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Foley Brothers Fair Maiden

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Most of the attention of the Vermont beer scene is laser focused on Heady Topper, Lawson's, and Hill Farmstead. For the most part, this attention is well deserved, but it also means that a lot of other Vermont beers fly under the radar. The goal of Vermont Beer Roulette, wherein I purchase beers I've never heard of, is to unearth some of these hidden gems. It's happened before, and I'm sure it will happen again. Foley Brothers is a brewery discovered in the original Operation Cheddar, and I really enjoyed their Native Brown Ale. Their Native IPA, not quite as much, but I still had high hopes for Fair Maiden, their new(ish?) Double IPA.

Alas, despite being generally well received, it's not a beer that I connected with, though it's certainly possible that I got an older bottle (the bottle had no freshness dates on it that I could find). It wasn't terrible or anything, just disappointing. I do think that at least part of the reason some of the other VT IPAs are so well regarded is that they are almost always consumed fresh, usually absurdly so. Given that I saw this on multiple shelves all over the state, I have to wonder how long it sat there... Well, let's take a closer look.

Foley Brothers Fair Maiden

Foley Brothers Fair Maiden Double IPA - Pours a golden color, almost orange, with a finger of white head. Smells sugary sweet, with some citrus and pine hops in play, some biscuity malt too. It's a nice nose at first, but it doesn't last. Taste is also pretty sweet, lots of crystal malt character, citrus and pine hops, a little smack of bitterness in the finish. As it warms, the sweetness rises and the hop character falls off. I suspect this is showing some age (not a ton, but enough to impact the beer). Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and a little sticky, getting stickier as it warms (a 12 ounce bottle may have fared better in this review). Overall, it's a straightforward DIPA, but it doesn't compare to the VT competition (and it's probably similar to a gazillion other things). It's a decent enough pour, but not something worth going nuts over. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/27/15.

I guess they can't all be winners. I may be induced to take another flyer on Foley Bros stuff in the future, but at this point, I may look to further explore some other breweries...

Trillium Vicinity

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The one brewery visit during Operation Chowder was Trillium, in downtown Boston, after which we stopped next door at a neat little oyster bar and beer purveyor called Row34. They have a pretty solid tap list, so obviously they cozied up to their neighbors for some exclusive suds. It turns out that, as Trillium describes it, their "walk-the-kegs-across-the-alley proximity" is quite convenient. To celebrate Row34's one year anniversary last fall, Trillium brewed a hopped up Double IPA called Vicinity (get it?) I have it on good authority that it's hopped primarily with Galaxy, though Citra and Columbus play a supporting role. It proved popular enough that they made it again and bottled it. Near as I can tell, this bottle is actually from the third batch, so it must be really popular. After tasting it, I believe I have found some support for this hypothesis, but I'll say further observations are required (i.e. I want moar!)

Trillium Vicinity

Trillium Vicinity Double IPA - Pours a hazy golden orange color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smells amazing, huge citrus aromas, mangoes and tropical fruit galore, sweet, almost candied fruit, just a fabulous nose. Taste is a little more dank than the nose would have you believe, lots of fruity citrus and resinous pine, some crystal malt providing a nice background and caramel interplay with the piney hops, nice dry bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and a little dry. Overall, this is a fantastic little number with a breathtaking nose (seeing a theme here with Trillium and aroma) and a rockin body. Er, that sounded hotter than intended, but then, well, yeah. It's pretty hot (in a metaphorical sense, not in a boozy or spicy sense, jeeze, what's wrong with me, how am I still writing here, do people even read these tasting notes, I don't think they do, I'm using a lot of commas here when they should really be periods but I'm pretty sure no one's reading so why should I care, the beer's really good, you should try it if you get the chance. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/19/15. Bottled: 5/19/15.

So basically, if you find yourself in Boston, head over to Congress street, wait in line to get some growlers of Trillium beer, then stop in at Row34 for some refreshments. You will be a happy camper.

June Beer Club

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Beer club was tonight! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and fun. Astute observers will notice that we skipped the month of May, which primarily came down to laziness and the fact that a couple of key attendees were embarking on Operation Cheddar/Chowder. That said, our triumphant return was quite the success, good attendance, great beer, and some rather fine sushi.

June Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each are below. As usual, these are mostly from memory because I'm not a total dick and was socializing at the time, so take these impressions with a gigantic nugget of salt or something. Here goes, in order of drinking, not necessarily how they appear in the photo:

  • Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA - This must be the gazillionth time this has made an appearance at beer club, but it made for a nice warm up beer for the folks who arrived early. B+
  • Evil Genius Shut Up, Meg! - Evil Genius is this weird brewery that seems to always be mentioned as a PA brewery, yet they brew all their stuff in Connecticut. Also, almost all of their beers have pup culture reference names, such as this obvious reference to Family Guy. It's a pretty straightforward Belgian farmhouse ale or saison with a hint of hoppy goodness added in for character. Nothing particularly special and suffers in comparison to much better executed examples of the style (which we'll get to in a moment). B
  • Troegs / Appalachian / Pizza Boy (717) Collaboration - Slightly more interesting than Shut Up, Meg!, this one had a similar feel, but it was a little more tart and hoppy focused. Still not going to light the world on fire, but it was decent enough. B
  • Jester King Das Wunderkind! Saison - Ah, now this is more like it. A beer that shares certain characteristics with the above two beers, but is wholly better. It's a funky saison with a light tartness and a nice dry hopped citrus nose. Really pleasant and refreshing, a great summer beer. I really should try to track down more Jester King! B+
  • Hill Farmstead Dorothy - I'm not sure what precipitated this run on hoppy farmhouse ales, but this is certainly the high point in the style (at least, with tonight's entries) and represents a wonderful balance between spicy saison and citrusy hops. Really a beautiful beer that I will most certainly be revisiting in more detail soon enough! A-
  • Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip Of Sunshine - Hey, didn't I just write about this? Of course I did. A-
  • Scotchy, Scotchy, Scotch, Get In My Belly - A friend's homebrew, and it's a fantastic little Scotch ale aged on Scotch soaked oak chips. Really nice Scotch wiskey flavor, but not overpowering the malt backbone, which has a nice caramel and toffee character, accentuated by the Scotch and hint of oak. I've yet to have a homebrew that really gets at the really great barrel character, but this is still quite nice! B+
  • Rock Art Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale - An interesting contrast to the previous beer, a little darker and with more barrel character, but with substantially more carbonation that almost ruins the beer. I'm pretty sensitive to carbonation issues, and that usually means something being undercarbonated, but in the case of a Scotch ale, I usually expect something smooth and rich, and this was effervescent and not quite as rich as it could have been. Certainly not bad at all, but a bit of a disappointment. B
  • Fiddlehead Tejas Marron - Yup, another VT beer I recently reviewed, it perhaps does not fare so well in a tasting scenario as it does on its own, but it's still quite nice. B+
  • Forest & Main Paradisaeidae - Alright fine, it's another beer I recently reviewed, but it's a really good one worth sharing.B+
  • Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA - Yet another beer we'd had before at beer club, and one I do not particularly care for. My feelings have not changed at all, and if anything, I'm less forgiving of this beer than I was last time. I must not be that big of a fan of jasmine... C
  • Shiner Birthday Beer Chocolate Stout - Man, this thing has an absolutely amazing nose. Lots of chocolate brownie character, really sublime. Alas, the taste doesn't quite deliver on the promise of the nose, lots of chocolate, but really thin, almost watery, very disappointing. An imperialized version of this might work wonders, but we're left with something in the middle of the road. B
And that just about covers it. Another successful beer club, and I'm already looking forward to next month's edition...

Of the holy triumvirate of Vermont breweries, Lawson's Finest Liquids seems to be the most difficult to find. The past couple years, I've been lucky enough to snag a few bottles of Double Sunshine IPA, a truly fantastic and highly sought after Double IPA. I can't really complain about that, but I'm also a novelty whore and I really wanted to try more of their wares. During the latest Operation Cheddar, I managed to get a taste of Super Session IPA #2 (and maybe another variant in that series, though I'm not sure which one), which was welcome. At ACBF, I managed about 5 ounces of their beer, including a truly glorious taste of Triple Sunshine, and some decent Rhubarb Basil Saison too. But 1-2 ounce tasters don't really satisfy, not like the snickers of beer (which I guess in this context means a full pour, bottles, or cans. Alright fine, it was a poor analogy and I don't even particularly care for Snickers. I'm more of a Twix man. What were we talking about?)

Recently though, it looks like Lawson's has established a flagship beer, a Double IPA called Sip of Sunshine that is planned to be available year-round. Yes, they really seem to enjoy drinking sunshine at Lawson's. To make this possible, Sean Lawson travels to Connecticut once a month to brew a very large batch at Two Roads brewing, packaging them in handsome 16 ounce cans for good measure. These seem to be much more widely available than anything else I've seen, and while I only picked up two 4 packs during my recent trip, I could have probably bought a full case if I wanted to. This is excellent news, though I'm really hoping that my triumphant return to Vermont in early July means I'll be able to snag a different bottle from Lawson's. Otherwise, I might just have to settle for more Sip of Sunshine. The horror!

Lawsons Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine

Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip Of Sunshine - Pours a mostly clear golden orange color with a finger of creamy white head. Smells fantastic, sugary sweet citrus, fruit, and some resinous pine. Taste is very sweet, some crystal malt hanging around, but the dank, citrusy hops are the real star here, some pine and bitterness emerging in the finish. Feels a little more dank and resinous than Heady, but it's not a pine bomb either. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, hints of sticky resin but not at all boozy, drinking like a lighter ABV beer. Overall, it's not Double Sunshine, but it's up there and certainly contends. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/12/15. Canned: 05/06/15.

