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session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This time around, Josh Weikert wants to know: Is the Internet Helping or Hurting Craft Beer? He suggests a list of topics which I'll just use as a template. In short, technology and the internet is a double edged sword and any discussion of such is bound to resolve into a series of tradeoffs. Human beings don't so much solve problems as they exchange one set of problems for another in the hopes that the new set is more favorable than the old. I suspect you'll see such tradeoffs play a role in each topic below.

Marketing beer in the internet age

Social media has to be a boon to a small brewery operation, allowing breweries to connect with drinkers and advertise new offerings or events with relative ease and on the cheap. On the other hand, beer nerds are fickle and marketing can rub people the wrong way, especially when it gets gimmicky. It's great to be connected to the community, but it can be difficult to be on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism due to a trivial mistake (let alone a geniune mishap). As long as you're willing to engage and get better, this usually works out, but it can be difficult.

The astounding influence of beer bloggers to make or break breweries (just kidding, but seriously, what's the effect of all of this quasi-journalistic beer commentary on the drinking and brewing public?)

With the dozens of readers I have (dozens, I tell you!), my influence is certainly formidable and I sometimes struggle with the power I have to make or break a brewery. In the words of Ben Parker, "with great power comes great responsibility." On the other hand, I'm pretty sure about half of my visitors are bots and search engines, so there is that. Obviously, I'm joking here (uh, not about the visitors, sadly), but the idea of quasi-journalistic beer commentary being done at the grassroots level clearly has some influence on our community.

How are beer reviews (expert and mass-market) affecting what gets brewed and drank?

As someone who reviews a lot of beer and has dozens (dozens!) of readers, I feel confident in saying that beer reviews have a low impact. Personally, I find a lot more benefit in actually writing a review than I do in reading others. Trying to put into words what I smell/taste/feel about a beer has been a good learning experience for me, but that doesn't exactly make it very interesting to read (especially if you've never had the beer in question before). On the other hand, grappling with this sort of thing does make it a little easier to decode other reviews, cut through the flowery or absurd descriptors, see mistakes for what they are, and get a pretty good idea of what you'll get from a beer. Since this post is turning into a wall of text, let's do a quickie:

Against the Grain London Balling
Barrel-aged English style barleywine, rich caramel, light barrel character, too much carbonation. More boring details below*.

Aggregate beer ratings are another matter and probably do probably have a moderate impact and give a nice at-a-glance overview of the general feeling of the community. It's most useful at the extremes (i.e. high number of ratings along with a very low or very high score) and obviously there are other caveats that must be considered (locals tend to be more forgiving, rarity has more of an impact than it probably should, etc...), but it can be a useful way to get a quick read on a beer, even if it shouldn't be your absolute guidance.

Are beer apps for tracking and rating overly-"gamifying" beer (or does that make drinkers more adventurous)?

Tickers gonna tick, as evidenced by the fact that they were doing so well before Untappd and other similar apps. Those outliers aside, while I think that a lot of people do patronize beer tracking apps and while they may flirt with the gamification aspects of those apps, I think their usage ultimately boils down to a pragmatic desire: in a world with 5300 breweries in the US alone, I want to know if I've had something before or not. I suspect this drives app usage more than badges or other gamification elements. I'm sure I went a little out of my way for certain badges back when I first downloaded Untappd, but I can't think of any time in the past 4 or 5 years that I did so...

Just how fast do aleholes on message boards and elsewhere turn off prospective craft beer enthusiasts?

This is a tricky one. I suspect these "aleholes" impact craft beer adoption less than they impact those specific message boards (or Facebook groups or whatever). Every community is different, but honestly I feel like the more mainstream ones are more of a turnoff because the folks on them aren't used to the tenor of interacting online.

The internet is a low-trust environment. But I've been around long enough to see different waves of people adjust to this state. When I was first online (early 1990s), no one trusted anyone, everyone was using pseudonyms, there were warnings galore about dangerous predators and the like. With each successive leap that the internet makes, there is an influx of people that just don't get it yet. BBS users went through this a bit. AOL and email caused a few of these in the early days too. Widespread broadband caused some of it. Message boards and blogs went through their own growing pains.

Nowadays, a lot of this is driven by social media. We've gotten great at breaking down barriers to entry and there's been this push towards using "real names" and verified users in the past decade as well. All of this means that there are lots of people who aren't used to having their statements scrutinized or haven't encountered a really good troll (as in, like, effectiveness, not "good" as in a moral statement, obvs) before. It doesn't help that a lot of platforms encourage lower wordcounts, which provides lots of opportunity for misinterpretation. Twitter is especially bad at this sort of thing.

