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December Beer Club

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For reasons outside of my control, I was unable to attend the November Beer Club. I am, myself, doubting my commitment to Sparkle Motion, but I managed to pull it together and attend this month's beer club. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which is not optional). This month, we hit up our favorite local pizza joint (and a regular delivery option here at Kaedrin HQ), America's Pie. Most attendies partook in the off-menu Pizza Pocket Pie option, a delightful deep-fried stromboli-like concoction that I have certainly devoured on occasion. Oh yeah, and we had beer too:

December Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some completely unreliable thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply, if you disagree, you're probably right and I am wrong. It has long been established that I am totally the worst. Stop harping on it, ok? In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose - Salty and sweet, with lots of that tart blood orange character making itself known. Not a mind-blower, but very nice nonetheless, would make a great summer beer. Decent way to start the night though! B+
  • SoChesCo Marianne IPA - A homebrewed IPA from one of our regular attendees, this is part of pair of IPAs brewed as one batch, then split in secondary. This one is straight up IPA. The other was does with fresh chopped ginger (it would be titled Ginger IPA, get it?) As IPAs go, this is pretty standard stuff, clearly using Chinook somewhere in the recipe. Very nice! B+
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - My homebrewed Christmas Ale... from 3 years ago! It's holding up reasonably well. Much of the spice character has faded away, but the base was robust enough to make for a decent light drinking option. When fresh, this was probably right up there with my favorite batches of homebrew. After 3 years, it's definitely degraded a bit, but it's still worth drinking. B
  • Maredsous 8 - Brune - Pretty standard Belgian Dubbel stuff, though this seems much more raisiny than I remember. B
  • Spring House The Martians Kidnap Santa! Egg Nog Stout - Wonderful nose, milk stout with a heaping helping of vanilla and a light spice. The taste doesn't quite live up to that, though it's certainly fine. Definitely worth trying. B+
  • Jack-O-Traveler Shandy - I'm not much of a shandy kinda guy, but this is bad even for a shandy. Something about the Pumpkin mixed with the lemon just doesn't work. As noted at the table, it kinda tastes like Lysol. I'm feeling particularly ungenerous at the moment, so we'll go full F
  • Earth Eagle Puca - A pumpkin porter, this had a fabulous, spicy nose, though like the Spring House beer above, the taste just didn't hold up to the nose. It's certainly a fine beer though, and worth trying if you like that sorta dark pumpkin option. B
  • Shiner Bock - Tastes like Texas! Obviously nothing special, but it still holds a nostalgic value with me. B
  • ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier - Despite yesterday's disappointing, mildly infected Bourbon Barrel Porter, I shared this beer with everyone, and they seemed to love it, just like I did. B+
  • Hardywood Gingerbread Stout - I've heard many things about this sucker, and now that Hardywood is distributing up here, I'm starting to see these things show up more often. Alas, I have to admit that amongst the typical Pumpkin/Holiday spices, Ginger is probably my least favorite, so this was good, but not quite the mind-blower I'd been lead to believe. (Oddly, I love gingerbread cookies and gingersnaps, but I guess this just had the wrong proportions). I'm sure I could easily drink an entire bottle of the stuff, but I'm glad I got to try it in this tasting atmosphere. Now, the Bourbon Barrel version of this beer is another matter entirely! That's something I really want to try. B
  • Victory Earth & Flame - A collaboration with a tiny local brewery called Earth+Bread brewery, this is a smoked Scotch ale aged in Bourbon Barrels. The smoke is pretty well muted by the Bourbon Barrels, leading to a nice fruity, bourbony character. Not quite top tier (and not quite at the level of Otto in Oak, another BBA smoked Victory beer). Something I'd definitely like to revisit in more detail. B+
  • Vicarus Winter 2013 - This is great up front, Belgian Strong Dark, highly carbonated and very dry up front, with some raisiny character apparent in the finish (which is not as dry as the initial taste would have you believe). That being said, I can't help but feel that this would probably have been better if it were fresher. Still quite decent B
  • Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout - Holy coffee, Batman! My ambivalence to coffee in beer is legendary, though I've grown to appreciate some of the more subtle varieties that have a lot of other things going on. This one is almost pure coffee grounds, which I imagine folks who love coffee would be really into, but which doesn't translate well to me personally. B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) - The latest incarnation is as good as ever, and if anything, it's not as hot as the past couple years (it's actually "only" 13.8% ABV this year, apparently an artifact of a cool spring and summer). The great satan of AB/Inbev or not, I love this beer. A
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to January.

