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Allagash Double Feature

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We've been mightily impressed with Allagash's seemingly expanded sour program, so we've been keeping an eye out for more of this stuff, and fortunately, Allagash has obliged my whims. A pretty steady stream of new bottles has been showing up from time to time, and I'm always willing to take a flier on these, even if they are a bit of a pricey proposition. Interestingly, several of their sour beers are aged on stainless steel rather than more traditional barrels, and I have to say, it doesn't make as big of a difference as I'd think. I loved Farm to Face, and the better of today's double feature was also a straight stainless steel offering (of course, it was still aged 2 years, so maybe that's part of it).

First up is Tiarna, a blend of two beers, one a Brettanomyces fermented ale aged on oak, and the other a Belgian ale aged on stainless steel. It's a nice beer for sure, but not quite up to their best offerings:

Allagash Tiarna

Allagash Tiarna - Pours an almost clear pale yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for a while. Smells quite nice, typical belgian yeast spice notes of clove and maybe anise, some fruity esters, but also that earthy Brett funk. Taste hits more bready and yeasty than expected, hints of those spicy phenols and fruity esters (not really tart at all), a bit of funk, a little oak pitching in too. Was really hoping for a little more funk and oak here. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, lightly bodied, relatively dry. Overall, this is like an entry level funky saison. It's complex and well crafted, but restrained. I have to wonder if the funk would increase over time in the bottle, but for now: B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 1/30/16. Bottled: Sept. 16, 2015.

Next up is James and Julie, presumably named after two people who worked at the brewery or something. Or just two random people off the street, for all I know. It's their take on a Flanders Oud Bruin, a sour brown ale that is aged on stainless steel with Lactobacillus and Pediococcus cultures. Rumor has it that this is the base beer for Neddles (which is the same thing aged on Rum barrels and named after a former employee), but I'll be damned if this isn't pretty spectacular just by itself. It's not super funky, but it's got a very nice sourness and balance to it that just works beautifully:

Allagash James And Julie

Allagash James & Julie - Pours a light brown amber color with a finger of off white head that holds its own for a while. Smells of vinegar, tart fruit, sour cherry, maybe a hint of earth. Taste starts off sweet, lots of flavor, sour cherries, vinegar, perfectly balanced amount of sourness here, really tasty. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, perfectly balanced amount of acidity. Overall, intense but balanced, this is a true winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet/chalice on 1/30/16. Bottled: Aug. 24, 2015. Released: Black Friday 2015.

Always enjoyable catching up with Allagash, and I will of course be keeping an eye out for more stuff, particularly their sours, which seem to hit me just right.

Almanac Farmer's Reserve Grand Cru

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While the concept of a "Grand Cru" is formally defined for wine, there's little to distinguish it from a marketing tactic in beer. Nothing particularly wrong with that, it's just good to know that beery Grand Crus are not quite as reliable. But most brewers do try to make their Grand Cru special in one way or another, and when a brewer of the stature of Almanac introduces a series of beers with the designation, it's enough to pay attention.

So far, there have been two released, one of which we have here. Farmer's Reserve Grand Cru is an imperial version of their sour blonde ale (and base for a whole series of fruited sours that we very much enjoy here) with California-grown Muscat Blanc grapes added and then aged in white wine French oak barrels for over a year. Finally, it's packaged in a gorgeous looking bottle. There's been this persistent myth that beer and wine people don't get along, but California brewers seem to be continually turning that notion on its ear, frequently collaborating with their neighbors in many ways. This sort of beer/wine hybrid isn't on every shelf, but it's not particularly uncommon either, and it's always fun to see what happens when boozy buddies take inspiration from one another. "As the old saying goes, in vino veritas, in cervesio felicitas - in wine there is truth, in beer there is happiness." With this, I think they've hit both nails on the head:

Almanac Farmers Reserve Grand Cru.

Almanac Farmer's Reserve Grand Cru - Pours a light, hazy golden yellow color with a finger of white fluffy head that sticks around for a bit. Smells wonderful, lemon zest, vinous fruit, white wine, oak, very nice. Taste is more reserved than the nose might lead you to believe, but it's got tons of that vinous fruit, white wine barrel, some tart acidity lingering in the finish. Mouthfeel is moderately carbonated, medium bodied, light to medium acidity, a bit of boozy heat, and just a bit of stickiness in the finish. Despite the booze, this does not drink like a 10.2% sour, it's pretty light on its feet. Overall, this is really fantastic stuff, certainly worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/23/16. Bottled: Autumn 2015.

