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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!

Cisco Monomoy Kriek

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Monomoy Island is located near Cisco Brewing's home base of Nantucket, and while it once sported an active community, it has long been dormant. It no longer has any human residents, no electricity, and no paved roads. The only reminder that the island was once populated is the decommissioned old lighthouse. And this beer, named it it's honor. I don't know if these islanders were famous for their cherries, but I bet they liked cherries a whole lot. I mean, who doesn't?

We all know that I've got a little woody over Cisco's The Woods series of sour beers. They're seriously some fantastic stuff, well worth seeking out (despite their wallet lightening abilities), and this beer, a 2 year old Flanders red aged in wine barrels that got a nice, 10 month long dose of cherries, is no exception.

Cisco Monomoy Kriek

Cisco Monomoy Kriek - Pours a very pretty, clear amber color with a finger of white head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells great, cherries, vinous fruit, a little oak and vanilla, that twang that indicates sourness. Taste starts with rich malt, oak and vanilla, followed by tart fruit, cherries, vinous fruit, vinegar, and finishing with a biting sourness. Mouthfeel is decently carbonated, medium bodied, some vinegary acidity, but very well balanced. Overall, this is a fantastic sour beer, continuing a nice streak from The Woods series of beers... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/21/14. 2013 Vintage.

Another winner from The Woods, making me wish that I could even try that Cranberry sour I recently saw on the shelves. I may need to check that out sometime, if I see it again.

The Shape Of Hops To Come

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Neshaminy Creek has been a welcome addition to the local Philly brewing scene, producing solid beers in all sorts of styles. Nothing genuinely groundbreaking, to be sure, but they've got a nice base IPA, a good tripel, and some decent German inspired beers like their Hefeweizen or Dunk's Ferry Dunkelweizen, not to mention my favorite of their beers, Punkel Dunkel (currently called Punkless Dunkel, due to a trademark dispute) a pumpkin weizenbock. Well, now I think I've got a new favorite. Jam packed with Apollo, Newport, Simcoe, Topaz, and Citra hops, The Shape of Hops to Come is a potent look at trendy new hops. I have a passing familiarity with Apollo and Topaz, Citra and Simcoe are some of my favorite hops, and I've honestly not even heard of Newport hops. That being said, it's nice to see a local brewery branching out and really hitting it out of the park with this rock solid DIPA. Really, the only thing that's holding this particular can back is that it's higher ABV (at 9.5$ ABV) is slightly too high... but it's still one of the best local DIPAs (outside of Tired Hands, of course):

Neshaminy Creek The Shape Of Hops To Come

Neshaminy Creek The Shape Of Hops To Come - Pours a deep, dark orange color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Great nose, with lots of sweet citrus and dank pine hops. Taste hits hard with that dank, resinous pine character up front, lightened by some citrus in the middle, and a little booze in the bitter finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, boozy (definitely some belly warming going on as I drink), and a little sticky. The only thing really holding this back for me is that it's a little too boozy, but it still works really well. Overall, this is an excellent DIPA and a welcome addition to our local scene. A high A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV canned (16 ounces). Drank out of a tulip on 11.21.14.

Supposedly, an earlier batch clicked in at only 8.5% ABV, which sounds almost perfect to me at this point. A slightly less boozy version of this beer would be local royalty. As it is now, it's still pretty damn popular. Pick up a can now while you can. Totally worth it.

Tired WoodLaHands

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You might not know this, but half of the United States' mushrooms come from Pennsylvania, specifically around the area of Kennett Square and surrounding towns. It's more of a historical accident than anything else, starting with industrious Quakers who couldn't bear to waste the space under elevated beds in greenhouses (and also the prodigious horseshit-production of a major city like Philadelphia). It caught on, and now we've got this growing movement of foodies who grow mushrooms in their kitchens and small artisanal farms like Woodland Jewel Mushrooms who supply local eateries with exotic gourmet mushrooms.

