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Bourbon County Brand Fun

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Every year, beer nerds bemoan the influence of big beer and in particular the never-ending succession of breweries that sell out to the great satan, AB Inbev. And every year, a not insignificant portion of same line up hours in advance of the Black Friday release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout and associated variants. This year, I heard tales of people getting in line overnight and still getting shut out of some of these variants. To give some context beyond the timing component (which is surely enough of a weird thing by itself), in the Philadelphia area, temperatures were somewhere around 15°F, which is mighty cold. Me? I rolled up right as a local beer distributor was opening, and picked up a full allotment... then popped over to another place on my way home and picked up some more. All told, it took about an hour, and most of that was just because the poor sales clerk at the first place was all alone and had to build up all the mixed cases that people were ordering, so it took a while (it was all very orderly and friendly, but I felt bad for the guy anyway). (Update: Even further context - most of this stuff can still be found on shelves somewhere. Maybe a tad overpriced, but it's out there if you're looking for it.)

Taste The Rainbow

Anyway, this year there were 8 different variants of BCBS, though two are Chicago-only releases. As usual, my favorite is the plain ol, regular BCBS. I suspect Vanilla could give it a run for its money over time, if previous iterations of Vanilla variants are any indication (the 2014 Vanilla Rye was phenomenal as recently as 2017). This year also mucked around with my other favorite release, the Barleywine. In its original incarnation, the Barleywine was phenomenal. After the 2015 infection-plagued batch, they tweaked it (in particular, aging it in fresh bourbon barrels rather than third-use barrels), but it was still great. This year, it's not being offered at all, being replaced by a coffee-dosed version and a new Wheatwine. As we'll see below, this represents an interesting change of pace, but ultimately left me craving the old-school barleywine (especially circa 2013/2014). All the other variants have their place and are interesting spins on the base, but not strictly necessary. Alright, enough preamble, let's get into it:

BCBS Vanilla

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout - Pretty standard BCBS-like pour, black with not much tan head. Smell is more vanilla forward than previous BCBS takes on vanilla, straddling the line on artificial (I mean, not Funky Buddha levels artificial, but it's more prominent than you'd expect), but either way, it smells nice to me. Taste is still delicious, standard BCBS profile with that added vanilla marshmallow sweetness, quite nice. Mouthfeel is thick and full bodied, rich and sweet without being cloying, well carbonated. Overall, it's not quite as great as VR was the last time I had it, but that one got better with time, and it's quite possible that this will too (of course, it's also possible that this will turn into an artificial vanilla flavored mess - only one way to find out). For now, it's my favorite of the variants this year. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/18. Bottled on: 05SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale - Pours a clear pale amber color with just a cap of fizzy off-white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet, candied fruit, maybe banana and coconut, and lots of boozy bourbon. Taste starts off sweet and rich, maybe some light toffee, and that candied fruit, banana with bourbon and a small amount of oak kicking in as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, sticky, well carbed, with plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it's a nice change of pace, but it's not really a substitute for the regular barleywine. It feels like a slightly more substantial version of pale-colored BBA beers like Helldorado or Curieux, meaning that it doesn't quite take on the BBA character as well as darker barleywines/stouts, but is still pretty good. I suspect this one could grow on me. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/18. Bottled on: 13AUG18.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine - Made with Intelligentsia Finca La Soledad coffee beans - Pours a very dark amber brown color with a cap of short lived off-white head. Smells of... coffee, and that's pretty much it. Maybe some underlying sweetness from the malt or bourbon if you really search for it, but mostly coffee. The taste starts off more like a barleywine, rich caramel and toffee, but then that coffee comes in and starts wreaking havoc. Alright, fine, this might be my coffee ambivalence talking, but in truth, it stands out more here than it does in the stout because at least the stout has complementary flavors. Here it sorta clashes. I mean, it's still tasty and it's not like I would turn down a pour, but coffee and barleywine together just aren't my bag. This represents yet another change of pace that is all well and good, but come on, the regular barleywine was awesome, and this isn't really an improvement. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled on: 27SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout - Made with orange zest and cocoa nibs - Pours dark brown, almost black, with almost no head. At first, it smells like a pretty standard BCBS profile, but then that citrus and chocolate really pops, especially as it warms. Taste follows the nose, that orange and chocolate popping nicely, especially as it warms. Indeed, the warmer it gets, the more and more this feels like its own thing. The chocolate and orange really overtake the base at higher temps and I'm not entirely sure that's for the best. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, moderate carb, plenty of booze. Overall, its a very nice take on the BCBS base, and I tend to like this more than the other fruited variants I've had... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled on: 18SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout - Speaking of other fruited variants, this is BCBS with raspberries and blackberries. Pours a similar color with a bit more head than normal. Smell is overwhelmed by jammy fruit. Well, "jammy fruit" is the nice way to say it. You could also say "fruit by the foot with a dash of Robitussin", but that's probably a bit unfair. Taste has a nice rich sweetness to it, but that is again overwhelmed by the fruit, not quite as tussin-heavy as the nose, but still not quite "right". It's like they buried BCBS and a bunch of fruit in Pet Sematary and it came back "wrong". I mean, it's not bad, but I'd rather be drinking regular ol' bcbs. Unquestionably my least favorite of the year, and vying for least favorite variant of all time. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/18. Bottled on: 24AUG18.

