Recently in American Strong Ale Category

Fremont B-Bomb

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Fremont, Washington is in Seattle and basically seems like a hipster wonderland. I mean, you see it described as "bohemian" and "quirky", which basically translates to hipster. Fortunately, breweries seem to thrive in such environments, and Fremont Brewing fits the bill. They opened in 2009 and their barrel-aging program has made enough waves that those of us on the right coast have long craved a taste of their wares.

Enter B-Bomb, a barrel aged version of their imperial winter ale. This year's vintage of B-Bomb is aged in 12-year-old American Oak bourbon barrels and is a blend of beer aged for 9, 12, and 24-months. Despite the "winter" moniker, this isn't really winter warmer territory; no mulling spices as near as I can tell, just a big, strong, dark ale. Aged in barrels for a long time and blended. Basically, right in my wheelhouse. There are some variants involving stuff like coffee, cinnamon, or coconut, but I suspect that I would love the plain old B-Bomb the best, so let's take a gander:

Fremont B-Bomb

Fremont B-Bomb (Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Winter Ale) - The beer formerly known as Bourbon Abominable. Pours a very dark brown color with a half finger of tan head that manages to stick around longer than usual for this sort of thing. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe something fruity lurking in the background. Taste follows the nose, tons of rich caramel and toffee, with a healthy dose of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a hint of roasted malt, a bit of fruit, finishing boozy. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of heat and booze, appropriately moderate carbonation, well proportioned for such a monster. Overall, this is outstanding. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, waxed). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/12/18. Vintage: 2017.

I had a taste of this at a share a while back and it was glorious, so I've been on the lookout for more of their wares. Obviously, I want to try moar. Wink wink, nudge nudge (he sez, as if anyone is reading this).

Firestone XXI

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Every year, Firestone Walker invites their winemaker friends to their brewery in order to blend a bunch of their barrel-aged stock into a Voltron-esque super beer to commemorate the brewery's anniversary. I've gone over the process in wonky detail before, so I won't repeat myself too much here (but you already have -ed. Sorry, it has been amply demonstrated that I am the worst.) Suffice it to say, this is one of my most anticipated releases of any year. The blends are always different, usually occupying a space along the stout and barleywine spectrum, and they're always marvelous.

This year's blend consists of five different components:

  • 42% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 18% Parabola (13.1% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 17% Stickee Monkee (12.5% ABV) Central Coast Quad (English Barleywine). Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 14% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 9% Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Rum Barrels.

Clocking in at 11.9% ABV, it's the lowest ABV anniversary beer I've had from them (and the second lowest ever, only behind XI, which I want to say has a reputation as being the least impressive of the bunch; I've not had it, but that's my anecdotal observation and I'm a moron, so you should take that with a grain of salt.) It's comprised of the exact same components as last year, just in wildly differing proportions (and it appears some of the barrelage has shifted slightly - no brandy or new oak barrels this year, but some rum barrels in the mix). The bulk of this is stout, but it's anchored by Velvet Merkin, the lighter, nimbler BBA stout in their lineup. I'll note that for whatever reason, I found this year's vintage of Velvet Merkin to be lit af, even if it's still no Parabola. That could be because this year is genuinely different, or the small bottle format placebo effect, or simply because I'm the worst. That being said: this blend didn't do a whole lot for me. It's still really damn good and I'll gladly seek out and drink more, and it's better than the pretenders that I've seen of late, but it still doesn't quite hold up to the example set by its predecessors.

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale - Pours a very dark amber color with a half finger of off white head. Smells nice and boozy, bourbon and rum and oak, with some dark but not quite roasty malt in the background. Taste has a nice, rich caramel start to it, with a hint of roast peeking in towards the middle, followed by lots of booze, bourbon and oak, in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, hotter and less balanced than usual for a FW blend. This is weird, since this is the lowest ABV anniversary ale I've had (though apparently XI was only 11%, but then, I can see what they did there... and it's also notoriously the worst blend). I mean, I'm no stranger to booze and usually have no problems with this sort of heat, but it feels out of whack here. Overall, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the components are clashing here, but it's certainly not the most harmonious blend they've put out in the anniversary series. Still better than most barrel aged stuff out there though, and I'm actually curious as to how this would age - if the flavors bleshed more, maybe that'd help. A high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/17. Bottled 10/20/17.

