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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.

Belated BBQ Beer Club Recap

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Last week was Beer Club, and in a heinous act of negligence, I'm only getting to the recap now. I know, I'm the worst. 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 part is not optional). This month we hit up a local BBQ joint, loaded up on smoked meats, and cracked open quite a few beers:

October Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. The usual disclaimers apply, and you'll want to amplify your skepticism even further due to the fact that I'm writing this about 5 days later than normal. Great, so now that we've established that the proceeding descriptions are completely devoid of merit, we can begin. In order of drinking, not necessarily the order in the picture, and in fact, there are several beers not pictured (and we didn't get to some of the ones that were):

  • Neshaminy Creek County Line IPA - I know "East Coast IPA" isn't a real thing, but I think it kinda describes stuff like this. A local IPA with plenty of hop character that's balanced out by plenty of crystal malts (much more than you get in typical West Coast IPAs). Its enjoyable, but it won't blow minds. The very definition of a B, though sometimes I want to bump that up to a B+, which I guess means it's not the very definition of a B, but give me a break, I'm not under oath here.
  • Anchorage Whiteout Wit Bier - Belgian Wit beer aged in Chardonnay barrels with Brettanomyces? Sign me up. Nice funk to it, with plenty of typical wheat beer character. Worth checking out. B+
  • Upstate I.P.W. - A friend brought a bunch of beers that he grabbed whilst in New York, and this India Pale Wheat ale was quite nice. One of those things I could see myself reaching for, were I a local. Great citrus/pine hop character, light wheat, crisp, and refreshing. B+
  • Ken's Homebrewed Pecan Brown - Wow, that pecan character really comes through on the nose and in the taste. A little lighter in color than your typical brown ale, but that pecan character really sets this apart, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • Sly Fox Incubus - A beer I've reviewed before (a looong time ago), but I'll just say that this bottle had a more distinct raisiny note than I remember. On the other hand, it is a bit high on the booze and stickiness factor, something I'm not huge on when it comes to Tripels. Still a solid B in my book.
  • The Beer Diviner Very! Brown Ale - Another New York beer, my friend apparently stumbled on it by asking his phone to point out breweries near his location. This one turned out to be a guy brewing out of his house on a farm or something like that. This particular beer was a pretty standard brown ale, nutty and toasty, if a bit stronger than normal. B
  • Cascade Apricot - One of my contributions, and a beer we've reviewed relatively recently, so I don't have much to add to that. A-
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - A beer I've had many times at this point, and as Black IPAs (or whatever you want to call them) go, it's probably the best regularly available option out there. Big citrus and pine hop component along with the typical roast of a stout, without letting either character overwhelm (or making you wish you had a straight IPA or stout). B+
  • Founders Dark Penance - This is a relatively recent addition to Founders lineup, and like everything Founders makes, it's a solid take on the style. However, having it in close proximity to Wookey Jack made me feel like this was lacking. It was fine, to be sure, and it'd probably be worth trying in a less chaotic environment. B
  • Two Roads Conntucky Lightnin' Bourbon Ale - Well, I didn't get a ton of Bourbon out of this, and it seemed a bit thin for what it proclaims on the label. Not really bad, or anything, but a bit of a disappointment. B-
  • Breckenridge Agave Wheat - Seemed pretty bland, though that sweet agave does come through in the taste. Probably should have opened this much earlier in the night, but here we are. C+
  • Pizza Boy Bean Dream - It's supposed to be a milk stout with vanilla beans, but I don't get a ton of vanilla. On the other hand, it is a pretty solid milk stout, smooth with a nice chocolatey roast character. I really need to get out to Pizza Boy one of these days... B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Bourbon Porter - This was a pretty solid take on the style, and the bourbon oak character comes through well enough, actually much better than that Conntucky Bourbon stuff from earlier. Go Ken!
  • Bonus Beer: Otter Creek Brewing / Lawson's Double Dose IPA - Whilst at beer club, someone found out that a local drinkery tapped some Lawson's Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, so after beer club, a small cadre of attendees made a slight detour. Now, both of the beers we had were actually collaborations that are more widely available than the typical entries from those breweries (HF sometimes sends kegs down here, but Lawson's never does), but I'm not complaining, because these were both great beers. This DIPA is fabulous. Huge hop character, citrus and pine and something almost zesty. Not quite Double Sunshine great, but definitely something I want more of. B+
  • Bonus Beer: Grassroots Convivial Suaréz - A sorta funky saison made with hibiscus, I really enjoyed this, though I didn't take any real detailed notes. Nice funky character, and the hibiscus actually does come through. B+
And another successful beer club, fun and smoked meat had by all. Already looking forward to our next meeting...

