Recently in Bière de Garde Category

BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien 2012

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Bon-Chien is French for "Good Dog". Naturally, it refers to... a cat? It turns out that Bon-Chien was Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes (BFM) first cat, and to honor its passing, they attributed three miracles to her, conferred saintly status, and brewed this beer. Rather oddly, they claim primary fermentation is achieved via wine yeast. Then they aged it in a variety of barrels, where the juice picks up the various souring bugs and funky yeasts. Over the years, these barrels have ranged from Grappa, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Bourbon, and Scotch, to Champagne or obscure barrels previously used for stuff that even the internets don't seem to know about (anyone know what Kumasamasansa is?) The standard Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien is a blend of all the barrels used in a given year (usually only a few different types), but the individual barrel beers are also released with the Grand Cru designation (remember: Grand Cru means almost nothing in the world of beer).

The 2012 vintage, which is what I had, seems to be comprised of beer aged in Champagne, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the mysterious Kumasamasansa barrels. I feel like these beers have become more widely distributed in the US over the past few years, and what's more, you can often buy older vintages (if you're willing to pay, and these suckers aren't cheap, though apparently this ages very well). As monster 11% ABV sours go, this is actually a pretty approachable beer, effortlessly complex, rich, and only moderately sour. Let's take a closer look:

BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien

BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien 2012 - Pours a dark amber brown color with a finger of off white head that fades but leaves a bit of lacing too. Smells very nice, with tart, vinous fruit, cherries, tannins, oak, vanilla, and vinegar. Taste is very sweet, maybe even sugary. Fruity, berries, sour cherries and the like, some oak and vanilla, with a well matched, almost mellow sourness (two words that don't normally go together). Mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, not nearly as much carbonation as expected, but still enough. Medium to full bodied, which is rare for a sour. I get the impression that the attenuation is low here, which perhaps offsets the sourness a bit, and it coats your mouth considerably, leaving a long finish. It's a little boozy, but not at all unapproachable and it handles the ABV much better than a lot of other high octane sours. Overall, this is a really nice, heavy duty sour beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml) Drank out of a goblet on 6/13/14. Vintage 2012. Blend 5.

The label sez "Recommended with fine food!" so I paired this with a pepperoni pocket pie. Not my brightest move, but hey, it actually kinda worked. Though I will say that, like a lot of darker sours like this, it actually matches very well with good dark chocolate. Also, if I can afford another bottle of this, I may actually try it with their recommended pairing of pan seared duck breast deglazed with Modena balsamic vinegar. But then, that sounds like a lot of work (for both me and my wallet).

Tired Hands Compilation

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It's been a while since I've recapped recapped some recent Tired Hands beers, and these notes just keep piling up, so here goes nothing. Note that the earliest of these is from late August, so it really has been a while since I've attempted to stoke the jealousy of my readership with these local gems. Most are one-offs that will never be brewed again, but we've gotten to a point where I'm starting to recognize rebrews of some of their beers, so you never know.

Screeching Loud Thrashing Death Metal Offensive Song

SCREECHING LOUD THRASHING DEATH METAL OFFENSIVE SONG - 10.5% ABV blended old ale - Named after a review on Yelp where someone complained about the, shall we say, eclectic mix of music you hear when at TH (it looks like someone told her that they brewed this beer in her honor, so she updated her review, but the original one is still there.) A blend of 9 month old Flemish red (25%), fresh Barleywine (65%), and rye whiskey barrel fermented Barleywine (10%). Very interesting! Not a ton in the nose, but the taste is unique and interesting. I'm getting lots of chocolate, and maybe even coffee-like notes. Faint hints of cherries and a note of something bright escaping in the finish (prolly that Flemish red). Unique beer, never had anything like it. B+

Singel Hop Saison Citra - 5% ABV saison - Hurm, either this has gotten a lot better since my last glass (my previous note expressed surprise that Citra wasn't that potent - but it was great this second time), or my palate got destroyed by Vermont beer and is only coming back... Juicy citrus hops and saison spice. Glad I gave it another shot, upgrade! A-

Tabel, Sacred - 4.2% ABV spiced saison - Brewed with oats and Holy Basil, fermented with a touch of grapefruit and pomegranate. Is there a touch of funk in here? Not sure, but it's a nice, quaffable saison, with some citrus rind character, maybe a hint of lemon, an herbal note, and slight spicy yeast notes. B+

