which barrels were used (presumably a blend). So, will this live up to the example set by Eclipse? Only one way to find out:

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood - Pours a murky brown color with a hint of amber (or some color more fancily named, like garnet or something) and a finger of smooth tan head. Smells great, lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some dark fruit, caramel, molasses, maybe some booze. Taste starts with some dark fruit, but moves quickly into bourbon territory, hitting the caramel and molasses notes, vanilla, and a little more boozy bourbon towards the finish. Mouthfell is rich, full bodied, and chewy, tight and low but appropriate carbonation, a pleasant hint of warming booze. Overall, rock solid BA barleywine. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/22/14. 2014 vintage.

They also make a blonde barleywine aged in bourbon barrels called Annularity, though I have not secured one of those bottles (and to be sure, I've found that lighter colored beers and bourbon barrels are not always the most enticing prospect for me... not that I'd turn it down, to be sure!) Here's to hoping I get to snag more Eclipse variants this year!

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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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