Fantôme Printemps

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Every once in a while some respected craft brewer will mention that they enjoy the occasional Miller High Life or something, and everyone loses their shit. In reality, there is something amazing about what the macro brewers do, and it's called consistency. These companies make a gajillion gallons of beer in dozens of facilities worldwide, and yet their resulting product is remarkably, almost mind-bogglingly consistent. The technical achievement, logistics, and efficiency that goes into making these beers is actually very impressive. They even go so far as to cryogenically freeze cans of beer to compare over long periods of time.

Craft brewers are often less consistent, for a variety of reasons. In most cases, this is well known and planned for, like IPAs with best-by dates that aren't that far off or bottle conditioned beers that are actually meant to evolve over time. Intense and fresh flavors are difficult to maintain any sort of consistency with, if only because you can't control what the consumer does with your beer. I suspect one of the reasons that hyped IPAs remain so highly rated is that they are almost always consumed very fresh. So I do think that Heady Topper is pretty consistent, but if it was the sort of beer that lingered on shelves for several months, I don't think it would have quite the consistency in the public's eye (incidentally, I have had an old can of Heady, and while it is still quite good, it's nowhere near the fresh Heady).

Enter Fantôme, a brewery that doesn't even pretend that their beers will be consistent. They have a regular range of saisons, but Dany Prignon is known to change up the recipes from year to year. Then you add in the fact that he's also working with wild yeasts, which are notoriously difficult to control. This leads to tremendous variation in bottles of Fantôme, sometimes even bottles from the same batch.

In 2013, there was a distressing trend of wild yeast gone smokey. I picked up on just how different this was from the Fantômes of yore, but found even these Smoketôme batches to be inconsistent. I had one that had a light, almost pleasant smoke character that complemented more traditional Belgian yeast character, and then I had one that tasted mostly like burnt rubber. In years past, Fantôme had a distinctly tart, lemony character. Lately, it's been more traditional saison, with a more earthy Brett character. I'm sure there are many people who feel burned by the inconsistency, who wonder if they got a bad bottle, but are hesitant to shell out more cash for an unpredictable experience. It's an understandable sentiment, but then, this unpredictability, this inconsistency is actually what makes Fantôme so intriguing to me. I value consistency as much as the next guy, but sometimes you want something surprising. I find Fantôme's wildly diverging beers to be charming for precisely this reason. Not every brewery should aspire to this sort of inconsistency, but Fantôme is not every brewery. This might not be a popular sentiment, but by all means, leave more on the shelf for me.

Here we have the Printemps, actually a seasonal Spring release whose recipe has changed considerably over the years. Fortunately, gone are the days of the Smoketôme, so fear not, the Ghosts are back:

Fantome Printemps

Fantôme Saison D'Erezée Printemps - Pours a golden orange color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for quite a while. Smells strongly of Italian herbs, Oregano and Basil, along with that distinct musty funk character. In general, it kinda smells like pizza. The taste definitely displays more in the way of funk, musty and earthy, with that Italian Herb character coming through strong as well. It has some more typical fruity, spicy saison character lingering in the background, but that Italian herb, savory pizza character is what is really doing its thing here. Mouthfeel is very well carbonated, medium bodied, a little spicy, a bit harsh. Overall, a fascinating spiced saison, light funk, complex, interesting. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 10/10/14. lot aj 13 best before end 2018.

