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Firestone Walker XVIII - Anniversary Ale

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Alrighty folks, you know the drill: Every year, Firestone Walker invites their neighboring Winemakers to the brewery to tie one on and blend a series of barrel aged component beers for their Anniversary Ale. I'm trying to be concise here because if you've been paying attention, you'd know that I've written about this whole process in wonky, exhaustive detail before, not to mention delving into individual component beers with some regularity. Needless to say, I'm a fan.

The results can be quite different from year to year. XV was more barleywineish (and it was spectacular), XVI was a little more evenly matched between barleywines and darker stouts and the like (and alas, it was a far cry from XV). Last year's XVII returned to the realm of barleywine pretty successfully (and did better than XVI, but never quite reached the heights of XV). This year, Firestone goes to the dark side:

  • 38% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 16% Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 16% Bravo (12.9% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 14% Stickee Monkee (12.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 5% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 4% Hydra Cuveè (10.5% ABV) Blend of Flying Dog Gonzo and FW Wookey Jack (both stainless), Double DBA and Bravo (both aged in Bourbon barrels).
  • 3% Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV) Black Rye India Pale Ale. 100% Stainless Steel
  • 2% Ol' Leghorn (12.5% ABV) English Barley Wine, Collaboration with Three Floyds. Aged in New American Oak.
  • 2% Double Jack (9.5% ABV) Double India Pale Ale. Aged in Stainless Steel.

Lots of unusual things (at least, when compared to the last few vintages). First up, 38% of Parabola is the single highest component I've seen yet, and when you add up stout-like components, you get about 59% (perhaps 66%, depending on how you consider Wookey Jack or Hydra Cuveè), with about a third of the blend hitting barleywine territory. Perhaps making up for the disproportionate amount of Parabola is that this features 5 components with 5% or less of the final blend. Heck, that Hydra Cuveè is only 4% and it's already a blend of 4 beers. This blend has the most components of any previous vintage I've tried and it's also the darkest and most stout-like version since XIII (which I have, sadly, never tried). The good news here is that all this weirdness basically translates to the best vintage since XV.

Firestone Walker XVIII- Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XVIII - Anniversary Ale - Pours a black color with almost no head, just a very small ring around the edge of the glass. Smells fantastic, caramel, oak, vanilla, bourbon, a hint of roast, and some dark fruit. The taste is Parabola up front, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla with a bit of roast, followed by a more bourbon barrel barleywine-like dark fruit and toffee in the finish. Really delicious, lots of complexity that keeps emerging as it warms up. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, just a little sticky, with a bit of boozy heat. Well balanced though, and as it warms, it gets even better. Overall, spectacular and delicious, best vintage since XV and maybe even better. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/23/15. 2014 vintage.

I really can't get enough of Firestone's barrel aging program. Really looking forward to snagging some Sucaba and Parabola this year, and whatever other specialties make their way around (apparently Helldorado is coming to bottles this year, replacing DDBA).

BBQ Beer Club

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Due to the capricious whims of Mother Nature, we had to push beer club back a ways, very nearly missing the month of January. But thanks to a no-show on yesterday's storm, conditions were fine (if a little cold) tonight, where we hit up a new BYOB BBQ place, shared some beer, did some "Adult" Mad Libs ("I need a noun." "Assless Chaps."), and generally just had fun. For dinner, I ordered something called "Loose Meat", and drove everyone crazy attempting to make double entendres about it. In case you were wondering, this is what loose meat looks like:

Loose Meat
(Click to Embiggen)

It has a nice phallic arrangement, but the feng shui could be a little better if the brisket and pulled pork were a little far back, don't you think? Also of note, the parsley merkin. Anyways, it was good stuff, and we had some decent beer to go with it:

