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Wicked Weed Oblivion

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Lots of cities can claim greatness as a beer consumption destination, but when you start talking about stuff like breweries per capita, things seem to narrow down pretty quickly. Asheville, North Carolina claims to have the most (21 breweries in the area), but I suspect that Portland (or Bend), Oregon has them beat on other measures. Regardless, many of these breweries are small, brewpubby affairs that really only service the local markets. Seems like a cool place to visit, but I'll have to make due with muled bottles for now.

Wicked Weed is actually one of the newer breweries in Asheville, but they've pretty quickly established a name for themselves thanks to their experiments with funky and barrel aged beers. Their name is a historical reference to a (probably apocryphal) quote attributed to King Henry VIII: "Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed." (Update: As per usual, Martyn has the skinny) My only experience with these guys was an allegedly funky saison that turned out to be crumulent, but a little more bland than one would expect. This particular bottle bills itself as a sour red aleaged with blackberries and dates in red wine barrels for approximately 8-10 months. Promising.

There's great label art of a spelunker confronting a bunch of jellyfish-like creatures and an accompanying narrative, both of which make me want to reference Metroid in some way, but the details are just not aligning well enough to support such nerdery. Of course, it's what's inside the bottle that counts, and I would speculate that Samus would enjoy a bottle of Oblivion (I presume all bounty hunters have decent taste in beer):

Wicked Weed Oblivion

Wicked Weed Oblivion Sour Red - Pours a dark amber brown color with a finger of white head. Smells great, lots of oak and vanilla, berries like cherry and raspberry, and that sour twang. Taste is very nice, lots of tart berry flavors with an oak backbone, moderate acetic sourness emerging throughout the taste through the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and medium bodied, moderate acidity, slight booziness. Overall, solid sour red stuff here! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/22/15. Bottled 4.3.15.

Certainly a big improvement over my first Wicked Weed beer, and I have another sour lined up from them as well. Road trip to Asheville? Not on the immediate horizon, but it seems worth considering...

Jack's Abby/Otter Creek Joint Custody

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Collaborations always sound fun, but they can be tricky beasts. Sure, it's always cool to see two brewers hang out and have some fun, but I've found the results to be a little hit or miss. Collaborations seem like opportunities to let loose and experiment, so it makes sense that such exercises don't always yield gold. They're rarely bad, but a lot of them just feel like they're floating in a nether-region, not really representing either brewer's character very well. Sometimes, though, you get something harmonious, more than the sum of its collaborators. Is this collaboration between the lager focused Jack's Abby and the recently rejiggered hopheads at Otter Creek one of those harmonious combinations? It's certainly one of the better collaborations I've had recently and these two brewers seem to retain their identity whilst still producing something new.

Label sez this is a "nouveau Pilsner" and it lives up to that name by incorporating a pretty traditional Pilsner lager (presumably Jack's Abby at work) with two new German hops called Huell Melon and Mandarina Bavaria. It turns out that American "special" aroma hop mania has spread to traditional noble hop growers in Germany, who released these two daughters of Cascade hops in 2012. I've had Mandarina in a few things before, but I haven't even heard of Huell Melon. Both are supposed to introduce citrusy characteristics to the more traditional German herbal hop profile. I didn't realize this when tasting it below, and called these "bright European hops", which I actually think fits pretty well. Let's take a closer look:

Jacks Abby and Otter Creek Joint Custody

Jack's Abby/Otter Creek Joint Custody - Pours a mostly clear pale yellow color with a finger of dense white head, great retention, and some lacing too. Smell features some grainy character along with what I'll call bright European hops (meaning that it's not like American or NZ/Australian citrus/pine bombs, but it's got a citrusy vibe to it), citrus zest and some earthy, herbal notes. Taste has some biscuity character, those citrus and herbal hop notes from the nose come out here too, a little sweetness amply balanced out by earthy bittering hops in the dry finish (not like a heavy handed IPA; more balanced and clean). Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and clean, relatively dry, with a certain quenching feel to it. Overall, another nice take on the style, I might become a lager man yet. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/21/15.

Certainly a worthy collaboration, and both of these brewers are pretty good in my book. Look for more Jack's Abby reviews in the nearish future...

