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Free Will Ralphius Variants

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Free Will makes what is probably the best local barrel-aged stout, dubbed Ralphius. To be sure, there are plenty of one-offs that could contend (both Levante and Tired Hands could compete in this arena) and if you widen the "local" area, others will put up a good fight (or, uh, dominate).

Free Will Ralphius Variants

This year, Free Will has decided to expand their program with variants, which is what we'll cover today. Released in a low-pressure Black Friday event, they're clearly providing an independent, local alternative to Bourbon County and associated variants. As per usual, this sort of stout variant game represents nice changes of pace, but mostly I come back to the idea of straight bourbon barrel aged stouts, and regular ol' Ralphius is probably still my favorite. Because I'm boring? Sure, let's go with that. Now that I've killed all the momentum and suspense, let's take a look at these variants....

Free Will Maple Ralphius

Free Will Maple Ralphius - Aged in Bourbon and Bourbon Maple Barrels - Pours a deep black color with only a crown of brown head. Smells of rich caramel, a hint of chocolate and roast, with some brown sugar, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, only a little of that maple barrel. Taste is rich and sweet, caramel, a touch of maple syrup, hints of underlying roast, and plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lightly but well carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Overall, it's a great little variant, maple is present but not overpowering or cloying, I probably should have bought more of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coconut Chocolate Ralphius - Aged with, you guessed it, coconut and chocolate - Pours deep black with a bit more head, half a finger that quickly resolves to the crown. Smells... a lot like regular Ralphius, some roast, caramel, and lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. As it warms and if I do the olephactory equivalent of squinting, I get some coconut. Taste is again pretty light on the coconut, but it's there, but the Ralphius base is its standard self. I guess chocolate is there too, but it doesn't really stand out. Mouthfeel is on point as well. Overall, a good beer, a bit light on the Coconut, but the Ralphius base keeps it going. Not especially sure how to rate this, as it's probably an A- due to the strength of the base, but if you're looking for a Coconut stout, this might not fully scratch that itch, making it more of a B+. I never managed to snag the Iron Abbey Collaboration that Free Will made last year, which sounded an awful lot like this variant of Ralphius, so I can't really make the comparison, though I'd like to try sometime!

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Chocolate Orange Ralphius - Aged with, big shocker, chocolate and orange - Pours that same deep black with a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells similar to the standard Ralphius profile, but the orange and chocolate do pop, especially as it warms. Taste is sweet, lots of that base Ralphius character, but the citrus and chocolate do make an impression. Mouthfeel is par for the course. Overall, a good beer, a nice variant, but original Ralphius still rules. This is perhaps more subtle than the BCBS take on same, for what that's worth. And I'm not really sure what that's worth. Is it worth having a variant if the added flavor doesn't come through too strong? B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Cinnamon Chile Ralphius - Aged with cinnamon and ancho chilies - Yeah, looks the same, almost no head this time. Smells heavily of cinnamon, a little chile too and hints of the usual Ralphius base, but the cinnamon is dominant here. Taste features more of the Ralphius base than the nose would have you believe, but the cinnamon is still powerful with a lighter touch on the chile, though you get a teensy bit of lingering spicy heat in the finish (nothing untoward though, and the cinnamon is still front and center). Mouthfeel is the usual full bodied stuff, a little spicy heat from the chile that lingers a bit, but again, it's a light touch that adds complexity, rather than overwhelm. The cinnamon, on the otherhand, almost feels like it's adding something to the mouthfeel. Grainy? Chalky? Not sure how to describe it, but the cinnamon is not just tasted, but felt. Overall, way more heavy handed than any of the variants, especially when it comes to the cinnamon, which is prevalent despite the strength of the base, which is the only thing keeping it remotely in check. I happen to like cinnamon, but this is perhaps a bit much. I'm enjoying it, but I could see it being a turnoff to some. I'm finding it to be a nice accompaniment to the holiday season though. B

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coffee Ralphius

Free Will Coffee Ralphius - Yes, the dreaded coffee (apparently from local Speakeasy Coffee Company) - Same general appearance, a nose with lots of coffee and a little of that base caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste has that standard Ralphius character with a prominent coffee bite coming in the middle and lingering through the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a little boozy heat. Overall, it's a well balanced bba coffee stout, very well done. If you're missing BCBCS this year, this one should tide you over. Even my coffee ambivalence can sometimes be conquered. This is the highest rated of all the Ralphius entries this year, and I can see why, even if my general taste still prefers regular. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Pretty sure the beer nerd details are, er, estimated, since they're all identical (except for when I drank it, which is precise and accurate), but you get the picture.

