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Billy's Pale Ale

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This is the first in a series of what I'll call "Vermont Roulette", wherein I purchase some random Vermont beer that I've never heard of off the shelf and see what happens. In this case, it turns out that the beer is from Massachusetts, but I bought it in Vermont, and it appears to be a rather obscure beer. I didn't take a picture of it, but the bottle caps were clearly those Brewery's Best thingies that homebrewers use. I suspect this is a rather small operation. Only 2 reviews on BA, and this Howler Brewery doesn't even have a website. All the bottle sez is that it's a pale ale brewed with Nugget and Cascade hops, which, you know, sploosh. But then I opened this sucker and bam, Belgian yeast. Unexpected, but cromulent enough, I suppose:

Howler Billys Pale Ale

Howler Billy's Pale Ale - Pours a golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells... like Belgian yeast, lots of spicy, musty, estery yeast, maybe a hint of those advertised hops. That Belgian yeast follows into the taste, which has a nice spicy character, cloves and the like, and some citrus hop notes melding with the yeast character, some hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, medium bodied, and relatively dry. Overall, it's an unexpected but pretty straightforward Belgian pale ale with just a hint of a hoppy kick. Worth trying, but don't let that label fool you - this ain't no straight pale ale. B-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/18/14.

Not an entirely encouraging start to Vermont Roulette, but then, when your points of comparison are Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, and Lawson's Finest Liquids, there's a pretty tough bar to clear. Stay tuned for some more obscure Vermont brews...

Beer Clubbing

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer minded individuals at a local BYOB for libations and fun. Tonight we returned to a mainstay of our beer club experience, a local sushi place that we have all grown to love. Reasonable turnout, and some rather fantastic beers:

Beer Club for July 2014

For the sake of posterity, some basic thoughts on each below. Usual disclaimers apply, this is clearly not an isolation chamber environment, so please take this with the requisite grain (or boulder) of salt. In order of tasting (not necessarily in the order pictured):

  • Forest & Main Palomino - One of my contributions and a favorite of the night, this is just as good as it was when it was fresh, if not even better. A-
  • Ken's Homebrewed Pilsner - Nice typical pilsner hop nose, incredibly light and quaffable, this is the sort of thing that would be a perfect hot day drinking beer. This was Ken's first all-grain brew, and it turned out really well, even if it's not my favorite style. B
  • Anthony's Homebrewed ESB - Another homebrew (we seem to attract those types at beer club, I don't know why), this one has all the hallmarks of a good ESB, nice muted hop character, some solid biscuity malt, but also an almost brown sugar component that works really well. Another beer that would make for a great session, even if it might be slightly too much ABV... B+
  • Crown Valley Big Bison Ale - A fairly malty, well carbonated take on the dubbel style, though it's a bit more raisiny than expected, with maybe even a hint of diacetyl, which we never really appreciate here at Kaedrin. Not at all terrible, but a bit of a disappointment. B-
  • Anderson Valley Boont Barl Bourbon Barrel Amber Ale - Not as much bourbon barrel character as expected, and as such beers go, this is decidedly low cctane, but it actually drinks reasonably well. Decent balance, the bourbon is there, but it's very light. Not something I'd seek out, but it's a reasonably decent beer. B
  • Terrapin Pineapple Express - The bottle sez this is a smoked pineapple Helles, not something that seems like it would work out. In reality, it's not as bad as I feared, but it was cromulent enough. Very sweet, with only a light smoky character (it's not one of those beers where you'll wonder who put their cigar out in your beer!) I'm glad I tried it in this setting, as I don't know that I'd want to take down a full bottle of this. B-
  • Kaedrin Barleywine - I'm pretty sure I screwed up the carbonation factor of this beer. The flavor and aroma are there in spades, it just hasn't quite carbed up to the point where I thin it works well. And actually, this regular version is probably the best carbonated of them, which is not encouraging. The Bourbon one tastes a lot better, but it's also flatter... B-
  • Oskar Blues Old Chub Nitro - Much better than the standard Old Chub (which I always felt was too dry and too well carbonated to be a great Scotch ale), really smooth and creamy (typical of the nitro), malty, tasty stuff. B+
  • Green Flash Road Warrior Imperial Rye India Pale Ale - Tons of Moscaic hop character out of this, tropical fruits with that spicy rye character, this is a really solid beer worth checking out. B+
  • Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break - I've actually had this a few times before, and it's really nice, especially if you like coffee. As I'm pretty much ambivalent to coffee, I thought this was fine, if not the best evar, though it seemed to go over really well. This was another favorite of the night amongst the beer club peeps, but I'll go B+, but only because my coffee feelings are well documented (could easily be higher for most other folks).
  • Blue Point (Sour) Cherry Imperial Stout - I have to admit that I'm not the biggest sour stout fan out there, but this worked well enough, with that rich malt and sour twang, maybe even a hint of that cherry. A few of us tried blending this beer with the Imperial Biscotti Stout, just to see what would happen, but it didn't turn out particularly great. This beer by itself is better, but still around a B level beer for me.