I think TalkBeer, BeerAdvocate, and RateBeer all strike a decent enough balance. But I belong to a few groups on Facebook that are orders of magnitude larger than those specialized communities, and the tenor there, while mostly positive, can spiral out of control when someone has a meltdown (a recent example involved people who, for some ungodly reason, love to post chugging videos. It evolved into this weird callout culture that started to really rankle other members, and one dude in particular started harassing people, which then escalated. Eventually, he was kicked out and started his own chugging group that is super exclusive and I guess more power to him, but it didn't need to be anywhere near as acrimonious as it was.) Also, you know, fake news.

Time will pass, people will identify some of these issues as damage and find ways to route around them. It's happened before and it will happen again. This goes for pretty much all of the preceding questions, actually. As mentioned above, we never really solve problems. We just exchange one set for another. Funnily enough, what didn't work in the past might work now, and vice versa. The internet is a living platform, there's no one answer.

* Detailed review to demonstrate how awful tasting notes are:

Against The Grain London Balling - Pours a cloudy brown color with amber highlights and a solid finger of off-white head. Smells of rich malt, some citrus, vanilla and oak. Taste starts off sweet, rich caramel, with a light bourbon, oak, and vanilla character emerging in middle with a boozy finish. Supposed to be aged in Angel's Envy barrels, and the bourbon character is certainly there, but not super heavy. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, surprisingly so, almost effervescent, not enough to completely sink it, but enough to bring it down a grade. Medium to full bodied, and a little boozy heat. Overall, it's really quite solid, but that carbonation is a bit too much. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 4/30/17.

See? The worst.

Hot Sauce Double Feature

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I'm not one of those capsaicin-addicted thrill-seekers hunting down obscure pepper-walez like the Merciless Pepper of Quetzalacatenango ("...grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.") but I do enjoy spicy food and hot sauces. As per usual, you should remember that this is a beer blog and I am the worst, so you'll need to take my ramblings with the appropriate boulder of salt. Or not. I'm not your mother.

Anyway, these are at least beer-adjacent hot sauces, so there is that. Choosing a favorite hot sauce is probably about as difficult as choosing a favorite beer (i.e. impossible), as different offerings fill different needs. I always have at least 3 or 4 different hot sauces on hand, sometimes more. Frank's Red Hot is, of course, a constant and utterly necessary for wings (I generally don't mind sampling another flavor of wing, but I'm invariably let down by the experience and regret not ordering the regular ol' buffalo wing), but it's nice to have some differing flavor profiles or textures around too. Before we get to the hot sauce, I wanted to give a shout out to Serious Eats' recent Top 30 Hot Sauce list, which is a pretty fantastic resource that lead me to our first selection...

BLiS Blast and Pappy and Company Hot Pepper Sauce

BliS Blast is up first. BLiS (an acronym for Because Life is Short) is most famous for making a bourbon barrel aged maple syrup (that is nice, but not as great as the Pappy aged one I reviewed last week), but they make a whole line of barrel aged goodies, like this hot sauce, comprised of chipotle, arbol and cayenne chilies aged for up to a year in barrels that have previously been used to age bourbon, maple syrup, and Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). The order of the aging is unclear to me, and there are a couple of possibilities. If the various aging processes occurred in the order listed, I think the resulting beer would have actually been Canadian Breakfast Stout (regular KBS doesn't have the maple syrup component, but CBS does). Or perhaps separate bourbon barrels, some having aged syrup and some having aged KBS are blended together in the end. Whatever the case, the result is pretty great.

Pours a dark, grainy, browninsh red color. Smells complex, sweet, but almost smokey, maybe coffee, lots of cayenne peppers, chipotle comes out as well, and yes, relatively sweet too. Taste follows the nose, sweet with a smokey, almost roasty character and a light spice heat. Mouthfeel is rich and sweet, light spice heat but it lingers for a bit. Overall, this is a fascinating hot sauce, hints of almost barbecue going on here, but it's got a nice, light heat and smokey, roasty character that is really well done and complex. Relatively mild as hot sauces go, but the barrel character seems to actually come through and contribute more here than I'd expect.

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (375 ml). Heat level: Mild (estimated)

Next up, Pappy & Company Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce. This is a collaboration with Midland Ghost, a hot sauce made from first generation Ghost Peppers and aged in Pappy barrels of unspecified expression (my guess is the 10 and 12 year, as with the syrup). A little more straightforward, but still quite nice.

