Recently in Miscellaneous Category

Here at Kaedrin, we're big fans of FiftyFifty's Eclipse series of imperial stouts aged in various whiskey barrels. The idea is that you start with the same base beer but age it in different expressions of bourbon and rye. Since the aging period is the same (about 6 months), the only real variable here is the different expressions of whiskey (and the myriad variables that apply to each barrel). In my experience, this has produced some modest but definitely noticeable differences in the resulting beers. For instance, my two favorite expressions of 2012 were the Rittenhouse Rye (very rich and caramelly, oak forward) and Elijah Craig 12 (more roast from the base was retained here, but it's also got a nice richness to it). Then there were a couple that sorta fell between those two in terms of the amount of roast retained after the barrel character. From the most recent batch, I had the super bourbon forward (but not as oaky) Evan Williams 23 Year and the more chocolaty Woodford Reserve. And so on.

The problem with all this? I was drinking all these beers on separate occasions. Could I simply be making up all these differences? The only way to really tell would be to try them all together... but who can put down several bombers of 11.9% ABV stout in one sitting? Look, I've drank some heavy hitters in a single session more times than I should admit, but taking on several Eclipse bottles solo just ain't realistic. So earlier this year, I resolved to gather as many variants as I could, then hold a comparative tasting and spread the wealth with a bunch of friends. As such, this happened:

FiftyFifty Eclipse Horizontal Tasting - Bottles

That's six variants, split across five tasters. Each taster ranked the beers from 6 down to 1 (with 6 being the best and 1 being the worst) based on approximately 4 ounces per variant. 24 ounces per person is much more approachable than 132 ounces. The general methodology was semi-blind. The bottles don't actually say which bourbon barrels were used, but you can determine the provenance by looking up the wax color. I'm the only person in the group of five who knew anything about that, so I figured that was blind enough.

FiftyFifty Eclipse Horizontal Tasting - Pours

It was way more difficult to differentiate than I thought it would be. This could be for any number of reasons. We're about 8 months after release, so their distinctive natures may have mellowed out some. Lord knows my basement ain't exactly the most controlled cellaring environment, which might also have had an impact. Also, much of my memory of these beers comes from the 2012 variants, which were 9% ABV. This year's batch clocks in at 11.9% ABV, which is significantly different. Add in the inherent unpredictability of barrel aging, and you've got some more factors there. Plus, we sampled a few other things before the tasting proper started. I know, I'm the worst. I should totally have locked each attendee in a hermetically sealed room and forced them to sample the beers in absolute silence, but I didn't have the heart (or firepower) to do so.

Now, it wasn't impossible to detect differences, and indeed, I had a very clear favorite (Elijah Craig 12) and a very clear least-favorite (High West Bourbon). I kept going back and forth between Rittenhouse Rye and Buffalo Trace as my second favorite, and honestly, I could probably have thrown Four Roses in with those two as well. The High West Rye expression wasn't really there for me either (but hey, I'll drink a dram of Rendezvous Rye anytime guys). Of course, there were four other tasters, so here's the scientific ranking of these six Eclipse variants:

  1. Buffalo Trace (4.8 avg score)
  2. Four Roses (4.4 avg score)
  3. Elijah Craig 12 (4.4 avg score)
  4. Rittenhouse Rye (2.8 avg score)
  5. High West Bourbon (2.6 avg score)
  6. High West Rye (2.0 avg score)

Some things to consider here:

  • Four Roses and Elijah Craig 12 tied for second place, but it's worth noting that EC12 had the highest Standard Deviation in the tasting (at 2.07) and Four Roses was somewhere on the lower end of the pack (1.34). So I slotted Four Roses in at #2.
  • Speaking of Standard Deviation, the best of these were, perhaps not surprisingly, the worst and best beers. High West Rye has the lowest Standard Deviation with 0.71, while Buffalo Trace sported a respectable 1.1. So basically, no one particularly liked High West Rye, and pretty much everyone thought Buffalo Trace was good.
  • One ballot could be said to be a slight outlier, in that they did seem to drive the two highest Standard Deviations. In one case, they rated Elijah Craig a 1 (other ratings were 6, 6, 5, and 4) and in the other, they rated High West Bourbon a 5 (other ratings were 1, 1, 3, 3). I also ended up ranking Rittenhouse Rye much higher than anyone else, but the effect wasn't as dramatic there. Otherwise we were generally in line with each other, which seems pretty good!
  • No single variant got more than 2 of the highest rating (both Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig accomplished that feat). Four Roses also garnered 1 of the highest rating. Rittenhouse Rye and the High West variants did not manage clear that bar.
  • In terms of the lowest rating, only High West Bourbon managed to get 2 of those (which is why the outlier threw things off on this one).
  • On the scoring sheet I made, I also listed out the bourbons in a random order to see if anyone could match the color to the bourbon. Two people got one of these correct, one person didn't even try, and the other person literally wrote "NFC" meaning "No Fucking Clue" (I already knew the answers, so didn't participate in that part).
  • None of us are particularly accomplished whiskey drinkers, but one person said their absolute favorite bourbon was Four Roses, and they actually did end up pegging the Four Roses variant as their favorite. Way to go!
  • None of the beers were considered actually bad, and everyone seemed to like all the variants. So the High West Stuff might not quite stack up to the rest, but they're still pretty good in the grand scheme of things...

Full data set is on Google Sheets and publicly viewable, in case you want to do your own number crunching.

It was a very fun evening, and a very interesting exercise too. If I were to do something like this again, I'd try to go for fresher bottles, and less variants, but even so, I was still pretty happy with the tasting.