January Beer Club 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, thoughts on each are below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply. I'm sorry, but the BBQ place did not have a hermetically sealed environment suitable for proper note taking. Also, I didn't really take notes. I'm the worst. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Kaedrôme Saison - Hey, remember that saison I dosed with Brett, like, a year ago? It's doing reasonably well right now. It's carbed up to a drinkable state, though still not as effervescent as I'd like. But the flavor is there, and it's doing reasonably well. B
  • New Belgium/Three Floyds Lips Of Faith - Grätzer - My first Grätzer, and um, it's a weird style. Light smokiness, very thin, with a weird tartness in the finish. A perfect beer for this situation, as I'm happy to try something like this, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for more. C+
  • Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel - A pretty standard American take on a tripel, a little too sticky, but a nice palate cleanser after the Grätzer. B
  • Wicked Weed Terra Locale Series - Appalachia - I've heard great things about Wicked Weed, so I was really looking forward to this, and a Brett saison made with sweet potatoes and grits sounds like it could work, but I found it a bit on the bland side. Nothing wrong with it, per say, but there's not a lot of funk, and it just felt a little on the dry side. It's certainly cromulent and I could probably drink plenty of it, and maybe it was just that this is not ideal for a tasting like this, but I was disappointed. B
  • Chimay Red - Yep, it's Chimay all right. I've never been a huge fan of this particular expression though. B
  • Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale - Rock solid take on a brown ale. Not going to knock your socks off, but it's a tasty alternative to macro slop. B+
  • Almanac Devil's Advocate - Another fantastic little sour from Almanac, very tasty, vinous, sour, oaky, delicious. I don't normally think of "hoppy" and "sour" going together very well, but these folks are doing it right. Probably my favorite beer of the night. A-
  • SoChesCo Valentine's Day Chocolate Milk Stout - A friend's homebrewed milk stout, asolid take on the style, very tasty. B
  • SoChesCo Pennsyltucky Chocolate Milk Stout - The same stout as above, conditioned on bourbon soaked oak, which wound up as a light character. You could definitely taste the difference drinking them side by side, but I don't think I'd have pegged this as a bourbon oaked beer if I drank it blind (my own Bourbon Oaked Bomb & Grapnel fared little better on that account). B
  • Bière De L'Amitié (Green Flash & Brasserie St. Feuillien) - A very interesting and different beer. Standard Belgian yeast spice and fruit, but also some citrus hoppiness, and something that really felt like they dosed it with white grape juice (I don't think they did, but that's what kept coming to mind). B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Creme Brulee Stout Clone - Holy vanilla, Batman! Like the Southern Tier inspiration, this is incredibly sweet and it's got a great nose that I could just sniff all night long. I think there might be more vanilla here, but I love me some vanilla. B
  • Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale - Another beer that I was looking forward to, but which didn't quite live up to expectations. It was a fine beer, one of the better of the night actually, but I didn't get a tone of Bourbon barrel character out of this. It felt like the barrels muted the aromatic aspects of the hops while leaving the bitterness. Fortunately, the Bourbon sweetens it up a little, so it's still reasonably well balanced (er, for Arrogant Bastard), but it's not something you really need to drop everything and try (like, for example, Stone's Fyodor's Classic). B+
At this point, we decided to call it a night, and we didn't get to the last two beers. Oh well, there's always next month, which should come up soon!

Belated BBQ Beer Club Recap

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Last week was Beer Club, and in a heinous act of negligence, I'm only getting to the recap now. I know, I'm the worst. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which part is not optional). This month we hit up a local BBQ joint, loaded up on smoked meats, and cracked open quite a few beers:

October Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

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

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

Collage - Conflux No. 1

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This collaboration between Deschutes and Hair of the Dog is aptly named, and is thus pretty complicated, so stay frosty. It's a blend of four different beers: Deschutes' The Dissident (a Flanders Oud Bruin) and The Stoic (a rather light colored take on an Quadrupel), and Hair of the Dog's Fred (from that nebulous American Strong Ale style) and Adam (an old ale). So that's a lot of stuff to combine, but then take the result and age in a variety of barrels. And I do mean a variety: Rye Whiskey, Cognac, Sherry, Pinot Noir, Bourbon, new American Oak, and new Oregon Oak. Naturally, the beer is finished off with another blending exercise, this time with all the results from the barrels. So get out your scrapbooks and prepare your embellishments, it's time to drink a collage.

