Recently in American Wild Ale Category

The A+ Class of 2016

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I have this thing where I rarely rate something the highest (or lowest) rating. For once, I am not the worst. I simply have standards, people. Way back when, I wrote about Kaedrin's Grading System, I felt that reaching the highest grade would require a few things. Obviously, it has to be a great beer (that goes without saying even though I'm saying it). Next, it has to be something I have had more than once (a non-trivial challenge, as many top tier beers are one offs or exceedingly rare). Finally, there's that X-factor. Perhaps something personal or a particular experience that simply elevates this beer above its peers. There's a push and pull in the criteria, hopefully leading to some idiosyncratic choices. Maybe you think these are too pedestrian, or maybe you think they're unobtainable, but that's the fun part. Life would be boring if we all loved the exact same things.

Thus far, only 4 beers have earned the coveted A+. Only one doesn't quite meet the conditions (because it was reviewed before the criteria were established). Two are straight up Belgian styles that are both exceptional, but my tastes have evolved a bit since then. The most recent would almost certainly retain its A+ status, but it only kinda sorta lives on (it's part of a solera series, so current bottlings technically have some of that one left in it). Basically, I'm long overdue for some A+ picks. These are three of my favorite beers, which I've sought out and drank (a few times, even) over the last year.

I've reviewed all of these before so I won't bore you with tasting notes, but I will give some quick thoughts on each and why I think they deserve to be elevated to A+ status.

Russian River Supplication

Russian River Supplication - The prototypical dark American Wild Ale, all oak and cherries, sour fruit and vinegar, it's a beautiful beer that's surprisingly versatile. Works in any weather. Pairs amazingly well with BBQ and dark chocolate, and it's obviously delicious on its own too. There are more complex or intense beers out there, but few reach this level of balance and just as importantly, this is something that is regularly available. Original rating was only an A-. It graduated to an A one time at a share where we were eating BBQ (and it paired exceptionally well), and that's when I first realized this was an A+ candidate. Of course, that was 4 years ago. Maybe I am the worst? No, I'm just thorough. I've had this many times since my original ratings, and it's definitely graduated to the coveted A+

Firestone Walker Parabola

Firestone Walker Parabola - Platonic ideal of bourbon barrel stouts, tons of boozy bourbon, oak, rich caramel, and vanilla. It's a big, intense, complex beer, a bruiser, a character that initially held me back a bit when I first tried this. Funnily enough, Parabola was my backup order at a Philly Beer Week event where I got shut out of Velvet Merkin, which at the time was not being bottled and was exceedingly rare (and which, once I happened upon it, turned out to be mildly disappointing). Upon subsequent tastings, I realized my horrible mistake. Again, part of the appeal is that this is something that is regularly available. I would gladly also induct Pappy Black Magick into the A+ realm, but I'm not even sure if it'll ever be made again, let alone acquired and tasted again. I've built a history with Parabola, a great beer that has only gotten better with each additional tasting. This is not a common trajectory and truly a thing of beauty. A+

The Alchemist Heady Topper

The Alchemist Heady Topper - These beers are all relatively well known, but this may be the most hyped beer I've ever rated. Under such circumstances, it's tempting to play the contrarian, and yet, it lives up to the hype and remains the standard against which all Northeast IPAs are compared. Have I had better NEIPAs? Maybe! I can think of one or two Tired Hands beers I'd put up against Heady... but as with most TH beers, they were one offs. Even for repeated TH beers, it's worth noting their lack of consistency. Not so with The Alchemist. I manage to snag cans of this every year, sometimes multiple times, and yet they're always consistently great. This might be the first beer I truly traveled a great distance to obtain (along with other VT goodies), and I'm so glad that I did. Juicy, balanced, delicious. I think I'll drink one tomorrow. A+

So there, I've nearly doubled the number of A+ ratings on the site. I hope you're happy now. Hopefully I'll be able to do this a little more often than once every three years. In fact, I'd like to find a way to put a saison in here someday. Until then...

