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Barrel of Monks Double Feature

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South Florida's Barrel of Monks has been a solid discovery and I've really enjoyed checking out their standard takes on Belgian styles (a lot of American breweries dabble in this sort of thing, but few succeed as well as BoM), not to mention their more funky efforts. There's something to be said for an expertly brewed Dubbel or Tripel, but you know me: I'm not going to turn down a barrel-aged effort either.

Speaking of which, the first of our double feature is a Bourbon Barrel Aged variant of their Father Christmas beer, basically a Belgian style strong dark brewed with mulling spices (like clove, cinnamon, and ginger). As an added bonus, Barrel of Monks is living up to their name... now I just need to procure more of their Barrel Aged wares (limited as they may be). Due to a mix up in the Kaedrin procurement department, this didn't arrive until well after Christmas, but hey, why not extend the season a little:

Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas

Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells very nice, dark fruit, raisins, plums and the like, a little spice, cloves, coriander, and whatnot, plus a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts off rich and sweet, with that dark fruit character coming through, followed quickly by spicy phenols like clove, finishing with a boozy bourbon note. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but nimble, perhaps due to the high-ish carbonation which cuts through the richness and the booziness. Overall, this is really enjoyable and they managed the bourbon barrel aging well, imparting complexity without completely overwhelming the base. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml copper waxed cap). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/18. Vintage 2017.

Next up in the double feature is a pretty straightforward Belgian style stout. This is perhaps not the most common or popular of the Belgian styles (inasmuch as you can really categorize them), and I must admit that this is the sort of thing that usually makes me wish I was drinking one or the other (i.e. a straight up imperial stout or a standard Belgian strong dark). On the other hand, this does fare well when compared against others of the style, which has become my expectation for BoM:

Barrel of Monks Parade of Souls

Barrel of Monks Parade of Souls - Pours a black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet and a little spicy, maybe some dark fruits. Taste is very sweet, lots of Belgian yeast character, fruity esters, spicy phenols, a little caramel and maybe a faint hint of chocolate. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, but still medium-to-full bodied, plenty of residual sugar there, but not cloying. Overall, this feels more like a Belgian Strong Dark than an Imperial Stout, but it comports itself well enough. Still, pretty good for a style that has often left me cold... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/21/18. Vintage 2017.

While I don't think these guys are lighting up the ISO trading boards, I'm quite glad to have a somewhat regular Florida connection who can snag me some bottles. Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging these my way.

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017

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Since I know all of you religiously check this blog and my Twitter feed looking for updates, I must apologize, as I've been absentee of late and unresponsive to your repeated pleas for new posts. You're probably also very astute and did some research and figured out that I have a tendency to enter an annual beer hibernation around this time of year, which at least partially explains my absence. That being said, my general laziness has generated a backlog of beer reviews that I can leverage during this downtime. I also plan to post the customary non-beer reviews of things like hot sauce or bourbon or tea or wine or whatever throughout the season, though perhaps not quite as much as in previous years. For now, though, let's take a look at one of those beer reviews I've been neglecting...

A few years ago, I stumbled on this Four Seasons of Mother Earth series of limited, usually-barrel-aged brews from a San Diego brewery that seemed popular enough. The Autumn 2015 brew was a barrel-aged quad, and it was quite nice. This time around, we celebrate the winter solstice with an imperial brown ale brewed with brown sugar and aged in bourbon barrels. I mean, it's not one of them pastry stouts that people get hot-and-bothered about, but I'll tell you, I was quite taken with this:

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017 - Pours a dark brown color with some amber when held up to the light and a finger of off white head. Smells great, sweet, vanilla, toffee, a little bourbon and oak too. Taste hits all those notes, rich toffee, a little caramel, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, but leavened by a good amount of carbonation that makes this seem lighter than it really is (but not overcarbonated at all, it's actually very well balanced and enhances the beer), with a decent amount of pleasant booze. Overall, this is a fantastic, complex, uncommon style and I'm loving it. A little reminiscent of Firestone Walker's Bravo, but easily its equal if not even better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/26/18. Vintage: 2017.

So yes, I should probably seek out more of these Four Seasons of Mother Earth Beers. And maybe not wait another 3 years before trying another. Anywho, stay tuned, I have a few more beer reviews coming, with at least a couple of bourbons and one hot sauce in the pipeline as well.

Levante Quintuple Feature

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Drink local, they say, and so I do. Levante is the closest brewery to Kaedrin HQ, and I do find myself at their taproom on a semi-regular basis. Alas, I've been woefully neglectful of their wares on this here blog. Since opening a few years ago, they've grown considerably, both in terms of quantity and quality. In particular, they've stepped up their NEIPA game, as these last few releases illustrate (also telling: the number of people in lines for this stuff). Of course, their stout program is also strong, and while my ambivalence to coffee is well known, we'll cover a couple of coffee-dosed offerings too (hint: they're fantastic).