Odd Breed Double Feature

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South Florida's Odd Breed is a small brewery focused on wild ales that I've become acquainted with thanks to Kaedrin friend Steve, who lives down those parts and generously volunteers to send some Florida cheer up my way from time to time. My guess is that it's called Odd Breed due to their use of wild yeasts and other microflora, and totally not a fiendish, Doctor Moreau-esque plot to cross-breed humans with wild animals. However, if they do ever announce a new production facility location at a remote Atlantic island, I may be more skeptical. What can I say, I love beer, but I'm distrustful of many brewers' stated goals. Um... anywho, they make good beer, so let's take a look:

Odd Breed Past and Future

Odd Breed Past & Future - This is their Flagship, a pretty straightforward saison aged in French oak puncheons. I say straightforward, but the brewer says he's been working on the recipe from years, and it's evolved from a super-dry Dupont-esque clone to a beer that loosened the dryness and upped the acidity. Pours a pale straw yellow color with a solid finger of medium bubbled head that manages to hang on for a while. Smells quite nice, oak and saison spice, hints of tart fruit. Taste starts out sweet, hits that saison spice (like cloves and coriander), then tart fruit, finishing with a tart kick. Mouthfeel is light and crisp, well carbonated, and relatively dry. Overall, a very well executed saison, and a rock solid flagship that compares favorably with locals like Tired Hands. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/7/18. Bottled on: 09/11/18. Batch 2.

Odd Breed Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches

Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches - A blend of golden wild ales aged in those French oak puncheons that are then transferred onto nearly 800 pounds of hand-picked, ripe organic peaches (which were only lightly washed, so as to contribute their own microflora). Pours a pale, very cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells great, plenty of peaches, some lactic funk, and even more peaches. Taste has a nice dry character with some peachy sweetness to it, followed by some puckering tartness and some oak, and then more peaches and did I mention peaches in the finish. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and dry, moderate acidity, perhaps not quite quaffable, but headed in that direction. Overall, yeah, this is a real winner right here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/18. Bottled on: 06/22/18.

A nice first impression, for sure, and I have a couple others that I'll be bringing to shares in the near-ish future. I suspect this won't be the last you see of Odd Breed here...

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.

Suarez Family Brewing Quadruple Feature

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Every year, I take a vacation in upstate New York (these are the occasions that inspire the Operation Cheddar trips to Vermont) and this year, I noticed that there's an alternative route to get to my vacation destination that takes me past a few NY breweries of note. Case in point: Suarez Family Brewery. Dan Suarez cut his teeth working at a series of NYC breweries in the mid aughts (notably Sixpoint and Brooklyn) and then became Sean Hill's first employee at Hill Farmstead. After a few years there, he set out on his own, creating his family brewery in upstate NY and putting out what he terms "crispy little beers". From what I can tell, they seem to specialize in saisons (which tend to be similar in character to what Hill Farmstead puts out) and pilsners, with the occasional pale ale thrown in for good measure. The brewery is a small but comfy little place, and Suarez seems to have lots of plans. For now, they're just serving their beers, but someday they hope to have tacos and other foodstuffs. Until then, we'll just have to deal with their world class beer. Let's dive in:

Palatine Pils

Palatine Pils - Before I left on my trip, I bought some local beer to drink whilst on vacation (and before Operation Cheddar), and promptly left that local stuff at home. So when I got to Suarez, I grabbed a few extra four packs of this, which became the unofficial beer of the week. Pours a clear, pale gold color with a finger of white, fluffy head that has good retention and leaves a bit of lacing. Smells of earthy, grassy noble hops with a bready crackery character that fits well. Taste follows the nose, a light bready character with some noble hops kicking in. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and quaffable, really well balanced. Overall, yup, certainly one of the better pilsners I've had... B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can on 7/31/18 (picture above is in a willibecher glass in September). Canned 06.27.18. Drink by 08.29.18.

Suarez Proclivity

Proclivity - Country beer brewed with fresh pineapple sage. Pours a pale golden color with a finger of white, fluffy head that doesn't quite stick around as long. Smells good, similar, light musty funk and hints of spice. Taste is sweet, with a little more spice and some sort of fresh herbs (presumably that sage), finshing with a light tartness. Mouthfeel is a little heftier than Call to Mind, well carbonated, no less crisp or quaffable. Overall, this is also great, maybe a hint better, but overall quite similar. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 8/1/18. Bottled: 2/18.

Suarez Call to Mind

Call to Mind - Country beer brewed with chamomile, lemon thyme, and lemon balm, briefly ripened in oak casks. Pours a pale golden color with a solid finger or two of white, fluffy head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink. Smells nice, light musty funk, hints of spice, and some tart lemon lime action. Taste starts sweet, hits that tart lemony note, then moves on to a light spicy funk. Mouthfeel is light bodied, low acidity, well carbonated, crisp, and quaffable. This goes down fast. Overall, it's a great little farmhouse number, akin to something like HF Florence. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/7/18. Bottled: 3/18.