I'm not always great about aligning my drinking up to the occasion, but Halloween is one holiday where I try to make the extra effort. I embark upon a six week horror movie marathon and generally attempt to drink some seasonally appropriate beers (or, at least, rationalize completely irrelevant choices). Halloween night always begets something special. Last year, I watched a duo of Wes Craven movies and paired with beers inspired by his work.

One of those beers was Crooked Stave's Nightmare on Brett, a series of sour baltic porters (all of which clock in at the vaguely antichristian ABV of 9.666%) aged in barrels. There are tons of variants, but the one I had last year was aged in Leopold Bros. whiskey barrels with cherries. This year, we take on their newest variant, which is basically the same thing, but aged with blueberries instead of cherries. Sounds glorious, so let's grab our fedora and knife-glove-thingy and haunt the dreams of some beer:

Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett with Blueberries

Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett with Blueberries (Leopold Bros. Whiskey Barrel-Aged) - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells great, hints of roast and chocolate, I don't know if I get blueberries specifically, but it's definitely got a nice chocolate covered berries sort of feel, maybe a note of whiskey and oak too. The blueberries actually do come out in the taste though, their distinct flavor inflecting the sourness, which is pretty substantial (I want to say moreso than the cherry version I had last year, but who knows?) Less in the way of roast or chocolate, as the balance has flown towards the blueberries, but this is still very clearly a sour stout and you kinda get that. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, medium bodied, with a sharp but pleasant acidity. Moderate richness from the barrels, and a bit of warming booze too. Overall, this is great, but I want to say that the one I had last year was better. I guess I need to do a taste test with both at some point. Woe is me. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.666% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/31/16. Batch: January 2016 (pretty sure it was only released in September though).

Crooked Stave does it right, as per usual. Will always be on the lookout for more of their wares. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Danur for procuring this bottle and smuggling it back to PA for me.

Allagash FV 13

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In 2008, Allagash acquired a 2,700-gallon oak foudre and filled 'er up. For the uninitiated, the FV in the name stands for Fermentation Vessel and though you might think this was their 13th such vessel, it actually wasn't. They had a whole fleet of stainless steel fermenters and, being superstitious, they decided to skip the number 13. Apparently they managed to get over their Triskaidekaphobia before setting up their foudre.

As befits their first foray into this type of aging, they went through quite a labor intensive process. Primary fermentation happened in one of the lucky stainless fermenters with Allagash's house yeast strain, then moved to the unlucky foudre along with two strains of Brett, souring bugs (lactobacillus and pediococcus), Sherry yeast, and Allagash's reserve yeast. Then they waited four years before bottling. Sadly, I missed out on that 2012 vintage, but it's been another four years, another batch has been dispensed, and this time Kaedrin's beer acquisition department was ready to pounce.

What's different this time? Well, it seems that instead of just distributing the entire 2,700 gallons back in 2012, they kept some in reserve and used it to inoculate the next batch. Due to this sorta solera-like approach, each batch will be different (and we'll have to wait 4 years between batches). If this batch is any indication, I don't think 13 is as unlucky a previously thought:

Allagash FV 13

Allagash FV 13 - Pours a orange hued golden color with half a finger of white head. Smells quite nice, musty funk, vinous fruit, dark fruit, cherries. Taste hits those notes, lots of fruit notes, cherries, vinous fruit, estery, mild funk, plenty of oak, a nice acetic sour bite, quite balanced. It has a sorta oxidized sherry note to it that is quite nice. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, moderate to high but still pleasant acidity. Complex and very well balanced. Overall, something about Allagash's sour program hits my palate just right, I guess. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/23/16. Bottled: May 5, 2016.

As per usual, Allagash is killing it with these sours. As mentioned above, something about these things just clicks with me. One of these days, I really want to seek out some of their Coolship beers (i.e. spontanously fermented beers). Until then, I'm glad Kaedrin's beer acquisition department has been keeping tabs on these things...