Pours a light, bright orange color, pepper chunks visible. Smells more evenly of pepper, apparently ghost pepper. Taste is more obviously hot sauce than the BLiS stuff, lots of peppers, vinegar, and moderate to high heat. Mouthfeel is lighter and thinner but spicer, hotter than BLis (though it's not overly-so, nor is it something that will get the Scoville-addicts who've built up a resistance excited). Overall, this is hot, tasty, and interesting. I don't get a ton of bourbon or anything to indicate its provenance, but it's still pretty good... if a little disappointing since the maple syrup they make has such a great bourbon character.

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (5 ounces). Heat level: Medium (estimated)

Verdict? The BLiS is more interesting and unconventional and I think I like it better overall, but the Pappy & Co offering is still a good, if more conventional, hot sauce. That being said, the world of hot sauce is so large that it's hard to justify the Pappy premium for something that isn't as distinctive as you might think.

Pappy Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

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Various expressions of Pappy Van Winkle are widely considered to be the best Bourbon in the world. They are also widely derided as overrated and overhyped, which naturally has the effect of making Pappy even more prized in an unintential, reverse-psychology sort of way. We're kinda trapped in Pappy dominance with no real way out, is what I'm saying.

The cachet of Van Winkle has, of course, spread. Spent Pappy barrels are a prized commodity and are used to age everything from beer to, yes, maple syrup. What we have here is a collaboration between Pappy & Co and Ohio's Bissel Maple Farm. It's made with sap harvested in the Spring of 2016 and aged 6 months in Van Winkle 10 and 12 year old barrels (a previous batch was aged in Pappy 23 barrels - I'm guessing that's the one that shows up on ridiculous Maple Syrup Walez lists that I'm sure actually exist because lol, this is the internets). It's pricey, but is it worth the stretch?

Pure Maple Syrup Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels

Bourbon Barrel Aged Pure Maple Syrup Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels - Pours a very dark amber color. Smell has a very distinct bourbon note, moreso than any other Bourbon Barrel Aged syrup I've had (and, um, I've actually had a few different kinds), really interesting mix with the more typical maple syrup character. That bourbon note follows to the taste, again creating a distinct character from typical maple syrup and even other bourbon barrel-aged syrups. Bourbon flavor, but no real booze, which is, uh, a good thing. Overall, it's pricey af, but really tasty!

Beer Nerd Musings: So obviously Pappy Van Winkle barrel aged beer is almost as ridiculously hyped as the bourbon itself. Sometimes with reason. Pappy Black Magick might vie for the title of best beer I've ever had. Other beers aged in Pappy barrels weren't as successful, which speaks to the importance of other factors, I think (in that case, I don't think the base beer was a good choice for barrel aging). Obviously maple syrup and beer also go together pretty well, and some of the most prized beers have been aged in maple syrup barrels that previously held bourbon (though not these Pappy syrup barrels, I don't think). Bissel Maple Farm has specifically shown up as an element of Goose Island's Proprietor's Reserve Bourbon County line as well. I've actually not had the beers I'm referencing, but I'm most certainly on the lookout. My guess is that we'll see more of these over time...

So yes, quite pricey, but I think it's worth a shot at least once. Treat yo self. Pappy & Co. also make a bourbon infused hot sauce which we'll hopefully cover next week, along with another beer/bourbon adjacent hot sauce, so stay tuned.

Session #122: Views on Imported Beer

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On the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This time around, Christopher Barnes wants to know:

What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?
An interesting question! When I was getting into "good" beer, imported stuff, particularly Belgian beer, was my inspiration. We're talking turn of the century timeframe here, so even the American craft beer that was knocking my socks off was inspired by Belgian beers. Ommegang Hennepin was my entree into great beer, and saisons in particular. Chimay was something that was pretty regularly available, but after some time, I eventually made my way to things like Orval (my first Brett dosed beer) and Fantôme.

All of that was before I ever got the notion to start a beer blog, but even after that, I was enamored with Belgian beer. I went through the Trappist rituals, ticked obscure breweries, played a little game I called Belgian Beer Roulette. It was great fun.

As the American craft beer scene exploded, I went through a period of import contraction. It's tough to keep up with all the new local breweries, let lone American breweries in general. Since the import market is relatively stable, the number of new beers crossing my path there was relatively limited. The one big exception is lambics. They were what made me see the light when it came to sour beers in general, and while the best lambics tend to be a little more difficult to obtain, they are indeed among the best beer's I've ever had. This will most likely continue.

There were, of course, more than Belgian imports out there. I've enjoyed beers from all over. There are definitely some beer regions I want to explore more thoroughly. Germany has some interesting beer cultures, and I have some friends in Dusseldorf who really want me to try their best Altbiers (which don't get imported with any sort of regularity, though I have seen some). Italy's beer scene has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years, but I get the impression that a lot of the best stuff doesn't make its way over here, which is probably the same for a lot of foreign beer.