Given Tired Hands predilection for collaborating with local farmers, it's no surprise that they've tapped Woodland Jewel to make an Oud Bruin conditioned on Donko Shiitake mushrooms (according to Wikipedia, these are particularly high grade mushrooms, though a citation is neeeded!). This originally appeared at a beer dinner a while back, but has thankfully been bottled up and snagged by the likes of me. I like that the label features a mushroom that looks like it's watching me. Downright cyclopean, if you ask me:

Tired Hands WoodLaHands

Tired Hands WoodLaHands - Pours a very pretty dark amber color (looks great when held up to light) with a finger of fizzy off white head that nevertheless manages to stick around a bit (though not long). Smells beautiful, tart fruit (cherries), Rodenbachy vinegar with an earthy kick and plenty of oak. The earthy notes really come to the fore up front in the taste, followed by oak and vanilla in the middle, rounding out with a vinous, acetic sour fruit character towards the finish. I'm not a wine guy, but tannins. That's a word, right? Mouthfeel is hefty enough to support the flavors, well carbonated, a little sharp acidity leading directly into a drying finish. Overall, another winner from Tired Hands. Perhaps not as perfectly integrated as some of their fruited sours, but we're talking about rarified air there and this is still great. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute one 11/7/14. Bottle release: 11/2/14.

One of these days, I'll have to post another recap of draft-only Tired Hands stuff. On the other hand, I probably have, like, 50 beers on that list at this point, and most of them will never see the light of day again, so perhaps I can just leave it at that.

We all know that Three Floyds has a reputation for their hoppy beers (rightfully so), and while I wasn't particularly taken with Dark Lord, they seem to strike a chord on that dark beer front as well. Sours, on the other hand, seem less like their thing. Of course, not having had any, that is just blind speculation based on scattered ramblings of strangers on the internets, which is totally reliable enough for the purposes of this post.

Named after a French knight and military commander who was famous for his use of the Fabian strategy (basically a war of attrition, rather than direct confrontation) during the Hundred Years' War. Supposedly quite the badass and not at all a cheese-eating surrender monkey. Though I do suspect he actually did partake in cheese on occasion. The beer brewed in his honor is an American Wild Ale aged in old wine barrels with blueberries added. The last blueberry sour I tried had a slight case of the Smoketômes, so let's hope this one works out a little better:

Chevalier Bertrand Du Guesclin

Three Floyds Chevalier Bertrand Du Guesclin - Pours a deep, dark amber with a sorta purple tint to it, and the finger or so of fluffy head has a similar reddish purple tint to it. It's actually quite pretty. Smells of tart fruit, blueberries, cherries, maybe even strawberry, a little oak and vanilla peeking through as well as some funk. The taste goes in for that tart fruit pretty hard, again with the blueberries and cherries, maybe some strawberry, a little oak and vanilla to set things off, and a puckering sourness throughout. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, slightly acidic, with a little stickiness in the finish. It never quite reaches fruit-by-the-foot levels of stickiness and the flavors never approach that sort of artificial sweetening, but it feels like a few missteps would have lead that way (this is a good thing). Overall, this is a pretty fabulous blueberry sour. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV? (it's hard to find any info on the ABV) bottled (750 ml blue wax). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/25/14. 2014 Vintage.

This is the best of the beers (so far) I got from my FFF beer mule earlier this year, but now my FFF supply is running dangerously low. Only one more left, a stout. Look for that review soon enough (though it'll probably be a little while).

Avery Pump[KY]n

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And the parade of high-ABV Avery "session" beers continues. What's that? 17.22% ABV isn't a session beer? Well, according to Adam Avery, it is: "I try to just limit myself to one per drinking session. So I'd call it a sessionable beer... your session just ends quicker." In fairness, it's only about 13-14% more than your typical session beer. Someone alert Ding.

I greatly enjoyed Rumpkin, Avery's rum barrel aged pumpkin beer, and what we have here is a bourbon barrel aged pumpkin porter. Oddly, I wound up having this both on tap and from the bottle on Friday night (a local drinkery had just tapped it before we arrived for happy hour), so I've got you covered. Or something like that.

Avery Pump[KY]n

Avery Pump[KY]n - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells full of pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, a little in the way of bourbon, oak, and vanilla as well. Taste is very rich and sugary, but not super sweet, lots of pumpkin pie spice comes through in the middle, with that bourbon, oak, and vanilla coming through more towards the finish, which is fairly boozy when you start drinking, and gets more boozy as you go along. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, full bodied, rich, and chewy. The spice comes through a little as well, as does the warming booze character. Overall, it's pretty damn great, easily the equal of Rumpkin, maybe better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 17.22% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 10/24/14. Batch No. 1. Bottled Sept 12 2014.

At this point, while I'm pretty much done with Pumpkin beers for the year, I'm on board with Avery's barrel aging program in general. It seems to be expanding, so I'm guessing we'll see more of their stuff around here too. Next up, if I can snag one: Uncle Jacob's Stout.