Certainly an interesting crop, and the Chicago exclusives like the Reserve (aged in Elijah Craig barrels) and Proprietor's (I think some sort of chocolate monster this year) sound great. Still, I always fall back on the original BCBS, and drink plenty throughout the year. Here's to hoping they bring back the Barleywine next year. In the meantime, stout season will continue with a local brewery's take on a BBA stout series, though perhaps I'll mix things up a bit and review something different next. Until then, keep watching the skies! Or, uh, this space. You'll probably find more beer talk here, and not the skies. But you should probably watch the skies too.

Dark Wednesday 2018

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Eschewing the Black Friday events most breweries seem to favor for their barrel-aged stout releases, Victory has always done their thing a day before Thanksgiving, which they hath dubbed Dark Wednesday. Once upon a time, this was for Dark Intrigue (basically barrel-aged Storm King and probably the first beer release that I'd ever waited in line for), but the past few years have seen the rise of Java Cask, and variants of same. This year, we were treated to three new variants on the Java Cask theme (plus the original). Alas, none of these variants is the one I've been pining for (i.e. one without coffee, so, like, just "Cask" or maybe "Bourbon Cask", though I'm guessing the TTB would have problems with that, but I think I've made my point.) But then, beggars can't be choosers, and despite my coffee ambivalence, I always look forward to trying a couple of these every year. Let's start with my favorite of the year:

Victory Java Cask Maple

Victory Java Cask Maple - Basically Java Cask aged in Bourbon Barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup (a treatment that appears to be gaining in popularity these days) for 8 months. Also of note, if you click on the picture above to embiggen it, you will see that this bottle was signed by Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski... and some guy named James, who I'm not familiar with but who I'm sure is incredibly important. - Pours a deep, viscous dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted coffee, chocolate coffee, maybe a hint of that maple (a light touch in the nose), and did I mention coffee. Taste starts off with a rich caramel note, followed by maple syrup, then coffee, finishing on that bourbon, oak, and vanilla jam. Plenty of coffee for this non-coffee drinker, but certainly less than the nose would imply. As it warms both the maple and the coffee come out more, so that is a thing that happened. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample but appropriate amounts of carbonation, and a pleasant level of boozy heat. Overall, I like this better than the Rye/Rye Vanilla variants and I might even like it better than regular Java Cask, but my lack of coffee enthusiasm is still a limiting factor. Indeed, I might even like this as much as or more than CBS. I'm the worst, but I still give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/18. Bottled on 14 Nov 2018.

Victory Java Cask Latte

Victory Java Cask Latte - A DONG offering on Dark Wednesday that is basically a milk stout version of Java Cask that is calibrated at a much lower ABV of 8.3%. The addition of lactose is supposed to make up for the decrease in body. I didn't take formal notes for this one, but I did have two small glasses - one on regular tap and one on nitro. I think I liked the nitro one (pictured above) more, but both feel like imitations of their full-strength big-brothers. This sort of thing has its charms though, and I appreciate being able to sample something without taking in too much alcohol. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% on draft/nitro. Drank out of a... small weizen glass? Whatever you call that thing in the picture. On 11/21/18.

Victory Java Cask Gold

Java Cask Gold - Not sure I'm on board with the whole blonde stout thing, but this is a blonde coffee stout made with lactose, brown sugar, cacao nibs, oats, and dark roast coffee, aged in buffalo trace barrels for 7 months. - Pours a clear, pale orange color with half a finger of off-white head. Smells... a lot like Java Cask. Lots of roasted coffee, coffee, maybe a bit of chocolate, and oh yeah, I almost missed... the coffee. The taste, though, does not feel like a stout. Which I guess makes sense, since it's not. Sweet, but not that deep, a bit of caramel, some coffee, but they're not quite playing together as well here; a heaping helping of bourbon, but not particularly well integrated with the rest of the flavors. I like bourbon and all, but it seems to be overpowering the base. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed, and quite boozy. Overall, an interesting experiment, but a little off-balanced and it never really harmonizes into a great beer... but it's certainly interesting! If a tad disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/22/18. Bottled on 16 Nov 2018.

So there you have it. The Maple variant is the clear winner of the year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up for next year (fingers crossed for the non-coffee version!) In the meantime, we've got some actual Black Friday releases that we're going to cover, including tons of variants of Kaedrin favorites, so stay tuned.

Von Trapp Double Feature

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A few years ago, after Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder and in the midst of Operation Chowder, I had a sorta lager revelation. After overdosing on hops for a week, I sat down to a Pivovar Kout Koutská 12° Dvanáctka, the best pilsner I've ever had in my life. It turned out to be just what I needed at the time, and after years of giving lagers short shrift, I vowed to give them more of a chance. And I was pretty good about it for a while! I still don't post about them often and truth be told, many don't exactly stand out, but I do really enjoy the whole "palate reset" I often get when hitting up a clean, crisp lager or even something a little more wacky, like Hill Farmstead's experimental oak-aged pilsner Poetica (from the most recent Operation Cheddar).