The other release is Dogpatch Grand Cru, basically an imperialized version of their Dogpatch Sour made with a variety of red wine grapes (instead of the typical cherries), which I plan to share with a few friends soon. As usual, Almanac is a reliable source of excellent sours that are readily available in Philly these days (which is certainly a boon).

Stout Rullquin

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New Year's Eve has emerged as a time to drink lambic. At least, for me it has. So we cracked a couple bottles, and I found this to be the more interesting of the two. It's a very strange beer. It's a collaboration between Gueuzerie Tilquin and Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles wherein Tilquin blended 7/8 of La Rullés Brune with 1/8 of 1 year old lambics from Tilquin's stores (Tilquin does not brew their beer, but they do age and blend it) and then aged the result in barrels for 8 months. Truth be told, I almost didn't notice it sitting on the shelf because the (rather nifty) label blends the two collaborators' artistic styles (though not proportional to the blend of beer, but if they did that, Tilquin would get almost none of the label!) Tilquin used to be reliably available, but has been getting more scarce lately, so my eyes always perk up with I see their distinctive labels. We did it, you guys! We made another great beer hard to find!

This actually marks the second time I've had this beer, but the first time was at a share and I only had a small taste. At that time, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much the lambic came through. I mean, it was clearly a toned down character, but it was prominent and quite tasty. I had already procured this bottle and became quite excited at the prospect of getting a full pour. Then a curious thing happened. This bottle tasted different. Still good, but perhaps not as well balanced as the first pour. That or my palate was just way off that night. Regardless, it's still quite an interesting beer, and I wouldn't mind snagging a bottle and putting a little age on it to see how it fares. Until then, we're left with this:

Stout Rullquin

Tilquin/Rulles Stout Rullquin - Pours a deep dark brown color with amber highlights and a couple fingers of tan head. Smells musty, maybe some toasty malt character, definitely some straight Belgian yeast going on here, but you get hints of twangy funk in there too. Taste starts off like a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, spicy, bready Belgian yeast, hints of toasty malt brightened by that funky lambic addition. It's not as big of an influence in this bottle as the last one I had, but it's there. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, medium bodied, pretty easy going. Overall, it's an interesting beer, and both times I've had it, it wasn't what I expected... but it was good nonetheless! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/31/15. Best Before: 31/03/2025. Released: September 2015.

Tilquin's Gueuze was the beer that made me see the light when it comes to sour beer, so I'm always on the lookout for their stuff. Would really love to try the blackberry lambic they recently made, but who knows when that will show up (and when it does, I'm sure it'll go quick).

Yuletide Beer Club

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I don't know why I called this a "Yuletide" beer club except that 'tis the season and I am a bit tipsy (alas, none of the beers we tasted were particularly festive). For the uninitiated, Beer Club is a monthly get together amongst friends and coworkers (and former coworkers) to share some beer and partake in general revelry. We have been woefully neglectful of late, and indeed, after just barely sneaking a September meeting in at the very end of that month, we did not manage a meetup in October or November. But we're back on track and managed a pretty good showing.

Yuletide Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, we were at a sushi place, not a sensory deprivation chamber. Notes are below, in order of tasting, not necessarily in the order pictured.