I suspect this is similar to what a lot of European drinkers see of American beer. Yes, they get some of the U.S. craft beer explosion, but it tends to be the larger regional powerhouses like Stone, Victory, Lagunitas, and the like. Nothing wrong with those beers, for sure, but the most interesting American beer is happening at the tiny scale breweries that can barely supply their local environs. Again, I suspect a lot of great European beer falls into the same category: fabulous beer that doesn't (and probably shouldn't!) expand beyond its native land. Fortunately, there are plenty of great beers that do get over here. And it's worth noting that much of what drives American beer is descended from imported beer traditions. It's probably not an accident that my initial exposure to Belgian beer styles was from an American brewery...

So I do expect imported beers will continue to play a role in my beer diet. Perhaps a little diminished than in years past, but still present! That being said, I don't think imported beers are going away or anything, nor do I think that American beers are supplanting their imported brethren. I may drink more American beer, but that's probably more a function of where I am than anything else. New things rarely supplant the old things. I shall leave you with a quote from Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, where the character Daniel Waterhouse ponders how new systems supplant older systems:

"It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently ... have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive. ... And so I say that Alchemy shall not vanish, as I always hoped. Rather, it shall be encapsulated within the new System of the World, and become a familiar and even comforting presence there, though its name may change and its practitioners speak no more about the Philosopher's Stone." (page 639)
Surround and encapsulate, but not destroy. Seems apt.

The Annual Beer Recession

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I am entering that cyclical period of contraction which results in a general slowdown in drinking activity (i.e. a beer recession; like an economic recession, but nowhere near as dire). As with previous experiments on this sort of thing, this is not quite a strict ban on beer drinking (nor alcohol in general), just a reduction in consumption. The goals are pretty much the same as ever: break some bad habits, get my health in order, explore other realms of boozy glory, reset my palate, delay gratification, and so on.

Posting will slow down a bit for the next few weeks, but you can still expect one or two posts a week. Some will cover differing areas of booze (I've got some Wine and Bourbon on deck right now) and others might even involve non-alcoholic substances (customarily Tea, but I might throw something out there about maple syrup and/or hot sauce). As usual, while I might be writing about something other than my preferred beverage, I tend to do so from a beer dork's perspective, which I hope is enlightening. Indeed, I sometimes wonder what a whiskey or wine nerd would think about my posts on that topic... as if I have enough readers for that to matter! Anywho, I might even do a little straightup beer commentary while I'm at it, who knows?

When I started doing this a few years ago, I didn't really know what to expect, but I enjoyed it enough that I've done it every year since then. Detoxing and realigning for a while really does make for a triumphant return, and my waistline is usually pretty happy about it too. So stay tuned, we'll almost certaining be talking Wine and Bourbon next week...

2016 Year End Musings

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It's the time of year when everyone feels obliged to take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we're going. I suppose aligning this with orbital cycles makes as much sense as anything else, so since this is a beer blog, I shall recap my year in beer. 2016 was a crappy year in many ways, but no so much with beer, which is nice, since this is a beer blog. So what happened this year?

  • Repeat Beers - I've been something of a novelty whore for a while now. Rarely did I drink a beer that I'd had before, preferring instead to try something new. This is something that's been easing for a while now, and 2016 marks a high point for me. I probably still drink a far wider variety of beer than your average dork, but the thought of buying a 4 or 6 pack and drinking the whole thing doesn't seem infeasible anymore, so that's different. Don't get me wrong, I'm still fascinated with new beers and continually seek them out, but I've had enough beers to know what I like, and look forward to trying certain beers every year now, which is nice.
  • Bottle Shares - I mentioned last year that I fell into a good group of local beer nerds who have a regular share, and it's been fantastic. Everyone's very generous, and it's always a good time. I've been to a few others as well, and it's generally a fun way to try a bunch of beer that I'd probably never even know about or hope to acquire (most of the below "Unreviewed" list is from shares.)
  • Homebrewing - Another lackluster year in this arena for me, but let's make a new years resolution to get this hobby going again. I had a good start with my Christmas Ale rebrew (which I dubbed Rantlers! after a favorite movie quote from a bad movie) and plan to keep it going with my much threatened Scotch Ale in the near future.
  • Blogging Plateau - I've continued a slow decline in the number of posts, I know. Part of this has to do with the above. Drinking more of the same beer means less things to review. I've also gotten over the compulsion to write about every new beer I try and tend to focus on beers that are interesting or great. This will probably continue into 2017.
  • Taking a Break - For the third year in a row, I basically gave up beer for Lent. This is a great chance to reset and recalibrate and it's good for my waistline too. Plus, I get to explore other worlds of boozy glory, which is actually very enlightening. In theory, this should translate to more variety throughout the year, but I'm basically still obsessed with beer, so while I do blog about wine and whiskey and whatnot from time to time, don't expect this to turn into anything other than a beer blog.
  • Other Stuff - Minimal trading last year, but I don't think that will hold up. Definitely some great stuff I'm looking to trade for this year. I still go through phases where I drink down my cellar and try aged beer (another recap of vintage beer coming soon) and for the most part, my recommendation remains to drink your beer fresh. My aging focus now is more on lambic than anything else, because I've had the best experience with that. Still plenty of things aging down there though, so you'll probably continue to see posts about aging beer from time to time.