Many breweries try their hand at a lager now and again, but few seem to actually specialize in them. Vermont's Von Trapp Brewery is one of the few that do. Yes, this is the same Von Trapp family that inspired The Sound of Music, and the brewery is meant to produce an American version of the lagers they loved so much from their Austrian homeland. Even Admiral Ackbar approves:

Admiral Ackbar approves of Von Trapp

On the most recent Operation Cheddar, I finally nabbed a couple bottles of the stuff to see what all the fuss was about. I loved one of them and while perhaps less taken with the other, it'd still fill the palate cleanse role I enjoy from lagers. The hills are alive with the sound of lager:

Von Trapp Dunkel Lager

Von Trapp Dunkel Lager - Pours a clear, dark amber color, mahogany, with a couple fingers of light tan head. Smells nice, biscuity, toasted malt, some earthy, spicy hops. Taste has that nice crystal malt backbone, some toasty notes, finishing crisp and clean with some noble hops kicking in. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, just a hint of richness (i.e. this ain't no barrel aged monster, but it's got a nice malt backbone that will stand up to pairing with relatively strong dishes), well carbonated, crisp and clean. Overall, this is a really nice beer, and pairs well with grilled foodstuffs. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a pilsner glass on 8/24/18.

Von Trapp Helles Lager

Von Trapp Golden Helles Lager - Pours a very pale, mostly clear, bright straw yellow color with a couple fingers of fizzy white head. Smells earthy and grassy, noble hops. Taste has a very light crackery sweetness with a minimal hop kick. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and clean, well carbonated. Overall, this is a good lawnmower beer and a well executed lager, but it's not doing a whole lot for me. I'm not sure it's really supposed to do a lot, really, and that has its place for sure. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/26/18.

So there you have it. Certainly worthy of a look if you're in VT and overdosing on hops (which, if you're in VT, is likely). Trust me, a good lager like this will reset your palate and allow you to enjoy those heavy-handed DIPAs all the more. Stay tuned, I've got another pilsner review coming (and that one is a really good one too!)

At this point, the annual sorty into Vermont for beer (codename: Operation Cheddar) has a consistent plan of attack: Warren Store, CBC in Waterbury, Alchemist Visitor's Center, Lost Nation for Lunch, Hill Farmstead, and Foam are always onboard, with the occasional target of opportunity presenting itself (this year: Fiddlehead came into our sights). It's a fun day trip for me (embedded as it is in a vacation rooted in upstate NY, which is like, totally closer to VT than PA), but since I do it every year, I'll try not to bore you with repetition. Again. Anywho, enjoy some pics from the trip, a recap of the haul, and a few quickie reviews (that are light on tasting notes and heavy on ruminations, so less skippable than usual).

Alchemist Artwork
Some artwork from the Alchemist Building, it's purty.

Lunch at Lost Nation
Lunch at Lost Nation, a smoked chicken sandwich thing that was great. If you're ever ripping through Vermont, it's worth stopping here for lunch, the food is excellent.

Fiddlehead Logo
A Fiddlehead sign

Hill Farmstead Poetica 2

Hill Farmstead Poetica 2 - Operation Cheddar involves a lot of driving, so I'm generally reticent to partake in actually drinking beer at all. The only exception is usually a 5 ounce pour of something at Lost Nation. But since it looked like I was going to be at Hill Farmstead for a while and they actually had this interesting sounding thing on tap, I figured I'd give it a swing. You see, Hill Farmstead was hosting their annual Festival of Farmhouse Ales in the coming weekend, so they were packed with newly arrived beer dorks. Alas, since they planned on releasing a bunch of limited stuff during the festival, I had to settle for their "normal" shelfies (which are still phenomenal, to be sure). This was a special DONG release though, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Poetica 2 is basically Hill Farmstead's Mary, a pilsner, but instead of simply lagering in stainless, they lagered in a single French oak puncheon in their cooler for three months. After that, they moved it to a stainless tank and krausened it with a new batch for carbonation (this is apparently a step they always do when lagering). Anywho, the result is a very good pilsner, much like Mary. Grassy, earthy hops, minerality, quaffable stuff. I was not detecting much in the way of oak and I didn't take detailed notes, but I do want to say that it had more complexity than I'm used to from a pilsner. This, of course, means that the beer was a placebo and Hill Farmstead is now experimenting with mind control and we should indeed be quite worried because they're good at everything so why not world domination? Ok, that got away from me there for a second, so I'll just say that the beer is very nice and fans of Pilsners should look for future iterations on this mind control potion oaked lager. Let's just say B+ and get on with it.

Beer Nerd Details: ~5.6% ABV on draft (10 ounce pour). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/2/18. Batch 2.

And so we come to the haul pics. For the record, some duplicate cans/bottles not pictured, nor did I hoard all these cans for myself. Indeed, I would say the majority of my purchases were passed along to (or shared with) friends. I'm not exactly a full time mule, but I enjoy spreading the wealth. So here goes:

Nice Cans

Can Haul - Part 1: Hill Farmstead Citra IPA (seems to have been rebranded as an IPA, and I'll say that these cans were straight fire, very nice), Hill Farmstead Works of Love: Earl Grey Tea & Lactose, Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #4, Hill Farmstead Walden, Fiddlehead Mastermind.

Moar Cans. Mark likes cans.

Can Haul - Part 2: Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine, Alchemist Holy Cow IPA, Simple Roots New North End, Foam Built to Spill (many thanks to Kaedrin friend Eric for gifting this can and a few others to me when I met with him at Foam), 14th Star Make the Cut (not pictured, see below), Upper Pass First Drop, Alchemist Focal Banger, Alchemist Lightweight, Suarez Family Brewing Palatine Pils (not technically an Operation Cheddar acquisition, full explanation to come in a separate post), Alchemist Heady Topper, and Alchemist Hellbrook.