Operation Chowder

| No Comments

"That's 'chowdah'! Chowdah! I'll kill you! I'll kill all of you, especially those of you in the jury!"

The encore to Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder was a trip to Boston for more beery fun, with the centerpiece being the American Craft Beer Festival, though due to my late addition to this trip, I only went to the Friday evening session (the Saturday sessions were sold out). This was no big loss to me, for reasons I'll get into later, but I'm getting ahead of myself. After Thursday morning's sorties on the Warren Store, Burlington, and Worthy Burger, we high tailed it to Boston (or, to be more accurate, Cambridge). First stop while we were there, was the most excellent bar, Lord Hobo:

Lord Hobo
(Click to embiggen)

What a fantastic place. It was a little more crowded than we were used to (it turns out that the weekday crowd in Waterbury doesn't quite compare to happy hour during the weekend in Cambridge, go figure), but what do we have here:

Fiddlehead Second Fiddle.jpg

Yes, after flinging ourselves all over Vermont for a few days, we had to go to Boston to get us some Second Fiddle cans. And it was fantastic! No formal tasting notes, but it's got a great juicy citrus thing going on, a little more dank and resinous than your Heady Topper or Hill Farmstead stuff, certainly holds its own with the greats and represents a cool alternative if you can find it (perhaps not as under-the-radar as you might think, if the folks in the bar are any indication). The other highlight of Lord Hobo was the relatively local Wormtown Be Hoppy, though I can't really remember anything about it other than it being a really fabulous IPA. We also had a duck-based charcuterie plate (I'm not normally a pate guy, but I'll be damned if the duck pate wasn't delicious) and the cheese plate, one of the better dining decisions we made (remember, we loaded up on Worthy Burgers not that long before this time, so these plates were perfect). Super duper.

Friday morning, we hop on the T and head into Boston proper for a trip to Trillium Brewing, a tiny little operation that only does growler fills and bottle releases at this point. There was a short line, so we popped in and bought us some bottles:

Trillium Haul
(Click to embiggen)

So the haul includes: Trillium, Congress Street IPA, Sunshower Super Saison, and Vicinity Double IPA. Pretty darn good.

From there, we hopped over to a restaurant called Row 34, which from all appearances is an amazing seafood place with a pretty solid beer selection. It was right during the lunch rush though, so we didn't get any food here, instead standing at some of the pillars (which had little ledges for your beer, etc...) and drinking a pre-fest beer just to get the system primed (we're still 4-5ish hours away from the start of the fest though).

Pivovar Kout 12

The standout on the menu, surprising to me, but I'm super glad I made the stretch, was Pivovar Kout Koutská 12° Dvanáctka, a glorious Czech pilsener that I grabbed because I recognized the name from Evan Rail's short little book The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest (apparently a refurbished brewery in the middle of nowhere, the recipes come from a book discovered in the old brewery, or something like that). Pilseners aren't really my jam, but this hit the spot, grainy, earthy, almost spicy hops, but still light, crisp, and refreshing on a warm day after a long walk, and I'm really glad I gave it a shot. Would be really interested in checking out some more of Kout's brews if they ever become available over here!

From there, we had a sorta lazy afternoon, grabbed a Lobster sandwich from Alive and Kicking Lobsters (it's not a Lobster roll, it's a sandwich!) hit Whole Foods for some Massachusetts beer (the source of those Night Shift Morph cans in my previous post) and generally relaxed until we hopped on the train for the ACBF.

Longtime readers (all 3 of you) might recognize that I'm not much of a beer fest kinda guy given that I've covered approximately zero of them in the five-ish years of this blog. Large crowds, drunk people, tiny samples, and did I mention the large crowds? I'm not anti-social or anything, but I hate crowds and as a massive introvert, I just get exhausted by these types of events. Also, whatever you may think about the amount of beer I drink, I don't generally enjoy getting smashed. I've been to festivals in the past, and after the first several tastes, I start to get a little woozy, but my novelty instinct is still engaged full force, so I feel like I need to keep sampling at top speed or else I'll miss out. By the end, I have no idea what I'm tasting, not just because I'm drunk, but because I've been obliterating my palate. The other thing about beer festivals, at least the local ones around here, is that they tend to be comprised mostly of local breweries... most of which I've already had a lot of before (or could easily get anytime). It's not that there's nothing special being poured, but they're few and far between, and again, after your first rush of tastes, your palate gets wonky and perceptions get weird.

That being said, the ACBF was actually great! There were lots of crowds, but the space was huge, so that wasn't too annoying. The crowds also meant lines, especially at the more prominent breweries, but that had the benefit of keeping me going at a sustainable pace rather than rushing through everything. I ended the fest with a nice buzz on, but not shitfaced at all. And because the fest was in Boston, there were a ton of Northeast Breweries that don't often make their way down here, and even the ones that do, don't often send the special stuff. I didn't really take many pictures during this leg of the trip because I'm the worst, but here are some highlights from the fest:

And there were a ton of other great beers, but those were definitely the standouts and I don't want to sit here and list out the other 20 beers I liked (or the handful that I didn't). Lawson's definitely had the longest line (it moved well enough, and we were able to get through 3 times pretty easily - I heard things were considerably more difficult on Saturday), though Fiddlehead was also doing pretty well for itself (indeed, there was even a staffer who had to provide traffic control because of the location of their booth). Definitely a worthwhile pursuit that I'd do again, but I was also perfectly fine with the one session. I got pretty much everything I could have wanted and a bunch of stuff I didn't even know I wanted (about half the highlights above were completely unexpected). I was told that the Saturday afternoon session was way more crowded and the lines were a lot longer, which I probably wouldn't have liked. We hit up brunch at a place called Cafe Luna, and got this beautiful Lobster Eggs Benedict plate:

