Recently in B+ Category

And so we enter IPA season here at Kaedrin HQ. I know, I know, all year is IPA season, especially these days, but the summer months tend to be an attractor for hops. For whatever reason, my fridge just magically starts to fill with new and unique IPAs around this time of year, much moreso than the winter months. As such, the next several reviews will feature hoppy beers. I usually try to mix things up here, but sometimes the pipeline gets clogged with hops. Oh, the horror!

First up is a pair of Tree House IPAs thoughtfully passed along by Kaedrin friend Danur (many thanks!) I also had two additional Tree House beers at a share (also thanks to Danur), but they were small pours and I didn't take notes because I'm the worst and I know everyone loves tasting notes and finds them super-useful and entertaining to read so I'm sorry that I don't have much to say about them and by the way, I only really took detailed notes on the first of these beers, so enjoy it because the rest of the post is blatant rambling and run-on sentences kinda like this one. Annnd... go:

Tree House Bbbrighttt with Citra

Tree House Bbbrighttt with Citra - I initially mistook this for plain ol' Bright w/Citra, but apparently the extra b's and t's mean something. I think this was, like triple dry hopped instead of whatever they normally do? Something like that? Let's see: Pours a moderately hazy but kinda radiant (bright?) pale straw yellow color with a solid finger of dense, fluffy head. Smells great, lots of juicy citrus (dare I say bright?) with a nice floral component. Taste starts off sweet, again that juicy citrus with a solid floral note, followed by just a hint of balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, perfectly carbonated, crisp, refreshing. Overall, big shock, another great Tree House IPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/22/18. Canned on: 06/12/18. Batch: NNNEVER EVER SAW THE STARS SO BBBRIGHT

Tree House Hurricane

Tree House Hurricane - I didn't take detailed notes for this, because as previously mentioned, I'm the worst and I'm just going to blather about it for a bit and maybe make a Bob Dylan joke (or maybe just mentioning that is enough). My general impression is that this has a great citrus nose, but the taste is dryer and more minerally than I'm used to from Tree House. It's still got your typical citrus hop notes, but they're not quite as pronounced here. But the dryness makes for a good mouthfeel and a nice match with food. Still a pretty good IPA, but not near their top of the line. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/26/18. Canned on: 06/12/18. Batch: EVERYBODY'S PLAYING IN THE HEART OF GOLD BAND

Tree House Juice Machine

Tree House Juice Machine - This apparently very limited release (2 cans pp) appears to be a sorta mix between King Julius and Very Green, with a convoluted hop schedule consisting of Magnum, Columbus, Amarillo, Citra, and Galaxy, resulting in a complexity not quite present in, for example, the above beers. Lots of citrus, juicy tropical fruit, pine, and floral notes, pretty much running the gamut of what hops are capable of. It's totally delicious. That being said, I suspect ratings are entirely driven by rarity here. It deserves a good rating, to be sure, but this gets astronomical ratings. I will abstain from rating because I was not in a hermetically sealed environment like I usually am (but seriously, not ideal conditions here). Who knows, maybe if I have ten more of these I'll think they're worth the trouble.

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a wine glass on 7/5/18. I don't remember the canning date, but I assume it's around 6/12 like the above.

Tree House Very Green

Tree House Very Green - The plain ol' Green was actually my first Tree House beer way back when, shared by a visiting friend from Vermont, and it was phenomenal (once again, I never really wrote about it because it was a social situation and it's not like I drank a whole can, and so on). Like Juice Machine, this one is hyped to high heaven, probably because of the rarity. It's also totally delicious with all that great NEIPA character, juicy hops with some big floral notes - the word green actually does come to mind, but that may just be the power of suggestion and my puny willpower. Again, totes great beer, but the hype and rarity drive the ratings perhaps a bit to far. Of course, here I am posting terrible pictures and no tasting notes, so it's not like I'm immune to hype.

Beer Nerd Details: 8.6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a wine glass on 7/5/18. I don't remember the canning date, but I assume it's around 6/12 like the above.

So there you have it. I continue to pine for Tree House beers and will most certainly be seeking them out in the future. Many thanks again to Kaedrin friend Danur for braving the Massachusetts wilderness to acquire and share all these beers.

Jester King and Fantôme Del Rey

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The label sez: "We continue on, forward, like phantom people, towards subtle dawn." I don't know what that means, and the ghost infamously never shares its secrets, so we'll just have to let that be, I guess.