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

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The conventional beer nerd line about lambic seems to indicate that only Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen are worth buying. That may be unfair (both make wonderful beer), but try finding a bottle of either that is not absurdly overpriced at a bar (and they'll make you open it at the bar too - no takeout). I would also put Guezerie Tilquin in that upper tier and I'm pretty sure that the only reason it's not is that people are so sick of overpaying for Cantillon and 3F that they don't want to acknowledge Tilquin's greatness, least they fly off the shelves, never be to seen again. Because I have, like, three regular readers, I have the luxury of not worrying about such things.

Regardless, the notion that only those three brands are worth checking out is patently ridiculous. It's true that most anything you get from them will be fantastic and worth the stretch (and even worth, sometimes, the price gouging you get at restaurants), but there's a pretty reliable second tier of lambic producers that are worth seeking out. Think Boon's Marriage Parfait line or Girardin's Black Label, amongst others. Oud Beersel certainly fits that mold as well.

Perhaps one thing that holds these breweries back a bit is that they put out younger, blander versions of their beer (with fruited varieties relying more on syrupy adjuncts than actual fruit). Boon's Marriage Parfait Gueuze is fantastic, but their regular gueuze doesn't quite stand up to the big guys (the Marriage Parfait tends to incorporate more 3 year old lambic into their blend than the regular). The blending process is key, and indeed, Drie Fonteinen still gets a significant portion of their wort from Boon (I'm pretty sure they are gradually decreasing their dependency on Boon and have expanding their own brewing operations, but it's pretty clear that the difference is aging and blending). Oud Beersel has a similar line of younger lambics and a line of "Vieille" lambics which seem to incorporate more mature stocks into the blend. While I wouldn't put this up there with Cantillon's fruited sours, it's still a pretty darn solid Kriek:

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille - Pours a striking ruby red color with tons of fluffy pink head. Seriously, that image doesn't quite capture the striking appearance of this beer... I shall endeavor to take better pictures (I know, I'm the worst.) Smells of tart cherries, oak, and some dusty, musty funk - definitely a different house character than the other lambics I've had. Taste hits with tart, jammy fruit up front, moves quickly into some oak, that dusty, earthy funk in the middle, and a quick quick sour kick in the finish. When cold, its got sharp edges, but it smooths out a little as it warms. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, dry up front but sticky in the finish, not as much oak as expected, but it gets fuller as it warms. Overall, a nice cherry lambic, certainly not top tier, but perhaps top of the middle tier... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Charente glass on 11/29/14. Best Before: 18.04.2032.

Not bad for a brewery that's been operating since 1882 (with a brief blip about a decade ago where it was ownerless), at this point I'd certainly like to check out their Oude Gueuze Vieille

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA

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"West Shore IPA" is not some sort of mutated take on "West Coast IPA", it's actually a reference to the Western shore of the Susquehana river near Harrisburg, PA, where Pizza Boy Brewing is located. Of course, depending on how you define the hallowed West Coast IPA (and let's not get into that Holy War right now), this is also a decent take on the style. As such, it appears to be Pizza Boy's flagship beer, such that when opportunities for bottling and distribution came about, this was one of the first brews packaged. And indeed, it's a pretty standard take on the style, well worth checking out:

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA - Pours a standard golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus hops, grapefruit, a hint of pine in the background. Taste starts sweet with a very nice citrus and hefty pine hop character, yielding to a dry, bitter finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, on the lower end of medium bodied, and dry. Overall, a very nice, if a bit typical, take on an IPA. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/28/14.

This is pretty emblematic of all the stuff I've had from Pizza Boy - really solid and well worth trying. I need to get out there someday and sample their sours, which seem to have a pretty good reputation. Until then, I'll just have to make due with their distributed offerings!

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

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Beer has a reputation. It's the drink of the working class, and as such, many of the craft beers out there play up subversive or lewd aspects in their marketing. Indeed, this is part of the appeal of craft beers, an indicator of non-snobbery. Unfortunately, this often translates into horrible names or sexist labels, but Firestone Walker managed to walk a fine line with this one.

As the story goes, Firestone Walker had frequently released a tap-only oatmeal stout called Velvet Merkin back in the day. They changed up the recipe frequently and once they settled on something they really wanted, they had trouble getting the label approved (for the uninitiated, a "Merkin" is a pubic wig!) So in 2010 they pivoted and released the beer, a svelt 5.5% ABV Oatmeal Stout, as Velvet Merlin. However, they continued to try and get the Velvet Merkin name approved, this time applying it to an amped up, barrel aged version of Velvet Merlin. What we end up with is the current incarnation of Velvet Merkin, an 8.5% ABV oatmeal stout aged in a variety of barrels (the 2014 vintage used Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels as well as some Rittenhouse Rye barrels). So yes, a little crude, but Firestune's packaging is it's usual classy self, and the inclusion of a little grey triangle is actually quite brilliant - this is my kinda lewd and subversive.