Lobster Eggs Benedict

Delicious! And my friend got the Steak and Lobster BLT Benedict, which was the same thing, with added slice of steak, some bacon, and a big slice of tomato. He had trouble finishing. I was more than pleased with my "regular" dish. While my friends went to the early ACBF session, I met up with a local friend and we tooled around Boston for a while. We hit up the MIT museum (totally worth checking out for the Arthur Ganson Gestural Engineering exhibit alone), had a couple drinks at Meadhall, which has a huge taplist, but also seemingly less in the way of local stuff, and ate dinner at Regina Pizzaria in the North End ("The Original"). It's a tiny little place, and you actually need to wait in line to get in, but we got there early enough that the line was short, so we got in pretty quickly, and hot damn, that is some fantastic pizza. Best I've had in a while, crispy crust, chewy interior, well proportioned sauce, cheese, and toppings, and totally worth looking up if you find yourself in Boston. (As we exited, we seemed to run into a bizarre ritual of two dudebros having a pushup contest on the street... quite amusing!)

Phew! That about covers the festivities, and what a lovely week it was! That being said, I think perhaps Operation Cheddar and Operation Chowder would do better with some time between them for recovery and emptying of trunk space, rather than crammed together like this. I was pretty worn out in the end, though I regret nothing! Time will tell if we go through this again next year. Right now, it's a distinct possibility! And believe it or not, I may end up in Vermont again sooner rather than later, stay tuned! In the meantime, there will be a crapton of reviews headed your way...

We Interrupt This Program (Again)

| No Comments

Around this time last year, I took a wee break from beer:

In the 1930s, folks became very worried when their favorite radio programs were interrupted by special news bulletins. News back then tended to include things like Depressions and Nazis, so that was a pretty reasonable reaction. These days, the phrase "We interrupt this program..." is a pretty harmless declaration used half ironically to state things like how I'm not going to drink that much beer for the next six weeks or so.

See how I slipped that in there?

Well it's that time of year again, and I'm taking another break from beer, for largely the same reasons elaborated in that post. Believe it or not, last year's experience was a lot of fun. I had fun with some other beverages and my waistband was pretty happy with the experience too.

One thing I wasn't expecting last year was that I almost ended up blogging more than normal. I've been writing about beer for over 4 years, so all the writerly low-hanging fruit is pretty well exhausted. But I've barely scratched the surface of wine, whiskey, or tea. Not to mention whatever else I'll get up to this year. Plus, I find that writing about other booze from the perspective of a beer nerd can be interesting. So while the blog may slow down slightly, there should still be plenty to keep you busy (even if you're not a whiskey/wine/whatever type of person).

Plus, as with last year, there are a few instances when I still plan to drink beer. And I have a couple of reviews saved in the hopper that will keep us busy on the blog too. So stay in touch, it's going to be a bumpy fun ride.

2014 Year End Musings

| No Comments
According to the Gregorian calendar, the earth has completed yet another orbit around the sun, and thus Earthlings like myself are prone to reflect on the previous orbital period or somesuch. I had a weird year in beer, in some ways it's a natural progression, in other ways, I've regressed. Depending on your point of view, I guess. Regardless, the usual categories of musings I cover every year in a post like this (See 2013, 2012, and 2011 musings) have been mildly stagnant this year. On the other hand, that's probably a good thing. So here's some musings for 2014 and because I like arbitrary exercises and I seem to do it every year, a top 40 list.

