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I've been lucky enough to have sampled some barrel aged Cycle Brewing beers that friends have generously shared with me. I recently managed to acquire a few for myself and noticed something curious on the label: "Drink Fresh! DO NOT AGE." This is the sort of thing I'm used to seeing on an IPA (and it certainly makes a big difference on those beers), but not so much on an 11%+ barrel-aged stout... I figured that enquiring minds would want to know, so I drank some beer and fired off an email to Cycle to see why they were so insistent on this. Their response was interesting and detailed, so let's take a look:

I can go long on this but the short answer is: beer doesn't get better with age generally speaking. There are exceptions, active cultures being the most obvious, and some stouts and other big beers do ok, but how many barrel aged stouts can you honestly say got better?
I pretty much agree! While I have experimented with aging beer, my repeated observation is that while it's always a different beer than it was fresh, it's rarely a better beer.

And on top of that, we do tons of adjuncts, so from that small set of beers that got better, how many had adjuncts? Not many in my experience, the most common discussion is whether or not it held up which is basically hoping it's as good as it once was. We don't find cellaring beer to be worthwhile, most of the time it's not as good, almost as good seems like a win. The tone most often struck in tastings of old beer is "it help up pretty well" and frankly we think our beer should be consumed rather than aged. We make a lot, more now than ever, drink what we packaged and more great beer is just around the corner.

Adjuncts and flavorings are definitely something that does not hold up well with age. I can only think of one example that held up amazingly well to the point of being potentially better than fresh (Bourbon County Vanilla Rye), but who knows if that's repeatable. The observation that most discussion around aged beer centers on whether or not it's "held up" is a good one and it's funny that so many people talk about aging beer when the frame of reference is already pessimistic...

Ultimately it's a subjective decision, I respect that and am not here to argue whether you like it better or not but in our opinion our barrel aged beers don't improve with time. We did learn that non-barrel aged high gravity beers can benefit from them and we think the key component is yeast in suspension, with such a high density from the sugar the yeast is actually buoyant enough to stay floating around for a long time, months possibly, and it doesn't taste better with yeast, we are actually wondering if half the improvement we see in the beer through barrel aging is just giving it enough time for all yeast and sediment to fully settle out. That remains speculation and just something new to ponder, post barrel aging though it's time to drink or hope "it held up pretty well" someday.

It's funny, but the most successful aging experiments I've had involve things like Lambic (i.e. bottle conditioned beer with active cultures, etc...) or non-barrel-aged behemoths like World Wide Stout or Samichlaus. We could probably quibble over the degree to which the barrel contributes its own character (I think it's probably more than half), but it's a fascinating observation that some of the benefit of barrel aging doesn't come from the barrel itself, but rather allowing the time for yeast and sediment to settle out (and perhaps other age-related processes). As they say, this remains speculation, but it makes logical sense.

Ultimately, my feelings on aging beer remain the same. It can be fun, but it rarely improves the beer, and barrel-aged beer tends to be just right when "fresh". Usually, if anyone asks me about aging beer, my response is always that you should drink it fresh first. If you can get your hands on another bottle, feel free to age it, but it probably won't get better over time (though it can still be interesting and a lot of fun). The lone exception in my book tends to be Lambic, but that's a sorta unique situation. All of this is academic, of course, since the three barrel-aged Cycle beers that I managed to get my grubby fingers on were all gone within a week or two of acquiring.

In the grand Kaedrin tradition of speculating on goofy or obviously wrong influences for beer names, I'm guessing Cycle named this beer after MS-DOS 3.0, an extremely rare release due to Microsoft's battles with IBM (3.1+ were much more common). Or, possibly DOS is just an acronym for Double Oatmeal Stout. This particular iteration was aged in whiskey barrels for a full year.

C:\windows\chkdsk /f

Windows has scanned the beer system and found no problems.

This beer is pretty damn great. 0 KB in bad sectors.