Mt.Sharp - 7.2% ABV Citra and Columbus IPA - Interesting sticky icky citrus and pine combo. Sticky and yet creamy? This is striking a chord that I can't place, but who cares, because its awesome! A-

SuchUnique - 8.2% ABV Double IPA, Simcoe & Centennial hops - Nice floral and citrus notes, mango, flowers, good stuff. Well hidden ABV. Good! A-

Pub Style Ale - 4.5% ABV pale ale brewed with oats & Centennial hops - Great nose, lots of citrus, big floral hops in the taste. Quaffable! B+

Sad State of Affairs - 8.2 % ABV DIPA - A less profane reference to the cease and desist for FarmHands? Regardless, this is a rock solid DIPA, citrus and pine, a little slickness but still well balanced. Fantastic! A-

Lizard Queen - 5.2% ABV Motueka & Centennial Pale Ale - Yep, another great pale ale, juicy citrus nose (maybe even a lemon note), some earthy floral notes too. Crushable. A-

Euphoric Sunshine Drip - 5.7% ABV spiced saison with Meyer lemon and pink peppercorn - Another typically great Tired Hands farmhouse saison, not quite funky, but that lemon makes overtures in that direction, and the peppercorn accentuates the yeast well... A-

The Multiverse - 8.1% ABV pear farmhouse DIPA - Wow, really nice pairing (pearing?) of farmhouse spice (funk?) and hops, with neither dominating, but instead melding into something different. Really nice! A-

Critical Anxious - 7.8% ABV Biere De Garde - And I didn't take any notes on this one, though I did write down that I had it, so, um, I dunno. Mulligan.

Oktüberfest - 6.1% ABV Ser Gut Yam Bier - Very nice Oktoberfest style beer, mild, light toasted bread, but still relatively sweet. Great mouthfeel on this one too. Not really my style, but this is my kinda take on the style. B+

My Favorite Show - 5.7% ABV classical modern saison - Typically great Tired Hands saison, almost funky, nice peppery notes, highly drinkable, like a slightly amped up FarmHands (er, SaisonHands). B+

Communication is the Key - 5.5% ABV crushable Simcoe pale ale - Typically great Tired Hands pale ale, big juicy fruit notes, hint of pine, crushable is a perfect descriptor. A-

Tired Hands Murky Growlers
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So I'm at the bar one night and Jean fills a couple of growlers. He gives them to some guy who's making a trip to Hill Farmstead and says that Shaun Hill likes his beer extra cloudy, so he renamed "Communication is the Key" to "Communication is the Murky" and "We Are All Infinite Energy Vibrating At The Same Frequency" to "We Are All Hazy As Hell Vibrating at the Same Cloudiness".

Fall Precious - 6.6% ABV autumnal saison - Really nice saison, it's got that typical Tired Hands farmhouse character, but it's carving out an identity of its own. Sweet up front, maybe some fruit, with the spice emerging towards the finish. A-

H.C.S. - 5.9% ABV viscous and delicious saison - Power of suggestion, or is this really viscous? Definitely a fuller body than your typical TH saison, very cloudy, a little yeasty spice, well done. B+

MortalGrade - 8.2% ABV DIPA brewed with wheat, oats, Chinook, Citra, Zythos, and Simcoe - Fantastic, one of my favorite Tired Hands DIPAs! Huge juicy citrus, some grassy, floral, and pine hop notes too. Obscenely quaffable for its ABV, no real hint of booze. Great stuff! A

MoMoCoe - 5.5% ABV Motueka, Mosaic, and Simcoe pale ale - Great juicy hop character, lots of grapefruit, nice bracing bitterness, really good! A-

Singel Hop Saison, Chinook - 5% ABV - The 8th singel hop saison, and probably around the middle of the pack. Indeed, the hops and saison yeast seem a little at odds here. Still good, of course, but not the best of the bunch. B+

Under Pressure - 7.6% Blended Artisanal Farmhouse Biere de Garde - Excellent malt forward Brett beer, some nice malty fruit notes, with some peppery yeast and complementary Brett. Great! A-