Hill Farmstead Florence

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Breweries like Hill Farmstead represent a problem for us here at Kaedrin, and this is actually a microcosm of a more general problem. We rate beers here and we've been doing so for 4 years now, and I've been noting, especially over the past year, the toll of rating inflation and deflation. Put simply, beers that blew me away 4 years ago, while still great, don't always compare as favorably to what I'm drinking now. Unfortunately, this means that every time I have a new Hill Farmstead beer I find myself reaching for hyperbole and the "A" level ratings in my admittedly flawed grading system.

There are probably numerous reasons for this, chief among them is that I'm the worst. Seriously, this is one of the reasons I started the blog. I knew nothing of beer, and writing about a subject has always been a good way to learn for me. Along the way, I started to develop an actual palate and became more comfortable with my subjective tastes. For instance, we all know of my ambivalence to coffee in beer (I won't shut up about it), and at this point, despite the fact that there are some coffee beers that I appreciate, I have admitted that there is a genuine issue of taste there. But when you're still a fledgling beer nerd, unique experiences and flavors are exciting. Straight up Belgian styles like Dubbels and Tripels were my gateway into good beer, and my fondness for them is reflected in early ratings, even as I drink less of them today. It took me a while to get into stouts and sours, but now they're a mainstay of my drinking cycle. And so on.

I fully admit that Blogging is an ultimately selfish pursuit, and this learning process is one of the many benefits I've reaped from the process. Ratings are ultimately an arbitrary exercise, they're subjective and don't always make wholistic sense, but I feel like they're useful to me, and even recognizing that rating inflation is going on feels important. Perhaps even something that applies outside of the other things I frequently rate, like books or movies. I won't claim a universal truth or anything quite so profound, but as I grow older and my tastes (literal and figurative) evolve, I see this sort of process happening elsewhere in my life.

Expertise is a funny thing. You don't become an expert by being perfect. For anything I'm good at, there was a time when I was terrible at it. I made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. Writing this now, it feels rather trite, but it's worth bearing in mind. Everyone is so impatient these days. With beer, you can't just work your way through the Beer Advocate Top 100 or whatever Best-Of list you've discovered, as that will give you a very distorted view of beer. True, you will probably drink some great beer, but if you don't have anything to compare it to, what is that really worth? There aren't any shortcuts. Indeed, my typical response to gaining a lot of experience is to continually feel like I know less about the subject as time goes on. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense from a relative perspective. When I first got serious about exploring beer, I had a few tactics and strategies and after a bit of time I thought I had a handle on this stuff, but then I kept finding new areas to delve into. My perspective of what beer was kept growing, such that my actual beer knowledge, while also growing, simply wasn't keeping up with what I knew was out there. This isn't just a beer thing, it's a knowledge thing.

So we return to Hill Farmstead, considered by many to be the best brewery in America, and yes, I seek it out as much as possible. But in the grand scheme of things, that translates to a few opportunities a year. Whatever bottles I obtain (i.e. not many), I squirrel away for semi-special occasions (trying not to be too precious about it, but that's a topic for another post). Of course, I generally consider those to be blog-worthy beers to review, so perhaps even this blog might give a newbie the wrong impression. I don't crack open massive face melters at every opportunity, but it's not really worth blogging about the hundredth local pale ale I've quaffed either. Newbie advice might be it's own topic and I've blathered on quite enough for now, so lets get to it: If Florence, a wheat saison, was more regularly available, I would be crushing it at every opportunity. Look at this stuff:

Hill Farmstead Florence

Hill Farmstead Florence - Pours a very pale, almost radiant straw yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and great retention. Absolutely gorgeous. Smells deeply of wheat and musky, slightly funky yeast, and hints of spice. Taste hits up front with wheat and some spicy yeast notes that very quickly transition into a tartness that further blooms in the middle, some vinous white wine and tart lemons, finishing with that wheat and both the spicy and tart notes. Mouthfeel is very light bodied, highly carbonated, crisp, refreshing, effervescent, and downright quaffable. This is straightforward and simple, in the best way possible. Overall, another winner from Hill Farmstead. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glass on 10/19/14.

So this probably marks the last HF beer I'll try this year (certainly the last of the Operation Cheddar II spoils), barring the outside chance of a trip to Vermont (which I think may happen later in the winter). As per usual, I will usually seek out more when I can. In the meantime, I'll just have to settle for the world class beer I get at Tired Hands. Poor me.