Deschutes and Hair of the Dog Collage Conflux No. 1

Deschutes and Hair of the Dog Collage - Conflux No. 1 - Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown, with half a finger of light head. Smells of dark fruits, oak, vanilla, but also an unexpected vinegar note (I did not realize that The Dissident was a sour when I cracked this open and recorded my initial notes). Not necessarily a bad thing, I just didn't realize this was going to be a sour. The taste is quite complex, lots of varied fruits, cherry, grapefruit and the like, rich caramel, toffee, a certain mustiness, leather, spice, oak, vanilla, bourbon, vinous notes, wine, and other boozy notes with the sourness picking up towards the finish but not in an overpowering way. As it warms, those sour notes do start to become more prominent, but it's still part of a whole, rather than a really defining characteristic. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, rich, chewy, full bodied, and just a bit of acidity from the souring aspects. Overall, this is incredibly complex, I keep picking out new notes as I drink, even if it perhaps doesn't come together into a unified whole, it is still a fascinating beer that I would gladly try again. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.6% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 8/30/14. Bottled: 4/30/12. Best After: 4/30/13.

Hey look, I finally managed to drink a barrel aged Deschutes beer after the Best After date. Of course, I only bought this beer a couple weeks ago, so it's apparently still available after two years. Not sure if my local beermonger was holding on to these and finally decided to let it fly, or if it's something Deschutes is still releasing... Whatever the case, I'm glad I got to try some.

Lost Abbey Agave Maria

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It used to be that you'd see the occasional Bourbon barrel aged beer. Everyone would lose their minds, and they'd fly off shelves, and it was all well and good. I, for one, welcomed our bourbon barrel overlords, but the past few years have seen brewers diversifying their barrel aged offerings. You've got rum barrels, apple brandy barrels, and wine barrels galore.

Enter the dreaded tequila barrel. Lost Abbey brewer Tomme Arthur even decided to double down on this offering, brewing the base beer with Agave syrup. The fine folks over at Lost Abbey run a pretty tight Keebler tree, so despite some rightfully dubious responses, I figured I'd drop some coin on a bottle of this stuff and see what the deal is. In short, while not "worse than undrinkable", that's also setting the bar too low. I'd rather drink this than most macro slop, and it is a unique, interesting beer, but it's not something I'd go out of my way for again.

Lost Abbey Agave Maria

Lost Abbey Agave Maria - Pours a murky dark brown color with a finger of khaki head. Smells very sweet, with an almost honey-like note, something kinda like char, and plenty of barrel character. The taste explodes with sweetness up front, very sugary sweet, something like honey (presumably that agave doing its thing), and less of that barrel character than I'd like. I suspect that a 750 of this would get cloying, but the 375 format just barely clears the bar. But then, I'm an odd duck, so your mileage may vary. The mouthfeel is full bodied and rich (so that part of the barrel treatment works), sugary, highly carbonated (way to go Lost Abbey!), with a bit of saccharine stickiness in the finish. Overall, this is an interesting, unique little beer. Not something that makes me want to try a lot of other tequila aged beers, but I'm glad I tried one. B

Beer Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/19/14. Vintage 2014A.

I'm all for barrel diversification, but you know what, you should probably also just throw some Serpent's Stout in Bourbon Barrels, because that would be killer. Yeah, Deliverance has BBA Serpent's Stout in the blend, but I'm sure the straight up juice would be even better. Ah well, I'll just stop pretending like I actually know better than people who do this for a living now. I'm a moron.

Hair of the Dog Fred

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There's an old saying in the wine world: "There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine." Once a wine is put into a bottle, there are any number of things that could influence the taste when the bottle is opened. How old is the bottle? Where was it stored? What was the temperature? Did you have it shipped during the summer? What kind of light exposure is there? Even if you assume all that was fine, there are also cases of cork taint and other such unlikely occurrences. There's natural variation in bottles, and no one even pretends that different vintages are supposed to produce the same result. There's a million things that could lead to a bottle being great or a total bust, and that's before you start talking about subjective matters of taste and context.