Suarez Postscript

Postscript - Country beer brewed with a generous portion of raw spelt sourced from their neighbors, then aged in oak casks. Pours more of a pale, straw yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head. Smell is back to the tart lemon character, but with plenty of funky aromas and some spice too. Taste is a little more rounded, starting off sweet, hitting those spicy notes, then some oak, and finishing with a well balanced tartness. Mouthfeel is more like Proclivity than Call to Mind, that oak is definitely doing its thing, well carbonated, moderate acidity, still pretty darned crisp and quaffable. Overall, oh wow, another great farmhouse beer from Suarez, big shocker. Very good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 7/31/18. Bottled: 5/18.

So yes, well worth seeking out Suarez, and I've certainly found a new, regular stop on my way to vacation.

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!)

Anchorage The Experiment

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Even for a science fiction nerd like myself, the prospect of visitation by extra-terrestrial aliens is pretty unlikely. Since this is a beer blog, I won't geek out on the scale and energy details needed for interstellar travel here, but I will note that a lot of the common stories about, for example, an alien craft crashing near Roswell, NM, strain credulity even further. If an alien species manages to travel thousands of light years, dodging all manner of interstellar obstacles, but gets tripped up by the tricksy New Mexican landscape, something doesn't quite fit. Then again, maybe aliens did land in Alaska and start collaborating on beer with Anchorage brewing.

This is a light sour fermentated in French oak foudres with a Belgian yeast and then aged for a year in those foudres with a mixed culture and finished on what I must assume was an obscene amount of wild Alaskan blueberries. Doesn't sound that unusual or experimental, but the color they were able to coax out of this stuff doesn't seem possible without the aid of extra-terrestrial brewers. Or just a shit ton of blueberries. Probably the latter, but the former should not be discounted. Unfortunately, my bottle did not contain an overabundance of carbonation, so the color (of the head in particular) isn't quite as striking in the picture as it could have been, but just look at this stuff!

Anchorage The Experiment

Anchorage The Experiment - Pours a deep, dark amber purple color with a finger of striking, dark purple head that alas, doesn't stick around too long and which I was lucky to capture in the picture as much as I did. Smells quite funky, earthy, with those blueberries coming through strong. Taste is sweet, with that earthy funk coming through, a little oak, tons of blueberries with a very light tartness. The funk here is something that feels distinct to blueberry beers, the sort of thing that turns almost smokey, though in this particular case, they did a good job preventing that (I had a bottle of Cascade Blueberry once that did not fare so well; again, this Anchorage beer did much better). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a little low on the carbonation (but there's plenty there), low acidity too. Overall, an interesting *ahem* experiment. Tasty, but the most striking thing about it is the other-worldly appearance... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/14/18.

Pretty sure my teeth were bright purple after drinking this stuff. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend, fellow beer nerd, and Alaskan beer enthusiast Rich for helping procure the bottle. One of these days I'll get my greedy biscuit snatchers on an actual bottle of ADWTD for myself, rather than just relying on the generosity of friends like Rich at a share. In the meantime, Anchorage's more accessible brews are usually still worth a flier.

Plan Bee Barn Beer

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This upstate New York brewery specializes in making beer with the use of only local, New York ingredients, some of which are even harvested from their own grounds (including, as their namesake would imply, honey from an army of sentient bees they are no doubt breeding for eventual world domination). Ingredients are often sourced from all over the world, even when you're "drinking local", so this "brewing local" focus is a nice twist, provided the bees do not perceive us as a threat to be eradicated, which they surely will. I've looked into visiting before, but it always seemed out of the way and I'm terrified of these vicious, unstoppable bees and their blasphemous, inconceivable hive mind. Writing this post, I have just now realized that I could probably stop in during the prelude to next year's Operation Cheddar (this year, I stopped somewhere else nearby that was not infested with swarms of monstrous bees, which we will get to in time). This particular beer appears to be something of a flagship and while not exactly widely available, I did find a bottle in PA. It's made with a coolship (for, um, cooling, but also inoculating with wild yeast and other beasties) and aged in oak.

Plan Bee Barn Beer

Plan Bee Barn Beer - Pours a pale, not quite clear yellow color with a solid finger of white, fluffy head with decent retention. Smells great, funky but bright and lemony, a little spice in the background. Taste follows the nose, a light funk and spice, tart lemony flavors, finishing with a nice sour kick. Mouthfeel is well carbed, crisp, and refreshing, light acidity, almost quaffable. Overall, it's a really solid little farmhouse beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/14/18.

I've had small tastes of a couple other Plan Bee beers, and they've all been pretty darned good. We will have to find a way to snag some of those beers in the future. In the meantime, I've got a few beers from the brewery hinted at above, and astute readers will recognize that I initially wrote this in July and thus I have a backlog of reviews to get through, so stay tuned.

Update: I have been informed that the bees are not hostile and that "Plan Bee" is not a military operation proposing a world ending hivemind threat, but rather a simple, good-natured pun. Many apologies, some comments above have been struck from the record.

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!

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

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