  • Fat Head Trail Head Pale Ale - It's like a toned-down version of Fat Head's Headhunter, dank, piney hops, tasty, a decent start for the night. B
  • Lost Nation Gose - Yup, a beer we've had many times here, and it's a nice, light, tart beer that works well as a warmup beer.
  • Rubber Soul Dropout - A super fresh crowler from this brand newish (less than 6 months old) Maryland brewery that is rather obviously comprised of Beatles Fans. This is a pretty solid DIPA, nice citrus and pine hop presence, and a decent amount of bitterness too (this will come into question later in the tasting). B+
  • Trinity Red Swingline - Was not expecting much from this beer named after an Office Space reference, but it wound up being one of the better of the night, super funky and earthy, with a decent amount of hop presence, and only a hint of sourness. One of these days, I'm going to buy a waxed beer that will totally lead me astray, and I thought this might be it, but I guess not. Also of note, the wax job was rather weird, like they dipped it once, realized that wouldn't be enough, so they dipped it again, and then just said "fuck it" and dipped it a third time because why the hell not. This is important, and I am totally justified in writing more about the wax job than the beer itself. B+
  • Free Will DC Cranberry Farmhouse - I picked this up at the semi-local Free Will release on Sunday. A pretty nice little saison number, but it's more subtle than the beer we just drank, so I think it suffered a bit from the comparison. Still, it seemed pretty darned good. B or B+
  • Pretty Things Jack D'Or - Thus begins a little, informal tribute to the sadly now defunct Pretty Things brewing company, this is a little more sweet and raisiny than I remember, but it's still relatively dry and a great match for the sushi we were eating at this point. B
  • Pretty Things Hopfenpop! - This was not a fresh bottle and you could sorta tell, but it was nevertheless pretty good and held up pretty well. I would have liked to have tried this one fresh, but for this, I'll give it a B
  • Stone Double Bastard In The Rye - This wound up being a sweeter take on the Double Bastard (as compared to, say, Southern Charred or even the base beer), but the hop character survived and tries its darnedest to counteract the sweetness. Still one of my favorites of the night though, and pretty fantastic. B+ or A-
  • Troegs Impending Descent - The Scratch beer that keeps on giving, I managed to get up to Troegs this Black Friday and pick up some of this solid imperial stout, perhaps not as great as their initial vintage, I still love it.
  • Pretty Things Fumapapa - A very nice imperial stout with all the standard notes and an additional and very complementary smoked malt character that manages to make itself known without overwhelming anything (or making you wonder who put their cigar out in your beer). Very tasty, and damn, I'm going to miss these guys. A-
  • Dogfish Head Hoo Lawd - Yes, this beer's premise, brewed to 658 IBUs (apparently the highest confirmed measurement ever, despite some others with higher "theoretical" IBUs), is gimmicky and such things tend to be hit or miss, but this was indeed an interesting beer to try. It pours a jet black color (i.e. not very IPAish), has a nice hoppy nose, dank citrus and pine, and the taste starts off just fine, like a malt-forward IPA, then the bitterness starts coming in towards the finish and building through the aftertaste. It's kinda like when you eat a hot pepper and you're all this isn't so bad and then 10 seconds later your mouth is on fire and 10 seconds after that you think you might die. Alright, so it never quite approaches fear-of-death levels of bitterness, but it is very bitter, which isn't that unusual, except that this lingers for much longer than normal. I'm really happy I got to try it and would recommend getting a sample if you see it, but the smallish pour I got was plenty, and it's not something worth really hunting for. Interesting though and one of those things that makes it hard to rate. B
After the Hoo Lawd, we opened a couple of "palate cleansers" that were IPAs that basically tasted like water, so I won't really go into detail on those. The Rubber Soul Dropout fared slightly better, but still didn't taste bitter at all. Go figure. So that wraps up this beer share, look for more in January, I hope!

Cascade Sang Rouge

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I was going to put a bunch of effort into working a Le Cercle Rouge reference in here, but I figured the tenuous connection (zomg, they both use the French word for Red) and obscurity means I shouldn't bother. Any Jean-Pierre Melville fans in the house? No? Alright then, moving on.

This is yet another in Cascade's long line of sour ales; a blend of red ales that were aged in oak wine barrels and oak foudres for for up to three years. Previous iterations have mentioned that it was a blend of as many as nine lots of beer, which is always an interesting exercise. Sometimes blending can add complexity and balance, other times it just sorta levels out all the spiky bits, covers up imperfections, making for a less complex but more consistent beer. While this is certainly another Cascade win, I'm also betting this trends towards the latter speculation. This is still very good, but it doesn't really stand out if you know what I mean. Or not. I'm not even really sure what I mean by that. Give me a break. Let's take a closer look at this "red blooded" sour and plan some elaborate beer heists:

Cascade Sang Rouge

Cascade Sang Rouge - Pours a clear but very dark amber or ruby color with a finger of fizzy but long lived off-white head. Smells great, vinegar, cherries, musty funk, a little oak and vanilla too. Taste hits those sour notes pretty hard, sweet, tart fruit, cherries, blackberries and the like, some of that oak and vanilla pitching in where it can, then more sourness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, some oaky richness, well carbonated, plenty of acidity. Overall, a nice little sour number. Could be an A-, but I'm not feeling generous at the moment, so B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/21/15. Vintage: 2013 Project (2015 Release).