I may need to try this again sometime, but right now, the rankings come in something like this: XV, XX, XIX, XVII, XVIII, XVI, XXI... But then, this is completely from memory and who the hell knows. I mean, I remember XVII being better than an A-, but that's what I rated it at the time? I have some bottles of the stuff, so I'll have to check it out I think. Anywho, would be interesting to see some new components next year. Maybe bring back §ucaba? Please?

Tusk & Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02

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Saint Archer was an independent San Diego brewery that opened in 2013, but then sold out to some sort of unholy agglomeration of Miller, Coors, and Molson in 2015 (those three macros have been circling each other for a while and while I think they've finally settled on their final form, I don't think it's worth going into too much detail. Suffice to say that they're the number two brewing concern in the U.S. behind AB InBev.) It was one of the earlier sellouts, and of course the news was greeted with much consternation and gnashed teeth amongst the craft beer cognoscenti.

To my mind, whilst not a huge fan of massive corporations pushing around smaller breweries (which manifests in a variety of sneaky ways not worth enumerating at this point), I'm also not going to completely close myself off to the possibility of a beer from sellouts. For all the bluster and fury of the beer dorks, it's not like people aren't lining up for the likes of Bourbon County Brand Stout (made by notable sellout Goose Island) on Black Friday every year. What's more, that beer is still phenomenal. And, you know, I like phenomenal beer. So will this Tusk & Grain (i.e. their series of oak aged offerings) beer justify shelling out shekels for a stealth-macro?

As the name implies, this is a blend of several barrel-aged components. Primarily a barleywine that spent two years in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels, with some two year old imperial stout and a one year old "export" stout blended in for complexity (exact proportions not specified). Apparently the big different between this second blend and the original blend is that the components are much older this time around. Sounds good to me. This approach calls to mind Firestone Walker's Anniversary mega-blends, which frankly sets the bar pretty damned high. I don't think they quite managed to clear that bar, but it's an admirable attempt, and one that I'm glad I tried, macro-ownership issues be damned.

Saint Archer Tusk and Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02

Saint Archer Tusk & Grain Barrel Aged Blend No. 02 - Pours a dark brown color with a cap of light brown head. Smells boozy, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a little roast, a little caramel. Taste hits similar notes, more roast here than the nose, with a crystal malt note, moderately integrated barrel character, typical bourbon, oak, and vanilla notes. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little boozy. Overall, it's a nice blend and worth the stretch, but it takes a clear backseat to the Firestone Anniversary blends. A high B+ (possibly an A- if I was feeling generous, but obviously I'm not right now...)

Beer Nerd Details: 12.94% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 8/19/17.

Jeeze, I don't review anything for a couple weeks and my return review is a stinkin macro? A thousand pardons, I shall endeavor to do better. That said, this beer made a decent enough impression that I'd be curious to try some of their other offerings. So perhaps not a full thousand pardons. But a few, maybe? Something like that? Eh, let's just drink a beer and leave it at that.

Cigar City Hard Sauce

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Hard Sauce is a rich mixture of butter, sugar, and booze that is a frequent accompaniment to a large number of holiday sweets, puddings, and pies (as befits its seasonal provenance, other flavorings like vanilla and nutmeg are often added). The term "sauce" doesn't really capture the consistency here though, it's more of a spreadable soft butter than a smooth liquid or glaze. But when paired with warm pudding or pie, it does melt into more of what you'd think. It appears to be English in origin, dating back to King George I (aka The Pudding King), who demanded plum pudding with hard sauce at all Royal Christmas dinners.

Apparently the fine folks at Cigar City prefer their hard sauce paired with warm Pecan Pie, so they brewed this beer with pecans and vanilla, then aged it in bourbon-barrels. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but then, the second half of that quote is "that mediocrity can pay to greatness" so let's not get carried away. So hold on to your hats, Oscar Wilde fans, we're taking a closer look:

Cigar City Hard Sauce

Cigar City Hard Sauce - Pours a dark brown color with a thin cap of tan head that quickly disappears. Smells of, yes, pecan pie, nutty, sweet, caramel and toffee, a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts with rich caramel and toffee, some oak and vanilla, moves into that nutty pecan character, finishing on a boozy bourbon note. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and rich, tightly carbonated, some sticky booze. Could probably use a bit more heft here, but it comports itself well enough. Overall, this is really nice and the pecans come through strong... not their best Barrel Aged effort, but a decent change of pace. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 8/11/17. Bottled on: 12/21/16.