If this sounds a little naive, that's because I don't know that much about wine. But I do know beer, and I know that the same thing applies here (as well as with other tipples, like whiskey). Many of the same caveats apply, some even moreso than in wine (for instance, because of compounds in hops, beer tends to be more susceptible to light than wine). Bottle conditioned beers can change significantly over time. Funky beers with Brettanomyces and other critters are wildly unpredictable (we could get into the whole consistency debate, but I'll have to save that for my next Fantôme review...) Highly hopped beers can taste differently from week to week, even if they're stored properly. Read about hops, and you can see that crops change significantly from year to year (and I'm not just talking about yield here, things like Alpha Acids and oils that drive aroma can vary from year to year).

This sort of pedantry can manifest in annoying, stupid ways, such as the continual insistence that this year's batch of Pliny the Younger/Hopslam/Black Tuesday/whatever is not as good as last year. They often aren't identical, to be sure, but such utterances seem driven more by hype or rarity or ego than anything more reliable. Likewise, I often see some folks who finally land that white whale beer, only to find that they don't care that much for it and wonder Did I get a bad bottle? Because surely a bunch of strangers on the internet couldn't be wrong, right?

But every once in a while, you will run across a genuine bad bottle. A "sick" bottle of Fantôme, an old IPA that was sitting in sunlight, or maybe a beer that has some off flavors (metallic or tinny beer, soy sauce stouts, overwhelming diacetyl, etc...) Some of this may be poor QA on the brewery's part, others might be a problem with shipping or storage. It's tempting to hold a grudge against a brewery or a particular beer if you've had one bad experience with them, and it doesn't help that we are so awash in great beer from all over right now because why try a beer you didn't like before again when you can just grab something new?

All of which is to say that I had an issue with this Hair of the Dog beer. I was wary from the moment I opened the beer to a practically nonexistent puff of carbon dioxide. When the pour produced absolutely no head whatsoever, I knew I was going to have a problem. I'm perhaps more sensitive to carbonation issues than most folks, and to be honest, I've been wrong about low carb levels before. However, in looking at other reviews of this, it seems that most reviews mention "ample" or "above average" carbonation levels. I got what I felt was a flat beer. So... bad bottle?

Hair of the Dog Fred

Hair of the Dog Fred - Pours a pale orange, light brown color with no head whatsoever. Almost no pop when I opened it either, which does not strike me as a good sign. Smells very interesting though, sweet, boozy, biscuity malt, maybe rye, some fruity hops, almost like a pastry with booze. Taste has a sticky sweetness to it, lots of hop character built on top of a biscuity, bready malt and well integrated. Alas, the Achilles heel is the carbonation, which is practically nonexistent... It feels medium to full bodied, a little syrupy and sticky, definitely boozy but not overwhelmingly so. If it were even a little carbonated, this would be a much better beer. Oddly, from looking around, it seems that this does normally have a medium to high carbonation factor, so I don't know what's up with this bottle! Aside from the carbonation, it's obviously a well crafted, interesting beer, and I can drink it, but this is ultimately disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 6/13/14. Batch 93.

Looking at the reviews a little more carefully, it seems like there is some variation between the batches. A couple of other people have gotten practically "still" bottles like mine, but most seem to indicate a higher degree of carbonation. So not a great first impression, but I'll have to give Hair of the Dog another chance someday...

March Beer Club

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I won't lie, this was a really good night. I went a solid week and a half without beer before completely falling off the wagon this past weekend (as planned, to be sure) and drinking a bunch of beer (and bourbon, and moonshine, and other stuff) during Fat Weekend (a gathering of portly individuals from across the northeast, and some points west, for drinking, fun, and fatness). Now here I am a few scant days later, drinking more beer (again, as planned). For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we returned to a classic Beer Club venue, Jimmy's BBQ. Lots of smoked meat, dirty corn, beer, and fun was had by all:

March Beer Club
(Click for larger image)