It's been a good year of beer for me. Nothing too unusual going on, but my beer nerdery is continuing to progress apace. So here's a list of my 30 favorite beers of the year that were new to me. Astute readers may notice that this list is normally 40 beers, but in accordance with some of the above, I feel like less is more this year. As per usual, it has to be a beer that I reviewed this year and it's also something that I haven't reviewed before (i.e. no Heady or Parabola on this list). I'm also going to include a separate list of 5 beers I loved that I didn't review (almost all of which came from bottle shares, and thus were small pours with no notes taken, and so on). Of course, this is an entirely arbitrary exercise and the rankings would probably change depending on mood etc... I've also tried to limit the number of entries from a single brewery, but sometimes that's hard, so whatever. Let's get to it:

  1. Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (2015) (Imperial Stout)
  2. Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience #14 (Saison)
  3. Other Half Double Dry Hopped Double Mosaic Dream (Double IPA)
  4. Allagash FV 13 (American Wild Ale)
  5. Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale (American Strong Ale)
  6. Ale Apothecary Sahalie (American Wild Ale)
  7. Tired Hands Rustic Pentagram (Saison)
  8. Sante Adairius Saison Bernice (Saison)
  9. FiftyFifty Eclipse Grand Cru
  10. Fantôme Artist 2 (Saison)
  11. Foam Built To Spill (Double IPA)
  12. Hill Farmstead Dry Hopped Arthur (Saison)
  13. Casita Cerveceria Del Árboles (Saison)
  14. Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett with Blueberries (American Wild Ale)
  15. SingleCut Softly Spoken Magic Spells (Double IPA)
  16. Funky Buddha Wide Awake It's Morning (Imperial Stout)
  17. Midnight Sun Termination Dust (Barleywine)
  18. Oskar Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy (Imperial Stout)
  19. Tired Hands Oat Potion (Saison)
  20. The Veil Crucial Crucial Aunt Aunt (Double IPA)
  21. Tired Hands Believer's Club Bottle 1 (Saison)
  22. Forest & Main Marius (Peach) (Saison)
  23. Free Will Ralphius (Imperial Stout)
  24. Oude Geuze Boon Black Label (Gueuze)
  25. McKenzie Toad the Brett Rocket (Saison)
  26. Tröegs Bourbon Barrel Aged Impending Descent (Imperial Stout)
  27. Hanssens Oude Schaarbeekse Kriek (Fruited Lambic)
  28. Barrel of Monks Three Fates Tripel (Tripel)
  29. Rodenbach Alexander (Flanders Red Ale)
  30. Victory Java Cask Rye (Imperial Stout)

The Unreviewed Five
Beers that where I had small samples, never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.

  1. The Bruery Wineificiation III
  2. Cigar City Double Barrel Hunahpu's Imperial Stout
  3. Kane A Night to End All Dawns (Vanilla)
  4. Fremont B-Bomb Bourbon Barrel Aged Abominable Winter Ale
  5. Casey Family Reserves - Cherry

I would love to get more of each and every one of these beers, but I'm just glad I got to try some of them at all.

So a great year in beer, with hopefully even more to come in 2017.

Operation Cheddar V: Bride of Cheddar

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When I was a teenager, I drove cross-country with my brother and uncle. One feature of such a trip is that once you get past major population centers, you tend to see the same people over and over again. There are only so many major highways and if you're both traveling in the same general direction, you'll find yourself stopping at the same gas stations, eating at the same roadside stops, and even camping at the same campgrounds. There's a (admittedly trashy) movie called Road Games that relies on this dynamic, making it a sorta moving version of Hitchcock's Rear Window.

I noticed something similar going on during Operation Cheddar V: Bride of Cheddar, only instead of gas stations and campsites, I kept seeing the same people at breweries. Go figure. This is my fifth such trek through the wilds of Vermont in search of beer, and as per usual, it was a lot of fun.

This started off, as per usual, at the Warren Store, where I always go to pick up some of Lawson's Finest Liquids. Alas, both available options were things I'd had before, but then, they're both great:

Lawsons Finest Liquids (and a Frost too)
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That's Sip of Sunshine and Super Session #2, for those keeping count. I also snagged a freshish bottle of Frost's Plush, as I'd heard good things about them.