Cascade certainly has their house sour style dialed in, and with a single freak exception, I've enjoyed everything I've had from them. I'm sure this won't be the last we see of them on the blog...

Allagash Farm To Face

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Wherein Allagash cuts out the middle man (you know, those greedy tables) and delivers a fresh fruit sour right to your face. All anthropomorphic jokes aside, I prefer to think of this as a subtle but scathing indictment of the three tier system of alcohol distribution put into place after Prohibition. Viva la fermentación! Well played, Allagash.

It's also a beer! Farm to Face starts life as a lowly Belgian pale ale, fermented with Allagash's standard house yeast. After primary fermentation is complete, they add pediococcus and lactobacillus and age the whole concoction on 6000 pounds of peaches. Bucking the current oaky fashion, the aging is done in stainless steel tanks, but don't let that fool you, this is superb stuff:

Allagash Farm to Face

Allagash Farm To Face - Pours an almost clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells amazing, lots of earthy funk and bright citrus fruit, peaches and the like. Taste hits the same notes as the nose, a very nice lactic sour punch, stone fruit, some earthy funk, and yes, more sourness. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, and refreshing, well carbonated, quite acidic, but still pleasant and balanced with the rest. Overall, this is delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/20/15. Bottled: July 16, 2015.

Another winning sour from Allagash. I shall have to seek out their more obscure offerings on that front. Someday. Someday...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

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In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus relates an anecdote from Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star):

In one of the many stories he likes to tell about German, English and Belgian brewers, Michael Jackson first asks a German how beer is made. "Pils malt, Czech hops," the brewer replies. Then Jackson asks the German brewer down the road the same question. "It's the same as Fritz said. That's how you make a Pilsener, that's what we learn in school."

After getting a different answer from a British brewer, Jackson turns to a Belgian brewer. "First of all, you take one ton of bat's droppings. Then you add a black witch," the Belgian answers. "The brewer down the road uses a white witch." Jackson concludes with the lesson: "Belgium is a nation of tremendous individualists."

The notion of beer "styles" is so ingrained in our current beer culture that it's hard to imagine coming to it fresh, the way Jackson was doing 40 or so years ago. It's faintly amazing that we ended up with something even remotely workable, especially considering the tremendous individualism of Belgian beer.

Enter Sante Adairius' 16e series of one-off beers. It's a nod to Tim Clifford's time as a homebrewer, as he "gained a lot of notoriety" in competitions, especially with beers in BJCP Category 16e, a nubulous "catch-all" category of Belgian beer used to capture all those weird bat dropping and witch based ales and whatnot. Basically, it's Sante Adairius' line of experimental and weird beers that defy categorization.

This particular entry is called Jose Pimiento. I don't know who that is or why they named this beer after him, but Jose presumably enjoys chile peppers, because this is a sour blonde ale aged in barrels with dried chile peppers. This is... not a combo you're likely to see again, and is vaguely terrifying, but it appears they used a gentle touch with the chiles, as it adds complexity and flavor without overwhelming...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales 16e Jose Pimiento - Pours a very pale, straw yellow color with a finger of white head that sticks around a bit. Smells of vinous fruit and oak, funky but very bright. If you do the equivalent of squinting with your nose, you can maybe, kinda, sorta find the pepper, but it's not really a prominent aroma at all. Taste starts off with those vinous fruit flavors up front, lactic sourness emerging quickly and lasting through the taste, and that spicy chile pepper comes out a bit more here, but it's still shy and introverted (like me!), and as a result, it adds complexity without overwhelming anything. It reminds me of the old Belgian brewing adage of spice - if it's identifiable, you've done it wrong. If I didn't know this involved peppers, I might note something, but I doubt I'd pinpoint it as dried chile peppers. Mouthfeel is well carbonated up front, but quickly falling off into a more sticky finish, some bright acidity here, and yes, faint hints of chile heat. Overall, this is a bit odd, but still another winner from Sante Adairius. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/13/15.

Another winner from SARA! Many thanks to Jay from BeerSamizdat for sending it my way. Keep them coming, Jay, I need to get my hands on moar SARA!

