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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...

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.

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.

Odd Breed Double Feature

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South Florida's Odd Breed is a small brewery focused on wild ales that I've become acquainted with thanks to Kaedrin friend Steve, who lives down those parts and generously volunteers to send some Florida cheer up my way from time to time. My guess is that it's called Odd Breed due to their use of wild yeasts and other microflora, and totally not a fiendish, Doctor Moreau-esque plot to cross-breed humans with wild animals. However, if they do ever announce a new production facility location at a remote Atlantic island, I may be more skeptical. What can I say, I love beer, but I'm distrustful of many brewers' stated goals. Um... anywho, they make good beer, so let's take a look:

Odd Breed Past and Future

Odd Breed Past & Future - This is their Flagship, a pretty straightforward saison aged in French oak puncheons. I say straightforward, but the brewer says he's been working on the recipe from years, and it's evolved from a super-dry Dupont-esque clone to a beer that loosened the dryness and upped the acidity. Pours a pale straw yellow color with a solid finger of medium bubbled head that manages to hang on for a while. Smells quite nice, oak and saison spice, hints of tart fruit. Taste starts out sweet, hits that saison spice (like cloves and coriander), then tart fruit, finishing with a tart kick. Mouthfeel is light and crisp, well carbonated, and relatively dry. Overall, a very well executed saison, and a rock solid flagship that compares favorably with locals like Tired Hands. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/7/18. Bottled on: 09/11/18. Batch 2.

Odd Breed Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches

Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches - A blend of golden wild ales aged in those French oak puncheons that are then transferred onto nearly 800 pounds of hand-picked, ripe organic peaches (which were only lightly washed, so as to contribute their own microflora). Pours a pale, very cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells great, plenty of peaches, some lactic funk, and even more peaches. Taste has a nice dry character with some peachy sweetness to it, followed by some puckering tartness and some oak, and then more peaches and did I mention peaches in the finish. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and dry, moderate acidity, perhaps not quite quaffable, but headed in that direction. Overall, yeah, this is a real winner right here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/18. Bottled on: 06/22/18.

A nice first impression, for sure, and I have a couple others that I'll be bringing to shares in the near-ish future. I suspect this won't be the last you see of Odd Breed here...

Bourbon County Brand Fun

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Every year, beer nerds bemoan the influence of big beer and in particular the never-ending succession of breweries that sell out to the great satan, AB Inbev. And every year, a not insignificant portion of same line up hours in advance of the Black Friday release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout and associated variants. This year, I heard tales of people getting in line overnight and still getting shut out of some of these variants. To give some context beyond the timing component (which is surely enough of a weird thing by itself), in the Philadelphia area, temperatures were somewhere around 15°F, which is mighty cold. Me? I rolled up right as a local beer distributor was opening, and picked up a full allotment... then popped over to another place on my way home and picked up some more. All told, it took about an hour, and most of that was just because the poor sales clerk at the first place was all alone and had to build up all the mixed cases that people were ordering, so it took a while (it was all very orderly and friendly, but I felt bad for the guy anyway). (Update: Even further context - most of this stuff can still be found on shelves somewhere. Maybe a tad overpriced, but it's out there if you're looking for it.)

Taste The Rainbow

Anyway, this year there were 8 different variants of BCBS, though two are Chicago-only releases. As usual, my favorite is the plain ol, regular BCBS. I suspect Vanilla could give it a run for its money over time, if previous iterations of Vanilla variants are any indication (the 2014 Vanilla Rye was phenomenal as recently as 2017). This year also mucked around with my other favorite release, the Barleywine. In its original incarnation, the Barleywine was phenomenal. After the 2015 infection-plagued batch, they tweaked it (in particular, aging it in fresh bourbon barrels rather than third-use barrels), but it was still great. This year, it's not being offered at all, being replaced by a coffee-dosed version and a new Wheatwine. As we'll see below, this represents an interesting change of pace, but ultimately left me craving the old-school barleywine (especially circa 2013/2014). All the other variants have their place and are interesting spins on the base, but not strictly necessary. Alright, enough preamble, let's get into it:

BCBS Vanilla

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout - Pretty standard BCBS-like pour, black with not much tan head. Smell is more vanilla forward than previous BCBS takes on vanilla, straddling the line on artificial (I mean, not Funky Buddha levels artificial, but it's more prominent than you'd expect), but either way, it smells nice to me. Taste is still delicious, standard BCBS profile with that added vanilla marshmallow sweetness, quite nice. Mouthfeel is thick and full bodied, rich and sweet without being cloying, well carbonated. Overall, it's not quite as great as VR was the last time I had it, but that one got better with time, and it's quite possible that this will too (of course, it's also possible that this will turn into an artificial vanilla flavored mess - only one way to find out). For now, it's my favorite of the variants this year. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/18. Bottled on: 05SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale - Pours a clear pale amber color with just a cap of fizzy off-white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet, candied fruit, maybe banana and coconut, and lots of boozy bourbon. Taste starts off sweet and rich, maybe some light toffee, and that candied fruit, banana with bourbon and a small amount of oak kicking in as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, sticky, well carbed, with plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it's a nice change of pace, but it's not really a substitute for the regular barleywine. It feels like a slightly more substantial version of pale-colored BBA beers like Helldorado or Curieux, meaning that it doesn't quite take on the BBA character as well as darker barleywines/stouts, but is still pretty good. I suspect this one could grow on me. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/18. Bottled on: 13AUG18.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine - Made with Intelligentsia Finca La Soledad coffee beans - Pours a very dark amber brown color with a cap of short lived off-white head. Smells of... coffee, and that's pretty much it. Maybe some underlying sweetness from the malt or bourbon if you really search for it, but mostly coffee. The taste starts off more like a barleywine, rich caramel and toffee, but then that coffee comes in and starts wreaking havoc. Alright, fine, this might be my coffee ambivalence talking, but in truth, it stands out more here than it does in the stout because at least the stout has complementary flavors. Here it sorta clashes. I mean, it's still tasty and it's not like I would turn down a pour, but coffee and barleywine together just aren't my bag. This represents yet another change of pace that is all well and good, but come on, the regular barleywine was awesome, and this isn't really an improvement. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled on: 27SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout - Made with orange zest and cocoa nibs - Pours dark brown, almost black, with almost no head. At first, it smells like a pretty standard BCBS profile, but then that citrus and chocolate really pops, especially as it warms. Taste follows the nose, that orange and chocolate popping nicely, especially as it warms. Indeed, the warmer it gets, the more and more this feels like its own thing. The chocolate and orange really overtake the base at higher temps and I'm not entirely sure that's for the best. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, moderate carb, plenty of booze. Overall, its a very nice take on the BCBS base, and I tend to like this more than the other fruited variants I've had... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled on: 18SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout - Speaking of other fruited variants, this is BCBS with raspberries and blackberries. Pours a similar color with a bit more head than normal. Smell is overwhelmed by jammy fruit. Well, "jammy fruit" is the nice way to say it. You could also say "fruit by the foot with a dash of Robitussin", but that's probably a bit unfair. Taste has a nice rich sweetness to it, but that is again overwhelmed by the fruit, not quite as tussin-heavy as the nose, but still not quite "right". It's like they buried BCBS and a bunch of fruit in Pet Sematary and it came back "wrong". I mean, it's not bad, but I'd rather be drinking regular ol' bcbs. Unquestionably my least favorite of the year, and vying for least favorite variant of all time. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/18. Bottled on: 24AUG18.

Certainly an interesting crop, and the Chicago exclusives like the Reserve (aged in Elijah Craig barrels) and Proprietor's (I think some sort of chocolate monster this year) sound great. Still, I always fall back on the original BCBS, and drink plenty throughout the year. Here's to hoping they bring back the Barleywine next year. In the meantime, stout season will continue with a local brewery's take on a BBA stout series, though perhaps I'll mix things up a bit and review something different next. Until then, keep watching the skies! Or, uh, this space. You'll probably find more beer talk here, and not the skies. But you should probably watch the skies too.

Dark Wednesday 2018

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Eschewing the Black Friday events most breweries seem to favor for their barrel-aged stout releases, Victory has always done their thing a day before Thanksgiving, which they hath dubbed Dark Wednesday. Once upon a time, this was for Dark Intrigue (basically barrel-aged Storm King and probably the first beer release that I'd ever waited in line for), but the past few years have seen the rise of Java Cask, and variants of same. This year, we were treated to three new variants on the Java Cask theme (plus the original). Alas, none of these variants is the one I've been pining for (i.e. one without coffee, so, like, just "Cask" or maybe "Bourbon Cask", though I'm guessing the TTB would have problems with that, but I think I've made my point.) But then, beggars can't be choosers, and despite my coffee ambivalence, I always look forward to trying a couple of these every year. Let's start with my favorite of the year:

Victory Java Cask Maple

Victory Java Cask Maple - Basically Java Cask aged in Bourbon Barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup (a treatment that appears to be gaining in popularity these days) for 8 months. Also of note, if you click on the picture above to embiggen it, you will see that this bottle was signed by Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski... and some guy named James, who I'm not familiar with but who I'm sure is incredibly important. - Pours a deep, viscous dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted coffee, chocolate coffee, maybe a hint of that maple (a light touch in the nose), and did I mention coffee. Taste starts off with a rich caramel note, followed by maple syrup, then coffee, finishing on that bourbon, oak, and vanilla jam. Plenty of coffee for this non-coffee drinker, but certainly less than the nose would imply. As it warms both the maple and the coffee come out more, so that is a thing that happened. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample but appropriate amounts of carbonation, and a pleasant level of boozy heat. Overall, I like this better than the Rye/Rye Vanilla variants and I might even like it better than regular Java Cask, but my lack of coffee enthusiasm is still a limiting factor. Indeed, I might even like this as much as or more than CBS. I'm the worst, but I still give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/18. Bottled on 14 Nov 2018.