The Veil Quadruple Feature

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Richmond, Virginia's The Veil Brewing Co. opened it's doors around six months ago. Brewer Matt Tarpey spent some time at several Northeast breweries, including the likes of The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead, as well as completing an apprenticeship with Jean Van Roy at Cantillon in Belgium. That's a pretty impressive pedigree. Since they're just getting started, I imagine their spontaneous fermentation program will take some time to develop, but their IPA game is already turning heads amongst the beer dork community.

The name of the brewery comes from Tarpey's time in Belgium. He was discussing pellicles, the thin film that forms on top of the beer during spontaneous fermentation, and he noted that "Jean has a lot of friends in Italy that are natural winemakers and he told me that his friends in Italy call pellicles 'the veil.' That moment was very special and I just remembered it..."

I managed to get my grubby little biscuit snatchers on four different cans of relatively fresh stuff. No spontaneous fermentation here, but one great IPA, two interesting takes, and one that didn't work out. So a pretty decent batting average and a promising start. I'm really intrigued to see where these folks go next.

The Veil Crucial Crucial Aunt Aunt

The Veil Crucial Crucial Aunt Aunt - Double Mango Double Dry Hopped Double IPA - Pours a cloudy, turbid yellow orange color (orange juice looking) with a finger of white, fluffy head, good retention, and some lacing. Smells of pure, unadulterated, juicy citrus hops. Taste starts off very sweet up front, hitting lots of those juicy citrus hops in the middle before heading to a balancing bitter hop town in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, fine, medium bodied, juicy up front but more dry in the finish. Overall, this is a rock solid Northeast IPA and it's delicious. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/16. Canned on 09/20/16.

The Veil Joooseee Boizzz

The Veil Joooseee Boizzz - Triple IPA with Raspberries, a collaboration with Monkish (another brewery that I need to become more familiar with) - Pours a milky orange amber color with a couple fingers of off white, almost pink head. Smells of fruity, juicy hops, but also a sorta fruit roll ups or fruit by the foot aroma. Taste follows the nose, lots of citrus hops, ample malt backbone, and some more gummy fruity notes. Sometimes this came off as a sorta artificial feel, as befits fruit roll-ups, but it was still pretty darn tasty. Mouthfeel is full bodied and heavy, well carbed, but certainly a sipper. Overall it's an interesting and tasty beer, worth checking out. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/9/16. Canned on 09/20/16.

The Veil Boss Man

The Veil Boss Man - Sour Double IPA - Pours a golden orange color with a finger of white head that doesn't last too long. Smells of citrus and some sort of souring twang. Taste is quite sour right from the start, some resinous citrus hops, but mostly dominated by that sourness with a bitter hop note towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and quite acidic. Overall, the notion of sour IPAs always seems to disappoint me. It is well crafted, for sure, but not really my thing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/14/16. Canned on 09/19/16.

The Veil That Part

The Veil That Part - Double IPA hopped exclusively with New Zealand Wai-iti hops - Pours a murky golden color with a couple fingers of fluffy head. Smells... odd, almost like bubble gum, but with some strange notes. Hop notes almost absent. Not bad, per say, but certainly not your traditional IPA. Taste is, ugh, not good. Something is wrong with this. Astringent, off flavors, weirdly spicy, and earthy (and not in a good, funky way). I'm guessing it's a yeast problem and I'm curious if it fared better when it was initially canned... but then, it's only been a little more than three weeks. Mouthfeel is again kinda weird, medium bodied, well carbed, but again with some sort of strange astringency. Overall, yeah, avoid this one. I may have gotten a bad can or something, but this is really awful. F

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/14/16. Canned on 09/20/16.

Many thanks to fellow beer nerd Nick for making the trip down to Virginia and securing these cans for me. He's a great American, and I'll be discussing more of his generous acquisitions later this week as well.

Burley Oak Sour Diesel

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Not wanting to (literally) beat around the bush, beer has a relationship with weed. Not one that I'm especially interested in or care much about (not my thing), but it's hard not to recognize the affinity amongst certain infamous brewers. There's often an almost certainly false speculation that hops and marijuana are biologically related, mostly because they sure look and smell similar. Then again, this requires a working knowledge of biology and, well, my main takeaway from this examination is basically: "1) Don't become an angiosperm taxonomist unless you love frustration, because 2) taxonomy can be a giant pain in the butt." Which is to say, well, they're both plants and it passes a literal sniff test, so that's probably good enough for most.