Fingers crossed that I can find some other variety of Lawson's on the forthcoming Vermont trip, but I certainly won't complain about scoring more of this stuff.

Trillium Double Feature

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This brewery is named after the Trillium, a perennial flowering plant native to North America. Translating to "three parted lily", it is often associated with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (because of its three flowers as part of one plant) and perhaps due to its early medicinal use among Native Americans, some think it symbolizes American durability and balance. The Boston homebrewer-turned-pro JC Tetreault (Interestingly, his blog from homebrewing days is still online) thinks it symbolizes what he's attempting to achieve with his brewery.

I had the great fortune of stopping in at their brewery during Operation Chowder to pick up some bottles. It's a neat little place, located in Boston proper, they appear to have crammed a lot into a rather small space (including what appear to be quite a few barrels, which is pretty exciting). The retail shop is really only for selling bottles and growlers (apparently in their early days, they would serve beer there, but as their popularity waxes, they have to keep that line moving), and I was happy to snag a handful of such. They recently announced plans to open a new, larger facility, so here's to hoping these beers become more plentiful.

What we're covering today is Congress Street IPA (guess what street the brewery is located on?), which appears to be a Columbus and Galaxy hopped wonder. Then we've got a "Super Saison" dry hopped with Centennial hops called Sunshower. Both are music to my earballs, so let's dive in:

Trillium Congress Street IPA

Trillium Congress Street IPA - Pours a murky, cloudy light yellow color with a finger of white head (very in line with the Hill Farmsteads and Tired Hands IPAs of the world). Smells intensely of tropical fruit hops (Mosaic up in here? Nope, apparently that's Galaxy hops), almost like mango juice or something like that, a superb, amazing nose. Taste has a sweetness up front that quickly transitions to citrusy, fruity hops, less juicy than the nose would imply, a little dry bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and refreshing, more highly attenuated and dry than expected, but really quite quaffable. Overall, rock solid IPA and it's holding its own despite my attempt to drown myself in hoppy Vermont beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/6/15. Bottled: 05/26/15.

Trillium Centennial Dry Hopped Sunshower

Trillium Centennial Dry Hopped Sunshower - Pours a mostly clear straw yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of peppery saison yeast, clove, coriander, with big floral notes and hints of citrus. Once again, the nose on this is absolutely beautiful and I could sniff this stuff all night. Taste follows the nose, lots of spicy saison yeast, pepper, and clove, hints of citrus peeking in towards the middle. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, lower medium bodied, smooth. Feels much lighter than an 8.5% ABV saison. Overall, this is very nice stuff. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 6/6/15. Bottled: 05/26/15.

Well that's quite a nice first impression. I have bottles of Vicinity Double IPA (which will almost certainly be consumed this weekend) and Trillium Saison (which may wait a bit, but will surely not be long for this world). And it's a place I will most certainly have to return to again someday (and maybe finally get some lunch/dinner at Row 34, as that place looks amazing).

Alchemist Focal Banger

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In the dark days of the aughts, The Alchemist was basically an obscure little brewpub that made a name for itself by perfecting IPAs and DIPAs. In 2011, they expanded their operation to a production brewery and cannery... right before Tropical Storm Irene laid waste to the pub. Having just opened the cannery, they opted to just sell cans of Heady Topper for a few years while they recouped their losses. They only made that one beer for a couple years, but I guess you can get away with that when it's the single highest rated beer on the planet. Nevertheless, The Alchemist certainly had a growing stable of recipes that were languishing in obscurity, and starting last year, they started doing limited runs of some other beers and dialing in the recipes to be scaled up and brewed on their new system.

One such beer was Focal Banger, a 7% ABV American IPA made with copious amounts of Citra and Mosaic hops, yielding a beer that is distinct enough from Heady Topper while retaining the DNA that serves that flagship so well (presumably that Conan yeast in action). The canned runs of this were severely limited last year, and they didn't even have approval to send them out via traditional distribution channels (they sold them at little pop up events). Well, they recently got their new artwork approved, and started producing proper cans, though distribution is still severely limited. We managed to snag some cans at the Blackback Pub during Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder a couple weeks back (and we were lucky enough to grab another at The Reservoir the next night). According to the bartender, once The Alchemist's new brewery and retail space opens (presumably next Spring, fingers crossed), production will increase dramatically, and Focal Banger will have similar availability to Heady Topper (and here's to hoping some other stuff makes its way into the mix as well!) Enough preamble, let's get to it:

Alchemist Focal Banger

Alchemist Focal Banger - It doesn't pour because you DRINK IT FROM THE CAN, as ordered (the artwork on the can is beautiful though). Beautiful citrus nose, maybe more tropical than Heady, I keep sticking my nose into the can like a dope (or, come to think of it, like the guy on the can). Taste is hugely citrus, tropical fruits, light bitterness in the finish. The Mosaic hops seem to be dominant here. Citra is no slouch, but it has some more subtle components that tend to fall by the wayside when Mosaic is in play, but then, Mosaic really plays well with that Conan yeast, yielding a really juicy, citrusy feel. Mouthfeel shines, well carbonated, silky smooth, almost creamy, compulsively quaffable. Overall, hot damn, another beautiful Alchemist beer, distinct enough from heady, but in a similar vein... A!