So there you have it. August may be a weird month in terms of beer club, but I'm sure we'll work something out. In any case, stay tuned for some moar local awesomeness this week on Kaedrin.

De Cam Oude Lambiek

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In the swanky world of lambic, brewers like Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen seem to get the grand majority of attention, but fine folks over at De Cam put out some decent stuff as well. Alas, I think this particular beer fell victim to one of my pet peeves: carbonation. Namely, this has very little in the way of carbonation, and while it has that very promising 3 years in a barrel, the unblended nature means that it doesn't quite live up to the expectations set by the likes of Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen. Of course, both of those breweries have janky uncarbonated and unblended versions of their beer too, so perhaps I shouldn't be too judgmental here, but this was still a bit of a disappointment for me.

De Cam Oude Lambiek

De Cam Oude Lambiek - Pours a golden color with visible carbonation but minimal head. The smell has a very nice funk to it, earthy, sour, fruity, almost vinious aromas, maybe a bit of oak and vanilla too. Taste is surprisingly tame, fruity but not super sour, almost like a sort of white grapejuice. There is a hint of sourness and some other funky notes, like earth or barnyard stuff, especially in the finish. Mouthfeel is light but almost flat, very little in the way of carbonation (and you know how I am with carbonation (and if you don't - I like my beers, especially sours like this, to have ample carbonation)), not super acidic or sour. Overall, this has some nice elements but is still a big disappointment. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Cantillon lambic glass on 6/28/14.

So I'm assuming this is the equivalent of something like Doesjel or Bruocsella, so I can't quite hold this against De Cam, even if this does not make a particularly good first impression (especially considering the price), but I'd totally be willing to try the "regular" Oude Geuze De Cam, which seems like it plays in the same territory as the big boys... but then, I need to actually find a bottle of that stuff, which may be difficult...

Like any good craft brewery, the fine folks at Tired Hands like to collaborate. These often show up at the brewpub (and presumably at the collaborator's brewery), but a couple of recent instances involved Jean traveling to Europe and working with various kindred spirits to produce some stuff that would be bottled and then imported. I've totally been slacking on these, so I figured it was time to catch up with them.

Crushable Saison

Brasserie de la Senne and Tired Hands Crushable Saison - This was basically a hoppy saison. Pours a cloudy but bright straw yellow color (very typical of Tired Hands) with huge amounts of fluffy, bubbly head that sticks around for a while and leaves lots of lacing (perhaps not as common for Tired Hands - they tend to be lighter in carbonation than this appears). Smells of grassy citrus hops (I get some standard Euro hop feel here, but also some straightforward American hops, like Cascade or Simcoe or something like that), some light peppery yeast, clove, and a little fruity kick too. The taste features a similar quality, lots of Belgian yeast character, very light spicy notes (pepper and clove), hints of fruity esters, and some grassy citrus hops (maybe a bit of hop bitterness in the finish). Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, very light body on this, and it is super dry. Given the name, I think they've achieved their goal though: it's super quaffable and yes, emminently crushable. Overall, this is a nice, delicate, quaffable saison. It's not going to light the world on fire, but I could drink a couple gallons of this stuff, which, seems to be what they were going for. It's not a glamorous face melter, but it's the sort of thing you could probably expect to be pouring at the brewpub on most visits. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a flute on 6/20/14. Bottled 10/10/13. Best By 10/10/14

Lost and Found

De Molen and Tired Hands Lost & Found - Check out these pics of Jean and Menno grooving at the De Molen brewery. This is a hoppy black ale fermented with 100% Brett. I can't tell if oak was involved, but I didn't really get much oak out of the taste. Pours a turbid brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells of Brett funk, a little fruity, citrus and pine hops (maybe a little faded, yielding more piney notes), with some dark malt presence and a hint of tartness. The taste has more of that tart fruitiness, and that dark malt character comes on much stronger. Some earthy funk too. The hops seem a little lost in the taste, or at least not as harmonious as in the nose. Mouthfeel is really strange, grainy, a little astringency from that tartness, medium carbonation, medium body. Overall, there's some nice elements here, but the balance is a little off, and the disparate elements don't really come together as well as I'd hoped. It's not unpleasant or anything, but it was a little disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/20/14. Bottled 27 Nov 2013 (I think that's the bottling date).