Anchorage Bitter Monk

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I've been woefully neglectful of Alaska's Anchorage Brewing on the blog for reasons unknown. It's not like they don't play in areas I find delicious, like oak aged beers dosed with Brett, and while they're not ubiquitous, bottles do show up in the area with regularity. At some polite prodding on twitter, I decided to snag one of these Bitter Monks, a Belgian DIPA brewed with Apollo, Citra, and Simcoe hops and aged in chardonnay barrels with Brett.

I do love that artwork. It somehow manages to evoke a bunch of nerdy stuff from my childhood, like that episode of G.I. Joe (you know the one), or pouring through Dungeons & Dragons manuals, or that martial arts movie I saw on TV where they used flowing robes like weapons (ok, that doesn't narrow it down, but still). As per usual, it's not what's on the bottle that counts, but what's in the bottle, so let's dive in:

Anchorage Bitter Monk

Anchorage Bitter Monk - Pours a hazy golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells amazing, lots of citrus, grapefruit, vinous fruit, and the like, some oak, plenty of musty, earthy funk, and maybe some spicy phenols kicking around. Taste is very spicy up front, with the funk kicking in at the middle along with some citrus hops, vinous fruit, and oak, followed by a tart note balanced by lots of hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, spicy, a little boozy too. Overall, a damn tasty wild ale. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/15/15.

These guys seem great at wild ales, but I'd love to try one of their non-wild barrel aged beers, like their barleywines or something. In the meantime, I'll just have to suffer through these piddly world class Brett beers...

Pizza Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and fun. This time we went to a favorite discovery of mine, Ravanesi Pizzaria, a tiny little joint out in the burbs that scratch makes almost everything. Pizza places are a dime a dozen around here, but these guys really distinguish themselves. It's one of those places where they open at 4:30 pm and close whenever they run out of dough. Yes, it takes approximately 30 hours to make the dough, so they do run out fairly frequently. As a veteran BYOB attendee (because of beer club), most places aren't so busy on Tuesdays and thus welcome a bunch of beer nerds who take up a table and drink a lot of beer whilst occasionally munching on their food. This place was pretty much bumping from around 5 pm until we left at around 8 pm. But the pizza. The pizza is almost absurdly good. And it's not like Philly is bad at pizza (there's plenty of bad pizza, but we've got our hotspots). Check it:

ravanesi-pizza.jpg

A most excellent backdrop for beer club.For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. Usual nerdy disclaimers apply, this was not ideal tasting conditions and I didn't exactly take detailed notes, so take it all with the requisite mountain of salt. In order of drinking, not necessarily how they appear in the photo:

August Beer Club at Ravanesi Pizza

  • Otter Creek/Jack's Abby Joint Custody - Yep, it's a pilsner, but it's a pretty darn good one, crisp, light, and refreshing. Certainly a step up from your typical macro, and perhaps worthy of a closer look this next weekend. B+
  • Night Shift Santilli - A rock solid IPA, nice citrus and dank pine character, nice and crushable. B+
  • Two Roads Road Jam Raspberry Wheat Ale - Holy hell, this is terrible. Robitussin tones, artificial raspberry flavor, and the like. Perhaps not quite that bad, but not at all good. D
  • Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Does this sound familiar? Of course it does, I just reviewed it yesterday. In fact, it performed supremely well in this tasting format, pairing well with the spicy Sopressata pizza and just generally standing up to the other beers pretty well. May be tempted to raise this one to an A-
  • Night Shift Trifecta - Brewed with three Trappist ale yeasts, I found this a bit disappointing. It's got some decent Belgian yeast character, but it isn't quite carbonated or dry enough to really work well. Disappointing C+
  • Smuttynose Spank - For a beer that labels itself as a "hoppy saison", I have to admit that I find little in the way of hops here, even if it's an otherwise unremarkable beer that is far from bad, but which won't exactly light the world on fire. B-
  • Adroit Theory Ortolan Bunting - A very odd beer, almost quad-like, but without the full fruit character, but a very nice nose that doesn't quite live up to the straightforward taste, with some dark malts, perhaps even some smoked malt. Fine, but not quite a top tier effort. B
  • Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot - One of the best beers of the night, a clear winner, Pappy 15 barrel aged imperial stout, is quite tasty, very sweet, loads of coconut and vanilla from that barrel, delicious stuff. A-
  • Smuttlabs Durtay - Smuttynose - A rum barrel aged brown ale, this one works pretty darn well, very sweet, a little boozy, but a nice barrel and molasses character comes through too. B+
And that just about covers it. I really love this pizza and want to come here as often as possible, but it's also a little out of the way, so I'm guessing it won't be quite as regular as some other BYOB places. Still worth the trip though, so we'll see...