Funny observation: While Hill Farmstead was packed with long lines due to FoFA, Alchemist had a practically nonexistent line. Each year, the Alchemist gets less crowded. Plenty of people milling about, but I basically just walked up to the counter and got my beer. Go figure.

Haul of growlers

Growler Haul: Foam Galaxie 500, Hill Farmstead Abner (we will be talking more about Abner sometime in a separate post), Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9, Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #4.

Haul of Hill Farmstead bottles that I want to lick

HF Bottle Haul: Hill Farmstead Arthur, Anna, Grassroots Brother Soigne, Florence, Dorothy, and Clara.

Miscellaneous Haul

Miscellaneous Haul: von Trapp Golden Helles Lager, von Trapp Dunkel, Jack's Abby Cordon Rouge Barrel-Aged Framinghammer, Good Measure Tawny (#BiL), Lost Nation The Wind Bretta (not to be confused with the "plain" Wind), Stone Corral Bad Rooster IPA, Rock Art Citra DIPA, Burlington Peak Nostalgia, and Lawson's Finest Liquids Super Session #7.

Moar Miscellaneous Haul

Moar Miscellaneous Haul: 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston 1.5 L Magnum, Suarez Family Brewing Postscript, Proclivity, and Call to Mind (again, not technically Operation Chowder, but we'll cover that in a separate post), and Crooked Stave Blueberry Origins.

The non-beer haul

Non-Beer Haul: Alchemist Red Heady hot sauce and Cheddy Topper cheddar cheese.

Phew, that's quite a bit of beer. Now let's take a closer look at a few of these that I drank:

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude 9

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9 - Pours a cloudy, golden yellow with a solid finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells nice, sweet, lots of tropical fruit hops, mango, pineapple, and so on. Taste is also quite nice, sweet, citrusy, pine, balance in the finish. Mouthfeel is perfect, tight, soft carbonation, medium bodied, drinks like a dream. Overall, oh jeeze, another excellent HF IPA, stop the presses. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/4/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Foam Galaxie 500

Foam Galaxie 500 - Pours a very cloudy, milky looking straw yellow color with half a finger of white head that doesn't stick around too long. Smells of bright citrus, tropical fruit, stone fruit, and the like. Taste is very sweet, lots of those bright citrus hops, with a sharp edge to it, finishing sweet and juicy. Mouthfeel is a tad low on the carbonation, medium bodied, with a sharp alcohol note. Overall, this is a really nice Galaxy DIPA, a bit on the strong side, but no less delicious for it. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/4/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Alchemist Holy Cow - Apparently one of their staples during the halcyon days of the old Alchemist brewpub, it was a local favorite long before Heady became the hotness. Pours, well, I don't know, because I drank it from a can. I'm guessing pale. Smells citrusy, bright graprefruit. Taste is light and citrusy, finishing with a nice balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is crisp, clean, and dry, good carbonation, light, quaffable stuff. Overall, it's not going to blow people away, but I could drill a four pack of these with ease. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.16% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can (like a man) on 8/5/18.

Alchemist Hellbrook

Alchemist Hellbrook - A pretty straightforward Amber ale, a style I can appreciate when done well (and when hopped to high heaven), this doesn't quite live up to the reputation of the Alchemist's best work. Indeed, I think the pattern is that after Heady and Focal, there's a distinct stairstep in quality to their other offerings. I don't know that I've had anything outright bad, to be sure, but all of these others are somewhat standard takes, if well executed. None are quite the style-defining heights of Heady or Focal... This one pours a dark amber, almost brown color with a couple fingers of off-white head. Smells of citrus and dank, resinous pine, with crystal malt lurking in the background, light caramel tonez. Taste hits that crystal malt character, with plenty of piney, resinous hops in the middle, finishing with a balancing bitterness and dank hop profile. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and pretty well balanced. Overall, another solid brew here. Not going to make headlines, but it's better than your typical amber ale, if not quite at the top of the style. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/5/18.

Alchemist Lightweight - Look, I'm not sure what I was expecting from this American Blonde Ale, but what I got was an almost Kolsh-like easy drinker, earthy, grassy, and herbal. Nice lawnmower beer, but again, not going to set the world on fire like you might expect from the Alchemist. I feel like I'm bagging on Alchemist here, but in reality, these are all solid little beers. Sometimes they're disappointing due to the high bar set by Heady and Focal, but I will say that I'm still going to continually seek out additional varieties of Alchemist stuff. None of it is bad, and it sometimes approaches the sublime, so why not? B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/5/18.

Frost Beer Works Lush - I had the Plush DIPA a while back, which is a variant of this beer, and heck, they're both really good DIPAs. Typical Northeast IPA type stuff, not going to replace the top tier, but certainly worth a flier if you're making your way through VT's hop laden waters. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/6/18.

Lawson's Finest Liquids Super Session #7 - If you've had any of the Super Session beers, you know what you're in for here (I haven't had them in close enough proximity to notice a major difference, but who knows...) Typical session IPA territory, but it doesn't quite feel like a "diet" IPA like some of them do, it's a really nice, quaffable, citrus IPA that is light and crisp. It may not stand out against a sea of DIPAs, but it's a nice summer beer. B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/10/18.