  • Taking a Break - I took a break from drinking beer (er, mostly) in March and April of 2014, which was actually a very enjoyable experience. I spent some time with other libations and even some non-alcoholic beverages (the horror!) I plan on doing the same thing (at around the same time) this year, so saddle up.
  • Drinking Down the Cellar - After my beer break, I spent a few months drinking beers from my cellar. I've noted on many occasions that my eyes are bigger than my liver, so my cellar was growing. Not one of those obscene things that you see on youtube or somesuch, but sizeable enough that I wanted to do some pruning. A fair amount of this was stuff I'd had before, so much of it didn't actually show up on the blog... which lead to:
  • Decrease in Blogging - I still blog a lot, but there was a time when I'd crank out 4-5 entries a week. Now it's mostly 3 (with the occasional 4th, though also sometimes less), which has become a comfortable groove for me. I expected to continue in this manner in 2015, perhaps settling down into 2-3 entries a week (or less).
  • An American Wild Year - Looking at my top 40, I'm struck by how many American Wild Ales show up (with the occasional Lambic or sour/funky Saison that might as well be an American Wild) and, conversely, how few Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts there were (Not that they're absent, but seeing as though they're my favorite style...) I think this probably has something to do with a strong local scene in Wild Ales, and just a few opportunities that came up. I find that my ability to acquire great beer tends to go in style waves, with 2014 being a whole lot of saisons and American Wilds. Right now, I'm predictiong 2015 will have a few more Stouts!
  • Trading - In all honesty, I don't think I completed a single trade this year, though a few of the beers on the list below are from late 2013 trades. I still managed to get my hands on plenty of non-locally distributed beer and I anticipate this dry spell ending in the next couple months, but yeah, not a year for trading over here.
  • Wales, bro - Not a ton of these this year either (and certainly not the true beer nerd walez), but a couple of personal white whales were slain this year, but those are stuff everyone's had before and for some reason had eluded me until 2014, like The Abyss or Saison Brett. And then there's emerging breweries like Sante Adairius or local wonders like Tired Hands, which I'm doing my best to keep up with. I see more of that happening this year as well, not so much with the insane wales, bro.
  • Ratings Inflation - I mentioned this last year as well, but ratings inflation has continued unabated. Stuff I rated an A a few years ago often does not compare to the stuff I'm rating an A these days. The only exception is the A+ category, where I never rate anything (only 4 entries in the 4 years of the blog, and none in 2014). I think the point there is that I generally want to try a beer on multiple occasions and see if it stands up to the test of time, which is sometimes impossible (limited, one time only brews?) and also not conducive to stuff I've already reviewed. That being said, perhaps we'll have some upgrades in the year 2015. Stay tuned!
  • Homebrewing - I've been terribly lazy this year. I started off pretty strong, with a batch of Fat Weekend IPA and an oak-aged barleywine, but since then, things have been pretty quiet on this front. In part, this has to do with my whole drinking down the cellar thing (a not insignificant amount of the beer down there is homebrew), but it's also definitely a laziness thing. I plan on revving back up soon enough.
  • Aging/Cellaring Beer - Drinking down my cellar wasn't really part of my experiment with aging beer, more just a result of buying too much beer and unintentionally aging it. As with last year, I'm finding that aging is interesting, but rarely produces spectacular results. This bottle of 1.5 year old Tired Hands Only Void was spectacular, and I had a few other successes in 2014, but for the most part, I'm still finding that drinking beer fresh is your best bet. However, I do have some true experiments that I'm hoping to did into in 2015. I anticipate at least a few will be great.
So it's been an odd year, certainly not bad, just different. In the grand scheme of things, that's probably a good thing though, so here's my list of top 40 beers I've tried this year. The list is limited to beers I had and reviewed this year, so if you don't see your favorites on the list, don't get too worked up about it. Or get worked up about it, if that's your thing, just don't expect me to care too much. Everything on the list has been rated at least an A- on my grading scale and the ordering is generally from best to worst. This is, of course, an entirely arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with lists, so take that with a giant grain of salt. I tried to limit breweries to a handful of entries, though I think I still ended up with, like, 4 Tired Hands beers on here. Make of that what you will, here's the list:

  1. Tired Hands Parageusia1 (American Wild Ale)
  2. Stone Fyodor's Classic (Imperial Stout)
  3. Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude 5 (Double IPA)
  4. Tired Hands The Emptiness is Eternal (Saison)
  5. The Bruery Mash (Barleywine)
  6. Sante Adairius Cask 200 (American Wild Ale)
  7. Cascade Sang Royal (American Wild Ale)
  8. Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee (Quadrupel)
  9. Cantillon Iris (Lambic)
  10. Tired Hands Psychic Facelift (IPA)
  11. Cisco Pechish Woods (American Wild Ale)
  12. Carton 077XX (Double IPA)
  13. Union Double Duckpin (Double IPA)
  14. Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta (Saison)
  15. Tired Hands Back Into The Emptiness (Saison)
  16. Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale (American Strong Ale)
  17. Hill Farmstead Harlan IPA (IPA)
  18. Thirsty Dog Wulver (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy)
  19. Neshaminy Creek The Shape Of Hops To Come (Double IPA)
  20. Avery 5 Monks (Quadrupel)
  21. Voodoo Buffalo Trace Black Magick (Imperial Stout)
  22. FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood (Barleywine)
  23. Three Floyds Chevalier Bertrand Du Guesclin (American Wild Ale)
  24. Lost Abbey Framboise De Amarosa (American Wild Ale)
  25. Almanac Farmer's Reserve Pluot (American Wild Ale)
  26. Voodoo Pappy Van Winkle Big Black Voodoo Daddy (Imperial Stout)
  27. Hill Farmstead Florence (Saison)
  28. Cisco Monomoy Kriek (American Wild Ale)
  29. Lost Abbey Track #8 (Quadrupel)
  30. Deschutes The Abyss 2013 Reserve (Imperial Stout)
  31. Crooked Stave L'Brett d'Or (American Wild Ale)
  32. HaandBryggeriet Odin's Tipple (Imperial Stout)
  33. DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon (Double IPA)
  34. Surly Furious (IPA)
  35. Boulevard Saison-Brett (Saison)
  36. Forest & Main Lunaire (Saison)
  37. Victory Wild Devil (American Wild Ale)
  38. Allagash PNC Broken Elevator (American Wild Ale)
  39. Prairie Puncheon (Saison)
  40. The Bruery Sucré (Old Ale)
Well, after looking through that list, it seems I did have a rather fantastic year. Here's to 2015, already shaping up to be a good one.

Operation Cheddar II: Sharp Cheddar

| 3 Comments

Last week was my now annual trip to Adirondacks to join family and friends for lakeside merriment and generalized fun (incidentally, this is why there were no posts last week). As with last year's Operation Cheddar, I took a little day trip over to Vermont to secure hallowed libations from the holy trinity of The Alchemist, Lawson's Finest Liquids, and Hill Farmstead.