Many thanks to fellow BeerNERD Ray for the bottle (it's one of the El Catador Club beers). Cigar City always worth a try, and I tend to enjoy their barrel aged efforts...

The Bruery Mélange #3

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Of The Bruery's long line of Mélange experimental blends, the #3 seems to be the best known, most widely consumed, and among the top rated iterations. It has three components: their Anniversary Old Ale (a solera-style barrel-aged beer that holds a special place in my heart), White Oak Sap (a barrel-aged wheatwine that I have not had, but which bears a resemblance to White Oak, which is actually one of my least favorite Bruery beers), and the fabled Black Tuesday (a colossal 18%+ ABV imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels that is glorious). All of these components are above 14% ABV and it's packaged in a large-format bottle because (as I've already established) Patrick Rue is trying to kill us. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop... ever, until we are drunk.

Anyways, exact proportions of the blend are unknown, but I'm going to give it a SWAG because I'm the worst. I suspect the majority of this beer is the Anniversary Ale, with smaller proportions of White Oak Sap and Black Tuesday that mostly cancel each other out, leaving us back at Anniversary Ale territory. Which, like, isn't a bad thing. I absolutely love the Anniversary Ales, and this one does feel like it gives a slight twist to the old familiar. That being said, I was perhaps hoping for a little more of the Black Tuesday influence. Still, with Mélange #3 hitting distribution this year, it's not difficult to obtain (if a bit pricey), so if you like the Bruery's barrel-aged stuff and you can handle MarkIntiharing a 16.3% ABV beer, this is worth checking out:

The Bruery Mélange #3

The Bruery Mélange #3 - Pours a murky dark brown color, maybe a scosh darker than your typical anniversary beer, with half a finger of off white head. Smells wonderful, caramel, toffee, oak, vanilla, toffee, caramel, bourbon, toffee, caramel, hints of something a little darker, not quite roast, but maybe chocolate, lending it a sorta chocolate covered caramel/toffee feel. Taste follows the nose, rich caramel and toffee, bourbon, oak and vanilla, did I mention caramel and toffee, lots of booze in the finish. As it warms, dark fruit emerges in the middle and evens out that finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it feels a lot like a slightly more complex Bruery Anniversary beer; the other components are there, but they seem to balance each other out, leaving you back in Anniversary territory. Not that that is a bad thing, as those anniversary beers are some of my all time favorites. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.3% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip/snifter glass on 4/15/17. Vintage: 2017.

Par for the barrel-aged Bruery course, which is pretty good in my book, and it was a welcome return to beer after my temporary hiatus.

Firestone XX

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Alright folks, you know the drill: Blah blah blah, blended, barrel-aged, Voltron-esque super beer. Blah blah blah, collaboration with local wineries. Blah blah blah, delicious. We've covered each edition of this beer since XV, so while there's lots to be said about the process here, I've pretty much already wonked out on everything worth wonking out over.

Each installment in this series of Anniversary blends varies considerably. Some veer towards the Barleywine components, like XV and XVII, others hew closer to the dark side, like XVIII and XIX. XVI went for more balance between those two poles (as a result, it might be my least favorite, actually). So what does the XX blend look like?

  • 40% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in New Oak and Bourbon Barrels.
  • 20% Stickee Monkee (12.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 17.5% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 12.5% Bravo (12.9% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 10% Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.

So this is one of the more stout-like blends out there, with 70% hitting the dark side of the force. In any case, any blend consisting of 40% Parabola has to be pretty good, right? Let's take a closer look:

Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale - Pours a very dark brown color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells beautiful, rich caramel, vanilla, oak, boozy bourbon, hints of roast and chocolate. Taste hits those rich caramelized malt notes hard, hints of roast, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied but nimble, not a beast like most imperial stouts of this ABV, well carbonated, a little pleasant booze in the finish. It feels like the barleywineish components of this blend have lightened the body and hidden the booze a little more than normal for a beer this big, a neat little trick. Overall, yes, it's another winner for the Anniversary blends! A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/16.