The beer itself was originally brewed in Belgium at Fantôme, with Dany and Jester King brewer Garrett Crowell collaborating on the recipe. Speaking of which, unlike most Tômes, we know a little more about the recipe here. It's made with dark candi syrup, truffle honey, coriander, and black peppercorns. After the initial batch in Belgium, Jester King made a batch back at their own brewery and subjected it to extended fermentation and partial barrel aging (and using their distinctive well water and a melange of native, mixed-culture yeast and bacterial beasties.) The name Fantôme Del Rey roughly translates to Ghost of the King, which is actually pretty evocative. But how's the beer?

Jester King and Fantôme Del Rey

Jester King and Fantôme Del Rey (Texas Version) - Pours a striking clear golden orange color with a solid finger of dense white head that has great retention and leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells very funky, lots of dusty, musty Belgian funk going on, a little earthy, some unidentifiable spices, and an underlying fruitiness peeking through. Taste is candy sweet up front, a little sticky fruit, hints of spice and earthy funk, finishing with a whisper of tartness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little low on the carbonation (but there's plenty there), some stickiness, and only a hint of acidity. A little more carbonation would have done this well. Overall, this is a very nice beer, atypical for Fantôme, which I guess makes sense since this is the Texas version. Well worth checking out. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/8/18. Blend #1 - 03.22.16.

Always down for another Tôme, and Jester King is certainly a brewery I should seek out more often. Many thanks to fellow BeerNERD Gary for procuring this bottle for me in his many travels.

Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged InTENsity

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And now for something completely different. I know I'm supposed to be writing about this beer, but I've been doing this for almost 8 years at this point and thus getting a little repetitive. Please indulge me. Doubly so, because I'm going to talk about the (for some reason) much maligned Dean Koontz. For the uninitiated, he's a very prolific horror/suspense author that is usually dismissed as a second-rate Stephen King.

To me, though, he's an important author in that he's the one that got me to start reading books. I wasn't, like, illiterate or anything, but I mostly only read books when forced to for school, and Koontz got me reading for pleasure. No coercion necessary! Sure, his novels get repetitive, he has some specific bugaboos that he always focuses on (there's a Scooby-esque satanic bad guy that seems supernatural but often isn't and then a good guy with Police/SWAT/FBI/CIA/Army/Marine/etc... training takes him on and usually falls in love with a strong single mother with a precocious child and adorably intelligent dog along the way), and the stories can be repetitive, but they tend to be pretty interesting and a lot of fun. Movies based on his books have been almost uniformly bad, which might also be part of why his reputation suffers.

Unfortunately, his prolific output also means there's a lot of stuff out there that isn't quite as good as his best (to put it kindly), and from what I've read recently, he hasn't really come close to the success he had in the 80s and 90s. Even given his tendency to repeat himself, when you've got about 100 books in print, it's a little more difficult to find one that suits you, and people these days usually aren't willing to give an author a second chance (a fair strategy for dealing with media overload, to be sure). For the record, I'd recommend checking out Lightning, Phantoms, Midnight, Strangers, or maybe:

Intensity by Dean Koontz

Pretty much the last great book of his that I remember reading was called Intensity. Granted, he didn't use goofy capitalization to emphasize a brewery's tenth anniversary (see? This post is coming together. Kinda.), but I have to admit that when I saw this bottle of beer, I immediately thought of Koontz's novel. It was one of the flood of serial killer tales that besieged us in the mid 1990s, and to my mind, one of the better ones. A gruesome but well paced and compulsive read.

It's been a solid twenty years since I've read it, but I still remember a lot of details, which isn't something you expect from popular airport thrillers like this. Some of these details are trivial, like the killer's choice of music for his cross country murder spree: Angelo Badalamenti (most famous as a film and TV composer for David Lynch, amongst others - and an odd choice to be employed like this). There's this recurring bit with an albino deer that was mysterious but still evocative. There's one decision from our protagonist that might be difficult to swallow, but once you get past that the book doesn't really let up. It's genuinely tense, and if I remember correctly, Koontz even sometimes reverts to present tense at times to emphasize the tension (a move that could be jarring and cheap, but which I remember working well). For once, Koontz's obvious love of dogs is subverted by his use of them in a villainous fashion. The killer's refusal to conform to textbook serial killer tropes (which was becoming a trope of itself at the time, to be sure) was effective, and there were some neat twists in that arena.

At this point, you've probably seen a dozen similar tales, so this might be old hat, but it was pretty great for teenaged me. There was a TV mini-series that was pretty much par for the course (not particularly worth seeking out, but not an abomination either), and it's worth noting that the first half of High Tension is remarkably similar to the first half of Intensity, though the stories diverge considerably from there (even so, this might be the only real worthwhile Koontz adaptation, even though it's not really acknowledged as such).