Perhaps because of the Smoketôme debacle, I am seeing Fantôme around more often these days. It's still a rarity, but there is at least a chance to snag some every now and then, if you have your PKE meters running, that is.

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

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The beer nerd line these days is that pumpkin beers are mere gimmicks and they come out too early and pumpkin spice is an evil abomination that infects everything with its misery and that beer buying is a zero sum game and if there are pumpkin beers on shelves that means I can't buy other beer. Or something like that. To be fair, my interest in pumpkin beer has waned in the past couple of years and there are legitimate reasons to not like the style, but I like to get in the spirit of the season at least a little every year (and while some brewers around here do Fresh Hop beers, we don't have it quite as good as the West Coasters or, in particular, the Pacific Northwest). Sometimes this is a big win, most of the time, perhaps not as much. About a month ago, I wound up at a friend's house and he broke out a bomber of Pumking and I could have sworn I liked this better before. When I think about it, most of my favorite pumpkin beers are not your traditional style. Stuff like a stouts or weizenbocks or whatever Autumn Maple is seem to be more my thing.

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale appears to be a straightforward pumpkin ale. No wacky yeasts or imperial stout malt bills, just a good old fashioned amber base with pumpkin and spices. It does have a decent reputation though, so I figured I'd give it a shot, and I was quite pleasantly surprised to really enjoy this. After all, it is Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers, so it's always nice to have something legit to drink along those lines:

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale - Pours a very dark amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells of pumpkin pie spice, lots of cinnamon and clove, no detectable ginger (which is a good thing in my book), with some other spicy aromas floating around. Taste has a nice, substantial malt backbone to match with the pie spice from the nose, which picks up in the middle and lasts through the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but it's got a significant carbonation that cuts through all that. Overall, this is an extremely well balanced Pumpkin beer. It's complex, but none of the elements overpower, and it's very tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/3/14. Bottled: 08/20/2014.

Schlafly has always put out pretty solid beer, and this is no exception. At this point, I'm really curious to try their Christmas beer. And, of course, the BBA Imperial Stout (which I used to see around a lot, but not at all lately, weird).

Modern Times Fortunate Islands

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The lament of the modern beer nerd: There are way too many new and exciting breweries popping up all over the country. I know, it's a good problem to have, and I only have one liver, so it'd probably not be wise to sample every brewery, even if I could easily acquire them all. But I'm not blind, and I do find myself intrigued by a lot of breweries that I'll probably never sample. And that's ok, but I certainly won't turn down the opportunity, should it present itself.

Enter San Diego's Modern Times. I first heard about them from Michael Tonsmeire (aka The Mad Fermentationist), a prolific homebrewer of some repute who was hired by Modern Times as a "Consultant". From reading Tonsmeire's blog, I'll wager that this was a pretty safe move on Modern Times' part. Then the brewery opened last year, and The Beer Rover gave it solid marks. And finally, a can of Fortunate Islands, a hoppy American wheat ale (made with Citra and Amarillo hops), shows up at my doorstep. What's a guy to do?

Modern Times Fortunate Islands

Modern Times Fortunate Islands - Pours a bright golden yellow color with a couple fingers of head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smell of citrusy tropical fruits, pineapple, and dank, resinous pine. Taste favors the dank, resininous pine side of things, with the citrus taking a back seat, some wheat in the middle and a big floral note emerging in the slightly bitter finish. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, a little thin, and refreshing, definitely a quaffable pint. In fact, I downed half of the pint whilst writing the first draft of these notes. Overall, rock solid hoppy wheat beer here, great summer/lawnmower beer, but it's comporting itself just fine on this brisk fall evening... would probably be a reliable go-to if it was actually available around here! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 10/3/14.

A good first impression, and when I look at their website, they have links to their recipes too. And not those lame recipes that don't specify the proportions, they have the full recipes. On the can, they even say "You should totally tinker with the recipe for this beer. It's on our website." This is most endearing. I shall endeavor to secure more Modern Times beers. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get this David Bowie "Modern Love" song out of my head.

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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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