This has long been on my list of beers to catch up with, ever since I missed out on it back in 2012 (and had to settle for, gasp, Parabola), so I was most excited to secure a bottle. In truth, this might be the lowest ABV bourbon barrel aged beer I've ever had. Does that work? Only one way to find out:

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light tan head that sticks around a bit. The nose definitely goes light on the barrel character, lots of roast and coffee aromas, maybe some chocolate and hints of caramel and vanilla. The taste hits a little harder on the barrel character, faint bourbon, a nice amount of vanilla, a little roast in the middle yielding to a bit of caramel, some milk chocolate, and coffee in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth and almost creamy, not as heavy or rich as your typical bourbon barrel aged beer, a little drier too. This makes it less of a sipper, though it's not really something you want to chug either. The barrel character really is rather light. Overall, this is an expertly crafted, well balanced barrel aged beer. There are some who would prefer this sort of thing to Parabola, but alas, those people are not me. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/14. Vintage 2014.

I can't say as though I'm disappointed by this beer, but it's definitely not quite the amazing I was hoping for and expecting. That being said, Firestone Walker's barrel program is still held in high esteem here at Kaedrin, and you'll be seeing a couple more barrel aged wonders form these folks in the near future. Stay tuned!

Logsdon Straffe Drieling

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Back when I started homebrewing, I made a tripel for my second batch. A relative neophyte, the tripel was one of my favorite styles, and I was overexcited at the prospect of making a whole 5 gallons of the stuff. As it fermented away, I anxiously tried to come up with some sort of fancy name for my beer and promptly ran into a brick wall. I've noted before that I'm terrible at naming beer and am mildly comforted when a real brewer comes up with something straightforward to their beer. Ultimately, while I enjoyed that batch of tripel, it quickly dropped off in quality, with a huge fusel alcohol quality developing, so naming it was a moot point.

Here we have Logsdon's take on a Tripel, called Straffe Drieling, or Three Sisters. It's an oblique reference to the Three Sisters mountains of Central Oregon, but also a set of triplets presumably born to the Logsdon family or somesuch. Good for them, and that's certainly a worthy name for a tripel. As per usual, though, it's what's inside the bottle that really counts. Fortunately, this David Logsdon guy knows his stuff, especially when it comes to Belgian styles:

Logsdon Straffe Drieling

Logsdon Straffe Drieling - Pours a cloudy yellow color with a couple fingers of dense white head that has good retention and leaves a bit of lacing. Smells of Belgian yeast, sweet and spicy, cloves, even a little in the way of noble hops. The taste starts sweet, but then hits strong with the Belgian yeast spice character, and perhaps some actual spices themselves, clove, coriander and the like. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, effervescent, and fairly dry, just like a tripel should be. Overall, an excellent example of the style, if not quite reaching the exalted heights of some of Logsdon's other masterpieces. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a Tired Hands wine glass on 11/8/14. Bottle No. 721. Best by 05/2016.

So not quite Seizoen Bretta levels awesome (incidentally, shared another bottle of that this past weekend and once again blew some minds - it's such a fantastic beer), but a really solid take on another Belgian style. I'm always down with trying more Logsdon. Fingers crossed for some Peche 'n Brett someday. Someday.

Midnight Sun Moscow

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Midnight Sun has some notoriety in beer nerd circles due to a few of their beers showing up on the pretty ridiculous White Whale list. So they had a pretty good run at one point, and while I'm pretty sure I'll never get to try Midnight Sun M (and at this point, 5 years later, that's probably a good thing), I was interested enough to check out some of their other offerings. Moscow was first brewed as part of their 2011 World Tour series, and it must have struck a nerve, since they're still brewing it. A hefty imperial stout brewed with rye. Funny story, the TTB (the government agency which approves labels on alcoholic beverages) gave them gruff about the name and required them to put "Product of the USA" on the label. Thank goodness for government regulation. So let's open this sucker up and see what's inside:

Midnight Sun Moscow

Midnight Sun Moscow - Pours black as a politician's heart with cap of slowly forming but quickly disappearing brown head (would be really pretty if it stuck around a while longer, perhaps I just needed to pour a little stronger). Smells lightly of roasted malt with a certain rich sweetness, maybe a little caramel, perhaps some of that herbal, spicy rye. Taste features much more in the way of roasted malt, more bitter dark chocolate than coffee, with that rye spice and dryness kicking in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and as a result, not as rich or decadent as the nose may imply (not entirely a bad thing, to be sure), and indeed, the finish is almost dry (at least, for a beer like this). Overall, what we have here is a rock solid imperial stout, roasty with enough additional complexity to make it worth the stretch. I feel like I'm saying this a lot lately, but on the upper end of a B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/1/14.