The Alchemist in Stowe
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From there, I headed up to The Alchemist's new digs in Stowe, VT. For the uninitiated, during the first Operation Cheddar I was able to go to The Alchemist's cannery in Waterbury, VT. However, due to the high level of traffic and with consideration for their town and neighbors, they closed that location to the public and started distributing their beer throughout the state. This made their beer more difficult to snag (at least, for passers-through like myself), but due to intense demand, they were able to open a new brewery facility in Stowe. While the cannery still puts out as much Heady Topper as possible, the new brewery focuses on their other brews, notably Focal Banger and Crusher.

Mixed Case of Alchemist Beerz
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Limit of one case, but you could get a variety, so I got a mix of Heady Topper, Focal Banger, and The Crusher. That last one is something I've never had before, so you will most certainly be seeing more about that in the near future.

Just a hop and a skip away from there is Lost Nation, which has become a mandatory stop, if for no other reason than their food is just astonshingly good. I had some sort of smoked beef sandwhich, which was great, of course. And I snagged some Gose and The Wind while I was at it.

Amazing sandwich at Lost Nation
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Next up is another mandatory stop, Hill Farmstead. They've been doing some expansions of their own, and while lots of folks were there, the lines and waiting have been reduced considerably (though now you get bottles and growlers at two different locations). They also had some vintage bottles for sale, though only for onsite consumption (a bit pricey, to be sure, but probably worth it). I must have hit them at a weird time, as their bottle selections were dwindling rapidly, but hey, it's hard to complain when you get bottles of world class beer:

Beer haul from Hill Farmstead
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That's Casita Cerveceria Del Arboles (this is a contract brewing operation that brews at Hill Farmstead, which is something that obviously requires more scrutiny that will be provided at a later date), Dry-Hopped Arthur (I believe this is another beer that uses Segal Ranch Cascades), Table Dorothy, and growlers of Sumner, Single-Hop Citra, and Single-Hop Nelson Sauvin. What the hell, let's review some of those growlers right now, while we're here and all:

Hill Farmstead Citra

Hill Farmstead Citra Single-Hop Pale Ale - This is pretty much what it sez. I missed out on this during my first exposure to Hill Farmstead many moons ago during Philly Beer Week, so I was glad to finally catch up with it. Pours a cloudy orange-yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head and decent retention. Smells wonderful, bright, juicy citrus leavened by that floral note I tend to get out of Citra. Taste follows the nose, lots of juicy hops, a little of that earthy floral character, finishing on a bitter note. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with fine carbonation and a bit of dryness, quite drillable. Overall, yep, it's fabulous and I feel like even grading on a curve, this rates an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/5/16. Growler filled 8/4/16.

Hill Farmstead Sumner

Hill Farmstead Sumner American Pale Ale - Brewed with Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic hops? Well, ok, if you're going to twist my arm. Pours a little less cloudy, paler yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells similar, but with less floral character and more dank, resinous pine - still plenty of citrus though! Taste is again more on the dank side, plenty of citrus, a little less bright, but juicy enough, with a little less bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, finely carbonated, less dry, very crushable stuff. Overall, less intense, but still quite good. Again grading on a curve, maybe B+ or A-? This is getting impossible you guys.

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/6/16. Growler filled 8/4/16.

Then I popped over to Burlington Beer Company, the first time I'd visited. There I met with Kaedrin friend Cian McGuire, who works at the brewery and was busily bottling some beer when I arrived. We had a nice chat and I picked up plenty of beer. Naturally, I forgot to take pictures of the facility, so you'll just have to deal with the haul pic:

Burlington Beer Company haul
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That's It's Complicated Being a Wizard, Peasant King, Peach of Mind, Brettanomyces Incident, and Chunky. Check out that artwork, so nice. Looking forward to these!

Finally, I stopped in at Foam brewery to visit with Lipstick n Lager and try some of their wares. They've only been open for about 4 months, but they're really nailing their IPAs, which in Vermont is really saying something. I only snagged a single growler from them, but you will most definitely be hearing more about it in the near future. And I will almost certainly stop here again next year.

Foam Brewing
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From there, it was a simple jaunt back to the Adirondacks (where I was staying last week) to enjoy my spoils. I should also mention that I went back to Fulton Chain brewing, which was within walking distance of where I was staying. If you recall, during Operation Cheddar IV: Smoked Cheddar, I stopped in to this place mere weeks after they had opened. I was glad to see that they seem to be well established at this point, with a healthy crowd and many more taplines open.