Coulton Hop - 5.5% heirloom cider/pale ale - 49% of the fermentables came from cider made of apples, pears, and quinces. Hopped with Simcoe and that's really what stands out, but it's amazing that they were able to coax something so beerlike out of something comprised of so much cider... As I drink more, the cider twang becomes more pronounced... Really nice. B+

Coulton Sour - 5.5% heirloom cider/Berliner Weiss - Similar approach with the cider used as fermantable. Holy sour patch kids, this is super tart, and you really get that cider side of things here too. Really interesting beers here. A-

Cosmic Slop - 8.3% DIPA - Tired Hands' 200th batch is a typically great fruit and hop forward DIPA, lots of citrus, pine, and floral notes, very well done B+

Hail Santa - 6.4% ABV Rye IPA - Slightly darker than typical, but still a pale yellow, beautiful juicy hop nose, with some floral and spicy notes hitting in the taste. Really good! B+

I See a Darkness - 8.5% ABV porter brewed with coffee and honey - Collaboration with Sante Adairius, very nice, bigger than normal porter. Tried getting some a few days later, but they were out... B+

Sgt. Salamander - 5% ABV Holiday Sour Berliner Weiss - Wow, this has a typical Berliner nose, but the taste is all sorts of great. Really tight lactic sourness, puckering really, and it's great. Also had some dosed with cinnamon & vanilla bean syrup that just puts this miles ahead. Super flavorful. B+ (regular) and A- (with syrup)

Trendler - 5.5% ABV alt bier - Very interesting and different, Jean is branching out here, malt forward but not heavy at all... B+

Praise Bee - 9% 2X honey IBA - Zombie rides again... Sorta! Doesn't quite live up to zombie levels, but it's really good, nice hop character, well matched dark malts, excellent. A-

Circumambulation - 7.2% biere de garde - Fermented with kolsch yeast and lagered three weeks, this is a subtle beer, super creamy head, not a typical TH feel, but still very good, lots of muted flavors, complex but not overwhelming... B

Bucolic Overlord

Bucolic Overlord - 8% DIPA - Brewed with oats, Citra, Columbus, and Simcoe hops. Great stuff, dank and resinous, with floral and citrus notes rounding it out. Superb! A

VOID ego VOID - 9.8% ABV blended imperial stout - Partially barrel aged in Tuthilltown rye whiskey barrels for 7 months... Not a lot of barrel character, roasty up front, sweet towards the finish with a nice hit of vanilla. Not as thick or heavy as you'd expect, but it still has admirable heft. I really enjoyed this! A-

Principal Eel - 6% sour farmhouse IPA - Well this is unusual, better than the last sour IPA I had from TH last year, but something about the strong hop and sour combo doesn't completely work for me... B

All-O-Gistics - 5.9% Experimental IPA - Experimental hop #05256 - Whoa carbonation! Not that I'm complaining, but this is more carbonated than your typical Tired Hands beer. Great juicy hop nose, citrus, pine, and grass. Maybe something like green onion. Taste is more piney and it's got a sharp bitterness. Definitely not your typical Tired Hands IPA, but still great. A-

Can't Keep Up - 6.2% Spontaneous Saison - Fermented in old Tuthilltown rye barrels that had previously been used to make some apple cider (by frequent TH collaborator, Tom Culton), only 10 gallons produced. Amazing, nice oak character, sharp but very pleasant sourness, almost vinous tart fruit, really great. I love this! A

And that just about covers it. If you're local and heading over to the next release on Sunday, let me know!

Decembeer Club II: Electric Boogaloo

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. As usual, a core group of stalwarts showed up, along with some new faces and other return guest stars. All told, a solid turnout, plenty of good beer, and a fun time had by all.

Decembeer Club 2012
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Apologies for the image quality. Brightness kinda got away from me there. Stupid flash. For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. Standard disclaimers apply, though I think I've achieved a new level in beer nerdom in that I've already had (and probably reviewed) a lot of the beers presented here. Go figure. Roughly (yeah, yeah, gimme a break, it's a social gathering after all, you're lucky I can do this much) listed in order of drinking, not the order in the picture above:

  • Hitachino Nest White Ale - This has actually been on my radar for a while, but it's not something I've ever tried before. It's a very solid Belgian wit beer, not super strong on the wheat (though it's there), more defined by the Belgian yeast character of fruit and dry spice. Sorta reminded me of St. Bernardus' Tokyo beer, which is not suspicious at all, as Hitachino is Japanese (I swears, I didn't realize it when I was drinking, except perhaps subconsciously because Hitachino does sound pretty Japanese). Really worth checking out, and it won't break the bank like St. Bernardus will. A-
  • Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer - This must be the 4th or 5th time I've had this. I've always enjoyed it too, though I didn't have any sticky toffee dessert dish to pair it with (like I normally do). A solid contribution from a beer club newcomer. B+
  • Ommegang Scythe & Sickle - Malt-focused, Belgian-style harvest ale, recently reviewed! Well chosen and well placed in the tasting. This works well with food (which came out as I was drinking this)... B+
  • Ballast Point Sculpin IPA - Yep, another that I've had several times before, but I do love this beer. It seems that some beer club members have been doing some research on Beer Advocate and this is a pretty good choice. Well played, Paul. A-
  • Magic Hat Hi.P.A. - A decent enough IPA that I think just pales (pun intended!) in comparison with Sculpin. Flavors seemed muted and a little bland, but seemingly well crafted enough. Not something I'd seek out again, but I wouldn't turn it down if you handed me one. B-
  • Kaedrin Abbey Dubbel Xmas - A variant on my homebrewed abbey dubbel beer, when I was bottling and I got to the bottom of the bucket I added a cinnamon stick and some clove to the remaining beer. Alas, I didn't get much additional spice out of this, at least in my small sample. However, I feel like the beer has finally conditioned into something solid. Still not quite what I was going for, I think perhaps too much in the Special B department, yielding a bit too much in the way of toasted malt character, but still, it's coming along well. I will refrain from rating this for now, as I don't think it's peaked yet, but perhaps a full review will be forthcoming.
  • Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Christmas Ale) - Just reviewed this one yesterday (along with the 2011 variety). This was one of my contributions, so of course it was good.
  • Evolution Secret Spot Winter Ale - I've enjoyed most of Evolutions offerings that I've tried so far, and this one is no exception. But it's not really exceptional either. Another beer that may have suffered a bit by comparison to the previous beer. Technically an altbier, this drinks kinda like a winter warmer without the spice. I like. Want to try again in better context. B
  • Lagunitas Brown Shugga' - Yep, just reviewed this one too. Big flavors do well in beer club setting.
  • Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper 2011 - One of my contributions... I've had the 2010 vintage, and though Mikkel claims to tweak the recipe every year, this seemed pretty similar to me. It's listed as a Belgian Strong Dark, but it reads more like an Imperial Stout. Lots of chocolate and roasted malts, smooth, well hidden booze. It's said that this is a spiced beer, but it's hard to detect in this. Definitely a complex beer, and I'm guessing the spices contribute to that without being overpowering. Overall, a very good beer, worthy of the holiday. A-
So there you have it. Another successful beer club. Good company, good food, good beer. As always, already looking forward to the next installment.

Ommegang Scythe & Sickle

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Unlike the harvest ales I've covered so far this year, Ommegang's take on the trend is decidedly less hop-based, instead focusing on a complex malt bill consisting of freshly picked barley, oats, wheat, and rye. This is pretty much in line with Ommegang's identity of Belgian brewing in America, as traditional Belgian styles aren't very hoppy, instead focusing on malt and yeast for their flavor profile (perhaps part of the reason for good Belgo-Scotch relations, but I digress). Clocking in at 5.8% ABV, it's also one of the lower-gravity offerings I've seen from Ommegang (the only thing lower that I can think of is Witte). Let's see how they fared with this harvest ale:

Ommegang Scythe and Sickle

Ommegang Scythe & Sickle - Pours a darkish golden orange color with a few fingers of fluffy white head and plenty of lacing. Smells strongly of banana esters and a little clove, big Belgian yeast character. Taste pretty much follows along, big and bold bready, biscuity flavors along with a lot of assertive Belgian yeast spice, a light fruitiness, and even a little bitterness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but medium bodied and easy to drink. Spicy with a dry finish too, probably a good accompaniment with food. Overall, this is a really enjoyable beer, and it would make a fine go-to beer during this time of year. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 10/28/12.