There's just no stopping Firestone Walker's barrel program. I look forward to this release every year, and it has never disappointed. Indeed, pretty much any of their barrel-aged, boxed beers are fabulous and I'm always on the lookout. Lately, more of their wild ales have been showing up in the Philly area, like Agrestic and Lil Opal, so here's to hoping for more of that in the future too.

The Bruery Mélange No. 14

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The Bruery's Mélange series is their line of experimental blends. They've amassed quite a few barrels of beer and have been siphoning off small portions of those barrel aged wonders for blending purposes for quite a while now. Most appear to be one-offs, but a few are recurring. They've generally had limited availability, but this particular iteration looks to have been spread far and wide. The components used in this beer are 85% of "some of our most vintage barrels of barleywine and old ale" (presumably stuff like their Anniversary beers and Mash) and 15% of "both Tuesday-themed releases and Share This" (i.e. imperial stouts).

I would be genuinely curious about exact proportions of components, as blending is a tricky beast. Of course, I don't have any particular experience with it, but my blatant speculation is that it would be very difficult to blend such strongly flavored beers in such a way that would allow them to become more than the sum of their parts. Indeed, I suspect many attempts at blending lead to one component dominating the others, or perhaps even resulting in a beer that is less than the sum of its parts. Blending in other arenas is often done to smooth out rough flavors, but that also has the added effect of making the result blander and more homogeneous. I don't think that's what the Bruery is going for here, and most of these Mélange beers seem to be well received, so I guess they're doing a pretty good job.

The Bruery Melange No 14

The Bruery Mélange No. 14 - Pours a muddy looking, vivid dark brown color with a half finger of light tan head. Smells of rich caramel, bourbon, oak, vanilla, toffee, a hint of something darker lurking in the background. Taste is very sweet, lots of crystal malt, much more on the fruity side, dark fruits, maybe coconut, plenty of booze. As it warms, the fruit subsides a bit and the bourbon and oak come out more, but it's still distinct from your typical Bruery BBA lineup. Mouthfeel is on the lighter end of full bodied, moderate richness, finely carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Very complex, lots going on, a slow sipping beer for sure. Overall, this is really nice, typical Bruery barrel character, complex, maybe a bit off balance and muddled, but still delicious. More delicious than its components? I'm not so sure. I definitely have a thing for the Anniversary beers and I love Mash and Black Tuesday. This is a nice change of pace, I guess. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 13.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/9/16. Bottled: 05/23/16.

Always fun taking a trip through the Bruery's barrel program. I've always wanted to try Melange No. 3 (a blend of Anniversary, White Oak Sap, and Black Tuesday) and would be really curious about Melange No. 1 (a blend of Oude Tart and Black Tuesday) even if it seems a bit odd to blend a sour with a stout. I also realized that I neglected to review this year's anniversary beer, but then, I've reviewed most of them already, so there's little else to say... No more Bruery on the horizon, but we'll certainly see more from them on here sometime.

Aged Beer Jamboree

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Over the past several months, I've been dipping into my cellar to try out some aged beer. You may have noticed a few of these showing up on the blog already, but I've been keeping a running log of some of the less unique bottles I've opened as well. Some of these were aged intentionally, some were just sitting in the back of my fridge or in my basement for far too long. What can I say, sometimes my eyes are bigger than my liver. My cellar isn't as insane as many you'll see out there, but it's getting sizable, so I sometimes try to take a break from keeping up with the new releases and check out some of these old suckers.

There's something very romantic about aged booze, I think, but with beer it's a bit of a dicey proposition. It's rare that I've had a beer get better over time. It can certainly be different, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not usually what you expect. It's worth trying, but if you ever find yourself with a nice bottle of something that might age well, drink it fresh. If you can snag another bottle, age that. If not, just be happy you got your hands on a fresh bottle. Let's take a closer look at some of these:

2014 Abyss

2014 Deschutes Abyss - Finally got around to drinking one of these Deschutes beers after their "Best After" date (usually a year in the future when they release the beer). Pours a deep black color with a finger of light brown head, very nice. Smell brings a lot of the non-stoutlike elements to the fore, vinous fruit, caramel, anise, liquorice, vanilla, maybe even some dank hops. Taste starts with rich caramel, moves right on to more fruity notes, followed by a wallop of dry hop bitterness. As it warms, I get hints of that roasted malt character that I found much more prominent in fresh Abyss. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, more dry than I remember it being fresh. Overall, I don't know that it's improved with age exactly, but it feels very different and it's certainly not worse, making it an interesting candidate for aging. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/31/16. Best After: 11/10/15.

Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale

2011 Firestone Walker XV Anniversary Ale - My first Anniversary Ale, this one lives up to my memory. A bottle shop recently celebrated their anniversary or something by releasing a bunch of aged beer, and I managed to snag this one (so it hasn't been sitting in my cellar for quite so long, probably wouldn't have lasted!) Age has treated it well, though I don't think it's any better than it was back in the day. With time, it's got a little less zip, but the flavors have blended together more. It still feels very barleywineish, lots of dark fruit, rich caramel, some nice barrel character. Overall, this was worth aging and is doing well these days, but it was probably still a little better when it was fresh. This is probably good advice overall for the Firestone Anniversary beers - worth aging, but not at the expense of drinking it fresh. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/1/16.

Plead the 5th Stout

2013 Dark Horse Plead the 5th Stout - This has held up well. The intense roasty character is much faded, only really revealing itself in the finish. In its place we get caramel and an almost dark fruit note, like port wine or something. This hasn't really been my favorite stout, but it holds up well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/30/16.

Angel's Share 2011

2011 Lost Abbey Angel's Share - Bourbon Barrel Aged - The first time I had this, I thought it was a bit hot and could use some aging. Fortuitously, I came into a bottle not long after, and promptly hid it away in my basement and basically forgot about it. What was lost was found, so I figured 4 years was long enough to age the sucker. Wow, just look at that head. Yes, this was before Lost Abbey got their carbonation game on track. Fortunately, this is a tasty beer. Age is definitely showing, some oxidation apparent, but it still smells and tastes great. Great dark fruit character matches well with the bourbon barrel treatment, reminiscent of early Bruery Anniversary beers. Age definitely mellowed the booze, though perhaps not as much time is actually needed to accomplish that feat. Carbonation is an issue for me. Verdict: Uncertain! Newer vintages are better carbonated and might hold up better. I'd say 1-2 years is ideal aging time. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/24/15.

Smoketome!

2013 Fantôme Saison - From the Smoketôme era, I was curious to see if the smokey, burnt latex funk worked itself out over time. The answer? Nope! I suppose it's probably mellowed some, but I feel like all the elements mellowed, so the smoke is still there in the same proportion as before. Like my other bottle, this isn't dominated by the smoke, and it adds a sort of complexity rather than straight burning latex and bandaids (as some of the worst Smoketomes exhibited). I really wish I had saved some of my first bottles of Fantome though, from the 2009-2010 era, as those were really special, even if I had no idea what I was drinking at the time. If you've got a smoketome, I say hold on to it. Let's see how that bitch tastes in 5-10 years, eh? C+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 11/30/15.

Merry Monks 2010

2010 Weyerbacher Merry Monks - Back in 2010, I bought a variety case of Weyerbacher, and promptly found myself disappointed by this beer. I gave it a few tries, but this one just sat around for, well, 5 years I guess. It was time. Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, lots of raisins, maybe a hint of spice. Taste is again very sweet, and again has tons and tons of raisins. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but almost creamy in texture, really nice, but as it warms, a boozy note hits pretty hard. Overall, this is maybe an improvement over the regular, but I'm not really a fan of either. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/11/15. Bottled 11/23/10. Best By: 11/23/12.

Founders Breakfast Stout 2010

2010 Founders Breakfast Stout - Pours a pitch black color with a gorgeous light brown head. Smells of coffee and creme and more coffee, roasty coffee, spent coffee grounds, did I mention coffee? Taste features lots of that roasty character, less intense coffee here but it's still pretty prominent. Coffee is supposed to fade over time, but this is still pretty intense, even more out of balance than when fresh. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, a little thin actually, though it feels more full as it warms. Overall, I like this and it's held up remarkably well, but it's still not a massive improvement over the base, which seems more balanced. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/11/15.

Of course, this barely puts a dent in the cellar, so after this semi-hiatus from beer, expect to see some more of these aged beer reviews. In the meantime, I've got some wine, bourbon, and Scotch coming your way. And maybe a few more beer posts peppered in...

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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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