Cycle Rare DOS 1

Cycle Rare DOS 1 - Pours an inky black color with just the barest cap of light brown head. Smells great, rich caramel, fudge, and a strong bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste hits that rich caramel up front, sweet but some of the underlying roast character emerges here too, chocolate, char, toast, and of course, lots of that bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, thick and viscous, moderate carbonation, and a really well integrated booze profile. Overall, yup, pretty spectacular stuff, and you know how much I like the unadorned BA stout. Just barrels and stout, and it's great. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/15/19. Vintage: 2019.

I also shared the Barrel Aged Hazelnut Imperal Stout with some friends, which was phenomenal (even given my general antipathy toward coffee and hazelnut). The Bourbon Barrel-Aged Baltic Porter was a little less successful (relative to the others), but quite nice. It's a bit pricey to get these beers sent up to PA, but it feels worth the stretch, and you will most certainly be seeing more Cycle on this blog in the future...

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star

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I think I've nailed down the inspiration behind this beer. You see, the crew brought this beach-ball-shaped alien aboard because Sgt. Pinback thought the ship could use a mascot, but then it escaped and messed up the comms equipment, inadvertently triggering one of the thermostellar nuclear bombs. During the countdown, they tried to teach the bomb's AI a little phenomenology in an attempt to abort.

What the hell am I talking about? This is the plot to John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's 1974 debut Dark Star (a clear truckers-in-space precursor to Alien, also written by O'Bannon). I'm positive that this relatively obscure movie is the inspiration for this beer. I mean, sure, it could possibly be the far more popular and famous Grateful Dead song, but we prefer to attribute brewers' chosen names with more goofy or possibly sinister influences.

This is why you should keep reading Kaedrin: Come for the beer, stay for the cutting edge cultural references and unsubstantiated insinuations about breweries.

So, um, anywho, this is a blend of imperial oatmeal stouts that were aged in bourbon barrels. Early releases of this beer were called Kentucky Dark Star, but my guess is that they dropped the "Kentucky" due to some sort of legal snafu (the label still sports the KDS logo). Those releases were aged in older barrels (I've seen references to 15 and 12 year old barrels). The 2018 release was aged in 7-12 year old bourbon barrels, but to make up for that the blend consists of beer that's been aged in those barrels for 24, 18, 12, and 8 months. Proportions are unknown, of course, but the use of longer-aged beer probably makes up for the differences in barrels. Or whatever, this could very well be false data. Let's see what Bomb #20 thinks:

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of light brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smell retains some roasted malt character, but there's still a big dollop of chocolate, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is awesome, caramel and chocolate, a hint of the base roast malt, with a well balanced kick of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, finishing with a well rounded roasty note. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbed, full bodied, rich, and pleasantly boozy. Overall, yup, it's great. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, black wax). Drank out of a snifter on 1/18/19. Vintage: 2018.

Another big winner for Fremont, and we'll definitely be seeing some variants of this beer and the most excellent B-Bomb in the near-ish future. If, that is, we're not all blown up by that pesky thermostellar nuclear bomb.

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

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Picture, if you will, a beer. Four simple ingredients, added to which a fifth: the barrel. In this case, a blend of barleywine aged in bourbon and brandy barrels. An enticing elixir To Serve Man. You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of bwizzle. Next stop, Bottle Logic.

Rod Serling, I am not, but this beer, clearly inspired by The Twilight Zone, is truly One for the Angels. Let's crack the sweet malt cipher:

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind - Pours a cloudy, dark brown color with half a finger of tightly bubbled head that doesn't stick around long. Smells great, brown sugar, caramel, toffee, molasses, fruity malt, and the requisite bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is amazing, tons of rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses, dark candied fruits, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, finely carbed, with a pleasant boozy heat. Intense, but complex and very well balanced. Overall, a spectacular, dimension spanning beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/18.

Yes, I drank this over two months ago and am only getting to it now that I have Time Enough at Last. Alright, enough with the Twilight Zone puns. This is a great beer and fully deserving of the hype around Bottle Logic, which is all in the Eye of the Beholder. Sorry, couldn't resist. Incidentally, I just realized that Serling never said "Picture, if you will" in the Twilight Zone, but rather, his other show, Night Gallery. Drats. Truly, we have entered a land of both shadow and substance.