Levante Retail Therapy

Levante Retail Therapy - The perfect gift for dorks who work for a retail website and are breathing a sigh of relief after the usual Q4 rush (i.e. me). Brewed with spelt malt and oats and hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra, and El Dorado. Pours a cloudy, milky yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of sweet, juicy citrus hops, fresh, green, pretty darned great. Taste is sweet and juicy, lots of citrus. Mouthfeel is medium bodied but kinda thick, well carbonated. Overall, one of the better Levante offerings, not quite Hop Cartel level good, but very nice. Probably shouldn't have given half of these away as Christmas gifts. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/22/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Gran Gianduiotto

Levante Gran Gianduiotto - Imperial stout brewed with lactose, Ghirardelli cacao powder, hazelnut, vanilla, and three blends of over 70 pounds of Italian Espresso from Gran Caffe L'Aquila. Pours a very dark brown color with off white head. Smells of roasty coffee, chocolate, coffee, roast, and coffee. Did I mention coffee? As it warms, it gains a sweeter, richer caramel note. Taste is a little less roasty, more rich caramel, but still plenty of coffee and chocolate, I wouldn't have picked out hazelnut blind, but since I know it's there, I can kinda see it if I do the tasting equivalent of squinting. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, moderately carbonated, a hint of booze. Overall, this is fabulous, even for a coffee beer. Kinda wish I didn't give most of my cans away as gifts... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/29/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology (Barrel Aged 2017) - Brewed with a blend of shade grown, locally roasted, organic Sumatran and Guatemalan coffee supplied by Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters in West Chester, PA, then aged for six months in American Whiskey Barrels from Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, PA (they do not make bourbon, but I think their standard offering is primarily malted barley and wheat, with some oats and rye). Pours a very dark brown color with a tan head. Smells great, lots of coffee, roast, and a heaping helping of that whiskey, oak, and vanilla. Taste is rich and creamy, caramel, whiskey, oak, and vanilla, with a dose of roast coffee, finishing on a pleasant boozy note. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with lots of boozy (but again, pleasant) heat. Overall, maybe I do like coffee beers (i.e. if they're this boozy), great barrel character and pretty darned great. For some reason, I feel like people are sleeping on this, as evidenced by the fact that I just bought another couple bottles about a month after I bought this one... on second thought, forget I said anything. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/18. (not sure when bottled, bought it at 12/21/17 release)

Levante Tickle Parts

Levante Tickle Parts - Another NEIPA that's a little short on specifics (label sez: El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra hops were used). They released this a couple months ago (I had an extra-hopped cask version at a local watering hole, and it was great), then did a rebrew in January, which is the batch I'm reviewing here. Pours a murky yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells fabulous, tons of fresh, juicy citrus hops. Taste hits those juice notes hard, citrus with a little bit of dank pine in the finish, which isn't very bitter (but maybe just enough to keep things in balance). Mouthfeel is medium bodied but thick, well carbonated, decent balance. Overall, a good example of the hazier NEIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/18. Canned: 1/11/18. Batch 2.

Levante Glitter Parts

Levante Glitter Parts - Another NEIPA variant, this time with added lactose, coconut, and vanilla (kinda Tired Hands Milkshake-esque), with a similar hopping schedule to Tickle Parts (Citra, El Dorado, Simcoe, Mosaic). I drank this out of a shaker pint glass because I was watching the Eagles slaughter the Vikings on Sunday, and as you can see, it was totally my glassware that put them over the edge. Pours an even murkier pale yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smells great, those fresh, juicy citrus hops, maybe a bit more tropical here. I didn't pick up coconut directly (and probably wouldn't blind), but if you do the olefactory version of squinting, maybe it's there? Taste follows the nose, sweeter with lots of juicy citrus hops, with maybe that vanilla showing up a bit here. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with a higher viscosity than Tickle Parts, that lactose definitely felt here, well carbonated and decent balance. Overall, yep, another winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a shaker pint glass on 1/21/18. Canned: 1/11/18.

I feel like perhaps my lesser homer instincts are kicking in, as I only seem to find myself reviewing beers I love from these guys. But these last two releases were pretty killer. I will say that they make plenty of beers that I'm not entirely on board with (and in fact, their regular lineup isn't all that spectacular), so there is that. It's hard to get all fired up about writing them up on those though, perhaps a topic for another post.