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

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Vault Brewing Company opened their doors not quite three years ago, one of the many, many, many new breweries putting a different spin on the concept of a "brewpub". Seriously, how are we supposed to keep up with all these shiny new breweries? In this case, they've got a very unique atmosphere, unconventional menu, and of course, beer. The building was originally constructed around an 8,000 pound vault door in 1889 for Yardley National Bank, hence the name of the brewery (one wonders what the name of the brewery would have been had their original location, an old golf ball factory on the Philly waterfront, panned out) and the general tenor of their decor.

The vault at Vault brewing, which is a vault.

The vault has basically remained in place for 125 years, though it's now used primarily as a beer-conditioning cellar these days. It's a very warm and inviting location, wrought iron and wood tones with a kinda speakeasy vibe. A pity since it is so far from Kaedrin HQ. However, it is not so far that the occasional trek is unwarranted (it is Northeast of Philly, right across the river from Trenton, NJ - about an hour by car, two by train), as it was this past weekend when they held a beer release for their Mosaic Imperial IPA cans. A single hopped DIPA, part of a new "minimalist can art" series, and I'll be damned if that can doesn't look very striking indeed:

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Pours a mostly clear orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells nice, citrusy hops with maybe some floral notes and pine kicking around. Taste has a nice sweet start followed by citrusy hops that give way to more dank, piney hops and maybe even some crystal malt character. As it warms, the sweetness amps up a bit, but doesn't get cloying. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, clean, lighter bodied and more quaffable than your typical 8% ABV beer. Overall, this is a nice little number. It's not going to unseat top tier DIPAs (which, to be fair, is a difficult proposition in a pretty damn crowded field), but it's tasty and drillable. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/15/15. (Cans released that day!)

So we've got yet another local brewery I need to check out more thoroughly, as I only really popped in to pick up the cans (before heading over to nearby Neshaminy Creek to snag some cans there too).

Lost Nation Vermont Pilsner

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In keeping with the recent thawing of my relationship to lagers and in particular, pilsners, we've got another offering from Vermont's wonderful Lost Nation brewing. The name Vermont Pilsner initially inspired some speculation on my part as to what would make this worthy of a Vermont appellation. It could just be that Lost Nation is in Vermont, but maybe it means that they'd apply a liberal dose of American hops (the way Switchback did). Well, no, it's just that it's made in Vermont.

Bunnies like hoppy beer

They wanted to create a "Franconia-style" Pilsner, which basically means a German take on the style. I'm no expert on Pilsners, but my impression is that the German Pilsner is a somewhat looser style (harder water and any noble hops will do) than the original Czech Pilsner (soft water and almost always Saaz hops). I bought a 4-pack on Operation Cheddar IV, and I think it's a sign that they're all gone, so let's take a closer look:

Lost Nation Vermont Pilsner

Lost Nation Vermont Pilsner - Pours a clear, pale straw yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy, bubbly head that sticks around for a while. Smell is earthy, grassy hops, clearly a traditional pils nose, but there might be a hint of something like Cascade peeking in (certainly not dominant, and there's not much citrus, but the more earthy or floral notes could certainly play a role). Taste is very clean, again with the earthy, grassy hops, almost spicy at times, some pleasant bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp, light bodied, and refreshing, a lawnmower beer for sure, and quaffable too. Overall, I've never been much of a pils guy, and while this doesn't light my world on fire, I find it refreshing and it does make me want to drink more lagers. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 8/7/15. Canned 06/18/15.

Another winner from Lost Nation, a brewery that's made quite an impression in a rather short period of time (for me, at least). I look forward to returning there during Operation Cheddar V, whenever that may be (and not just for the beer, their food is amazing too).

