Recently in B+ Category

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...

Jackie O's Double Feature

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The impression I get is that Jackie O's is a sort of hidden gem. Perhaps because they're located in Ohio, or perhaps because they don't have that one walezish offering that everyone goes bonkers over (an arguable point, I'm sure, but still). I've had a few things in informal settings, and recently came into a couple of staple bottles that would be a reasonable introduction. So let's get into it:

Hockhocking

Jackie O's Hockhocking - I'm pretty sure Jackie O's isn't known for this sort of thing, a mixed fermentation saison aged in wine barrels. Named after a river and music festival that takes place on the banks of said river, this is certainly a worthy entry into that crowded style. Pours a pale, slightly hazy yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, vinous fruit, lactic funk. Taste starts off sweet, with lots of tart, vinous fruit, maybe a hint of saison spice in the middle, with the finish having a funky, lactic tartness to it. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, medium bodied, moderate acidity, quaffable. Overall, this is a pretty great little saison. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/11/17. Vintage: 2017.

Oil Of Aphrodite

Jackie O's Oil Of Aphrodite - An imperial stout brewed with black walnuts and Belgian candied syrup. Pours black with a finger of light brown head. Smells very sweet and sugary, not much roast, a little caramel and vanilla. Taste follows the nose, a little more roast here than the nose, but still very sweet, caramel and vanilla, some piney hops in the finish balance things out a bit. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed. Overall, a pretty straightforward imperial stout, a little on the sweet side, but quite nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/17/17.

A promising start. Now I just need to snag some of their barrel aged offerings, which I've heard good things about...

Boon Vat 109 Mono Blend

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For anything that is primarily blended, there's this instinct to see what individual components would taste like. You see this a lot in whiskey, but there are plenty of other applications as well. Take this series of Mono Blends from Boon. Each is primarily composed of lambic from a single foeder (blended with a very small amount of young lambic for bottle conditioning purposes), and this is the third one that I've had. Unfortunately, I've had them over the course of 2-3 years, so this isn't exactly a side-by-side comparison, but I feel like all three have been somewhat distinct.

Vat 77 was very earthy with a big kick of minerality. Vat 79 was noticeably more fruity and tart, though it still retained that mineral character that I seem to get out of all of Boon's lambic. Now we've got Vat 109, a 9000 liter cask built over a hundred years ago (approx 1910 timeframe) and originally made to be used in beer production. That being said, it was used to age Cognac starting in 1935 up until Boon got their hands on it in 2009. This particular batch was brewed in 2014 and released in 2016, only showing up on my local shelves recently (at least, that I saw). With acknowledgement to the infamously unreliable nature of memory, I'd put this somewhere on the continuum between Vat 77's earthy minerality and Vat 79's more fruity character, though all have what I'm coming to recognize as Boon's trademark character.

Boon Vat 109 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Geuze A L'Ancienne Vat 109 Mono Blend - Pours a hazy golden color with a couple fingers of fluffy, fizzy head that manages to stick around for a bit. Smells great, lots of earthiness, that trademark Boon minerality, and something brighter, fruitier in the background. Taste hits that mineral character pretty hard, lots of earthy funk, with a touch of sourness and fruit only really emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, lowish acidity. Overall, this is another solid offering from the Mono Blend line, maybe not quite as great as 79, but still damn good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.25% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a geuze tumbler on 11/4/17. Best Before 04/19/2025. Batch #: 71312.

I have some extra bottles of Vat 79 and now 109, so maybe one day I'll be able to do a better, side by side comparison (perhaps we can wait until we get some additional batches out there), which would be entirely more reliable than drinking these suckers months/years apart and trying to discern the differences that way.

Tusk & Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02

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Saint Archer was an independent San Diego brewery that opened in 2013, but then sold out to some sort of unholy agglomeration of Miller, Coors, and Molson in 2015 (those three macros have been circling each other for a while and while I think they've finally settled on their final form, I don't think it's worth going into too much detail. Suffice to say that they're the number two brewing concern in the U.S. behind AB InBev.) It was one of the earlier sellouts, and of course the news was greeted with much consternation and gnashed teeth amongst the craft beer cognoscenti.