A very welcome start, and I hope to seek out some of Midnight Sun's more prized regular releases, like Arctic Devil and Bezerker (No idea how easy or hard it will be to land those, but I'm an optimist). I'm glad the weather is turning cooler, as the seasonal stouts are starting to come out and play.

ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier

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More semi-local PA bangers have been showing up in the Philly area, including these ShawneeCraft fellas. I've heard nebulous mutterings of them, but on a recent beer run, I spied a few bottles in the wild that sounded intriguing. One was a Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter (sold!), and then there's this thing, a Belgian Witbier fermented with raspberries and aged in oak barrels. It's actually a blend of the barrel aged portion and some fresh beer, though the percentages aren't specified. Regardless, this is my kinda ambitious from a relatively new brewery, so let's check it out:

ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier

ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier - Pours a murky but radiant light orange, maybe peachy color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells quite strongly of tart raspberry and pungent funk, with some oak and vanilla doing its thing, actually a very pleasant nose. Taste has a sharp sourness to it, lots of intense, tart fruit, raspberries, cherries and the like, and plenty of oak. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, effervescent, very little stickiness, but a fair amount of acidity. Overall, it's an intense little sour, packs a punch, but also complex and actually rather delicious. Another borderline case, but I'll stick with a high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.75% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/31/14. 2014 vintage.

A very promising start, and something I hope to revisit. As mentioned above, I also snagged a bottle of the Bourbon Barrel Porter, so keep an eye out for that review...

Pizza Boy Simcoe SamuRYE

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A few years ago, Al's of Hampden was your typical PA pizza joint. For the uninitiated, Pizza is everywhere around here. I live in the suburbs, and I have about 4-5 pizza places within about half a mile radius of my house (and probably double or triple that if you make it a mile). Because of this, some places have to differentiate themselves and Al's of Hampden had glommed onto the whole Craft Beer revolution, featuring a bunch of takeout bottles* and taps. But as craft beer continued to explode, Al found that he had some trouble keeping his taps flowing, and rather than whine about it, he installed a brewhouse and started making his own beer to make up for the shortfall. It appears to be a small operation, allowing them to experiment with all sorts of weird stuff, including some barrel aging and sours and whatnot. Music to my earballs. The brewing operation is known as Pizza Boy brewing, and it's been steadily building up a good reputation amongst local beer nerds. Alas, they're located in Enola, PA (a 1-2 hour drive from Kaedrin HQ), and I've been far too lazy for far too long. Fortunately for my laziness, Pizza Boy has started to bottle some of their brews and even distribute them. I hope this is a sign of things to come, but for now, I was happy to snag one of these Red Rye IPAs made with Simcoe hops.

Pizza Boy Simcoe SamuRYE

Pizza Boy Simcoe SamuRYE - Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown, with a finger of dense, off white head that has decent retention and leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smells amazing, lots of Simcoe's characteristic citrus and pine merged very nicely with some sugary sweet malt aromas. Taste follows the nose, lots of citrus and pine hops, a little dank, some rye spiciness with a hefty malt backbone. Mouthfeel is very well carbonated, medium to full bodied, extremely well balanced. Overall, this is among the best rye IPAs I've had. On the upper end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/31/14.

So here's the plan. On some fine day, I'll need to take a road trip to visit some PA breweries, hitting Tröegs in Hershey first, then Al's/PizzaBoy, then Selin's Grove (a place I really need to check out at some point). Round trip, I'm figuring 6-7 hours though, so don't hold your breath. I don't think I'd even attempt this until next year, but it will happen someday. Oh yes. In the meantime, I'll just have to hope that some of Pizza Boy's more interesting experimental stuff makes their way down here...

* Again, for you non-PA residents, out fine commonwealth does not generally allow for beer distributors to sell by the bottle (only by the case). This is a fact that I've bemoaned many times before, but the good news is that there is a bit of a loophole in that restaurants are allowed to sell by the bottle, hence there are several places, like Al's, that have really stepped up their selection to serve the hungry market.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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