Wes Craven Double Feature

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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, I'm hosting a discussion on Double Features:

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to drink two beers, compare and contrast. No need for slavish tasting notes, but if you want to, that's fine too. The important part is to highlight how the two beers interact with one another during your session (pun intended!) For extra credit, pair your beers with two films to make your own Double Feature. Now, I'm a big tent kinda guy, so feel free to stretch this premise to its breaking point. The possibilities are endless!
Endless indeed! This is the second iteration on the theme I've posted this week.

This time, we've got a more harmonious double feature, two beers and two movies themed around Wes Craven. Since his passing, I've been catching up with some of his work I hadn't seen before and revisiting his classics. On Halloween, we had a little mini-marathon, starting off with his most famous work, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The premise alone establishes it as one of the purest distillations of horror ever committed to film. Is there anything more inescapable and terrifying than a monster that can get you in your dreams? We could debate some third act issues, but it's still a classic.

Nightmares on Brett Street

To pair with this, we've got a doozy from Colorado, Crooked Stave's Nightmare on Brett, a clear reference to Craven's masterpiece (also paired with some Eclat Chocolate, because why not?) There are a bazillion variants of this beer, but this one was aged in Leopold Bros. Whiskey barrels with cherries. Previous iterations indicate that the base for this was a soured baltic porter, and the aging intervals are usually pretty long (1 year plus). I'm also not sure if the cherries were included in the past, but this one is pretty clear. Clocking in at the cheeky ABV of 9.666% ABV, it was the perfect accompaniment and tribute to Craven and his movie:

Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett

Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett (Leopold Bros. Whiskey Barrel-Aged) - Pours like a stout, a murky black color with a finger of light brown head, quite nice looking. Smells fantastic, an almost chocolate covered cherry aspect that pervades the nose, but also a hint of roast and musty funk. Taste goes in with sweet and sour up front, cherries, actually let's call them rich caramelized cherries, less in the way of chocolate but those dark malts are there and come out more towards the finish, which is also quite sour and a bit funky. Lingers a bit on those sour and funky notes. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium to full bodied, with a barrel aged richness cut by moderate acidity. Pretty easy going for the ABV. Overall, this is quite spectacular. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.666% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/31/15. Bottled September 2015.

Next up, some lesser Craven, a movie called Deadly Blessing. One of the few Craven directed movies I've not actually seen, there's certainly a reason for that, but as with literally everything I've seen from Craven, he has this X-factor, a way of getting under your skin that is usually present in varying levels. It's true, this isn't a tremendous film, but it's got lots going for it, and some really effective sequences that make it worth seeking out for students of the genre. To match, we cracked open a growler of an unsoured baltic porter from Tired Hands called, appropriately, Craven (part of their Horror Auteurs theme for the season - which includes beers named after Carpenter, Argento, Hitchcock, and others!) Just one of the many reasons I love Tired Hands so much. The beer's pretty good too:

Tired Hands Craven

Tired Hands Craven - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells nice, sweet dark malts, hints of roasted marshmallow, baker's chocolate, maybe even coffee (maybe even coffee with sugar and creme). Taste has much more of a roasted character to it, some coffee-like flavors coming through, but also dark chocolate and just a hint of molasses, finishing back on that roasted tip. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, and well attenuated (not dry, but not a sugar bomb either), no hints of the booze at all despite the highish ABV of 9.8%. As it warms, it feels a little more rich and chewy, but nothing ridiculous. Tired Hands isn't really known for their darker beers, and this probably won't change that, but it's certainly worthy. Overall, a rock solid baltic porter here, tasty and complex enough to stand apart from the crowd. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV from a growler (1L swingtop). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/31/15. Growler filled 10/31/15.

It was quite a night. Is it really fair to compare a soured baltic porter with a non-soured baltic porter? Nope! But it was interesting nonetheless, and while it's hard to compare the two against each other, they do work well as contrasts. Anywho, we popped in Scream after Deadly Blessings, though we were still working our way through Craven. It's very much a product of its time, but if you keep that in mind (as you should), it holds up reasonably well.

Big thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Jeff for smuggling the Nightmare on Brett bottle back from Colorado when he went to GABF back in September!

There may be one more Double Feature this week, or maybe not, depending on my mood (it wouldn't be beer anyway, so don't hold your breath), and of course, the roundup will be posted this weekend. I hope you're all toiling over your posts as we speak!

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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.

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