Victory Java Cask Latte

Victory Java Cask Latte - A DONG offering on Dark Wednesday that is basically a milk stout version of Java Cask that is calibrated at a much lower ABV of 8.3%. The addition of lactose is supposed to make up for the decrease in body. I didn't take formal notes for this one, but I did have two small glasses - one on regular tap and one on nitro. I think I liked the nitro one (pictured above) more, but both feel like imitations of their full-strength big-brothers. This sort of thing has its charms though, and I appreciate being able to sample something without taking in too much alcohol. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% on draft/nitro. Drank out of a... small weizen glass? Whatever you call that thing in the picture. On 11/21/18.

Victory Java Cask Gold

Java Cask Gold - Not sure I'm on board with the whole blonde stout thing, but this is a blonde coffee stout made with lactose, brown sugar, cacao nibs, oats, and dark roast coffee, aged in buffalo trace barrels for 7 months. - Pours a clear, pale orange color with half a finger of off-white head. Smells... a lot like Java Cask. Lots of roasted coffee, coffee, maybe a bit of chocolate, and oh yeah, I almost missed... the coffee. The taste, though, does not feel like a stout. Which I guess makes sense, since it's not. Sweet, but not that deep, a bit of caramel, some coffee, but they're not quite playing together as well here; a heaping helping of bourbon, but not particularly well integrated with the rest of the flavors. I like bourbon and all, but it seems to be overpowering the base. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed, and quite boozy. Overall, an interesting experiment, but a little off-balanced and it never really harmonizes into a great beer... but it's certainly interesting! If a tad disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/22/18. Bottled on 16 Nov 2018.

So there you have it. The Maple variant is the clear winner of the year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up for next year (fingers crossed for the non-coffee version!) In the meantime, we've got some actual Black Friday releases that we're going to cover, including tons of variants of Kaedrin favorites, so stay tuned.

Zwanze Day 2018

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Zwanze Day is a worldwide event in which Cantillon releases a new, limited lambic to the huddled masses, yearning to be drunk. The event spans many countries and is limited to 70 or so bars, worldwide. I attended the 2016 festivities at Monk's Cafe in Philly and was dutifully impressed with that year's Raspberry/Blueberry entry into the Zwanze canon. It's always a crowded event and some people get there very early and wait in line. If it means getting a table, that's a very good thing indeed and fortunately for me, I had some friends who decided to line up early and had an extra seat at their table.

Along with the Zwanze entry, which isn't tapped until later in the day, Monk's pulls out all the stops, with a whole assortment of other Cantillon lambics available. It was quite the rainbow:

Taste the rainbow... of Cantillon
Click to embiggen

A few of these were even new to me, which is always nice. Nath is made with macerated rhubarb in 2 year old lambic, and it provides a nice little bump in the tartness and funk profile of your typical Cantillon (I didn't take formal tasting notes, so I'll leave it at that - it was excellent).

Cantillon 20 Ans D'Amitié

The other new to me lambic was 20 Ans D'Amitié, a blend of Rhubarb and Raspberry lambics (so Nath and Rosé de Gambrinus?) that was produced for the 20th Anniversary of Monk's Cafe in 2017. As you might expect, it's delightful.

And of course, there were a whole slew of other Cantillons that we all know are fantastic, like the Kriek (still my favorite, to be honest!), Rosé de Gambrinus, Grand Cru Broucsella, the Classic Gueuze, and Vigneronne.

Zwanze 2018

Finally, there was Zwanze 2018 Manneken Pise. If you're interested in lambic, you've no doubt discovered that it's damn near impossible to track down Cantillon lambic. Even ordering direct from Belgium (with it's absurd shipping prices) isn't a particularly viable option anymore. Back in 2015, Cantillion acquired a new building across the street from their current location. Over the next few years, they increased production and had to source a whole slew of new barrels to age their lambic. Enter three particular sets of barrels that stood out: those that had previously held Sangiovese, Amarone, and Chianti. Ah, the wine of my people! Anyway, Zwanze 2018 is a blend of lambic that had been aged in those three types of barrels. And it's quite nice, adding a noticeable but distinct vinous character to the typically oaky, tart, and funky Cantillon lambic base. Some subtle fruit notes and a nice, light, tannic dryness make this a somewhat unique experience. Again, I didn't take formal tasting notes, but they're normally pretty boring and ultimately, yeah, it's a big shock that Cantillon produced a good lambic. Stop the presses.

So yes, another successful Zwanze day under my belt. Well worth checking out if you have a Zwanze venue near you. I'd be curious to see what it would be like at a less crowded venue, but it's hard to turn down an afternoon at Monk's (and if you somehow manage to snag a table, many of the issues with the crowd are minimized!) Anywho, now that Cantillion has increased capacity, here's to hoping we see a little more of their stuff making its way into our hands... And maybe I won't wait a month to post something about it next time.

(Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Dana for taking/sharing that fancy picture with all the beers lined up.)

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

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