Recently in A- Category

Toad the Brett Rocket

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Rex Stardust, lead electric triangle with Toad the Wet Sprocket, has had to have an elbow removed following their recent successful worldwide tour of Finland. Flamboyant ambidextrous Rex apparently fell off the back of a motorcycle. "Fell off the back of a motorcyclist, most likely," quipped ace drummer Jumbo McClooney upon hearing of the accident. Plans are now afoot for a major tour of Iceland.

And thus did Monty Python birth the name of alt rock heroes, Toad the Wet Sprocket, in an old sketch called "Rock Notes". Apparently the band was a big fan of Python and couldn't settle on a name, so they just snagged this one. It was meant to be temporary, but it just stuck.

Fortunately, the multitude of differing and evolving beers that show up in brewpubs lends itself to eccentric names, obscure references, lame/awesome puns, and so on. Thus Toad the Brett Rocket, a dry hopped saison aged in wine barrels with Brettanomyces, was born. With an awesome label depicting a toad riding a barrel-shaped rocket. This is not quite the revelation that Hallowed Ground was, but these bottle releases are not to be slept on. Er, strike that. Let's keep these things manageable and not get out of hand. Nothing to see here, move it along:

McKenzie Toad the Brett Rocket

McKenzie Toad the Brett Rocket - Pours an almost clear golden yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells very nice, citrusy hops, vinous fruit, earthy Brett. Taste starts off sweet, hints of white wine, lemon peel, citrusy hops, a bit of tartness, then it moves on into more funky, earthy Brett territory, light but lasting through the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and lightly acidic, very refreshing summer spritzer type of thing. Overall, this is another winner, though perhaps not quite as great as Hallowed Ground, it still earns an A- in my book. Er, blog. This is a blog.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/8/16. Released: 6/28/16.

It's nice to see that older local breweries are still managing to do interesting things, and I will most definitely be snagging more McKenzie bottles whenever Nate puts them out.

Barrel of Monks Three Fates Tripel

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Remember the days when anything Belgian, even American imitations of such, was noteworthy? Alright, maybe you don't, but I spent a goodly portion of my youth pining for generally unavailable Belgian abbey ales and so on. Even earlier in the days of this blog, you could see wildly inflated ratings for well made dubbels and tripels. These days I'm so addled by juicy milkshake IPAs, tropical fruit hops, funky brett saisons, tooth-enamel-stripping sours, and bourbon barrel aged wonders that taking a step back and pondering a simple Belgian style tripel actually feels novel and refreshing.

Simple, but I should add: not easy. Most American takes on the Tripel style are a little too sticky sweet, not dry enough, and/or not carbonated enough. These styles are flavorful, but not in a way that is easily masked by adding craptons of hops or coffee or whatever the adjunct of the week is... Belgian beers really get their character through fermentation and yeast, and that's not as easy as it sounds. There's a delicate balance that those Trappist Monks over in Belgium seem to have mastered. The occasional American take works well, and of course we like to explode the style with Apple Brandy Barrel treatments and souring bugs and whatnot, but those things don't really count, do they?

Enter Florida's Barrel of Monks, a year-ish old brewery in Boca Raton that specializes in the regular-ol' Belgian pantheon, including a whole series of Abbey styles and the occasional special release. No IPAs, no Goses, just straight up Belgian standards, and if this tripel is any indication, the 8 years they spent developing these recipes were well worth it. Three Fates is an allusion to three sister deities in Greek Mythology who controlled life and destiny. So let's make like Atropos, cut the thread of this introduction, and get to the review:

Barrel of Monks Three Fates Tripel

Barrel of Monks Three Fates Tripel - Pours a slightly cloudy pale with a finger and a half of head, lots of visible carbonation. Smells nice, light on the fruity esters, heavier on spicy phenols, clove and the like. Taste hits the same Belgian yeast notes, fruity and spicy, cloves, etc... Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, almost effervescent, relatively dry. Overall, this is an exceptional take on the style from an American brewer. Maybe it's just because I haven't had a great one in a long while, but I'm feeling generous so let's go A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a goblet on 6/25/16.

Thanks again must be given to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging this my way. I may need to acquire some more of these fellas wares.

Funky Buddha Wide Awake It's Morning

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Gimmicky beers with kooky ingredients can get old really fast. The problem is that it's really difficult to incorporate some of this stuff into a beer without either A) overpowering the base beer, B) disappearing into the base beer, or C) making you feel like it was constructed in a chemical lab. But when done right, such schemes will make you wonder what sorcery the brewers hath engaged in to make the beer taste like that. Funky Buddha doesn't always manage this feat, but they are amongst the best in the business when it comes to incorporating disparate and sometimes bizarre flavors into their beer. Last Snow, a coconut coffee porter, is astoundingly well balanced and delicious (only my general aversion to coffee holds it back, and honestly, even then I've grown to love this on subsequent tastings).

