Recently in B+ Category

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.

Three Floyds Gumballhead

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I've pretty much run out of things to talk about when it comes to Three Floyds. They're really good, especially at hoppy beers. If you're ever in their distribution zone (i.e. Illinois, Indiana, etc...), be sure to check out their stuff. This one is a pale wheat ale made with Amarillo hops, named in honor of a comic book character called Gumballhead the Cat. I have not read any of these, but there's one called "The Mystery Treasure Of The San Miguel Apartments", which is music to my earballs. Let's see how the beer itself stacks up:

Three Floyds Gumballhead

Three Floyds Gumballhead - Pours a pale golden color with a finger of dense white head that has good retention and leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus hops that also feint towards floral or even herbal notes. Taste has maybe some faint hints of wheat, but is otherwise mostly defined by that floral, citrusy hop character. Mouthfeel is very light, crisp, and refreshing, a little on the thin side, but well carbonated and leaning a bit towards dry (though it's not bone dry). Overall, a rock solid pale ale (or pale wheat ale or whatever)... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/20/14. Bottled: 8/4/14

I'm willing to bet this would be even better when its super fresh. I've just had something of a glut of big IPAs to get through of late. I know, woe is me. Fortunately, that glut is dying down, so hopefully I can start to hit up some other stuff in the near future, including some non-hoppy Three Floyds stuff that I'm rather looking forward to...

September Beer Club

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Due to various scheduling mishaps and vacations and whatnot, the August beer club never happened, and September ended up being a little on the delayed side. But we finally made it, and a good time was had by all. For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of like minded coworkers who get together for food and optional libations at a local BYOB. Tonight we hit up a regular Mexican establishment and had a rather good time.

Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, tentative thoughts on each beer are below, though they should be taken with a grain of salt, since tastings like this are not exactly ideal conditions. So here we go, in order of drinking (not necessarily the order pictured).

  • Kona Castaway IPA - A surprisingly decent IPA, lots of mango in the aroma and flavor, tropical fruit hops and so on. It's not a mind-blowing beer by any stretch, but it's actually pretty damn decent. B+
  • Devil's Backbone Catty Wompus - A Belgian IPA that kinda come off a little light on the Belgian and even IPA character, though it did have a pretty solid amount of bitterness towards the finish. That being said, it felt like the Belgian elements were canceling out the hop character, rather than combining with each other. Certainly not a disaster, but not really my thing either. B-
  • Victory Prima Pils - A beer I've obviously had on numerous occasions, and it's as good as it ever was. Pilsners are not really my style, but if I was asked what I would want to drink within the style, this would be a worthy candidate. B
  • Victory Headwaters Pale Ale - I always forget how good this beer is, even if it's still not my favorite pale ale evar or anything that silly. Still, it's a rock solid take on a standard style. More thoughts here. B+
  • Sly Fox Oktoberfest - A decent take on a standard style. Nice toasty malt character, and a very drinkable beer for this time of year. B
  • Round Guys The Berliner - This Berliner weis is almost like a sorta crazy lemonade/beer hybrid. It's got a nice tarness to it, and the color is crazy pale, almost white. It's an interesting beer, something I'd like to try someday on its own, though it seems ideally suited for hot weather, and we're sorta heading away from that these days. B+
  • Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black - Not quite as good as I remember from last time I had this, but it's still got a nice roast and coffee base with a bit of hoppiness to follow. The first one of these I had a while back seemed a little more balance and hop focused, so who knows what's going on here. That being said, it was still quite nice to revisit this beer. B
  • Kaedrin Trystero Barleywine - So I gave up on hoping that my barleywine bottles would carbonate, dumped everything I had into my keg, and attempted to force carbonate the stuff. The result is decent, though I need to figure out a better way to transport the stuff (carbonation is better from the tap, but loses some of its punch in traveling in a resealable bottle). On the other hand, this turned out rather well, with a really nice bourbon and oak character to it. B+
  • Element Extra Special Oak (ESO) - This is quite an interesting beer, even if it's not particularly fantastic. It's a sorta amped up English ESB, with a little more alcohol and some oak aging. For something oak aged, there wasn't a whole lot to salvage, but it does have that sorta rich barrel feel that often pervades these types of beers. B
  • Neshaminy Creek Punkless Dunkel - Basically the same thing as last year's Punkle Dunkle (no idea why the name had to change), with a slightly different label (that, so far, is the only meaningful difference we've found yet. Big pumpkin and spice (cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, and the like) notes, fabulous carbonation and smooth, wheatey mouthfeel. Really fantastic brew, just as good as last year, and probably my favorite of the night. A-
  • Elysian Oddland Ginger Berry Brown Ale - Doesn't seem like much of a brown ale, it's very pale, like an IPA. But this is brewed with ginger and wheat, so it should work itself out. On the other hand, I don't care much for ginger, so I'm obviously not going to love this. Still, it was decent enough. C+
  • DuClaw Bourbon Barrel Aged Serum - I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of BBA pale ales, or pale beers in general (i.e saisons, etc...). It comes off as more of a barrel aged barleywine than a DIPA... It's got the richness imparted from the oak and bourbon, but the playfulness has disappeared. Decent enough, but nothing particularly famous. B+
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to the next meetup...