Fulton Chain Flight
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Highlights were Go Fluff Yourself (made with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff) and Flooded Tent (a cucumber lime saison). Not quite Vermont levels awesome, but hey, walking distance. I should also add that Officer Bob enjoyed Eskimo Strong, an imperial red/amber:

Officer Bob
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Also of note, Wakely's Speakeasy on the other side of town (awesomely named Thendara, NY) that had probably the best Bourbon selection I've ever seen. Very secretive, need a passphrase to get in, and no cell phones/pictures allowed. But live music and again, great whiskey selection (not so good on the beer front, but whatevers). Apparently the owners were from Kentucky, so they've got their connections. Well worth stopping in if you're ever in the area...

And that just about covers another successful Operation Cheddar. Now if you'll excuse me, all this VT beer ain't going to drink itself. I'll leave you with some pictures of Tired Hands beers that I was drinking all week in preparation for Operation Cheddar...

Tired hands Milkshake IPA
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Tired Hands Pineal
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It was a fun vacation, is what I'm saying. Already looking forward to my next VT odyssey.

I Drink Your Milkshake IPA

| 2 Comments

The beer nerd world is all aflutter about the so-called "Northeast IPA" (aka "Milkshake IPA", which we'll get to... er, later in this post), exemplified by the juicy, unfiltered, cloudy looking wares of The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Treehouse, Trillium, and I'll include local favorite Tired Hands too. This isn't really a new observation, but the current kerfluffle kicked off a few weeks ago with an article in Willamette Week called IPA Is Dead, Long Live IPA in which the author cites Northeast influence on the famed Portland, Oregon brewery scene:


When Portland beer geeks sampled the beers blind, it turned out they preferred brighter, juicier versions like those in the Northeast, which have only recently popped up in Portland. The five best IPAs in the city come from brand-new breweries, and most of those have been influenced by Heady Topper, Julius and Sculpin, beers that present hops as a reward rather than a challenge.

There are a few different things to parse here. One is the transition from punishingly bitter IPAs to pleasantly bright and juicy takes on the style, which is unquestionably happening. Another is that this trend originated in the Northeast; an assertion that is more dubious, as Jeff Alworth points out:

The Northeast, like the rest of the country, is not a monolith. Martin seems to be talking about New England here, but New England was actually very late getting to the hops party. Heady Topper is a fascinating beer, but its influence was basically nil in the pubs and breweries of New England, which have largely tended toward English-inflected, balanced, and notably malty beers. (Its influence among the uber-geeks of BeerAdvocate is another matter.) Martin proves this pretty ably because in the three examples of Northeast IPAs he offers, one is from San Diego. It's not an old trend there. Those small New England breweries didn't even drive a palate shift in Portland, Maine, so I have a hard time believing they drove one in Portland, Oregon.

Certainly a fair point, and Alworth goes on to try and break down the trend to it's constituent parts: American Hops, Flavor, and IBUs. It's here that I think his argument doesn't really capture what's going on in the New Guard of Northeast, though his points are part of it and are also more widespread than just the Northeast (I left a comment on Jeff's blog that covers some of the below.)

That one time I poured Heady Topper into a glass, what a rebel I am
That one time I poured Heady Topper into a glass, what a rebel I am

To my mind, the whole trend culminating with the likes of Heady Topper (et al.) started with Greg Noonan at the Vermont Pub and Brewery in the 1990s. It's true that the Northeast is not a monolith and Alworth accurately pins down the old-school Northeastern style as "English-inflected, balanced, and notably malty beers" (think Hop Devil). However, beers like Bombay Grab IPA were precursors to what we're seeing today. Noonan alone was quite influential in the brewing world, having authored several books and just plain helped lots of other brewers.

Yes, American hops, dry hopping, and less bittering hops are part of the shift, but what I associate with the Northeast beers is yeast - Conan and other English strains that aren't as clean fermenting (i.e. they accentuate the fruitiness and juiciness of the hops) as the Chico American Ale stuff that drove so much of the West Coast IPA craze. Where did this come from? Greg Noonan.

Looking at the Northeast breweries listed above, there's also a tendency to use other adjuncts in place of something like crystal malt, so you get oats, wheat, maybe rye, and so on. The hops change with what's available, and a lot of breweries experiment with new or experimental hops, but when I started drinking IPAs (turn of the century timeframe), things seemed very different from the new guard of Northeast IPAs.

I'm not claiming causality here and can't speak to the influence of these beers outside the Northeast, but there's clearly something going on here that is more than just hop-driven. Heady Topper didn't happen by accident; John Kimmich worked for Greg Noonan. That's where he got the Conan yeast from. Heady was available in 2004, but it remained somewhat obscure until they started canning it. After that? you get an explosion of new breweries with a similar core approach.