The plan was pretty much the same as last year, except that The Alchemist was no longer distributing direct from their cannery, instead distributing to a variety of local Vermont establishments. Alas, this little switchup would prove to be my doom. Or, well, just make it so that I didn't manage to procure any precious Heady Topper. I suppose I could have, but I opted not to wait the extra two hours. I've had plenty of Heady in my day, including a recent fresh 4 pack, so I didn't judge this to be a huge loss. I could probably have found the odd 4 pack around somewhere, but this whole distribution situation makes this sort of day trip a little inconvenient. I'll need to do a more dedicated Vermont trip to make this work. No big whoop, onwards and upwards.

In any case, Operation Cheddar II: Sharp Cheddar commenced on Thursday morning. First stop was The Warren Store for some Lawson's Finest Liquids (see last year's operation for more on this great little store). Unlike last year where I basically walked in and picked a few bottles off the shelf, this year was a bit more of a production. There was a line of about 20 people ahead of me, and they sold out 34 cases in about an hour and half. Fortunately, I got there in time to secure my three bottles of Double Sunshine. On the one hand, it would have been nice to have gotten a hold of something I hadn't had before. On the other hand, Double Fucking Sunshine. These three bottles will not last long. Whilst there, I snagged a few other locals:

Warren Store Haul

So aside from Double Sunshine, I grabbed a Foley Brothers Native IPA (I enjoyed their brown ale from last year's sortie), a Bent Hill India Pale Ale (dude at the shop said they're brand new and at the time, no reviews on the internets), a Crop Bistro & Brewery Idletyme IPA as well as their Crop Weizen (another brand new brewery).

Also procured at The Warren Store was some Vermont Maple Syrup and a wonderful breakfast sandwich, which I ate in peace out on their deck that faces the little waterfall and creek on the side of the building. Good times.

Next stop, Hill Farmstead!

Hill Farmstead Sign

Hill Farmstead Construction

Construction and expansion efforts are moving along, and the line was actually indoors this year. They seemed to have streamlined some of their process, but there was a pretty steady line of folks looking to score their Hill Farmstead bottles and growlers. I have to admit, I spent wayyy too much money here, but it's totally worth it:

Hill Farmstead Haul

Hill Farmstead other beer haul

Once again, I ended up buying some of the same beer as last year. But when that beer is Vera Mae, I'm not going to complain. Plus, I got my hands on an ample bounty of Florence (more than pictured), and growlers of Harlan, Friendship & Devotion, and Society & Solitude #5, so there is that. Also snagged some Siren / Mikkeller / Hill Farmstead Limoncello IPA and Crooked Stave Surette and Vieille. Oh, and they had glassware this year too!

The last stop was Winooski Beverage, where I had hoped to score some Heady Topper. Alas, I got there at 4, there was already a few people waiting in line, and they weren't going to start selling until 6. I still had a three hour drive to get back home, so I opted to grab a few shelf turds (that happened to all be Massachusetts beers) and leave it at that.

Miscellaneous Haul

Let's see what we got here: Mystic Saison Renaud, Jack's Abby Hopstitution IPL and Session Rye IPL, and something that looks like homebrew (seriously dude, it's got those Brewer's Best caps) called Billy's Pale Ale.

And just for fun, some other stuff I procured on this trip, including some great tasting Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar, along with that Maple Syrup that I mentioned earlier.

Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar and Maple Syrup

So yes, despite the lack of Heady, I declare that this mission has been accomplished. Until next year (though fingers crossed for a more wintry excursion in a few months).

The Session #86: Beer Journalism

| No Comments

session_logo.jpgOn 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, Heather Vandenengel wants to talk Beer Journalism:


What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What's your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?

A few things occur to me. One is that I rarely seem to read stuff that would formally be called "Beer Journalism". Sure, this is the internet, and so I've serendipitously stumbled upon many a beer article, I suppose, but I've never subscribed to a dead tree publication like BeerAdvocate (and for various reasons, I don't have any plans to reverse that). The grand majority of my beer reading tends to be blogs, and they can be a varied bunch. Common themes seem to be irreverent humor, homebrewing, reviews, even more irreverent humor, and then there's whatever the hell Subby Doo is doing at DDB.

The other thing that occurs to me is that it seems kinda foolish to put writing into a box. Perhaps there are too many "advocates" and cheerleaders in beer writing these days, but if Thomas Pynchon started up a beer advocacy blog, I'd bet all of us would be reading the hell out of that thing. Still, I do think there's a point here. Beer boosterism is fine, but it also leads to certain issues. Like, for instance, the constant hand wringing about the best beers in the world. It can be frustrating to newbs and hype causes some rather obnoxious behavior amongst some folks (this is a general topic that deserves a post of its own). It wouldn't be so bad if everyone didn't choose the same few beers, but if you really love beer, you should seek out the bad with the good. While I've had my share of infamously bad beers, I could probably do better on this front myself.

One of the other things Heather asked us to share in this Session is "a piece of beer writing or media you love". There are many options (and all the folks I linked above are indeed loved), but I'm going to go with the most obscure thing I can think of, which is this classic review of the legendarily bad Samuel Adams Triple Bock, buried in the depths of Beer Advocate (and somehow not deleted by the overzealous mods over there). Who says tasting notes are boring?

True story: While outside, my brother and I poured a little bit of Triple Bock into the bowls of the three dogs who live at my uncle's house. All three dogs, very hungry due to not having eaten since breakfast, ran toward the bowls, then simultaneously retreated by slowly walking backward. They appeared to be concerned that whatever was in there might reward sudden movement by attacking them. Such concerns were probably well-founded.

Truth be told, I strongly recommend Triple Bock to everyone who calls himself a beer connoisseur, just as I recommend "Troll 2" to strangers I pass on the street. There truly is nothing else like it in this world. It deserves every bit of its insidious reputation, and it will take years off your life.