Foam City Lights: Pineapple & Tangerine - A pretty straightforward kettle soured fruit beer, it reminds me a bit of Burley Oak's JREAM beers, though I think those are better. For whatever reason, this one didn't quite connect with me. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/11/18.

Simple Roots New North End IPA - Pretty straightforward NEIPA stuff, not top tier, but better than the last Simple Roots stuff I had on a previous Operation Cheddar mission. One thing about these non-hyped cans that always gives me pause is that they tend to be a bit less fresh, which will have an impact. This is not entirely their fault either, as I bought this on 8/2 (when it was already a couple weeks old), but didn't drink it until 8/17. Not a ton of time, to be sure, but this wasn't the can I was rushing to try either, and you can see that the highest rated stuff in this post tends to be the freshest as well. Freshness isn't the only lever here, but that's probably a part of it. Regardless, this is a fine beer, worth a flier if you're in VT. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/17/18.

Burlington Peak Nostalgia - This is a Strawberry Milkshake IPA with Vanilla & Milk Sugar, a style that is hyped to high heaven thanks in large part to Kaedrin's local Tired Hands, who make a whole series of Milkshake beers that are awesome. This Burlington take certainly emphasizes the strawberry aspects well (moreso even than the Tired Hands equivalent), but the balance isn't quite on point and it's overall a little disappointing. But my frame of reference is the Tired Hands Milkshakes. I've certainly had worse takes on the style, and while it's a wholly different beer, this beer is far better than Burlington's Strawberry Whale Cake, which I got on a previous Operation Cheddar. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/17/18.

14th Star Make the Cut Saving Grace

14th Star Make the Cut Saving Grace - Apparently there's a local homebrew competition where the winner's recipe is scaled up and brewed at 14th Star. This is a very nice Northeast IPA dry hopped with Mosaic, Citra, and Ekuanot. And it's really good, lots of juicy citrus and pine, good mouthfeel and pretty easy going. Would try again, though I suspect we've seen the last of this particular beer due to its origins. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/18/18.

Phew! That's a lot of beer, folks. Many apologies for the lack of blogging recently, I hope this makes up for it. I've still got quite the backlog of reviews, and plenty of things from this trip that I haven't dug into yet, so much moar to come. Stay tuned.

This brings this year's Operation Cheddar to a close. Next year promises to hold at least a minor shakeup in that Lawson's Finest Liquids is finally opening a brewery, taproom, and retail store in Waitsfield, VT (not far from the Warren Store, which was always my scheduled stop to find Lawson's and thus will probably fall out of the rotation next year). Most exciting!

Funky Buddha Double Feature

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Funky Buddha has a reputation for gimmicky sorcery and artificial flavoring. Like most things, this cuts both ways. Some of these beers are absolutely wonderful, others are less successful. As I gather from a Florida-based friend of mine, even the great stuff can get old pretty fast, but in small doses, these can be really fascinating beers (this is something that doesn't hit me as hard, as I only get dribs and drabs once or twice a year, so it's all still a novelty to me). Thanks to that same Florida man, I've recently received a cache of Funky Buddha beers in the mail, so let's dive into a couple of them to see what's kickin' in the sunshine state.

First up is Undefeated Saison, brewed in honor of the Miami Dolphins' 1972 campaign where they became the only NFL team to complete an undefeated season and win the Super Bowl. Back in the day, I had a well worn copy of the Sega Genesis game Madden '93 and used to play with the 72 Dolphins a lot, relying heavily on Larry Csonka, who seemed like an invincible truck. Anywho, the beer bills itself as a "French Countryside Style Ale" (i.e. a saison and my unsubstantiated guess is that it's using the 3711 yeast strain) brewed with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape must and fermented with saison and Champagne yeasts. Sounds good, though I feel like this could have been improved with the addition of some Brett and/or a touch of oak. Also needs more Csonka:

Funky Buddha Undefeated Saison

Funky Buddha Undefeated Saison Brut - Pours a orange amber color with a finger of dense white head that sticks around for a while. Smells of vinous fruit, a little 3711 yeasty esters and spice. Taste is sweet and a little spicy, that vinous fruit shows up again and intensifies through the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated and somehow both sticky and dry, maybe even some winelike tannins pitching in. Overall, this is an interesting little saison, nothing to go too crazy over and it begs for some Brett and/or barrel treatment, but it's fine as is (well, maybe a little disappointing, but a far cry from bad). B-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 5/12/17. Released: November 1, 2016.

Next we have Butta' Cup, a double brown ale made to evoke, yes, the fabled peanut butter cup. No brand specified, but you know they're talking about Reese's, because what other one can you really name? I mean, yeah, sure, I know your local chocolatier has a handmade version that is spectacular, but does anyone really think about those? Did you get those when you went trick-or-treating? No. And as I've mentioned before, there's something about peanut butter beer that, while certainly gimmicky, still manages to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and warmth. Or something. So is their artificial flavoring wizardry game doing better than their saison game? Why don't you build me up, butta' cup?

Funky Buddha Butta Cup

Funky Buddha Butta' Cup - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light tan head. Smells of peanuts, vanilla, and a little chocolate, as advertised. Taste has a nice sweetness to it, less peanut butter than the nose would imply, less chocolate too, but a good amount of vanilla. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, a little astringent, but that goes away as it warms. Overall, this is really nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 5/12/17.