Meat induced thoughts on each beer are below. This is for posterity, so I will be sure to be honest, though you might want to take this with a grain (or giant block) of salt, as this BYOB wasn't a hermetically sealed isolation chamber that is ideal for precise tasting notes. Caveats aside, here we go, in order of drinking, not necessarily in order pictured:

  • Kaedrin Fat Weekend IPA - This year's batch finally got that Simcoe and Amarillo loving that I've been trying to get for a few years. My only issue is that I'm still getting a handle on this kegerator operation here, so I feel like I frittered away a significant amount of aroma in the process of trying to get the carbonation and pressure right. I think I've figured out this process well enough that I won't ruin future batches, and it's not like this one turned out bad or anything. Indeed, just a few of us housed 3 whole growlers during Fat Weekend (we would have done so on Friday night if I didn't insist we save one for Saturday). So yeah it was good, and it compared somewhat favorably to tonight's IPA lineup, which was considerable. I'll give it a B for now, though I think it could easily go higher with some slight tweaks to recipe and kegging procedure.
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute - The old standby, I feel like the last couple times I've had this, it hasn't been quite the mindblower it once was for me. Still a rock solid brew, though I might downgrade it to a B+
  • Maine Lunch - One of my contributions. In case you can't tell by the first three beers of the night, we overcompensated for the past couple of beer clubs and brought a shit ton of IPAs this month. Not that I'm complaining, as they were all pretty damn good (to spectacular). This one was a really nice citrus and pine take of the style, in competition for my favorite Maine beer. B+ (though it might go higher outside of this setting)
  • Petrus Aged Pale - Nothing like a sour to cleanse the palate, eh? A very nice oak aged sour beer, something I've had before, and one of those things I'd use to help convert the heathens to the world of sours/good beer. B+
  • DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon - Many thanks to Dana for rocking the DIPAs tonight, including this rarity (at least, to us PA folk), which turns out to pretty much live up to the hype, a super piney, dank take on the DIPA, nice body, really well rounded and delicious beer (along the lines of those Pipeworks IPAs I had a while back). Really fantastic, and I hope to someday snag a few fresh cans of this for myself. A-
  • Sixpoint Hi-Res - Alright, so we're getting to a point where specifics about given IPAs are starting to blend together in my head, but I my thoughts on this one are that it comported itself very well in this rather strong lineup of IPAs and DIPAs, actually better than I was expecting (though I'm not sure why, as Sixpoint has always been a pretty solid brewery for me). We'll go with B+ and leave it at that.
  • John's Homebrewed Porter - A relative newcomer to beer club, John made his first batch of beer in about 20 years recently. He went with a pretty straightforward porter that, to be sure, turned out well. But he's working on some interesting stuff in future batches, including a port wine soaked oak beer, possibly even a wile beer, so I'm quite looking forward to it. B
  • Alchemist Heady Topper - Yeah, we've already beaten this one to death before on the blog.
  • Bell's Hopslam - Another one we've covered before, but I certainly ain't complaining, as I do really enjoy this beer and this is the first time I've ever had it out of a bottle. Thanks again to Dana, who brought a crap ton of DIPAs tonight.
  • Ken's Homebrewed Coffee Porter - No real coffee added, but it used some sort of special coffee malt. Not sure if that's malt soaked in coffee or something like that or if it's just roasted to a point that it gives off coffee character, but whatever, it came through well in the beer and did not overpower it at all. Granted, coffee porters aren't really my thing, but this seemed to work reasonably well. B-
  • North Coast Pranqster - A nice little Belgian pale ale, very sweet for it's relatively middling ABV, but still well carbonated enough that it works really well. I enjoyed, and it fit after all those IPAs. B+
  • Widmer SXNW - It came in a fancy box, so it has to be good, right? Well, it's made with Pecans, Cacao beans, and Green Chiles, so I was fearing another hot pepper beer, but it turns out that the dominant character came from that cacao. Huge chocolate notes in the nose, with a corresponding taste. The chiles are there, but in the background, just providing some complexity. Overall, it's an interesting beer, though not one I'd really seek out again. B
  • Humboldt Black Xantus - So I didn't realize this when I bought it, but this is apparently one of them barrel aged Firestone Walker beers, even if it's bottled under the older Nectar Ales brand. That barrel aging comes through loud and clear, and it's quite nice, but there's also apparently a coffee component that also shows up, though it's not as dominant as, say, BCBCS. One of my favorites of the night, though not quite Parabola levels awesome (but still regular beer levels awesome). A-
So there you have it, an enjoyable night had by all. Already looking forward to the next installment of beer club...