American Lambic Wars

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To paraphrase Yoda: begun, the American lambic wars have. Ouch. Sorry, quoting the prequels hurts. I don't recommend it. Anyway, there was a kerfluffle with some American breweries that are taking inspiration from lambic, mostly caused by Jester King's notion of creating a specific designation that is now called Méthode Traditionelle (they originally called it Méthode Gueuze, but real lambic producers weren't too enthused by that one), complete with a protected mark for the label and everything. So far, it doesn't seem to be catching on. Allagash seems content to just keep doing their thing, as befits their pioneering status in the American lambic debate (they were basically the first to get really serious about spontaneous fermentation in the US). And de Garde seems actively hostile to the idea.

Whatever the case, there are plenty of smaller names getting in on the action. I've had three beers recently that all claim to be inspired by lambic in one way or another, whether it being the way something is aged, or the ingredients, or the spontaneous fermentation, or in one case, I'm not sure it resembles lambic at all, except it's sour. And yet, all three were pretty great. First up:

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel - A blend of one, two and three year old sour golden ale fermented and aged in oak barrels. As far as I can tell, not spontaneously fermented, but the aging and blending resemble geuze... Pours a mostly clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells great, earthy funk, vinous fruit, lactic, a little oak. Taste has a good depth to it, earthy funk leavened by vinous fruit, stone fruit, a heaping of oak, and a well modulated sourness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and crisp, with a moderate acidity and medium body. Overall, this is fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Logsdon Spontane Wilde

Logsdon Spontane Wilde - They say this is made in a traditional "Methode van Lembeek" (suck it, Jester King), and it actually does seem like they're going for something like lambic - unmalted wheat, aged hops, spontaneously fermented, oak aged, pretty close. The result pours a bit darker than the above, with lots of carb and head. Smells great, barnyard funk, tart fruit, and oak. Taste hits similar notes, a little more fruit in the taste, but plenty of funk and oak. Mouthfeel is dry, highly carbonated, and effervescent, moderately acidic and a little puckering. Overall, really good, but it feels a lot like your typical Logsdon beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye - They say this is "Lambic-inspired" but they don't really say what that means and after drinking this, um, I don't think it particularly resembles lambic. But it's still really good. Also, I love the classic film references. Classy. Pours a mostly clear yellow color with just a little short-lived head. Smells of sweet, vinous fruit, sour twang. Taste hits that lactic sourness pretty hard, with a little funk and vinous fruit, and some oak leavening things. Mouthfeel is low to medium carbed, bright and acidic. Overall, really good. Not at all like lambic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/27/17.

Not exactly in the same game as Belgium, but really nice nonetheless. I should really hunt down more Allagash or Jester King to really dig into this more.

Tree House Doppelganger

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Tree House is one of those little Northeast breweries with a cult-like following where dorks line up for hours on end for a chance to snag a few cans of NEIPA sludge (I kid because I love). I've had a few tastes of their stuff before, and they're uniformly excellent, so maybe queuing up for sugar water isn't quite that dumb (ugh, who am I kidding with this?)

This particular beer is an imperialized version of their Alter Ego beer, itself a variant (or Alter Ego, hur dur) of Julius that adds tons of Mosaic and a little Amarillo to the dry hop. Everyone follow that? No? Too bad, here comes the boring tasting notes:

Tree House Doppelganger

Tree House Doppelganger - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a finger of head that has decent retention. Smells great, like an orange juice soaked pine cone, juicy citrus, tropical fruit, pineapple, dank, resinous pine. Taste starts of sweet, that juicy citrus pitching in during the middle, followed by pine and a well balanced bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and nimble, almost quaffable. Overall, what a surprise, another dank-ass winner from Tree House. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/5/18. Canned on 12/27/17. Batch: THE MAN WHO STEPPED INTO YESTERDAY

Fabulous, as expected. Will always be on the lookout for more from them. Many thanks to fellow Beer Nerd Adam for the cans...

Founders CBS

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Back in the halcyon days of 2012, after many moons searching, I finally landed a bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. At the time, I naively referred to it as a whale, because for me, it kinda was. It was this mythical thing that I had never seen, but which people on teh internets kept gushing over. In time, I would come to learn of the absurdity of the white whale list, but 2012 was a different time.

Right around when I was snagging my first KBS, Founders decided to bottle their infamous Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS), a legendary variant of KBS that used the same base (imperial stout brewed with chocolate and coffee), but aged in bourbon barrels that had also been used to age maple syrup. Up to that point, it was an annual favorite at their taproom, but didn't receive much in the way of distribution. And of course, amateur beer hunter that I was at the time (and frankly, still am, at least compared to a lot of folks), I never even got close to a bottle. The next batch came a few years later; they didn't bottle it, but did distribute a fair amount of kegs to the Philly environs. Alas, moron that I also am, I never got off my keister to get a taste (by that time, my thoughts on coffee dosed beers had calcified and I wasn't really up for hunting down a beer I'm sure I'd enjoy, but which would fall somewhat short of my favorites). Finally, CBS in its most recent incarnation arrived on shelves and in taprooms around the area just a few weeks ago, and I managed to snag a couple of bottles with relative ease (even unexpectedly scoring a glass on draft a few days later). Then I got slammed by a head cold and ear infection, so the bottle sat sadly undrunk in my fridge for a while. On a chilly Festivus evening, I finally popped the cap on this sucker. What does five years of anticipation do for this? Well, it's pretty much what I expected, but I do rather like it more than expected...