That a beer would remind me of a serial killer story is probably something best left unexplored, but since this is, in fact, a beer blog, let's take a closer look at this beer brewed in honor of Hoppin' Frog's tenth anniversary. It's a hoppy, American-style barleywine that was aged in bourbon barrels for six months, then dry hopped for some extra kick. Of course, this was released in 2016, so that fresh hop character has probably dissipated... or maybe not. Let's drink it and find out:

Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged InTENsity

Hoppin' Frog Barrel Aged InTENsity - Pours a clear, dark amber color with a half finger of off-white head. Smells of faded citrus hops, a little toffee, some boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla edging in too. Taste starts off which rich caramel, crystal malt, and boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, the hops emerging more towards the finish, which also has a boozy little bite. Some mild oxidation here gives complexity without turning the whole thing into cardboard. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, moderate carbonation, some boozy heat too. Overall, it's bit on the hoppy side, as American Barleywines tend to be, but it's quite nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/1/17.

I'm not sure if Hoppin' Frog still makes Naked Evil, but I remember that as being better than this one. Of course, that was like 5 years ago, and my memory of that is somehow not as distinct as my memory of Koontz's book.

Barrel of Monks Double Feature

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

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

Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas

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

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

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

Barrel of Monks Parade of Souls

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

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

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

Firestone XXI

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Every year, Firestone Walker invites their winemaker friends to their brewery in order to blend a bunch of their barrel-aged stock into a Voltron-esque super beer to commemorate the brewery's anniversary. I've gone over the process in wonky detail before, so I won't repeat myself too much here (but you already have -ed. Sorry, it has been amply demonstrated that I am the worst.) Suffice it to say, this is one of my most anticipated releases of any year. The blends are always different, usually occupying a space along the stout and barleywine spectrum, and they're always marvelous.

This year's blend consists of five different components:

  • 42% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 18% Parabola (13.1% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 17% Stickee Monkee (12.5% ABV) Central Coast Quad (English Barleywine). Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 14% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 9% Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Rum Barrels.

Clocking in at 11.9% ABV, it's the lowest ABV anniversary beer I've had from them (and the second lowest ever, only behind XI, which I want to say has a reputation as being the least impressive of the bunch; I've not had it, but that's my anecdotal observation and I'm a moron, so you should take that with a grain of salt.) It's comprised of the exact same components as last year, just in wildly differing proportions (and it appears some of the barrelage has shifted slightly - no brandy or new oak barrels this year, but some rum barrels in the mix). The bulk of this is stout, but it's anchored by Velvet Merkin, the lighter, nimbler BBA stout in their lineup. I'll note that for whatever reason, I found this year's vintage of Velvet Merkin to be lit af, even if it's still no Parabola. That could be because this year is genuinely different, or the small bottle format placebo effect, or simply because I'm the worst. That being said: this blend didn't do a whole lot for me. It's still really damn good and I'll gladly seek out and drink more, and it's better than the pretenders that I've seen of late, but it still doesn't quite hold up to the example set by its predecessors.

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale - Pours a very dark amber color with a half finger of off white head. Smells nice and boozy, bourbon and rum and oak, with some dark but not quite roasty malt in the background. Taste has a nice, rich caramel start to it, with a hint of roast peeking in towards the middle, followed by lots of booze, bourbon and oak, in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, hotter and less balanced than usual for a FW blend. This is weird, since this is the lowest ABV anniversary ale I've had (though apparently XI was only 11%, but then, I can see what they did there... and it's also notoriously the worst blend). I mean, I'm no stranger to booze and usually have no problems with this sort of heat, but it feels out of whack here. Overall, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the components are clashing here, but it's certainly not the most harmonious blend they've put out in the anniversary series. Still better than most barrel aged stuff out there though, and I'm actually curious as to how this would age - if the flavors bleshed more, maybe that'd help. A high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/17. Bottled 10/20/17.

I may need to try this again sometime, but right now, the rankings come in something like this: XV, XX, XIX, XVII, XVIII, XVI, XXI... But then, this is completely from memory and who the hell knows. I mean, I remember XVII being better than an A-, but that's what I rated it at the time? I have some bottles of the stuff, so I'll have to check it out I think. Anywho, would be interesting to see some new components next year. Maybe bring back §ucaba? Please?