Belated BBQ Beer Club Recap

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Last week was Beer Club, and in a heinous act of negligence, I'm only getting to the recap now. I know, I'm the worst. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which part is not optional). This month we hit up a local BBQ joint, loaded up on smoked meats, and cracked open quite a few beers:

October Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. The usual disclaimers apply, and you'll want to amplify your skepticism even further due to the fact that I'm writing this about 5 days later than normal. Great, so now that we've established that the proceeding descriptions are completely devoid of merit, we can begin. In order of drinking, not necessarily the order in the picture, and in fact, there are several beers not pictured (and we didn't get to some of the ones that were):

  • Neshaminy Creek County Line IPA - I know "East Coast IPA" isn't a real thing, but I think it kinda describes stuff like this. A local IPA with plenty of hop character that's balanced out by plenty of crystal malts (much more than you get in typical West Coast IPAs). Its enjoyable, but it won't blow minds. The very definition of a B, though sometimes I want to bump that up to a B+, which I guess means it's not the very definition of a B, but give me a break, I'm not under oath here.
  • Anchorage Whiteout Wit Bier - Belgian Wit beer aged in Chardonnay barrels with Brettanomyces? Sign me up. Nice funk to it, with plenty of typical wheat beer character. Worth checking out. B+
  • Upstate I.P.W. - A friend brought a bunch of beers that he grabbed whilst in New York, and this India Pale Wheat ale was quite nice. One of those things I could see myself reaching for, were I a local. Great citrus/pine hop character, light wheat, crisp, and refreshing. B+
  • Ken's Homebrewed Pecan Brown - Wow, that pecan character really comes through on the nose and in the taste. A little lighter in color than your typical brown ale, but that pecan character really sets this apart, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • Sly Fox Incubus - A beer I've reviewed before (a looong time ago), but I'll just say that this bottle had a more distinct raisiny note than I remember. On the other hand, it is a bit high on the booze and stickiness factor, something I'm not huge on when it comes to Tripels. Still a solid B in my book.
  • The Beer Diviner Very! Brown Ale - Another New York beer, my friend apparently stumbled on it by asking his phone to point out breweries near his location. This one turned out to be a guy brewing out of his house on a farm or something like that. This particular beer was a pretty standard brown ale, nutty and toasty, if a bit stronger than normal. B
  • Cascade Apricot - One of my contributions, and a beer we've reviewed relatively recently, so I don't have much to add to that. A-
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - A beer I've had many times at this point, and as Black IPAs (or whatever you want to call them) go, it's probably the best regularly available option out there. Big citrus and pine hop component along with the typical roast of a stout, without letting either character overwhelm (or making you wish you had a straight IPA or stout). B+
  • Founders Dark Penance - This is a relatively recent addition to Founders lineup, and like everything Founders makes, it's a solid take on the style. However, having it in close proximity to Wookey Jack made me feel like this was lacking. It was fine, to be sure, and it'd probably be worth trying in a less chaotic environment. B
  • Two Roads Conntucky Lightnin' Bourbon Ale - Well, I didn't get a ton of Bourbon out of this, and it seemed a bit thin for what it proclaims on the label. Not really bad, or anything, but a bit of a disappointment. B-
  • Breckenridge Agave Wheat - Seemed pretty bland, though that sweet agave does come through in the taste. Probably should have opened this much earlier in the night, but here we are. C+
  • Pizza Boy Bean Dream - It's supposed to be a milk stout with vanilla beans, but I don't get a ton of vanilla. On the other hand, it is a pretty solid milk stout, smooth with a nice chocolatey roast character. I really need to get out to Pizza Boy one of these days... B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Bourbon Porter - This was a pretty solid take on the style, and the bourbon oak character comes through well enough, actually much better than that Conntucky Bourbon stuff from earlier. Go Ken!
  • Bonus Beer: Otter Creek Brewing / Lawson's Double Dose IPA - Whilst at beer club, someone found out that a local drinkery tapped some Lawson's Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, so after beer club, a small cadre of attendees made a slight detour. Now, both of the beers we had were actually collaborations that are more widely available than the typical entries from those breweries (HF sometimes sends kegs down here, but Lawson's never does), but I'm not complaining, because these were both great beers. This DIPA is fabulous. Huge hop character, citrus and pine and something almost zesty. Not quite Double Sunshine great, but definitely something I want more of. B+
  • Bonus Beer: Grassroots Convivial Suaréz - A sorta funky saison made with hibiscus, I really enjoyed this, though I didn't take any real detailed notes. Nice funky character, and the hibiscus actually does come through. B+
And another successful beer club, fun and smoked meat had by all. Already looking forward to our next meeting...

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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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