Both are imported by Shelton Brothers, so they should be out and about. Of the two, I'd recommend Crushable Saison much more, as it's more representative of their style... and cheaper too! That being said, if you are ever in the Philly area, it's worth making the detour out to Ardmore to visit the brewpub (but given my general enthusiasm for Tired Hands on this here blog, I probably don't need to tell you that).

Hair of the Dog Fred

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There's an old saying in the wine world: "There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine." Once a wine is put into a bottle, there are any number of things that could influence the taste when the bottle is opened. How old is the bottle? Where was it stored? What was the temperature? Did you have it shipped during the summer? What kind of light exposure is there? Even if you assume all that was fine, there are also cases of cork taint and other such unlikely occurrences. There's natural variation in bottles, and no one even pretends that different vintages are supposed to produce the same result. There's a million things that could lead to a bottle being great or a total bust, and that's before you start talking about subjective matters of taste and context.

If this sounds a little naive, that's because I don't know that much about wine. But I do know beer, and I know that the same thing applies here (as well as with other tipples, like whiskey). Many of the same caveats apply, some even moreso than in wine (for instance, because of compounds in hops, beer tends to be more susceptible to light than wine). Bottle conditioned beers can change significantly over time. Funky beers with Brettanomyces and other critters are wildly unpredictable (we could get into the whole consistency debate, but I'll have to save that for my next Fantôme review...) Highly hopped beers can taste differently from week to week, even if they're stored properly. Read about hops, and you can see that crops change significantly from year to year (and I'm not just talking about yield here, things like Alpha Acids and oils that drive aroma can vary from year to year).

This sort of pedantry can manifest in annoying, stupid ways, such as the continual insistence that this year's batch of Pliny the Younger/Hopslam/Black Tuesday/whatever is not as good as last year. They often aren't identical, to be sure, but such utterances seem driven more by hype or rarity or ego than anything more reliable. Likewise, I often see some folks who finally land that white whale beer, only to find that they don't care that much for it and wonder Did I get a bad bottle? Because surely a bunch of strangers on the internet couldn't be wrong, right?

But every once in a while, you will run across a genuine bad bottle. A "sick" bottle of Fantôme, an old IPA that was sitting in sunlight, or maybe a beer that has some off flavors (metallic or tinny beer, soy sauce stouts, overwhelming diacetyl, etc...) Some of this may be poor QA on the brewery's part, others might be a problem with shipping or storage. It's tempting to hold a grudge against a brewery or a particular beer if you've had one bad experience with them, and it doesn't help that we are so awash in great beer from all over right now because why try a beer you didn't like before again when you can just grab something new?

All of which is to say that I had an issue with this Hair of the Dog beer. I was wary from the moment I opened the beer to a practically nonexistent puff of carbon dioxide. When the pour produced absolutely no head whatsoever, I knew I was going to have a problem. I'm perhaps more sensitive to carbonation issues than most folks, and to be honest, I've been wrong about low carb levels before. However, in looking at other reviews of this, it seems that most reviews mention "ample" or "above average" carbonation levels. I got what I felt was a flat beer. So... bad bottle?

Hair of the Dog Fred

Hair of the Dog Fred - Pours a pale orange, light brown color with no head whatsoever. Almost no pop when I opened it either, which does not strike me as a good sign. Smells very interesting though, sweet, boozy, biscuity malt, maybe rye, some fruity hops, almost like a pastry with booze. Taste has a sticky sweetness to it, lots of hop character built on top of a biscuity, bready malt and well integrated. Alas, the Achilles heel is the carbonation, which is practically nonexistent... It feels medium to full bodied, a little syrupy and sticky, definitely boozy but not overwhelmingly so. If it were even a little carbonated, this would be a much better beer. Oddly, from looking around, it seems that this does normally have a medium to high carbonation factor, so I don't know what's up with this bottle! Aside from the carbonation, it's obviously a well crafted, interesting beer, and I can drink it, but this is ultimately disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 6/13/14. Batch 93.