A Night To End All Dawns

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Am I alone in just wanting a straight bourbon barrel aged stout? Lately, I feel like there's always adjuncts or additions of stuff like lactose, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, maple syrup, toasted coconut, chile peppers, cacao nibs, hazelnut, pecans, and ever more bizarre ingredients "foraged" in obscure ways. I'm pretty sure you could just bottle actual brownie batter and call it a beer, and you'll get people lining up five hours before opening. Don't get me wrong, I'm a total novelty whore and love a good pastry stout as much as the next guy, but sometimes you want to just get back to basics. Ultimately, that's what I really love, and when something only comes in, for example, a coffee treatment, I'm always stuck wondering how much I'd love a version that doesn't have that coffee. Blasphemy to some, I'm sure.

We all know that Kane has a pretty great barrel program, and their big flagship in that arena is their series of A Night To End All Dawns (henceforth ANTEAD) beers. In the past, they've made variants with coffee, vanilla, cacao nibs, coconut, and differing barrels (probably amongst others), but for whatever reason, this year there were only two: regular ol' Bourbon Barrel Aged and a Rye Barrel Aged. Speculation was that the yields were low this year, so there wasn't enough to go around for the variants. Fortunately for me, I managed to snag a couple bottles of the regular BBA ANTEAD (the other set with the rye barrel variant sold out in about 10 seconds during the online sale), and truth be told, I'm not all that broken up about not getting any variants (though I did have a taste of Vanilla ANTEAD once that was pretty darned great).

The description is pretty simple: it's a big imperial stout that spent about a year in bourbon barrels. I keep thinking the name must be an allusion to something, but as near as I can tell, it's just a nice, evocative name for a stout. Certainly it's not a reference to Kane's advocacy on behalf of the antichrist, who promises an eternity of darkness and thus a significant lack of dawns. A Night to End All Dawns soon approaches, and Kane will wreak doom upon the earth (they are located in New Jersey, after all*). Or maybe they're just making really good beer:

Kane A Night To End All Dawns

Kane A Night To End All Dawns - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of short-lived light brown head. Smells retains hints of underlying roast, with lots of caramel, chocolate, marshmallow, vanilla, oak and bourbon. Taste is sweet, rich caramel up front, some of that underlying roasted malt, chocolate, followed by the bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe that marshmallow, finishing with a boozy bite. Mouthfeel is perfect, rich, full bodied, and chewy, carbonation is just right, with plenty of boozy heat. Some might say it's too "hot", but I rather enjoyed that aspect of it. Overall, yup, it's a fantastic beer with depth and complexity, even (or maybe especially) without the adjuncts and crazy ingredients. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.4% ABV bottled (750 ml black waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/18. Vintage: 2017 (released in 2018).

Yep, I really need to continue hunting down Kane's barrel aged wares, as they've been uniformly great so far. Or, you know, one of you local Philly area brewers could build up an equally effective barrel program (beyond sours and, believe it or not, coffee stouts). Or I could just drink Parabola all the time. Not the worst option in the world.

* I kid! I kid because I love.

Finback Social Fabric

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Yet another member of NYC's beer renaissance is Finback brewing. Located in Queens, it's not just a borough where you can sow your royal oats or discover a worthy bride anymore. Between Finback and their neighbors at SingleCut as well as brethren in Brooklyn like Other Half and Interboro, things are looking up in the NYC beer scene. This particular beer is a double dry-hopped DIPA made with Mosaic and 007 (the hop formerly known as Idaho 7, which if this beer is any indication, is a wonderful match with Mosaic). The Social Fabric may be fraying, but beers like this might help knit things back together. Yeah, fat chance, but let's give it a shot, eh?

Finback Social Fabric

Finback Social Fabric - Pours a cloudy yellow color with a solid finger of head that sticks around for a bit, leaving a bit of lacing. Smells fantastic, sweet, bright, tropical fruit, mangoes, oranges, and a wallop of pineapple. Taste starts off sweet, hits that bright tropical fruit note, juicy citrus, mangoes, and pineapples, finishes with just enough balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, light, and crisp, well carbonated, drinks like a lower ABV beer. Overall, this is fantastic. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/24/18. (No canning date, but I'm guessing this was within 2 or so weeks of canning.)

Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Dana for slinging this can my way. I will most definitely need to be checking out moar Finback in the future. In the meantime, IPA season continues next week, but we'll start to see some other styles float in too....

Kane Object Permanence

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Object Permanence is the idea that objects continue to exist even when you are no longer observing them. Unfortunately, beer does cease to exists if you insist on drinking it. Doubly unfortunate when the beer is as good as this one.

Kane was one of the brewers that made this Pennsylvanian take notice of New Jersey, which sez a lot, and I've been particularly impressed with their barrel program. A Night to End All Dawns and its associated variants are spectacular, but alas, I keep losing the lottery and have to make due with the generosity of friends at shares to get a taste of the stuff. I've had a few tastes of other Barrel Aged goodies from them, which have been uniformly great. Fortunately, I did manage to procure this bit of life, an English Barleywine with a complicated malt bill aged in bourbon barrels for over a year. The beer is gone, but the idea continues to exist even though I can no longer drink it. Or something like that. What is this, a psychology blog? No, it's a beer blog, so read my dumb tasting notes:

Kane Object Permanence

Kane Object Permanence - Pours a murky brown color with a cap of off-white head. Smells fantastic, rich toffee, caramel, a hint of dark fruit, and a great bourbon, oak, and vanilla character. Taste follows the nose, rich toffee, caramel, dark fruit, and a boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla character. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, almost creamy, moderate carbonation provides just enough levity, some boozy heat but nothing unwieldy. Overall, this is fantastic, one of the better examples of life that I've had. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (750 ml waxed). Drank out of a snifter on 4/20/18. Vintage: 2016 (batch 1?)

I've recently come into a couple of more Kane bottles. One is last year's vintage of Object Permanence (huzzah), and the other is a BBA anniversary beer from them. Stay tuned. I may not wait two months to write that one up (assuming I drink it soon). Fingers crossed for this year's ANTEAD lottery too.

Lambic in general, and Gueuze in particular, have slowly but steadily taken up more of my allotted drinking cycles. Channeling my inner-wonk, nothing beats the harmony, complexity, and balance involved in the traditional three vintage blend of spontaneously fermented beer that marks Gueuze. I suppose this sounds like marketing fluff or just plain wanking, but who cares, Gueuze is probably awesomer than you are. I mean, not you, the other readers. Wink wink, nudge nudge. As producers go, the conventional wisdom is that Cantillon is well known for their fruited lambics, but Drie Fonteinen is most famous for their Gueuze blends (not to belittle their other offerings, nor other lambic producers, who all have their strengths, and what the hell, conventional wisdom can go pound sand, but I digress - the point is that Drie is great at blending.)

After Drie Fonteinen recovered from their "Thermostat Incident", they actually managed to rev up a new production facility, and a few years later, the first vintages of their Gueuze were ready for blending. Of course, their OG standard is wonderful, but since they were finally self-sufficient again, Armand Debelder decided to blend up a special batch in honor of his father, Gaston. This beer consists only of lambic brewed by 3 Fonteinen, and this post will actually cover two batches. One, with the old label, was one of the earlier 2015 batches, and I shared that with a bunch of friends recently (so didn't take detailed notes, but I'll give some background on why I was sharing such a bottle and whatever thoughts I can muster below). The other is a newer 2017 release, and has the new, swanky silkscreen label with stickers, which I was able to write tasting notes for. Because you all love those, right? Right. The label sez that this is "blended from lambics aged and matured on 4 different barrels, originating from wort of 7 different brews. The old lambic was brewed with slightly darker malts and was destined for another Straffe Winter (but we actually forgot about it...)" (Straffe Winter is a Faro that they have still only released once, in case you were wondering.) Ok, enough wanking, let's get to it.