Three Floyds Man-O-Awe

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Most breweries will have an American Pale Ale in their portfolio. Three Floyds has ten. Alright, that's a bit disingenuous, as looking closer at a few, I see a couple things that may have only been made once or in extremely limited quantities for special events. On the other hand, two of their most popular beers, Alpha King and Zombie Dust, are featured amongst the ten along with several other popular offerings, and I'm not including the similar stuff like Gumballhead (a pale wheat ale). Plus, it's not like Three Floyds shies away from regular old IPAs and Double IPAs, which represent a similar proportion of their output.

They like hops, is what I'm trying to say. So all these pale ales have to have some differentiation, and in this case, we've got a beer made primarily with Michigan hops. This is not that far from Three Floyds, which is situated in the northwest corner of Indiana, and thus somewhat local. Alas, Michigan is not exactly known for their hops. As per usual, Three Floyds does not really mention what specific hop varieties are used, but I'm guessing it's along the lines of classic American C hops like Cascade, Centennial, or Chinook. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that, and it's probably a good idea to decentralize hop production in the US (which is currently centered on the Pacific Northwest), but it means that this beer probably won't be blowing the hats off of snobby beer nerds in the way that Three Floyds manages to do with many of their other beers, like the Citra-based Zombie Dust.

But I'm a big tent guy, and when you have ten pale ales, you have to differentiate them somehow, so let's drink some Michigan hopped beer, least that aggressive looking gentleman-o-awe on the label get angry.

Three Floyds Man-O-Awe

Three Floyds Man-O-Awe - Pours a bright orange/amber color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells of straightforward citrus and pine hops, with some grassy notes and a little crystal malt hanging around to say "Hi". Taste goes along similar lines, decent malt backbone, with crystal malt doing its thing, and plenty of grassy citrus and pine from the hops hitting in the middle, with a slightly bitter, pretty standard pale ale finish. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of medium bodied, and it sorta thins out towards the finish, which has a slight drying aspect to it that makes it go down rather quickly. Overall, this is a pretty standard pale ale, which would be fine, except you know, Zombie Dust. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/12/14. Bottled: 06/17/14.

Damn, this was almost three months old by the time I got to it... but then, I still rather enjoyed it. I suspect it would be even better fresh. Speaking of which, I've nearly exhausted my Three Floyds beer supply. They were mostly hoppy, so I wanted to get through them pretty quickly... I feel like I've been really hitting the hops pretty hard over the past month, so bear with me. We'll have plenty of other interesting stuff in the near future...

Three Floyds Apocalypse Cow

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When my beer mule texted me from Three Floydia (that's where the brewery is, right?) and asked me if I wanted a bottle of Apocalypse Cow, I had several thoughts. First, I responded asking her to purchase as much as she could fit in her car, and that I'd reimburse her with Vermont beer (as you can tell from recent posting, she fully complied and is, in fact, the bestest evar). Second, I kinda assumed this would be a milk stout (what with that "Cow" in the name), something akin to Moloko. Then I looked it up and hmm, an 11% ABV IPA? Well ok. It turns out that I wasn't that far off the mark, as this is an IPA brewed with a lactose addition. An unusual choice, considering that most 11% ABV beers don't particularly need any additional unfermentable sugars in the mix, but on the other hand, the added sweetness and velvety mouthfeel allow for moar hops. This is actually the first time I'd even heard of lactose in anything other than a stout, so I guess we're in for an interesting experiment.

It works better than you might think. Now, why there's a very angry, cyclopic cow on the label is a bit of a mystery, but then, Three Floyds isn't exactly known for sensible label artwork. At least in this case, the artwork is very well done. Alrighty then, I think that's enough babbling. You can either surf, or you can fight! Or, um, drink. Colonel Kilgore seems like a guy who'd enjoy beer.

Three Floyds Apocalypse Cow

Three Floyds Apocalypse Cow - Pours a deep, dark orange color with a finger of off white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells enormously dank, piney and resinous, with some citrus and almost spicy hop notes playing along as well. The taste is very sweet, with that dank pine and resin kicking in quickly, leaving the juicy citrus notes and spicey hops towards the finish, which has just enough bitterness to balance out the sweetness. Mouthfeel is almost full bodied, but smooth and creamy (that lactose in action), with enough carbonation to cut through it all, though it does feel a bit sticky in the finish. While it certainly feels like a strong beer, the alcohol is reasonably well hidden... The full 22 ounces is a bit much, so perhaps it's a good one to share. Overall, this is a very interesting beer, and I haven't really had anything quite like it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 9/6/14.

My Three Floyds supply is slowly but surely dwindling. But don't worry your pretty ears (ears? What's wrong with me?), there's plenty more to come.

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

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