So Ommegang recently redesigned their website and rebranded their entire lineup of beers. I have to say that I find most of this unnecessary, though not entirely unpleasant. I suppose their label designs were in a bit of a rut, and the only label I'll really miss is Hennepin, but the new labels with all the silhouettes. Their website certainly needed an update and the new design is pretty but... damn, it's pretty much unusable. It's like one of them horrible Flash sites from '02 or something. As usual, it's what's in the bottle that counts, so as long as Rare Vos, Hennepin, Abbey Ale, and Three Philosophers are the same beer, I don't really care about the labels... Next up on the Ommegang front is their 15th Anniversary ale, which appears to be another Belgian Strong Dark Ale...

Almanac Bière De Mars

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Made with real, 100% Heirloom Organic Martians from a small artisanal farm in Cydonia. Some people frown on using sentient beings as an ingredient in beer and those wacky brewers at Almanac may be starting a war of the worlds, but damn, this stuff tastes good!

In all seriousness, Bière De Mars is brewed in March, which is actually what "Mars" translates to. It's a variation on the Bière de Garde style, which means "beer worth keeping" (or guarding, heh) and were historically brewed in Winter or Spring for consumption in Late Summer or Fall (due to the fact that brewing was difficult during the hot months of summer). In that sense, I feel like Bière De Mars shares a certain kinship with the German Märzen (aka Oktoberfest), and it feels like they both have a similar character of slightly toasted malts and noble hops, though Bière De Mars also uses a Belgian ale yeast strain which is what really distinguishes this from Märzens.

This particular beer is made by those tiny artisanal brewers at Almanac, and like most of their beers, it was a one-off batch that was brewed in collaboration with local farms, this time using Santa Clara Valley Fennel. This marks the last beer in my first beer trade, so extra special thanks to Jay of the most excellent Beer Samizdat blog for digging up such gems (seriously, all of the stuff he sent me was in the great to sublime range of quality)...

Almanac Biere de Mars

Almanac Spring 2012 Bière De Mars - Pours a slightly hazy golden orange color with a finger of fluffy white head that shows pretty good retention and lacing. Smells of bready Belgian (apparently French) yeast along with sorta herbal spices (apparently fennel!) and even some of that caramelized malt. Tastes sweet, with assertive spicing and a sorta nutty, caramelly character in the start, maybe a hint of toasted malt flavor too. It's reminiscent of an Oktoberfest beer, but with more spicy Belgian character. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, medium carbonation, easily drinkable, with a drier finish than I'd expect. Overall, this is excellent, well balanced, flavorful stuff. So glad I got to try some! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/26/12. Label sez: 05540 March 2012.

So Almanac has definitely established a foothold in Kaedrin mindshare, which is a bit of a problem since they don't really distribute here, but I'm hoping I can beg, borrow, or steal some more at some point. Wish me luck.

Ommegang Biere D'Hougoumont: A Screenplay

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1. INT. FRENCH BIVOUAC NEAR WATERLOO, DAY (CIRCA 1815)

EMPEROR NAPOLEON stands over a map of Waterloo, discussing strategy and tactics with three of his TRUSTED GENERALS. TRUSTED GENERAL 1 slices a block of cheese and sips wine.

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: This has gone on for far too long. We must surrender!

An embarrassed silence descends upon the tent, though the mood lightens when everyone realizes that TRUSTED GENERAL 1 will be chosen to lead the attack and thus almost surely die a horrifying death.

TRUSTED GENERAL 2 (rolling his eyes): We must take Château d'Hougoumont! It's... strategically important.

NAPOLEON: Non! We will use Hougoumont to draw Wellington's reserve to our left flank, then attack through the center right!

TRUSTED GENERAL 2: But sir, our troops need wine! We will surely find ample stores at the Hougoumont farmhouse. We must secure it immediately.

NAPOLEON: This is Belgium, you fool, that farmhouse makes beer, not wine!

TRUSTED GENERAL 3: That's good enough for me.

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: I concur. Once we have an ample supply of booze, we can surrender in style. I do not think any of you are considering the merits of a good, old fashioned surrender...

NAPOLEON: Non! Non! Non! Non! Who is the military genius here? Who amongst you has been summoned to the future for historical study, eh?!

TRUSTED GENERAL 2 (looking pained): Sir, with all due respect to Messieurs Bill and Ted, I do not think you can rely on your limited time with them. For all we know, you're famous for losing this battle!