Looking at the reviews a little more carefully, it seems like there is some variation between the batches. A couple of other people have gotten practically "still" bottles like mine, but most seem to indicate a higher degree of carbonation. So not a great first impression, but I'll have to give Hair of the Dog another chance someday...

June Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we returned to an Indian/Thai restaurant and despite a medium turnout, had much in the way of fun.

June Beer Club Lineup

For the sake of posterity, I'm documenting my nearly incoherent thoughts on each beer below, which is my way of saying that you should not trust any of these ratings because as we've established recently, I'm the worst. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order pictured above):

  • Red Star Zingerbuch Kombucha - So the first beer of the night... was not beer! This is some sort of bizarre fermented tea concoction with ginger and hibiscus. It was very aromatic, flowery, and ginger aley. It was not exactly my bag, but this is the perfect setting for weird crap like this. No rating because I don't even really know what this is.
  • Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale - Basically a palate cleanser, and a beer I've already covered before. B+
  • Founders All Day IPA - So the new trend is to call pale ales a "session IPA" or something like that? Ok, whatever, this is a pretty solid example, and I could probably drink a bunch of these with no complaints. Nice hop presence, but light and quaffable. B+
  • Surly Furious - Ah, now this is an IPA! Surly does not distribute to PA... except during Philly Beer Week. One of our attendees tonight was fortunate enough to attend a Surly event and snag a few cans, and generous enough to share with the rest of us. I've heard so many great things about Surly that I was afraid they wouldn't live up to the hype, but this is indeed a really fantastic IPA. Citrus and lots of pine and resinous hops, but exceedingly well balanced stuff, lots of hops and enough crystal malts that it didn't feel super bitter despite being 99 IBU. Probably the best beer of the night. I'll leave it at A- territory for now, but I definitely want to get some more of this (it could warrant an upgrade).
  • Kaedrôme Saison - Dammit, this still has not carbonated as much as I'd like, but it is still a tasty beer, light on the funk, but still a nice peppery saison flavor. I'm guessing that if it hasn't carbonated much by now, it's not going to get much better... which is fine, since I probably only have 6-12 bottles of the stuff left. B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Chile Beer - Made with chile peppers and smoked malt, this sucker was spicy but flavorful. Not really my thing, but it's an interesting beer, and certainly not the abomination that Cave Creek Chili Beer was...
  • Lost Abbey Carnevale - A Brett does saison? Sign me up, this was one of my favorites of the night. Nice fruity, earthy funk pervading the whole thing, a pleasure to drink. It's no Logsdon or anything, but it's really nice. A high B+
  • Southern Tier Compass - Perhaps it was just because we opened it towards the end of the night, but this felt exceedingly bland to me, with the only real dominant note being the flowery aromas and flavors. Not really my thing. C
  • Brooklyn Wild Streak - A belgian strong pale aged in Bourbon barrels with Brett? Well ok then. The Brett has a minimal, but still detectable presence. But the taste is more dominated by that pale ale aged in bourbon barrel character that never really works as well for me as it does for stouts or barleywines. It's fine for what it is, but it's not really my thing. B-
  • Kaedrin Bomb & Grapnel (Blend) - The imperial stout is doing quite well. This blend has faint hints of the bourbon and oak, but nothing like a BBA stout. That being said, it's delicious and only getting better over time. I'll still leave it at a B+
And that is all for now. We will probably return to regular blogging next week, so stay tuned.

So there's this hoary old tale about the origins of the IPA style being that beers couldn't survive the trip to India without being highly hopped. There appears to be a nugget of truth to this, though there are lots of details that trip up all but the most wonky of history nerds. I'm not such a nerd, so don't break my legs, but the general idea is that a beer will require extra hops if it is being exported to warmer climates.