So a pretty good showing here, nothing to rival the best of Funky Buddha that I've had (Last Snow and Wide Awake It's Morning), but they're always interesting, that's for sure.

Tired Hands Bottle & Can Chronicle

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It's been a while since I've covered these Ardmore dorkuses, what with their saisons and their IPAs and rows of empty chairs at can releases and yes, even a bourbon barrel aged stout. I've basically given up on keeping track of every Tired Hands beer I try, and indeed, my visits have decreased in recent months, but they are still, by far, the brewery I've had the most different beers from. I can't see anyone overtaking them anytime soon either. So let's get with the program and check out the last 6 months or so of bottle releases (with the occasional can and growler).

The Emptiness is in Bloom

The Emptiness is in Bloom - Oak barrel fermented saison conditioned on locally harvested honeysuckle and elderflowers - Pours a very pale straw yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells, tart, floral, delightfully funky, earthy. Taste has a nice, tart sweetness to it up front, moving into an earthy funk and oaky middle, followed by a tart and funky floral finish. As it warms a nice saison spice emerges. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light bodied, and moderately acidic. Overall, it's great to be back in the Emptiness series. While not the best Emptiness offering, it's still a gem. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/20/17.

Clourison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop clementines (juice and zest) - Pours a hazy golden color with a finger of moderately lived white head. Smells hugely of clementines, tones of citrus fruit, with that saison funk, spice, and hint of oak lingering in the background. Taste again hits huge notes of clementine, really strong, then there are hints of the saisonhands base beer to even things out a bit, a little earthy funk, oak, spice. Clementine is really the star here, really intense. Mouthfeel is moderately carbonated, light, and refreshing. Overall, this is really nice, the intensity of the fruit reminds me of Freedom from the Known, but the saisonhands base can't stand up to it as well. Still really nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/30/16.

Strawrison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop strawberries - Pours an almost radiant golden orange color with half a finger of white head. Smells funky, tart fruit, strawberries certainly, maybe a little yeasty spice. Taste again has more funk than I'm used to from the Ourison line, earthy, not quite cheesy or smokey, but edging in that direction; tart fruit still apparent though, strawberries, saison spice, and a little oak. Mouthfeel is light bodied but not as crisp or dry as Ourison and a little less carbonated (but still enough). Overall, this is quite nice right now. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/2/17.

Blourison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop blueberries - Pours a ridiculous dark ruby red, looks almost like a rose, with a finger of pinkish blue head. Smells nice, lots of oak, a little saison spice, and those tart blueberry aromas coming through well. Taste is blueberry forward, sweet and tart, with some saison spice and oak peeking in during the middle to finish, which also has that tart note. Mouthfeel is light bodied, a little thin, decent carbonation but not as much as ourison. Overall, this is nice, but as much as I love Saisonhands and Ourison, I'm not sure how great a platform for fruit that base really is... B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of charente glass on 1/15/17.

Individuation: Florid - Slightly spiced blended orange-hued Saison aged in French oak - Pours a golden honey color with a finger of head and ok retention. Smells quite nice, vinous fruit and plenty of oak, going to be a sour one. Taste is sweet up front, with a nice oak character coming through in the middle, maybe some funk there too, and then the sourness ramps up into the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate to high acidity, but still pleasant. Overall, is your typical TH style sour saison, which is a very good thing indeed. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (750 ml Green Bottle). Drank out of a Teku glass on 10/15/16.

Individuation Florid, Dry Hop and regular version

Individuation: Florid, Dry Hopped - The same as Individuation: Florid, but dry hopped with Hull Melon - Pours that same golden honey color with that same finger of head. Smells very different though, clearly that Hull Melon dry hopping coming through, honeydew and lemons, with oak taking a backseat in this variant. The taste starts off sweet and sour, hop flavor overtaking the oak here too, finishing with that sour note. Less oaky, more hoppy and maybe even more sour (or at least the perception of more sourness). Mouthfeel is pretty much the same as regular, but again, slightly more astringency. Overall, this is more complex, but I'm not sure if it's better. Hull Melon certainly isn't my favorite hop, but it is definitely distinct. B+

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottle (750 ml Brown Bottle). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/15/16.

Tired Hands Bourbon Barrel Aged Only Void

Tired Hands Only Void Bourbon Barrel Aged - Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for over a year - Pours deep black with a finger of short lived light brown head. Smells of caramel, oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Taste starts off sweet, rich caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, the richness fading a bit after the middle and into the sweet finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied up front, but it thins a bit in the finish, a little pleasant boozy heat as I drink. Overall, hell yes, I've been waiting for this for a long time. I still really wish they bottled it, but it's a solid BBA imperial stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV growler (1 Liter). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/15/16. Growler filled 10/15/16.

Tired Hands Permashore - Oak fermented gose with lemon drop hops - a radiant, clear yellow color with half a finger of bubbly head. Smells oaky, but you get that gose spice (coriander) and tart fruit, lemon, lime thing in the background too. Taste starts out with the gose spice character, moves into oak town, and adds in a salinity and a little tartness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, a bit undercarbonated, pleasant, low acidity. Overall, this is very nice. The oak overwhelmed the style a bit, but it still comports itself well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 11/12/16.