NAPOLEON: Nonsense! I will take Waterloo and build an eighth wonder of the world based on my visions of the future, a water-park to inspire awe in all who witness its glory. Waterloo? Water park! This is no coincidence, it is fate!

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: You make a good point. I have been quite impressed by the visions you brought back from the future. I quite liked that... la glacé... what did you call it?

NAPOLEON: Ziggy Piggy.

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: Yes, magnifique! Let us make a Ziggy Piggy and surrender!

NAPOLEON: Non! Non! Non! We are not taking Hougoumont, and that is final. Beer is not worth taking.

2. INT. ENGLISH BIVOUAC NEAR WATERLOO, DAY (CIRCA 1815)

FIELD MARSHAL WELLINGTON stands over a map of Waterloo as a FIELD SCOUT returns from his mission.

SCOUT: Château d'Hougoumont is filled with beer. Apparently something called a Bière de Garde.

WELLINGTON (perking up): Beer? We must commit all our troops to taking Hougoumont! It is... strategically important.

3. EXT. BATTLE OF WATERLOO

The camera slowly PANS across the famous painting Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler.

Battle of Waterloo 1815 by William Sadler

KEN BURNS: And thus the fate of Battle of Waterloo was decided. By beer.

4. INT. COMPUTER DESK, EVENING

MARK: What? I'm pretty sure this is how it really happened. I realize this is too late for instruction, but if you read the above with horribly stereotyped French accents, it's much funnier.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Isn't this supposed to be a beer blog?

MARK: Yeah, yeah, I'm getting to that. This is Ommegang's take on a Bière de Garde, brewed with a rather complex malt bill (apparently eight different varieties), French Ale Yeast, French Strisselspalt hops, and aged on a combo of oak and maple staves. As Ommegang specialty brews go, it's actually rather expensive, but I'm a sucker for these guys (who were my first real introduction to the world of good beer), so let's get this party started:

Ommegang Biere d Hougoumont

Ommegang Biere D'Hougoumont - Pours a slightly hazy, burnt orange color with a finger of loosely bubbled off-white head. Smells of sweet fruits, maybe a little caramel, and musty Belgian yeast, with perhaps a hint of something else (maybe that's the wood coming through). Taste starts off with some rich caramel, followed by some spicy mustiness from the yeast, finishing surprisingly sweet and fruity. Mouthfeel is on the higher end of medium bodied, very well carbonated, dry at the start by yielding to sweetness in the finish (an unusual but pleasant reversal of the norm, which starts sweet and finishes dry). While very sweet, it never gets sticky or cloying, perhaps because of the strong (but not at all overwhelming) carbonation. This beer drinks big, but it goes down easy too. Not quite a summer thirst quencher, but a very nice fall beer. Overall, straightforward but very well crafted and balanced. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 9/7/12.

Ommegang claims that this "malty French-style Farmhouse Ale is brewed to be aged" and that makes a certain sort of sense to me (and I'm not alone). I only bought the one bottle, but I may get another of these to add to the growing list of beers I'd like to cellar for a few years. Or not. I've established that I'm a weak, weak man when it comes to buying (er, hoarding) beer, but I'm also pretty lazy, so we'll see what wins out.

Garde Dog

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Maryland's Flying Dog brewery has never really wowed me with a beer. On the other hand, they've rarely disappointed. Looking through my ratings, almost everything is in the B- to B range, even for well respected stuff like Raging Bitch IPA and their Gonzo Porter. They seem to make well crafted beers, so it's not like I dislike them or anything and I have to admit that their distinctive Ralph Steadman artwork always catches my eye... Also, they've been doing some interesting seasonal stuff of late, like this new Spring offering, a relatively lightweight Bière de Garde that still manages to pack a nice punch:

Flying Dog Garde Dog

Flying Dog Garde Dog - Pours a clear golden color with lots of fluffy white head. Smells of musty Belgian yeast with some spiciness. Taste is sweet and spicy, finishing quite dry. Mouthfeel is very highly carbonated and packs a bit of a wallop, medium bodied, and dry. Not something you'll gulp down, but it's an easy drinking beer and at 5.5%, you could certainly knock a few of these back at a barbecue or something without getting too sloshed. Overall, this is a solid beer and it's very well executed. It strikes me as a great gateway beer for those folks looking to expand their horizons without getting too crazy. Also a nice beer to transition from the dark, heavy beers of winter into the lighter fare of summer (i.e. a good choice for a spring seasonal). B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/17/12.