So what the hell am I talking about weed for? Well, after my exhaustive research session of searching Google for "Sour Diesel", this beer is clearly named after an infamous strain of Marijuana. Not sure why that's a great name for weed or beer though. I mean, yeah, I guess it indicates a certain dynamic flammability, but that's not generally something I look for in beer. Anywho, starting life as a stout made with chocolate rye malts and fermented in oak barrels, this was then soured (er, sour dieseled?) with lactobacillus (no mention of Brett or Pedio, for what it's worth). The label sez it's a "satisfyingly dank experience", so let's find out:

Burley Oak Sour Diesel

Burley Oak Sour Diesel - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with practically no head whatsoever. Smells nice, fruity, that sour twang, maybe some cherries. Taste hits those sour cherry notes hard, lots of dark, sour fruits, some heft from the dark malt, a little one note, but tasty. Not particularly dank, but sure, it's sour. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, low carbonation (maybe just enough, but lower than I usually want out of a beer like this), moderate sourness. Overall, this is a nice lactic sour, a little one note, but a good enough note. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/10/16.

One more Burley Oak sour in the pipeline, but I've had it before. It's also a sour stout, but it felt like it had more character than this one, even if I feel like it might strip all the enamel off of my teeth if I drink a whole bottle. Stay tuned!

For centuries, the the Delmarva Peninsula of Maryland has been known for producing bottles of barrel-aged sours that grow on trees. Truly a freak of nature, Maryland's own Evolution Craft Brewing has exploited that land for their "Hand Picked" series of beers. Straight from the tree!

Alright, fine, they grow fresh fruit on the the Delmarva Peninsula and that just happens to be right by Evolution, who use that in their series of barrel aged beers. I may have gotten some of the continuity wrong, all right? Get off my back. Anyway, I recently spent some time in Ocean City, Maryland, and on the way back to Kaedrin HQ, I met up with some friends and toured a few Maryland breweries. You will most certainly be hearing about them in later posts, but for now, we'll hit up Evolution. We're no strangers to their generally well received wares here, and these limited sours seemed worth a flier.

Both use their standard Belgian-style pale ale as a base, but the treatments are slightly different. One is aged in red wine barrels for 18 months with half a bushel of peaches per barrel and a melange of fermenting bugs: Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, Brettanomyces Lambicus, and L. Brevis. The other is aged in port barrels for 16 months with 100 pounds of raspberries and just Brettanomyces Lambicus. First up, the superior treatment:

Evolution Hand Picked Series Peach Sour

Evolution Hand Picked Series Peach Sour - Pours a dark orange color with half a finger of fizzy, short lived head and visible sediment/floaters. Smells great though, lots of peach and a hefty oak character. Taste starts off sweet, lots of peaches, oak, some light lactic sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, medium acidity. Overall, this is a rock solid sour, a little one-note, but the peach matches well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/19/16.

Evolution Hand Picked Series Raspberry Tart

Evolution Hand Picked Series Raspberry Tart - Pours a reddish brown color with a finger of fizzy, short lived head (no sediment/floaters in this one). Smells nice, raspberry fruit rollups dominate, but that oak is there too. Taste seems a little more muddled, much less raspberry than the nose would have you believe, muted oak, not even particularly sour, an almost bitter aftertaste. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and lightly acidic. Balance seems a bit off here and the raspberry comes off a bit too artificial, but it's not excessively bad either. Overall, it's fine, but disappointing and the Peach was a lot better. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/21/16.

So yeah, go for the Peach. They're better than raspberries anyway. Stay tuned for more from the Maryland trip, which should be coming once I finish drinking my way out of all these Vermont IPAs...