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand and Gaston

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston (2017) - Pours a dark golden orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy, bubbly head. Smells fantastic, deep, earthy funk, oak, plenty of fruity esters. Taste hits the fruity ester notes more than the nose, but that earthy funk provides some good complexity in the background and the oak leavens things well. A well balanced sourness emerges in the middle and lasts through the finish. It's delicious. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, medium bodied, with a moderate and well balanced acidity. Overall, this is one spectacular, well balanced, complex geuze. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.3% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/9/18. Bottling Date: 01/25/17. Best Before: 10/26/37. Blend n° 17 - Season 16-17.

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand and Gaston 2015

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston (2015) - I hate the sport of basketball. However, I do make one exception, and that is Villanova basketball, which I have watched with some regularity since I graced that fine university, jeeze, over twenty years ago? Anyway, two years ago, Villanova won the NCAA championship and my friend and fellow VU alum Rich brought a BCBS Vanilla Rye to a share the night after we won. It was a spectacular beer; age had treated it very well and I'd go so far as to say it's one of the few beers I've had where age has actually improved the beer. Anyway, a few weeks ago, Villanova won their second NCAA championship in 3 years (and third overall), and Rich and I immediately started putting together a share where we'd dig out something great from our cellars. He brought a spectacular bottle of ADWTD, and I brought this beauty: the first vintage of Armand and Gaston. This consists of some of the first lambic brewed on their new system in 2013, and according to the bottle logs, it's the second 750 ml bottling (both in October of 2015), and there were approximately 3,800 bottles in this batch (there was an additional 375 ml bottling and a thusfar unreleased 1.5 l bottling that is aging in the 3F cellars).

Opening the bottle resulted in some mild gushing (cork basically popped out on its own), but fortunately, not too much of our precious juice was lost. And yes, my impression was that this was somehow even better than the 2017 vintage I just praised to high heaven above. Super funky, but it didn't quite veer into extra-pungent blue-cheese territory that is fascinating for sure, but not quite as nice as this. Earthy, fruity, tart but not overly acidic, highly carbed and effervescent, great balance,depth, and complexity, I could have easily rocked the entire bottle by myself, but I was glad I shared it with some friends who could appreciate its charms. Again, I didn't really take any notes, but it was great. I'll give it an A too, and this is definitely the sort of thing to seek out.

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/12/18. Bottling Date: 2015, October 20. Best Before: 2035, October 26th.

I love the Best Before date on the bottle. Not just 20 years, but 20 years and 6 days. A minute longer and it'll spoil. Anywho, both vintages were phenomenal. Seek this out. It may be pricey, but it's worth a stretch. But my priorities are way out of whack, so you do you.

Fremont B-Bomb

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Fremont, Washington is in Seattle and basically seems like a hipster wonderland. I mean, you see it described as "bohemian" and "quirky", which basically translates to hipster. Fortunately, breweries seem to thrive in such environments, and Fremont Brewing fits the bill. They opened in 2009 and their barrel-aging program has made enough waves that those of us on the right coast have long craved a taste of their wares.

Enter B-Bomb, a barrel aged version of their imperial winter ale. This year's vintage of B-Bomb is aged in 12-year-old American Oak bourbon barrels and is a blend of beer aged for 9, 12, and 24-months. Despite the "winter" moniker, this isn't really winter warmer territory; no mulling spices as near as I can tell, just a big, strong, dark ale. Aged in barrels for a long time and blended. Basically, right in my wheelhouse. There are some variants involving stuff like coffee, cinnamon, or coconut, but I suspect that I would love the plain old B-Bomb the best, so let's take a gander:

Fremont B-Bomb

Fremont B-Bomb (Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Winter Ale) - The beer formerly known as Bourbon Abominable. Pours a very dark brown color with a half finger of tan head that manages to stick around longer than usual for this sort of thing. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe something fruity lurking in the background. Taste follows the nose, tons of rich caramel and toffee, with a healthy dose of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a hint of roasted malt, a bit of fruit, finishing boozy. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of heat and booze, appropriately moderate carbonation, well proportioned for such a monster. Overall, this is outstanding. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, waxed). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/12/18. Vintage: 2017.

I had a taste of this at a share a while back and it was glorious, so I've been on the lookout for more of their wares. Obviously, I want to try moar. Wink wink, nudge nudge (he sez, as if anyone is reading this).

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

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