These days, with our fancy refrigeration devices, it doesn't really matter anymore, but that doesn't stop folks from doing wacky experiments like this one, where Cigar City gets their friends in Puerto Rico to brew up some IPA, then send it on a boat back to Florida in order to be canned. During the trip, this IPA is dry hopped with a single hop variety. Each batch uses a different variety, ranging from the heaven-sent Citra (I never got to try this one, but it has great ratings) to experimental hops (which I didn't particularly love, but it was fine). What we have here is Calypso, a relatively new American hop that's supposed to have some stone fruit character but also an earthy, tea-like note. We'll see about that:

Cigar City Hopped on the High Seas - Calypso

Cigar City Hopped on the High Seas (Calypso) - Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a solid finger of fluffy white head. Smells of citrus and earthy hops, pretty straightforward. Taste has a decent malt backbone, but the hops do not come through as much in the flavor, excepting the bitterness which does hit pretty strong towards the finish. Mouthfeel is low to medium bodied, well carbonated, relatively dry. Overall, a fairly pedestrian IPA... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/9/14.

So I've had two different varieties of this beer, and I didn't really enjoy either of them. I suppose I may grab a Citra if they make that again, but if I'm really in the mood for a Cigar City IPA, it's hard to beat Jai Alai (and its variants).

April Beer Clubbing

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we went to a local Pizza place, got our fill of deep fried pizza pockets and other such delights, and naturally partook in lots of beer:

April Beer Club Selections
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, completely unreliable notes on each beer are below. Standard disclaimers apply, and other such waffling. Great, now I have a sudden craving for waffles. Thanks a lot. Anywho, in order of drinking (not necessarily the order pictured above):

  • Green Flash Le Freak - Labeled a Belgian IPA, I didn't get much in the way of hops out of this, but it remained a pretty solid Belgian Strong Pale nonetheless. Nice spicy Belgian yeast character. B
  • Ovila Abbey Saison - Bog standard saison material, nothing special at all, though certainly not bad or anything like that. Still, there wasn't much to make it really stand out in a setting like this. Mild Belgian yeast character, maybe a hint of lemon peel if you are really looking for it. B-
  • Stone Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA - Rock solid IPA that feels like it's actually made with grapefruit (as opposed to only hops that lend a grapefruity character). I don't actually know if that's the case for sure, but that's what it feels like. Beautiful nose, what seems like Stone's trademark hop profile, and a heaping helping of citrusy but astringent grapefruit. An interesting beer. B
  • Evil Twin / Crooked Stave Ryan And The Gosling - One of my contributions for the night, this is dominated by funky Brett. This is quite welcome in the nose, and the front end of the taste is fantastic, but the finish is very odd. That funk turns super earthy, almost savory in the finish, which brings this down a bit. Still an interesting beer to try though. B
  • Allagash Midnight Brett - Hey, look at that, a beer I just reviewed yesterday. And it held up rather well in this setting as well.
  • Ken's Homebrewed Honey IPA - Brewed with a bunch of New Zealand hops, this was quite nice.
  • Sly Fox Nihilist - An interesting take on the imperial stout style, huge carbonation, dryer than I'd normally expect, but a nice roast character, with hints of booze (but not overpowering). It's definitely a decent brew. B+
  • Kaedrin Bomb & Grapnel - Straight up imperial stout, this one compared very favorably to the Nihilist, definitely thicker and more creamy, less roast, but really quite nice. B+
  • Kaedrin Bomb & Grapnel (Bourbon Oaked) - Interestingly, I feel like the char that came through on early bottles has mellowed out, and the bourbon seems to be lessening the roast as well, making this an interesting blend of flavors. It's turned out quite well, though not at all like your typical bourbon barrel aged stout. Still, not bad for a first attempt, and quite nice on its own. B+
  • DuClaw Dirty Little Freak - Holy hell. Huge chocolate nose, like powdered cocoa. Less chocolate in the taste, as it takes a back seat to a big coconut character. Surprisingly not super sweet, and it works well enough I guess (certainly a unique beer), though I was a little disappointed. B-
  • DuClaw Cocoa Fuego - Brewed with dark chocolate and chipotle peppers, its the latter that seems to dominate this beer, even contributing a sorta smokey flavor that's pretty tough to overcome. There's some peppery heat that takes up residence in your jaw, but it's not punishing or anything like that. Not the worst hot pepper beer I've had, but not a beer that I connected with either. C+
  • DuClaw Hell on Wood - Ah, now this is more like it. This is DuClaw's excellent Devil's Milk barleywine aged on bourbon barrels, and it turned out reasonably well. Clearly not a top tier BBA barleywine, but it works really well on its own. B+
So all in all, quite a nice night. As per usual, already looking forward to next month... In the meantime, stay tuned for another .rar wale review tomorrow.

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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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