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can, like a man, on 5/26/15.

Totally worth trying to track down if you find yourself in Waterbury, but it sounds like we won't have to wait too long until production ramps up either. Can't wait to be able to actually bring some of this stuff home. Also hoping that the expansion will also include some of their other brews... would love to try one of their imperial stouts, just to see how they handle that sort of contrast. In the meantime, I've got plenty of other Vermont beer to get through, so stay tuned.

Alpine Nelson

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Inspired by a 2003 trip to New Zealand (the image on the label is a bay from the Nelson region of NZ) where the owner of Alpine stumbled upon NZ hops (then not used very much in the US) and decided to make a Kiwi inspired beer. The hop bill is comprised of all NZ hops with Nelson Sauvin being a specific focus, though others are clearly in use.

This video mentions that the first hop addition is extra double super secret, the second is Nelson Sauvin, the third is Southern Cross, and the fourth is a combo of Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross. There is a dry hopping period as well, but the hops used are unspecified (my not particularly insightful swag: Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross). My impression is that Nelson Sauvin is an intense citrus, grapefruit, almost wine-like hop, while Southern Cross is a more mild, floral affair that would match really well with the rye in the recipe. I was very much impressed with Duet, so let's see how Nelson stacks up:

Alpine Nelson

Alpine Nelson - Pours a clear, very pale, golden yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of citrusy, vinous fruit, grapefruit and the like, maybe something more floral and earthy lurking in the background. Taste has a beautiful grapefruit and vinous fruit character to it up front, followed by some rye spice in the middle, and a well balanced, light, dry bitterness in the finish. Great hop character without overpowering anything, and perhaps the first time I really get Nelson Sauvin. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, and crisp, absolutely and dangerously quaffable. Overall, another spectacular IPA from Alpine. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/22/15.

I also managed to score some Hoppy Birthday whilst out and about because Alpine distributes here now, and it was quite nice (I didn't take notes because I'm the worst, but it was very light and quaffable, great hop character, though not quite as potent as Nelson or Duet). I'll also be checking out some Captain Stout at some point in the near future as well, and who knows, if they keep distributing out here, I'll almost certainly be drinking more of their goodness.

Alpine Duet

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Of the west coast ballers of hoppy beer, Alpine seems to be among the top tier. Hushed tones and angelic choirs, I have been craving their wares for many a moon. I finally managed to snag a bottle in a cross-country trade, and then I find out that they've started distributing to Philly. Literally the day after I received this bottle of Duet in the mail, I spy a local beeratorium tapping 3 of their most sought-after beers. It turns out that Green Flash's recent acquisition of Alpine has translated into more production and wider distribution. Go figure. If this bottle is indicative of the trend, it is a most welcome development!

The Duet in question refers to the two most prominent ingredients of this beer: Amarillo and Simcoe hops. Both are staples of the modern American IPA, but rarely have they been employed in such an efficent and downright delicious fashion. All of Alpine's labels feature historically significant buildings located in Apline, CA, in this case, we've got the Alpine Community Church, truly a great representative of such a heavenly beer:

Alpine Duet

Alpine Duet - Pours a slightly hazy golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells great, lots of citrus, grapefruit, a little mango, some more earthy floral aromas pitching in as well. Taste starts off with a blast of sweet citrus that doesn't really let up until some light hop bitterness course corrects in the finish. The hop character does get more complex as I drink, what was initially straight citrus gets more floral and maybe piney as it warms up. The bitterness is perfectly matched yielding a fantastic balance that most IPAs do not manage. It's not a bitter bomb or anything approaching that level of bitterness (definitely less bitter than many beers), but there's enough there to balance out the citrusy sweet hop and malt backbone. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and clean. It is utterly, dangerously quaffable, and perfectly balanced. Overall, this is a superb IPA, delicious, incredibly well balanced, and just phenomenal. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a Charente glass on 5/8/15.

Naturally, I have another beer on its way: Alpine Nelson. But I may apparently be able to dig up some others locally as well. Naturally, these folks have made a rather fantastic first impression in a pretty competitive category, so I'm looking forward to more.

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

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