Do all the Northeast Breweries take this approach? Of course not! But that doesn't mean there isn't a trend. Do some folks take the approach too far? Ah, now this is the next part of the controversy. Witness Jamil Zainasheff on Twitter:


And now we come to what is termed the "Milkshake IPA"; beers that are so cloudy that they barely look like a beer (interestingly, the beer that so offended Zainasheff looks pretty middle of the road in this respect). Part of this is the old-school BJCP emphasis on clarity in beer. It's true, a clear beer sure looks pretty in the glass. But as a result of using low flocculation yeast, starchy adjuncts like wheat or oats, and excessive dry hopping, you get a beer whose flavors are great, but which can appear hazy or worse (Ed gets into it more here).

For some reason, this really gets on some people's nerves. Which is fine! No one is forcing you to drink all the Hill Farmstead and those of us who enjoy their generally limited beer will thank you for leaving more for us. Instead, we just get a lot of whining. A few months ago, one of the Alstrom Bros (of Beer Advocate fame) visited Tired Hands and gave this review to HopHands:

Not feeling it with this brew, extremely cloudy and a mess to say the least. Staff at the pub should not be pouring it. Milkshake beers are not a trend or acceptable with traditional or even modern styles... No excuses. Carbonation seemed off, a muddled mess.

Yikes! In typical Tired Handsian fashion, Jean responded by putting out a series of "Milkshake" beers. IPAs brewed in their typical style, but with added lactose and usually some sort of high-pectin fruit puree in order to really amp up the cloudiness factor. I'm not positive about all of the beers in the series, but I know the recently released canned variety, Strawberry Milkshake IPA, also used wheat flour(!) for that extra turbid look:

Tired Hands Strawberry Milkshake IPA
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Now, I can see why this particular pour might not be your thing, but it was absolutely delicious! Knowing the context, I think the appearance is perfectly cromulent (especially given how good it tastes). Most of the beers in question don't actually look like this, except maybe Hoof Hearted... and, um, look what they named their brewery! Those are clearly people who don't care what you think. But even standard Tired Hands IPAs can be pretty hazy, and this group of Northeast brewers all seem to have a taste for such beer. When visiting Tired Hands one time a couple years ago, Jean filled a couple of growlers and gave them to a customer who was making a trip to Hill Farmstead. Since Sean Hill apparently likes his beer cloudy, Jean renamed "Communication is the Key" to "Communication is the Murky" and "We Are All Infinite Energy Vibrating At The Same Frequency" to "We Are All Hazy As Hell Vibrating at the Same Cloudiness".

Tired Hands Murky Growlers
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I think that's another thing worth noting about this whole Northeast phenomenon - these guys all know each other. They collaborate, they swap beers, they're clearly feeding off of one another. The Bros have rated some other beers with similar comments (one I noticed a while back was Trillium Vicinity), so they're clearly bugged by hazy beer. I guess it's possible to get a bad pour. I mean, according to Untappd, I've had well over 300 checkins at Tired Hands, and I've never gotten something that was unintentionally milkshakey. Very hazy? Certainly. But nothing like the Milkshake beers (which, again, were made with tongue firmly in cheek).

Incidentally, I have no idea what beer Jamil Zainasheff was talking about above. This is becoming a bit of a pet peeve for me. People like to whine about "bad breweries" and "offensive" beers, but it seems like they rarely ever actually name names. I mean, I'm sure these things exist, but it's hard to accept your hot take if you won't actually tell us what you're talking about. Strawman arguments are bad enough even when you name the strawman. At least the Bros are clear.

But I digress and I have rambled on for far too long. My ultimate points are that the Northeast IPA appears to be more than just hop-based (yeast and starchy adjuncts seem to play a big role), there is a long tradition with traceable influence, and you know, drink what you like. I happen to have no problem with this trend. If you do, more power to you, but maybe tone down the rhetoric a bit. As for a causal relationship with newfangled Oregon beer, I have no idea. Cloudy beer is certainly not a new thing, even in Oregon, but part of the point is that it's not necessarily the cloudiness that defines Northeast IPA. That's just a symptom of the way these folks are brewing.

Or maybe I'm full of it. As mentioned yesterday, comments are working again, so feel free to register your disgust (assuming you have a Google, Wordpress, etc... account). What say you? I made this post too long didn't I? None of you are actually reading this, are you? I'm the worst. Or the Würst. Are you still here or not? What's going on? Get off my lawn! Or no, wait, leave a comment. So it's getting late and I'm obviously getting loopy, so I'll stop now. Or will I? No, I will. I just haven't yet. Annnnd scene!

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

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