Highly recommended.

I don't really know where to go after that, so I'm going to answer Heather's original questions with some questions of my own, which will hopefully help illuminate something I'd like to see from more beer writing. In this task, I will be drawing upon a raging debate in the world of music and film writing. The whole snafu was set off by this CriticWire Survey that posed a question:

Q: Jazz critic Ted Gioia recently lodged a complaint that "music criticism has degenerated into lifestyle reporting" because most most critics lack a musical background and theoretical tools. Do movie critics need filmmaking experience or an understanding of film theory to do their jobs?

Gioia's original post makes some pretty strong points:

Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays. Or a TV cooking show that never mentions the ingredients. Or an expert on cars who refuses to look under the hood of an automobile.

These examples may sound implausible, perhaps ridiculous. But something comparable is happening in the field of music journalism. One can read through a stack of music magazines and never find any in-depth discussion of music. Technical knowledge of the art form has disappeared from its discourse. In short, music criticism has turned into lifestyle reporting.

There might be some hyperbole involved there, but I think you can see where I'm going with this, and the parallels to beer writing are obvious. Do beer writers need brewing experience or an understanding of brewing theory to do their jobs? I'm willing to bet that a lot of respondents to this Session will be talking a lot about how "beer is people" and other such platitudes, and there is certainly a lot of gold to be mined in that realm, but what of the technical aspects of brewing?

I actually think a lot of beer writers have at least tried their hand at brewing. Heck, I'm just some random blogger with a tiny stream of traffic, and even I homebrew and try to tackle some esoteric technical details of the brews I'm brewing and drinking. But I feel like, all too often, we beer bloggers just regurgitate the marketing blurb on the back of the bottle or in the press releases. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to stuff like this, even if I do try to do some deeper diving on various subjects from time to time, information is limited. Beer Journalists probably have more access, but do they really get into the nitty gritty details of brewing during, say, an interview? Of course, it's going to be very difficult to make some technical details interesting to a general audience, but it's certainly possible.

Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz was one of the initial respondents to the CriticWire survey, but he later expanded upon his answer:

Movies and television are visual art forms, and aural art forms. They are not just about plot, characterization and theme. Analytical writing about movies and TV should incorporate some discussion of the means by which the plot is advanced, the characters developed, the themes explored. It should devote some space, some small bit of the word count, to the compositions, the cutting, the music, the decor, the lighting, the overall rhythm and mood of the piece.

Otherwise it's all just book reports or political op-eds that happen to be about film and TV. It's literary criticism about visual media. It's only achieving half of its potential, if that. And it's doing nothing to help a viewer understand how a work evokes particular feelings in them as they watch it.

Form is not just an academic side dish to the main course of content. We critics of film and TV have a duty to help viewers understand how form and and content interact, and how content is expressed through form. The film or TV critic who refuses to write about form in any serious way abdicates that duty, and abets visual illiteracy.

It is not necessary for a critic of film or television to have created a work of film or television. But it's never a bad idea to know a little bitty eensy teensy bit about how film and television are made.

Much of this seems pretty obvious to me, but it caused quite a stir amongst the film nerd community. It turns out that if you tell a writer how they should write, they get a little uppity. And that's probably as it should be. Again, it's kinda foolish to put writing into a box.

But I think the general point of this whole debate is worth taking to heart. Beer isn't just about people, it's also about, well, the beer. It helps to know about ingredients and process, and Beer Writers should be internalizing this info and passing it on in easily digestible chunks to the unsuspecting masses. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write about people, but perhaps the balanced approach is best. To all things in moderation, and other cliches. This isn't easy, but that's why you're a beer journalist, right? You don't have to be negative or critical (though there's nothing wrong with that), and you can still be an advocate by stressing the technical. Think about what Neil deGrasse Tyson is attempting with his reboot of Cosmos (or what Carl Sagan already accomplished). I think beer needs people like that. People who understand things and aren't afraid to explain them in laymans terms. And I'm not entirely sure that shows like Brew Masters or BrewDogs really fit that bill (though the latter certainly does better than the former, even if they're still obsessed with gimmickry in the brewing of their beer). You could argue that we've already had our Sagan - Michael Jackson is indeed a giant - but he's sadly no longer with us, and so there's a gaping hold in beer writing. Are you going to fill it?

Double Feature: Coca-Cola

| No Comments

Before I was obsessed with beer, I was obsessed with Coke. This may seem odd given how much of a novelty whore I am when it comes to beer, but I spent decades of my life pining for but one drink: Coca-Cola. When I was but a wee nerd, during the early stages of the cola wars, my parents would limit my brother and I to one cola a week. They didn't take sides in the cola wars, preferring to simply buy whatever was on sale. My brother and I, however, took up arms for Pepsi and Coke respectively. For reasons beyond my understanding, my parents decided to fan the flames of this conflict, pitting my brother and I against each other.

We finally got fed up with the constant attrition of war and decided to make an appeal to a higher authority. We left a note for none other than Santa Claus himself, explaining our dilemma. We providing a can of each soft drink along with some chocolate chip cookies, with the understanding that Santa would choose one over the other and thus decide the fate of the cola wars in one swift maneuver. I'm sure you remember the nervous energy of Christmas Eve and the challenges that presents to sleep, but this particular year was especially grueling. Nevertheless, we soldiered on and when the big morning finally arrived, we bound down the steps to find... an empty glass and a note that said "I prefer milk." That magnificent, clever bastard! And my parents were apparently pretty good too.