Whatever, Nevermind - Oak aged "yule" saison, 2015 bottle - Fun fact: this beer was the 200th checkin at Tired Hands Brew Cafe. I loved it. Then they bottled it a year later or something. And now it's a year after that! And it's still great. Nice tart, oaky foeder character, really tasty. Really enjoy this. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 12/3/16. Vintage: 2015.

Heavy Gem Humanimal Stasis

Heavy Gem Humanimal Stasis - Collaboration with Half Acre, Double IPA brewed with Equinox, Mosaic, and Simcoe - Pours a cloudy, darkish golden yellow color with a finger of white head and some lacing as I drink. Smells very floral an almost spicy, a little pine, but not as much citrus or pine as you'd want. Taste also hits floral and spicy hop notes, with a little dank pine emerging in the middle, and a relatively bitter finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, maybe a hint of booze too. Overall, this is not in your typical Tired Hands style; it's alright but nowhere near the ratings I'm seeing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/24/17. Canned on 3/19/17.

The Deepest and Most Wonderful Secret

The Deepest and Most Wonderful Secret - Yuzu Triple IPA brewed with Simcoe, Galaxy, Azacca, and Equinox - Pours a hazy pale orange color with a finger of white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells citrusy and almost tart, some of those typical TH juicy IPA notes. Taste is very sweet with an almost tart kick (apparently that yuzu), some citrus and floral hops, and a little booze. Mouthfeel is surprisingly full bodied, lightly acidic, a little alcohol heat but it drinks lighter than it is... Overall, a solid take on a triple IPA, really tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mason jar on 3/3/17. Canned 03/01/17. Batch: GO DEEP.

Phew, that's quite a few beers. And, of course, I already have a couple more on deck, so look for another recap in the nearish future. It feels like can releases are getting a little less insane, so maybe I'll snag a few more of those in the future...

Vintage Victory

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So I've been aging beer for a while now, both intentionally and unintentionally, and it's often an interesting exercise. However, it's also pretty rare for a beer to get better over time. It's usually different and sometimes worse than fresh, but better is, again, rare.

In general, my advice continues to be to drink fresh. If you can only get one bottle of something special, drink it fresh. If you can get a second bottle, it's a fun exercise to age it, but seldom does a beer age incredibly well. At least, not for very long periods of time. Lots of beers can get better or be just as good over a few months, but not many will last over a year and the ones that can last 5 years are even more rare. Of course, there are many variables. My "cellar" doesn't exactly have ideal conditions, so you may have better luck. Bottle variation exists, especially when it comes to wild ales. Some people don't like harsh booziness and time can clear that up sometimes. And so on.

Since Victory is local, I've stockpiled plenty of their offerings over the years. Readily available, not too pricy, and quality beer - they make good candidates for aging experimentation. Let's see if this patience has paid off:

Victory V-Twelve 2011

Victory V-Twelve (2011) - This is a special one. I loved it fresh back in the day and squirreled this away to see how it would age. High alcohol, darkish beer, I thought it would do well. Naturally, I haven't thought too much about it in the intervening time, especially as my tastes evolved over the years. In a recent attempt to drink down a bit of my cellar I noticed something curious. The bottle sez "Should be enjoyed within 5 years" and the bottling date was Nov 11 2011. So of course, I popped the cork on Nov 11 2016. Nailed it.

Victory V-Twelve Bottling Date

Pours a murky amber orange brown color with just a cap of off white head. Smells nice, lots of yeast-driven, rich, dark fruit, brown sugar, maybe even a little floral aroma, toffee too, hints of spice. Taste is rich and sweet, ample malt backbone, dark fruit, raisins, dates, yeasty esters, a little oxidation definitely showing, but nothing overwhelming, sherry, toffee, brown sugar, finishing with hints of Belgian yeast spice and a bit of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a sipper for sure. Overall, this is still fantastic. I haven't had it fresh since, oh, 2011, but it's holding up pretty darned well. A high B+ (I originally rated this an A, but taking into account ratings inflation puts this about on par with my feelings on it fresh.

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/11/16. Bottled: Nov 11 2011. "Should be enjoyed within 5 years" (Nailed it.)

Victory Java Cask (2015) - The story on coffee beer is that the coffee tends to fade over time and hoo boy is that the case here. For the coffee ambivalents like myself, that's not a huge deal, but this was a huge coffee bomb when fresh, and while the coffee character is still there if you look for it (or if you're particularly sensitive to it, ahem), the bourbon barrel stout character is now the majority of this beer. It's actually quite pleasant, but then, I'm one of the aforementioned coffee ambivalents, so I would be like that. I'm still hoping that Victory will put out a non-coffee version of this same beer someday, but that's not in the cards this year (FYI, this was written in November 2016 - ed.). We've got a Rye barrel variant this year, as well as a rebrew of this, but I hold out hope. Still, I'm quite enjoying this and won't even drop the grade. Again, coffee-heads will be disappointed by an aged bottle of this stuff (and anecdotally, I'd say most of the dropoff had occurred within 6 months). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/8/16. Fucking election day. Enjoy by: 10 Nov 2016, cutting it close.