Founders CBS

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) - Pours a deep, dark black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of coffee, roast, a little of that syrup, and some bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts with rich caramel, that bourbon and oak character hits, followed by some roast and coffee, finishing on a brighter, sweeter syrupy note. The coffee character is clearly there, but takes a back seat to the barrel and syrup notes. As it warms, the coffee comes out a bit more, but so do the other elements. Much like KBS, this is a beer that I found decent at first sip, but which got better and better the more I drank. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, faint hints of booze. Overall, a very nice, complex beer. My coffee ambivalence be damned, I like this a lot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/23/17.

As per usual, Founders is always reliable, and stuff like this still manages to stand out, even as beer dorks are constantly zonked out on NEIPAs and pastry stouts.

Again Dark Wednesday

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Every year, on the day before Thanksgiving, Victory has some sort of beer release. They hath dubbed the day Dark Wednesday, and past offerings include the likes of Dark Intrigue, Java Cask, and Java Cask Rye. This year's primary offering was Wisdom's Hour, a dark sour, but they were also teasing another "mystery" beer that wasn't really a mystery because it sorta already came out during the summer that they were making another batch of Java Cask Rye, but with added vanilla beans. As per usual, Victory's releases tend to be pretty low-stress affairs, so even though I was battling a cold at the time, I managed to pop over and secure a couple bottles without notably impacting my condition... Anywho, Victory is one of my long time favorite local breweries, so I'm always excited to see them trying new things from time to time. Let's get on with it:

Victory Wisdoms Hour

Victory Wisdom's Hour - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells of dark fruit, oak, vinegar, vanilla. Taste has some darker malt sort of notes, not exactly roasty, some dark fruit, spice, oak, and vinegar, only moderately sour. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate acidity, pretty easy going. Overall, it's a nice little sour, not going to light anything on fire, but worthwhile. It may be on the lower end of the B+ rating, but I'm feeling generous enough.

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/27/17. Bottled on: 10 Nov 2017.

Victory Java Cask Rye with Vanilla Beans

Victory Java Cask Rye with Vanilla Beans - Pours a jet black color with almost no head whatsoever (and what's there disappears quickly). Smells of coffee, with a little bit of booze and hints of that vanilla evident. Taste starts with some rich caramel, lots of booze, oak, and a little vanilla, with the coffee only emerging in the middle and not super strong either. Mouthfeel is rich and despite the appearance, actually pretty well carbonated, lots of warming booze. Overall, it's pretty darned good, but I have a feeling coffee fans would be a touch disappointed, but as someone ambivalent to coffee, I think I liked this more. It's definitely not the non-coffeed version of my dreams, but it's darned good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/17. Bottled on: 13 Nov 2017.

As per usual, Victory remains a local go to, and it looks like they have another batch of Red coming soon, which was phenomenal last year...

Marshal Zhukov

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Georgy Zhukov was a Soviet Army officer who commanded troops during the Battle of Berlin, eventually resulting in the defeat of Nazi Germany. He attained the rank of Marshal (the highest military rank in the Soviet Union), but also became Minister of Defence amongst taking on other political roles. Infamously stubborn and hot-tempered, he was known to risk life and limb by heatedly arguing with Stalin over this or that policy (normally surrounded by sycophants, Stalin respected Zhukov's independent thought, while presumably also being annoyed by his stubbornness, which is the sort of thing people got disappeared for...) Basically, a decent guy to name a Russian Imperial Stout after. In a mildly refreshing change of pace, there's nothing particularly special about this stout (other than it being really good). No weird ingredients, no spices or vanilla, not even barrels. Just barley, hops, yeast, and water. Spaseeba!

Marshal Zhukov

Cigar City Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout - Pours a deep black color with a pretty brown head that quickly dissipates. Smells great, lots of sweet malt, caramel, hints of roast, vanilla. Taste hits those same notes, rich caramel, hints of roast, a touch of vanilla, a little booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate carbonation, a little boozy heat. Overall, fantastic straightforward imperial stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 10/29/17.

There are tons of variants of this, some of which I've had (a couple of coffee dosed versions), but I'd love to try a barrel aged one sometime (of which there are several varieties). Someday!

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