Anyway, my love for Coke continued unabated for many moons, but it wasn't meant to last. As my love for beer waxed, my love for coke waned. It was not an easy transition, but I managed to break the habit by giving it up for Lent for a couple years. So the irony isn't lost as I spend some time during this Lenten season, when I vowed to drink less beer and explore other beverages, returning to Coke.

This past weekend, I drank two different Cokes. Believe it or not, I've already covered the debacle of New Coke on the blog (in relation to how sip tests like the "Pepsi Challenge" lead everyone astray, and how small samples of beer can do the same), but the short story is this: Coke replaced their main brand with New Coke, saw the disastrous sales that resulted, and reintroduced the original recipe as "Classic Coke" with one tiny little change: instead of using pure cane sugar, they used the newer, cheaper high fructose corn syrup. However, that little change only really happened in the US. Other areas of their world still use straight cane sugar, including our neighbors over in Mexico. What's more, you can sometimes find bottles of Mexican Coke*, which are labeled as "Coca-Cola Refresco" and come in the classic glass bottle as well. So I snagged a bottle of that stuff and compared it to the standard corn syrup offering.

Coca-Cola Refresco

Coca-Cola Refresco - Pours a clear, dark brown amber color with a finger of quickly disappearing head. Smells sweet, with that undefinable spice character. You know how they say when you're brewing beer that if you can pick out the specific spice you used, you used too much? Well Coke certainly doesn't use too much, as you really can't pick out stuff that is supposed to be in the recipe, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and coriander. Still, you do get a bit of a kick, and some of the other ingredients kinda show themselves. Taste is very sugary sweet, maybe the faintest hints of vanilla and caramel, with a slight spice component that lingers a bit in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, and a little syrupy towards the finish. Overall, yes, this is Coke alright. According to Wikipedia, sometimes Mexican Coke still uses HFCS, but this was definitely different from the regular offering.

Coke Nerd Details: 12 oz capped glass bottle. Drank out of a willybecher glass on 3/28/14. Best by: 05NOV14.

Coca-Cola Classic - The color is a little more brown and the highlights less amber, but otherwise pretty similar appearance. The nose is obviously similar, but having these back to back, they do kinda smell a little different. Nothing dramatic though. The taste is also very similar, with less of an aftertaste. Mouthfeel is where I'm getting the biggest difference, as this feels more effervescent, highly carbonated, and less syrupy. That's not necessarily better, just different.

Coke Nerd Details: 20 oz screw cap plastic bottle. Drank out of a willybecher glass on 3/28/14. Best by: MAY0514.

Overall, I have to admit, I don't really have a big preference for either... they are clearly different though, and would both hit the spot if I was ever in need of a Coke. I will say that I was expecting the Refresco to be definitively better than the regular, but I don't see it. Certainly different though. I did not rate either of these because realistically, there are only, like, 5 options here, so, what? Coke gets an A, Pepsi gets an F? Right.

Beer Nerd Musings: I've always wanted to make a batch of homebrew that utilized Coke as a sugar addition. It's mostly just sugar, so it should get eaten up completely by the yeast, just leaving whatever flavoring elements are in Coke, which could be interesting. I've actually been accumulating a bunch of odd ingredients in my regular homebrewing duties (a pound of unneeded DME here, an ounce of extra hops there) and so I thought it might be interesting to just throw it all together and hit it up with some Saison yeast, with the result being called "Clusterfuck Saison" or something like that. And I guess I could use Coke as a sugar addition, because why not? It's not like it's going against the Saison style definition (of which there really isn't any). This summer, perhaps.

So there you have it. At this point, I'd just like to observe that I went for the entire post without making any lame cocaine jokes. Until now, I guess, but I'm going to pat myself on the back for showing some sort of restraint. Anywho, tomorrow, we talk Rye Whiskey. Stay tuned.

* You can also find pure cane-sugar sweetened Coca-Cola in select 2 Liter bottles during Passover (as HFCS is apparently not Kosher enough for Passover). It can be hard to find and unpredictably stocked (it doesn't fly off shelves like BCBS, but it's not an easy get either), but Passover Coke is not a legend, I've definitely had some back in my Coke-obsessed days and basically done the above comparison. Passover starts on 4/14, so keep an eye out for 2 liter bottles with yellow caps!

Anatomy of a Blog Post

| No Comments

If you'll permit some of that navel gazing that bloggers are famous for, I'd like to spend some time bloviating about how this blog gets written. Before you start screaming and throwing little pickles at me, I'd also like to note that I'm not the only one who has done this before. A couple years ago*, Ed from The Dogs of Beer wrote a similar post, and it set off a series of other posts from other bloggers. Yes, it's all naval gazing to an extent, but I have to admit that I enjoyed reading about how other folks in the fraternity of beer bloggers construct their posts. I've been doing this for a little over three years now**, and have settled into a comfortable groove... that doesn't appear to resemble anyone else at all. Not least of which because at least two of these people appear to be awake at 7 am, which is totally crazy town. I'm a night owl, and do most of my blogging after 10 pm (if not later).

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The process begins with... beer! As you might imagine, we have a large procurement department, so we're always scouring the area (and social media) for new beers, bottle releases, and the like. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say, my eyes are bigger than my liver, and thus I almost always have a large quantity of interesting, blog-worthy beer on hand at all times. What is blog-worthy, you ask? Initially, my plan was to write about every beer that I drank. Right now, this is a more difficult question, but lately, they tend to be beers that require some effort to acquire and/or understand. Maybe they have a good story behind them. Maybe I'm new to the brewery. Maybe I went out of my way to snag it and want to justify the extra effort. Maybe it's a style I'm not that familiar with. Or, who am I kidding, maybe it's spent some time in a barrel of some kind.