Victory Otto (2011) - A smoked dubbel? Not your common style, and at the time, the smoke completely overwhelmed any Belgian yeast characteristics. Pours a dark amber color with a finger of almost white head. Smells of belgian yest, raisins, and just a bit of smoke. Taste goes similarly, the smoke has really mellowed out over time (fresh, the smoke was potent and overpowering, now it's barely there). Proooobably held on to it too long, but it's held up much better than your typical dubbel. Will try the Bourbon Barrel version next (it was a massive improvement over the original). B- (Update, I brought Otto in Oak to a share recently and it has fared a little better, but is also well past its prime. Solid B material.)

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/1/16. Bottled: Sept 21 2011 (I think that's what it sez)

Victory Old Horizontal 2013

Victory Old Horizontal (2013) - No fancy stories here, just realized it had been about 3 years, which is plenty for a beer like this. Turns out, I think it could probably stand up to more, but I'm still really glad I opened this when I did. Pours a dark amber color with a finger of white head. Smells of caramel and toffee, hints of dried, candied fruit. Taste also has that rich caramel and toffee character, sweet but not cloying, some modest hop character too. Some oxidation present, but nothing overwhelming and it ends up adding complexity. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, moderate carbonation, hints of booze. Overall, this has aged very well, would do again. I still have a couple of Oak Horizontals laying around, so I should probably strap one of those in next. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/22/16. Enjoy by Oct 25 2018. (deduced bottling date: October 25 2013)

So there you have it. 5 years probably too long, even for something like V-Twelve. Three years, though, seemed fruitful. Stay tuned for more vintage drinking, including one that was 7 years old (and still drank incredibly well).

The Veil Quadruple Feature

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Richmond, Virginia's The Veil Brewing Co. opened it's doors around six months ago. Brewer Matt Tarpey spent some time at several Northeast breweries, including the likes of The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead, as well as completing an apprenticeship with Jean Van Roy at Cantillon in Belgium. That's a pretty impressive pedigree. Since they're just getting started, I imagine their spontaneous fermentation program will take some time to develop, but their IPA game is already turning heads amongst the beer dork community.

The name of the brewery comes from Tarpey's time in Belgium. He was discussing pellicles, the thin film that forms on top of the beer during spontaneous fermentation, and he noted that "Jean has a lot of friends in Italy that are natural winemakers and he told me that his friends in Italy call pellicles 'the veil.' That moment was very special and I just remembered it..."

I managed to get my grubby little biscuit snatchers on four different cans of relatively fresh stuff. No spontaneous fermentation here, but one great IPA, two interesting takes, and one that didn't work out. So a pretty decent batting average and a promising start. I'm really intrigued to see where these folks go next.

The Veil Crucial Crucial Aunt Aunt

The Veil Crucial Crucial Aunt Aunt - Double Mango Double Dry Hopped Double IPA - Pours a cloudy, turbid yellow orange color (orange juice looking) with a finger of white, fluffy head, good retention, and some lacing. Smells of pure, unadulterated, juicy citrus hops. Taste starts off very sweet up front, hitting lots of those juicy citrus hops in the middle before heading to a balancing bitter hop town in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, fine, medium bodied, juicy up front but more dry in the finish. Overall, this is a rock solid Northeast IPA and it's delicious. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/16. Canned on 09/20/16.

The Veil Joooseee Boizzz

The Veil Joooseee Boizzz - Triple IPA with Raspberries, a collaboration with Monkish (another brewery that I need to become more familiar with) - Pours a milky orange amber color with a couple fingers of off white, almost pink head. Smells of fruity, juicy hops, but also a sorta fruit roll ups or fruit by the foot aroma. Taste follows the nose, lots of citrus hops, ample malt backbone, and some more gummy fruity notes. Sometimes this came off as a sorta artificial feel, as befits fruit roll-ups, but it was still pretty darn tasty. Mouthfeel is full bodied and heavy, well carbed, but certainly a sipper. Overall it's an interesting and tasty beer, worth checking out. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/9/16. Canned on 09/20/16.

The Veil Boss Man

The Veil Boss Man - Sour Double IPA - Pours a golden orange color with a finger of white head that doesn't last too long. Smells of citrus and some sort of souring twang. Taste is quite sour right from the start, some resinous citrus hops, but mostly dominated by that sourness with a bitter hop note towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and quite acidic. Overall, the notion of sour IPAs always seems to disappoint me. It is well crafted, for sure, but not really my thing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/14/16. Canned on 09/19/16.

The Veil That Part

The Veil That Part - Double IPA hopped exclusively with New Zealand Wai-iti hops - Pours a murky golden color with a couple fingers of fluffy head. Smells... odd, almost like bubble gum, but with some strange notes. Hop notes almost absent. Not bad, per say, but certainly not your traditional IPA. Taste is, ugh, not good. Something is wrong with this. Astringent, off flavors, weirdly spicy, and earthy (and not in a good, funky way). I'm guessing it's a yeast problem and I'm curious if it fared better when it was initially canned... but then, it's only been a little more than three weeks. Mouthfeel is again kinda weird, medium bodied, well carbed, but again with some sort of strange astringency. Overall, yeah, avoid this one. I may have gotten a bad can or something, but this is really awful. F

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/14/16. Canned on 09/20/16.

Many thanks to fellow beer nerd Nick for making the trip down to Virginia and securing these cans for me. He's a great American, and I'll be discussing more of his generous acquisitions later this week as well.

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

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