Boon / Mikkeller Oude Geuze

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The second lambic collaboration between Boon and Mikkeller (the first being their Bone Dry, a sorta older sister beer to Black Label (which always annoys me because despite being delicious, the bottle does not actually have a black label on it... but I digress)), this iteration focuses on a blend that is primarily comprised of lambic from a foeder that had previously contained Calvados (apple brandy, for the uninitiated). No indication which foeder or how old that particular foeder is, but it's got the traditional Geuze blend of 1-3 year old lambics, which is certainly good enough for this beer dork. Let's dive in:

Boon Mikkeller Oude Geuze

Boon / Mikkeller Oude Geuze - Pours a yellowish golden color with a solid finger of bubbly but dense head with good retention. Smells great, lots of earthy funk, something a little fruity playing around the edges (of my nose? Yeah, something like that.) Taste is has a lighter earthy funk to it, definitely some fruity twang (if I'm looking for it, maybe, maybe some Calvados green apple kinda character), a little sourness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, very dry, moderate acidity, pretty easy going. Overall, it's good, but I don't know that the Calvados character comes through in a particularly strong, identifiable way. Still a worthwhile experiment and a nice twist. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/1/17. Best before: 22/11/2036.

Boon seems to be riding that novelty wave by putting out lots of variants and different releases, but one thing that is different about them: They seem to be generally available. You have to hunt them out a little, as most stores seem to focus on the US boom these days (and who can blame them), but if you want these suckers, you can usually find a way... Moar Boon incoming soon (I picked up that set of four different Vat variants, which should be interesting)... and maybe even lambic from another producer. Stay tuned.

Again Dark Wednesday

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

Victory Wisdoms Hour

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

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

Victory Java Cask Rye with Vanilla Beans

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

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

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

Melting Down with Root Down

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Root Down Brewing opened its doors earlier this year, and it was an event I had been anticipating for a while. The owner/brewer, Mike Hamara, was the guy who sold me my homebrew setup many moons ago. On at least one occasion, he improvised a complete recipe from scratch for me because I needed something quick and didn't have time to prepare (I'm the worst). To put it mildly, this is a guy who knows what he's doing, and has been planning this operation for years, if not decades.

Root Down Graffiti

Located in Phoenixville, PA, the building is deceptively large and punctuated by graffiti inspired decor. Chances are, there will be some sort of obscure martial arts film playing on the TVs (though they will cave in and put the Eagles game on if someone asks), and indeed, some of the beer names (like the below Flying Guillotine IPA) are inspired by said movies (truly a brewery after my heart). I didn't have any food during my visit, but they have a menu of BBQ goodies and even a whole page dedicated to Vegan offerings, such that I'll definitely be checking this stuff out upon future visits.

Root Down Flying Guillotine IPA

I visited on a Sunday when they were releasing a particular beer made in cahoots with BeerNERDs (N.E.R.D. stands for Network of Educated Refined Drinkers), with proceeds going to Main Line Deputy Dog, a local charity that helps with training service dogs for those in need. For the uninitiated, BeerNERDs is a group of, well, nerds centered in southeastern PA with smatterings of members from MD, DE, and NJ. There's a Facebook Group of 5000 plus members, which naturally leads to the occasional, erm, argument. Tensions mount, some people can't handle it, others pile on, and then a full blown meltdown ensues. One particular meltdown centered on Root Down taking forever to deliver an ordered beer. I can no longer find specifics of the complaint, but the guy was awfully strident in his distaste and apparently greatly exaggerated his experience, as it was later revealed that he had only been around for a scant 107 seconds before up and leaving the place. But these details are unimportant; Root Down and BeerNERDs decided to relax and remember that it's just beer, eventually deciding to collaborate for charity.

So finally we get to the beer, a 10.7% ABV (I see what they did there) imperial oatmeal stout brewed with bitter chocolate and slow molasses. Sounds wonderful, so let's kick it root down:

Root Down Melt Down

Root Down Melt Down - Pours a very dark, deep brown, almost black color with a finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, dark chocolate, maybe a little coffee note, and that molasses tang in the background. Taste is rich and sweet up front, with a bitter roastiness emerging quickly, leavened a bit by the molasses, then returning to roast, coffee, and chocolate in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, solid carbonation, a hint of boozy heat. Overall, rock solid imperial stout. Rumors of barrel aged variants in the future, so let's leave some room for such endeavors in the rating, making this a high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a snifter on 11/12/17. Canned 11/6/17. Batch: DOOMA DOOMA.

Very much looking forward to more trips to Root Down, as well as seeing some of their barrel aging efforts come to fruition...

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

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