Now we come to Wide Awake It's Morning, an imperialized version of their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, a combo that seemingly requires genuine witchcraft to make work. Maple syrup is often used in beers, but its influence ranges from barely noticeable to a sorta transmuted version of maple. Coffee is coffee, of course, and can go sublimely with beer. But bacon? Usually when bacon is referred to in beer, it's got some obscene dose of smoked malt that basically just ruins the rest of the beer. Somehow, though, Funky Buddha pulls all these flavors together, whips them into recognizable shape, and perfectly balances them in this beer. Clearly witchcraft, so let's see what they got out that bubbling cauldron they call a brewery:

Funky Buddha Wide Awake Its Morning

Funky Buddha Wide Awake It's Morning - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head, and yep, it's a porter. Smells like, whoa, yep, coffee, maple syrup, and bacon, maybe a little of caramel and vanilla in the background. Very impressive nose, adjuncty, but not quite artificial feeling even though it feels like it almost obviously has to be artificial. Gah. Taste has more coffee than the nose, roasty malts, chocolate, but the maple syrup and even bacon are there too. I have no idea how they got that bacon to work in here. I mean, maybe it's a bit smokey, but it genuinely has that rich, meaty feeling you get from bacon somehow. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, moderate to low but appropriate carbonation. Overall, this is intense and complex, and asoundingly enough, the proportions are right. A little gimmicky perhaps, but a delicious gimmick, to be sure. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 6/24/16. Bottled on: 4/21/16.

Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for hooking be up with some Southern Florida goodies. You will be seeing more from Funky Buddha on here in the nearish future.

SingleCut Billy 18-Watt IPA

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Man, what's going on in NYC these days? This is the third brewery we've covered in just the past few months (granted, these breweries have been around for a while and it's not like I'm discovering them or anything, but still) and they seem up to par with their brethren at Other Half and Grimm. I've been a little lazy on the uptake with these things, but I think that's come to an end.

SingleCut is a reference to a body style of guitar, and most of their beer names appear to be music references of some kind. This particular beer is named after an 18-Watt amplifier and while I'm not positive what Billy refers to, Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top fame and bearded glory) seems to favor the 18-Watt in his setup. SingleCut makes a series of "Billy" beers though, including Half-Stack and Full-Stack (also amplifiers), so who knows? What is this, a music blog? Let's get back to the beer, which looks to be one of them newfangled Northeast IPAs, though this is the low-wattage version clocking in at 5% ABV, so you could probably take down a few of these no problem:

SingleCut Billy 18-Watt IPA

SingleCut Billy 18-Watt IPA - Pours a very cloudy straw yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing, very Northeast Milkshake IPA appearance. Smells that way too, tons of green hops, floral aromas, huge, juicy citrus, tropical fruits, mangoes and tangerines and the like, really nice. Taste follows the nose, lots of juicy citrus, some floral and herbal notes, and a nice, tight bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed, crisp, and relatively dry, light body, quaffable stuff. Overall, yup, this is some fantastic stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 6/24/16. Bottled: 6/10/16 (I think that's what the label sez).

Yeah, so I think we'll be seeing more from these folks in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Rodenbach Alexander

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Pop culture is awash with fan attempts to keep their favorite media alive. From Trekkies keeping their beloved three seasons in syndication for years and finally convincing Paramount to bring the crew back on the big screen to more modern (and sometimes failed) attempts to save Chuck or Firefly, fans tend to live up to the linguistic origin of that term: fanatics. Depending on your point of view, these campaigns can range from inspirational and noble to whiny and entitled (and everywhere inbetween). However you judge such advocacy, you can't deny that it is sometimes effective. And sometimes it happens in the beer world.

Rodenbach Alexander is a cherry-dosed Flanders Red that went defunct somewhere around the turn of the century. The beer scene wasn't quite as hot then, and was actually contracting due to a minor bubble burst of speculation before the craft movement fully got its legs under it. So Rodenbach made due with their Classic and Grand Cru beers, truly world-class stuff, until they couldn't ignore the demand for Alexander to return. I'm sure the success of Caractère Rouge (a similar fruited Flanders Red) helped too. I don't know of a pop-culture-like campaigns to bring it back, but when the few remaining bottles of Alexander start going for 4-digits on the black market, you've got to think that a brewery would notice that there's a market to be tapped there... so 2016 sees the first batch of Alexander in 17 years. Actually, it's just in time for the 30th anniversary of the first time they brewed this beer in 1986 in order to commemorate the 200th birthday of Alexander Rodenbach (obviously one of the founders of the brewery). All of which is good news indeed:

Rodenbach Alexander

Rodenbach Alexander (2016) - Pours a striking, almost clear ruby red color with a finger of fizzy off white (maybe some pinkish hues). Smells of sour cherries, vinous fruit, with a little oak and vanilla pitching in. Taste hits that sour cherry and vinous fruit character pretty hard, but there's just enough of the background acetic flanders red character anchoring it, moderate sourness, vinegar, a little oak and vanilla providing depth. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderate acidity, medium to high (but appropriate) carbonation. Overall, this is along the lines of Caractère Rouge, but not quite as fizzy fruity tooty. That... means something, right? Whatever, this is great right now, but I suspect it could age fabulously. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/28/16. Best before: 01-02-2019.

Rodenbach delivers, as always. I might have to track down another bottle of Caractère Rouge, you know, for reasearch, to see how it compares.

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label

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So it's called "Black Label" despite the fact that the label is clear? Well, ok then, fine, be that way. What we have here is an oude geuze blended to commemorate the brewery's 40th anniversary. It's indirectly the result of a collaboration with Mikkeller, but since the barrels that Mikkeller blended were not empty, Boon decided to put out their own version. The resulting beers should be similar, but since the blends use differing proportions, the results are slightly still distinct. Mikkeller's goal was to blend a lambic that was as dry as possible, almost 100% attenuation. However, the Black Label contains less older lambic (it's still got 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic in there though, so no worries) and is thus more full-bodied and slightly less dry.

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label - Damn that cork pops with authority. Watch where you aim that sucker. Pours a hazy golden orange color with visible carbonation bubbles and tons upon tons of bubbly white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice and funky, some light stone fruit and lemon zest but also some spice and earthy notes, typical Boon house style stuff. Taste hits those fruity notes harder than expected, tart lemons, finishes dry, less of the earthy funk, but it's still there. Mouthfeel is bone dry and effervescent, light bodied, moderate acidity, this is where things diverge from your typical Boon offerings, in a good way I think... Overall, this is quite nice, like a drier version of Boon's other offerings and better for it. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute on 5/29/16. Bottled on: 26/03/2015. Best by: 26/03/2035.

I hesitate to say that this is something that you'll see on shelves since this sold pretty quickly around here. Not, like, people lining up for it, but I got the last bottle a couple days after it went on shelves. I'm sure it's around elsewhere and I'd like to see how it ages, so I'm going to try and track down another bottle or two. Boon continues to be a nice solid option when in need for a lambic fix. Not as good as the big two (3F and Cantillon), but generally available... and sometimes you can find specialty variants like this one, which is nice. Stay tuned, we've got another Belgian wild ale review coming later this week!

Free Will Ralphius

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

Free Will Ralphius

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

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

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

Lindemans Kriek Cuvée René

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I think my first lambic evar was a draft pour of Lindeman's straight up Kriek. It was not a great beer... and it still isn't particularly good. Why? It turns out that the process for the regular kriek is to take young lambic and add cherry juice and artificial sweetener. In the past, this included something called Acesulfame K, which I know sounds delicious, but is actually pretty gross. These days they use Stevia, but it still tastes odd. It's a cheaper process and thus the beer is more widely available, but then all these sweetened lambics basically taste like sugary Robitussin.

Lindemans Cuvée René Gueuze, though, is a decent example of that style and doesn't cut such corners. Now they've expanded the line to include Kriek Cuvée René, where they blend lambic that is at least 6 months old and throw it into an oak foudre with actual whole cherries (pits and all) to age for another 6 months or so. The result is wholly different and a vast improvement over the regular kriek. Let's dive in:

Lindemans Kriek Cuvee Rene

Lindemans Kriek Cuvée René - Pours a deep, dark red color with a finger of fizzy, short-lived pink head. Smells great, plenty of cherries of course, but also a really nice musky funk. Taste is sweet, with those cherries up front, followed by a little oak and vanilla, finishing with an intense blast of sourness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, with lots of acidity, especially in the finish. This sucker is drinking really well right now, but from my experience, it seems like the sort of thing that will age really well too. Overall, this is great, seek it out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/13/16. Bottled 12 Aug 2015.

I've been getting more and more enchanted with lambics of late, which is kinda bad news since they are so expensive and hard to find. Still, with stuff like this hitting shelves semi-reliably, there's plenty to explore. This one is worth checking out for sure. I'm curious to see if Lindemans steps up their game in other ways, too...

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

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