So it's not a revelation, but it's towards the top of what I've had from Flying Dog. Of course, I'd love to get my hands on some of the Bourbon Barrel Aged Gonzo, and maybe some of their other limited edition stuff too...

Allagash Fluxus 2011

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A couple years ago, just as my beer nerdery began flourishing in a big way, I picked up a bottle of Allagash Fluxus 2009. This is a series of beers where the gloves come off, and Allagash's brewers feel free to push the limits of beer. Fluxus comes from the latin, meaning "continuous change", and so many of these beers represent odd mixtures of style or beers with uncommon ingredients. The recipe is very different from year to year. The 2009 version that I had was a saison brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper. This seemed absurd to me at the time, but it really knocked my socks off. The 2010 variety was apparently an imperial chocolate stout. I never did manage to catch up with one of these (though it was certainly available, I just found myself pursuing other beers at the time). Here in 2011, I see it the beer described as a French-Style Farmhouse Ale (and also as a Biere de Garde). I generally find this a favorable style, so I picked it up:

Allagash Fluxus 11

Allagash Fluxus 2011 - Pours a medium amber brown color (copper?) with a finger of light colored head that sticks around a while, but doesn't really leave much lacing. Aroma is strongly influenced by noble hops - earthy and floral, with just a hint of sweetness, maybe even candi sugar or caramel peeking through. It's almost like the nose of an... Oktoberfest beer*? Not what I was expecting at all. The taste has some of that same character, though perhaps the yeastiness is adding complexity too. There are some kinda toasty notes here as well, maybe even some nutty flavors, further lending credence to the Oktoberfest hypothesis. Mouthfeel is actually quite nice. Well balanced carbonation and medium body. Not a quencher at all, but easy to drink and it hides the alcohol well enough. It's a strange melding of styles here. We've got the hopping of a Euro-lager with the spicy yeast character of a French or Belgian ale. A most unusual experiment with an intricate blend of well matched flavors, probably very much in line with the goal of the Fluxus line of beers. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's really my thing. Hey, this happens from time to time. It's a very well crafted and complex beer, and I'm glad I tried it, but I find myself appreciating it more on an intellectual level than with my taste buds. Perhaps if I was more of a Euro-lager kinda guy, this would rock my world. Alas, I am not that guy. B

Now, I usually try to write my reviews based solely on my initial tasting of the beer, but with beers that come in 750 ml bottles, I tend to try accompanying the second glass of the beer with something to eat. This combination of flavors sometimes produces unexpected results** and sometimes even improves my feeling on the beer***. Usually, this is a snack of cheese and/or crackers, but this time around, I opted for an unconventional accompaniment. For whatever reason, I associate nuts in the shell with the holidays, and I recently picked up some. Given the Oktoberfesty nature of this beer, I thought the toasted, nutty character of the brew would go well with the mixed nuts, so I broke out the nutcracker, and yes, it did indeed match up****. It actually made the second glass from the 750 ml magnum a more enjoyable experience than it normally would have been. I don't think I'd increase the rating of this beer because of this, but I did want to mention it because I found the combination interesting.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip on 11/25/11.

Ironically, this is probably the best Oktoberfest beer I've had all year (not that I've had a ton, but still). It's not one of my favorite styles, but this one worked well enough, and I loved the unconventional holiday feeling I got from drinking the second glass.

* According to Allagash's website, the beer is hopped solely with "Alsatian Brewers Gold", which is not technically a noble hop, but it apparently is a very European variety that is used in German lagers, and often appears on Oktoberfest beers. So I'm not crazy. Or rather, I'm not crazy because I detected these aromas/flavors in the beer. I may or may not otherwise be crazy.

** And sometimes it does not. Matching beer with food can be difficult due to the depth and breadth of flavors possible in beer.

*** I think a large part of how I came around on stouts is that I managed to match it well with various cheeses and meats. In particular, I find that Havarti cheese goes well with stouts, and of course, any grilled meat goes well with the roasty flavors. Beer Advocate usually has some suggestions on their sidebars for each beer, though I think it's all based on style and not the specific beer. Nevertheless, I've found it helpful.

**** And now my floor is covered in nut shrapnel.

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

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