Local brewers like Tired Hands, Forest & Main, and other more obscure brewers have been killing it with barrel aged sours for the past few years. Barrel aged stouts? Not so much. This is a topic we've discussed before, but with a few quasi-one off exceptions, there's not much going on. A few mid-tier regular releases make the rounds every year, but they're dwarfed by the monsters of the genre. So basically, I'm always on the lookout for new barrel aged beers, just like 60s Spider Man:

Spidey being polite to barrels

Neshaminy Creek is a local brewer of growing repute. They put out lots of respectable takes on typical styles, and have occasionally transcended the standard. They've also done a fair amount of barrel aging that, for reasons mostly having to do with laziness, I've been sleeping on. However, I actually had the first batch of Bourbon Barrel Aged Leon (the base is their popular smore beer that was, frankly, not my favorite). It felt a little boozy and bourbon forward, but a decent enough improvement over the base. Still, my thought was the the base was a little too dry to really take on that great barrel character I love so much in a BBA stout. File that under my growing list of unsubstantiated and wildy speculative theories on barrel aging that I should really compile into one post sometime.

Anywho, that first batch was aged in Wild Turkey barrels, and this most recent batch was aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. Small, 600 or so bottle release, but a generally low pressure affair, as, alas, this new batch feels pretty similar to the last batch. Which is to say that it's a pretty nice improvement over the base, but it doesn't quite stack up to top tier stuff. Still worth the trip to their brewery though, and I'd be curious how time treats this one:

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon - Pours a deep black color with a half finger of tan head. Smells of pure vanilla and bourbon, some oak, caramel, and maybe a little fudge. Taste is dominated by that bourbon barrel, lots of bourbon flavor, some caramel and vanilla, hints of chocolate, finishing with a bourbony kiss. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, more attenuated than your typical stout (not watery, but not quite as full bodied or rich as you'd expect), a little boozy. Overall, it's a solid BA imperial stout, not going to set the trading boards on fire, but it was worth the trip up to the brewery to pick up a couple bottles, and it's quite tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce blue waxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/31/15. Vintage: 2015.

Still very curious to try out some of their other barrel aged stuff, including Neshaminator aged in Rum Barrels (prophesied to be coming soon) and any of their Concrete Pillow barleywine variants. But I'm still on the lookout for a regularly produced local BBA stout that can compete with the big boys. Maybe Tired Hands' proper bourbon barrel version of Only Void (previous attempt was in small Dad's Hat Rye barrels) will scratch this itch. In the meantime, I'll have to trade out for some bigger, badder stuff.

Grassroots Brother Soigné

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Grassroots is kinda like the collaborative arm of Hill Farmstead, so it's always surprising that these beers don't command more attention. Some of them you'll even find sitting on a shelf! The horror! In general, they're up to par with Hill Farmstead's "regular" farmhouse offerings, but then, I guess that's not what gets people amped up about them either. Not that I'm complaining, the more people who sleep on saisons, the more saisons for me.

Mr. Burns the beer nerd, sleeping on Grassroots saisons

This is a collaboration with Luc Bim Lafontaine (formerly of Dieu du Ciel!, now toiling away in Japan or something) and it's a saison brewed with Lime and Blood Orange (and possibly, depending on who you ask, hibiscus). Sounds good to me. So let's start a Grassroots campaign to drink more saisons:

Grassroots Brother Soigné

Grassroots Brother Soigné - Pours a clear orange color with an almost pinkish hue and a finger of white head. Smells of tart fruit, citrus zest, and some farmhouse yeast esters, very nice nose. Taste starts sweet, hits some spicy saison notes, then comes some tart fruit, don't know that I'd have picked lime out blind, but it's there, and some orange too, not quite sour but headed in that direction. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, lower-medium bodied, lightly acidic, and relatively dry. The 750 went down quicker than I thought it would, and I was left here wondering if someone snuck into my house and poured themselves a glass or something stupid like that. Overall, a nice estery saison number, not going to light the world on fire, but well worth the stretch. Somewhere in the B+ to A- continuum. It's getting hard to rate this stuff.

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/1/15. Bottled 04/16/2015.

I've got a couple more bottles of this in the cellar, and I'm told it cellars well, which would be exciting... if I can manage to not drink them all in the next few months. Check the line in Vegas to see where that's at these days, but it's not a particularly safe bet.

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

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