To my mind, whilst not a huge fan of massive corporations pushing around smaller breweries (which manifests in a variety of sneaky ways not worth enumerating at this point), I'm also not going to completely close myself off to the possibility of a beer from sellouts. For all the bluster and fury of the beer dorks, it's not like people aren't lining up for the likes of Bourbon County Brand Stout (made by notable sellout Goose Island) on Black Friday every year. What's more, that beer is still phenomenal. And, you know, I like phenomenal beer. So will this Tusk & Grain (i.e. their series of oak aged offerings) beer justify shelling out shekels for a stealth-macro?

As the name implies, this is a blend of several barrel-aged components. Primarily a barleywine that spent two years in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels, with some two year old imperial stout and a one year old "export" stout blended in for complexity (exact proportions not specified). Apparently the big different between this second blend and the original blend is that the components are much older this time around. Sounds good to me. This approach calls to mind Firestone Walker's Anniversary mega-blends, which frankly sets the bar pretty damned high. I don't think they quite managed to clear that bar, but it's an admirable attempt, and one that I'm glad I tried, macro-ownership issues be damned.

Saint Archer Tusk and Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02

Saint Archer Tusk & Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02 - Pours a dark brown color with a cap of light brown head. Smells boozy, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a little roast, a little caramel. Taste hits similar notes, more roast here than the nose, with a crystal malt note, moderately integrated barrel character, typical bourbon, oak, and vanilla notes. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little boozy. Overall, it's a nice blend and worth the stretch, but it takes a clear backseat to the Firestone Anniversary blends. A high B+ (possibly an A- if I was feeling generous, but obviously I'm not right now...)

Beer Nerd Details: 12.94% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 8/19/17.

Jeeze, I don't review anything for a couple weeks and my return review is a stinkin macro? A thousand pardons, I shall endeavor to do better. That said, this beer made a decent enough impression that I'd be curious to try some of their other offerings. So perhaps not a full thousand pardons. But a few, maybe? Something like that? Eh, let's just drink a beer and leave it at that.

Anchorage Darkest Hour

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I have a friend with a penchant for Alaskan beers who was always giving me a hard time for only having two reviews of Anchorage beers on the blog, so this one's for you buddy. Also, if you can get me an extra bottle or two of A Deal With The Devil, I will gladly review that (in all fairness, this person has generously shared a bottle of that right excellent barleywine, and it was indeed glorious, but those weren't exactly ideal reviewer conditions and you know how we do here at Kaedrin - journalistic integrity and all that garbage. Alright fine, it's just laziness, you happy now?)

So what we have here is an Imperial Stout brewed with Summit hops, aged in a variety whisky barrels, and bottle conditioned with a wine yeast. This is apparently different from the original batch (released in 2013), which used a Belgian yeast and incorporated Pinot Noir barrels in addition to whiskey barrels. It still feels like a distinct offering in a crowded BBA stout field. To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, this is the sort of beer that requires "an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth." Or, you know, something like that.

Anchorage Darkest Hour

Anchorage Darkest Hour - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with just a ring of brown head around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet and rich, caramel, liquorish, oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Taste has a sweet, rich caramel to it, with that liquorish pitching in, roasted malt, char, coffee, a hint of spice, finishing on that whisky, oak, and vanilla tip. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, light but appropriate carbonation, sneaky booze bite. Overall, yep, really good example of the style, if not quite as comparatively great as something like ADWTD... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/18/17. Vintage: Batch #3 DEC/2016.

So there you have it. If I ever get my greedy little paws on ADWTD, you will most certainly see that popping up here at some point, but you never know. I've generally enjoyed everything I've had from Anchorage, so maybe we'll get to something else before then...

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