Eagle Rock Tarte Noir

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Once upon a beer trade, many orbital cycles ago, Jay of the quasi-defunct Beer Samizdat sent me a bottle of Eagle Rock Jubilee. Being a sorta hybrid old ale/winter warmer, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. So I kept my eyes open for Eagle Rock. Three years later, and lo, I hath finally secured another bottle of Eagle Rock wares. This is a red wine barrel aged dark mild ale (they use the genuinely sessionable Solidarity as the base) that has soured up nicely. Insert beer-themed film noir joke here:

Eagle Rock Tarte Noir

Eagle Rock Tarte Noir - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells of musty, dusty funk, sour, vinous fruit, a little oak and vanilla. Taste has that sour vinous fruit character, less of the musty, earthy funk, finishing with a nice puckering sourness. Mouthfeel is surprisingly light bodied and nimble, well carbonated, with medium acidity. Overall, this is really quite nice. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV bottled (375 ml waxed and capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/16/16. Bottled: October of 2015. Batch: 002.

Nice, let's check in on them in another three years to see where they're at. Or, you know, we could try and do it before then. Only following the orbital cycles will tell.

Ale Apothecary Sahalie

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There are lots of breweries that use highfalutin terms to describe themselves. Craft has long since devolved into meaninglessness and debate that I could not care less about. Independent is the new hotness, but that's distressingly prosaic and not really what I'm getting at. Artisanal? Bespoke? Hand made? Now that's what I'm talking about. While usually belying a nugget of truth, I think most of use see these as the marketing codewords and hipster signaling that they really are.

Ale Apothecary describes themselves as "A Vintage Batch Oak Barrel Brewery Buried in the Mountain Wild of Oregon. Producing the finest hand made beer using our own innovative brewing process, which melds the ancient art of brewing with traditions of wine & champagne production." Engage cynical hipster codeword scanners. 8%.... 19%... 42%...95%... Scan Complete. Results: Signaling present, more data needed. Alright, so yeah, maybe I'm feeling paranoid right now, but dropping $30 on a bottle of beer will do that to you. Then again, the process described on their website, in all its wonky glory, does seem to fit with their marketing fluff. Their beer appears to spend nearly all of its time in oak barrels (presumably only really excluding the boiling stages), from mashing in to fermentation to aging to dry hopping, it's all done in barrels. Each batch appears to be from a single barrel as well, meaning really tiny 50ish gallon bottle runs. Each barrel appears to be lovingly named (rather than just using boring old numbers) and presumably reused frequently in order to build up their yeast strains and bacterial beasties. Truly small scale stuff, with a price tag to match.

Sahalie is their flagship ale. It spends over a year in a barrel, followed by a one month dry hopping period in another barrel (they appear to only use Cascade hops at their brewery, which is something I've never heard of before - single hop brewery?) This particular bottle began life in August 2014 and was aged for over 1 year in a barrel named "Reno", after which it was dry hopped for a month in a barrel named "Bagby". Finally it was bottled, using an oddly designed cork and twine contraption to seal the bottle and allow it to condition for a few weeks. The result? Well, my paranoid ramblings appear misplaced, this is phenomenal:

Ale Apothecary Sahalie

Ale Apothecary Sahalie - Pours a hazy pale yellow with a couple fingers of fluffy white head that sticks around for a bit and even leaves some lacing. Smells fabulous, lots of vinous fruit, oak, musty funk. Taste follows the nose, fruity and spicy Brett, musty funk, finishing off with that big vinous fruit kick and maybe a hint of booze. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent up front, but leveling off a bit in the finish, which has a note of pleasant booze, even if it hides the alcohol pretty well. Still, it's pretty intense, so it's not quite a pounding beer if you know what I mean. Overall, this is fantastic, complex, delicious.. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.45% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and, um, twined?) Drank out of a flute on 4/8/16. Batch 135, August 2014, aged in barrel Reno for 1+ years, dry hopped in barrel Bagby for one month with Cascade hops. Label sez: Batch: Nov 20 2016, which I think means this comes from the future. My scanners seem particularly unsuited to parsing a lot of this stuff. I'm the worst.

Well that was nice. Who knows if I'll ever get to try more from Ale Apothecary, but I'd totally be willing to shell out the scheckels for more of this (or any of the other varieties they produce).

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