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale

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Every year, Firestone Walker invites their neighboring Winemakers to the brewery to tie one on and blend a series of barrel aged component beers for their Anniversary Ale. The Winemakers (no strangers to blending) are divided up into teams and compete to make the best blend. It's apparently quite cutthroat, though fortunately, no murders this year. I'm trying to be concise here, because this is a subject I've already described in wonky, exhaustive detail before. Suffice to say, for barrel aged fanatics like myself, this is one of the most interesting releases each year, and they can vary dramatically too.

The XV blend heavily favored barleywines, and most of the component beers were aged in bourbon and/or brandy barrels (and oh yeah, it was spectacular). The XVI blend was more equitable, a much darker brew though barleywines still had a slight edge overall. The other big change in XVI was the inclusion of Tequila barrels into the blend. This year, things swing back towards the barleywine a bit, though not as much as XV. Here's the component beers:

  • 30% Bravo (13.6% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 25% Stickee Monkee (15.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 15% Velvet Merkin (8.7% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 15% Parabola (12.8% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 8% Double Double Barrel Ale (12% ABV) Double Strength English Pale Ale. Aged 100% in Firestone Union Barrels.
  • 4% Helldorado (11.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 3% Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV)- Black Rye India Pale Ale. 100% Fresh, Dank & Hoppy 100% Stainless Steel

So we've got around 67% barleywines, 30% stout, and 3% Black Rye IPA (which sorta splits the difference between the two). Also notable is that this year's blend "only" utilizes 7 component beers (while the previous two used 8), and that PNC with Tequila barrels is nowhere to be seen. So this comes in somewhere between XV and XVI in terms of the components, and I will say that it does taste more like a barleywine than anything else, though I don't quite think it reached the heights of XV:

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale - Pours a brown amber color, garnet tones, a finger of light tan head that sticks around a bit. Smells of various spirits, boozy but not hot, some caramel-like notes and bready malt too. Taste starts off sweet, quickly moving into a rich caramel note, maybe a hint of fruity malt character, then comes various spirits and the one-two punch of oak and vanilla. The spirits here seem much less Bourbon focused than in years past, and looking at the component beers, perhaps that Brandy is asserting itself more than in previous years, though not in a dominant way. Call it the power of suggestion if you like, but this taste is very complex and evolves as it warms up, with the various flavors emerging or mellowing as I drink. The taste profile is more akin to a barleywine than anything else, closer to XV (which was clearly barleywine) than XVI (which was much more muddled, though still very nice). Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, but velvety smooth. Some pleasant booziness, a bit of heat, but given the cold weather of late, this is a welcome feature, not a bug. Overall, yep, it's fantastic. Better than XVI, but not quite at XV levels. But when you're playing at this level, these distinctions are really splitting hairs. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.3% ABV bottled (22 oz. boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/14/14.

Of course, all of Firestone Walker's barrel aged beers are spectacular and worth seeking out. It's seeming like I've missed out on last year's release of Velvet Merkin (local beermonger sez that government shutdown last year delayed and maybe even limited distro in this area, which could be total BS, but I still hope to track down a bottle somehow, someway). Rumor has it that Stickee Monkee will be coming to bottles and seeing distribution for the first time this year as well, and then there's their first wild ale, The Feral One. So what I'm saying is that I'm going to be hunting for lots of Firestone beer in 2014 (because don't forget about world class bottles like Sucaba and Parabola)

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

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the American Strong Ale category.

American Pale Wheat Ale is the previous category.

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