So any given post is generally initiated on the weekend. I tend to only really review beer that I drank alone, mostly because if I'm drinking with friends, I don't want to be rude and bury my nose into my phone whilst I tap in some detailed notes. There are occasional exceptions, and sure, I might take a picture and check in on Untappd, but for the most part, I'm drinking at home on Friday or Saturday night. My goal these days is to drink no more than 3 blog-worthy blogs a week (and less is fine, though that usually doesn't happen).

I crack open a bottle, pour it into my glassware of choice, and snap several quick pictures with my phone (believe it or not, the pics that show up on the blog are usually the best, most clear pics). I go through the beer nerd tasting routine. Appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, rinse and repeat. As I'm doing this, I'm taking notes on some sort of computing device (desktop, laptop, tablet, they all work). Most of the tasting notes are written in the first 5 minutes or so, though I will usually revisit as I'm finishing up the first glass, just to make sure that, for instance, a sweet beer didn't get cloying, or to note how the beer changed as it warmed up. If I'm particularly inspired, the research phase of blogging will start while I'm drinking as well (but always after the tasting notes are practically done). This mostly consists of lazy googling, and generally ends quickly, as some shiny new object catches my attention on the internets. On rare occasions, an idea for a post will crop up around now.

At the end of a given weekend, I'll have a few sets of tasting notes. My ideal schedule is to post something on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday (aligning with the three blog-worthy beers I had that weekend). As I mentioned earlier, other bloggers seem to start their process in the early morning, which is crazy talk here at Kaedrin HQ. Most of the time, I'll start my research phase (that fancy phrase for googling) after I've had my dinner and am lazing around for a bit. At this point, I should also point out that Kaedrin employs a crack squad of chain-smoking monkey researchers for much of the tedious detail work, and they're very thorough.

Monkey Research Squad
Kaedrin's Chain Smoking Monkey Research Squad

What I'm really looking for is an angle for my post. I'll occasionally come up empty and just bang something out in a few minutes, but most of the time I'm able to find something I can hang a post on. A brewery profile, a pedantic style discussion, an even more pedantic exploration of the brewing process, historical notes, personal digressions, and so on. In rare instances, I'll be inspired to write something in Screenplay form, or maybe do something off the wall, like a Choose Your Own Adventure Beer Reviews type post. After three years, some of these topics are starting to get a bit thin. You can only wax philosophic on a given beer style so many times before you start repeating yourself.

In any case, I haven't started writing yet. I'm just researching and formulating. Instead, I head down to my basement and exercise (gotta work off those beer calories somehow, amirite?) and this is where the idea for a given post really starts to form (or, uh, fall apart). Exercise is all about tedious repetition, so it's good to have something rubilating in your head during that time. Once I finish exercise, during my "cool down period" I try to bang out a first draft. I may or may not be successful at completing this, but that's when the writing starts. I'll once again, take a break and shower off (so I suppose I do get ideas in the shower sometimes), after which I fire up Spotify and go into full blown panic mode, and crank out the rest of the entry.

Once a draft has been completed, I need to take a few minutes to get the picture ready (cropping, resizing, etc...) and categorize the post (look at all those categories over there on the right!), which again gives my brain a chance to think about something else for a minute. Then I edit the post. This consists of four primary activities. First, fixing grammar and typos and whatnot. Maybe adding a link here or there that I forgot whilst I was writing. Boring stuff. Second, I tend to be longwinded, so I am almost always removing something I wrote in order to make the post flow better. I'm almost never successful in this, and often produce bloated posts (like this one!), but I do try. Third, I clean up the tasting notes a bit, and try to add some levity. I write technical documentation in my day job, so I find my tasting notes tend to feel kinda... samey. That might make them boring to read, but they do tend to at least be consistent. But if I can get a zinger in there, all the better. Finally, I make a conscious effort to bring the funny somewhere in the post. The results of this process are dubious at best and I will often rely on lame pop culture references or the infrequent meme, but again, I'm at least trying. On the other hand, I'm genuinely proud of the stupidity of the meme I made on this post, and I do love making obscure pop culture references that few people will ever understand.

And that's just about it. Publish the post, and obsessively check my stats, which are pitiful. The actual writing of the typical post usually takes 30-60 minutes, though longer, more creative posts obviously take more time. Go figure! One interesting thing I've noticed lately is that writing about new beverages has really opened up options for the angle of approach. There's usually something interesting about the beverage itself, but even if there isn't, I feel like writing about a given beverage with a beer nerd's perspective makes for some interesting observations. Perhaps I should continue writing about these other beverages, if and when the opportunity presents itself.

Well, I hope this was enlightening and yep, I'm pretty sure no one is reading by now, but hey, it's all good. This was fun. We should do it again sometime. In any case, this weekend is seeing the first non-alcoholic beverages that will be blogged about here, though I think I'll also hit up some rye whiskey too. The following weekend will be tea, followed by Scotch... and then my 40 days are up, and I'll be back to beer with a vengeance. So far so good.

* We like to be timely here at Kaedrin, which is why we usually post about current events and topical stuff about a year or two later.

** Though I will also note that I've been blogging over at my generalist blog for almost 14 years, so take that.

Categories

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID

About

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

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

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Miscellaneous category.

Interviews is the previous category.

Other Spirits is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.