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Pizza Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and fun. This time we went to a favorite discovery of mine, Ravanesi Pizzaria, a tiny little joint out in the burbs that scratch makes almost everything. Pizza places are a dime a dozen around here, but these guys really distinguish themselves. It's one of those places where they open at 4:30 pm and close whenever they run out of dough. Yes, it takes approximately 30 hours to make the dough, so they do run out fairly frequently. As a veteran BYOB attendee (because of beer club), most places aren't so busy on Tuesdays and thus welcome a bunch of beer nerds who take up a table and drink a lot of beer whilst occasionally munching on their food. This place was pretty much bumping from around 5 pm until we left at around 8 pm. But the pizza. The pizza is almost absurdly good. And it's not like Philly is bad at pizza (there's plenty of bad pizza, but we've got our hotspots). Check it:

ravanesi-pizza.jpg

A most excellent backdrop for beer club.For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. Usual nerdy disclaimers apply, this was not ideal tasting conditions and I didn't exactly take detailed notes, so take it all with the requisite mountain of salt. In order of drinking, not necessarily how they appear in the photo:

August Beer Club at Ravanesi Pizza

  • Otter Creek/Jack's Abby Joint Custody - Yep, it's a pilsner, but it's a pretty darn good one, crisp, light, and refreshing. Certainly a step up from your typical macro, and perhaps worthy of a closer look this next weekend. B+
  • Night Shift Santilli - A rock solid IPA, nice citrus and dank pine character, nice and crushable. B+
  • Two Roads Road Jam Raspberry Wheat Ale - Holy hell, this is terrible. Robitussin tones, artificial raspberry flavor, and the like. Perhaps not quite that bad, but not at all good. D
  • Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Does this sound familiar? Of course it does, I just reviewed it yesterday. In fact, it performed supremely well in this tasting format, pairing well with the spicy Sopressata pizza and just generally standing up to the other beers pretty well. May be tempted to raise this one to an A-
  • Night Shift Trifecta - Brewed with three Trappist ale yeasts, I found this a bit disappointing. It's got some decent Belgian yeast character, but it isn't quite carbonated or dry enough to really work well. Disappointing C+
  • Smuttynose Spank - For a beer that labels itself as a "hoppy saison", I have to admit that I find little in the way of hops here, even if it's an otherwise unremarkable beer that is far from bad, but which won't exactly light the world on fire. B-
  • Adroit Theory Ortolan Bunting - A very odd beer, almost quad-like, but without the full fruit character, but a very nice nose that doesn't quite live up to the straightforward taste, with some dark malts, perhaps even some smoked malt. Fine, but not quite a top tier effort. B
  • Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot - One of the best beers of the night, a clear winner, Pappy 15 barrel aged imperial stout, is quite tasty, very sweet, loads of coconut and vanilla from that barrel, delicious stuff. A-
  • Smuttlabs Durtay - Smuttynose - A rum barrel aged brown ale, this one works pretty darn well, very sweet, a little boozy, but a nice barrel and molasses character comes through too. B+
And that just about covers it. I really love this pizza and want to come here as often as possible, but it's also a little out of the way, so I'm guessing it won't be quite as regular as some other BYOB places. Still worth the trip though, so we'll see...

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

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Vault Brewing Company opened their doors not quite three years ago, one of the many, many, many new breweries putting a different spin on the concept of a "brewpub". Seriously, how are we supposed to keep up with all these shiny new breweries? In this case, they've got a very unique atmosphere, unconventional menu, and of course, beer. The building was originally constructed around an 8,000 pound vault door in 1889 for Yardley National Bank, hence the name of the brewery (one wonders what the name of the brewery would have been had their original location, an old golf ball factory on the Philly waterfront, panned out) and the general tenor of their decor.

The vault at Vault brewing, which is a vault.

The vault has basically remained in place for 125 years, though it's now used primarily as a beer-conditioning cellar these days. It's a very warm and inviting location, wrought iron and wood tones with a kinda speakeasy vibe. A pity since it is so far from Kaedrin HQ. However, it is not so far that the occasional trek is unwarranted (it is Northeast of Philly, right across the river from Trenton, NJ - about an hour by car, two by train), as it was this past weekend when they held a beer release for their Mosaic Imperial IPA cans. A single hopped DIPA, part of a new "minimalist can art" series, and I'll be damned if that can doesn't look very striking indeed:

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Pours a mostly clear orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells nice, citrusy hops with maybe some floral notes and pine kicking around. Taste has a nice sweet start followed by citrusy hops that give way to more dank, piney hops and maybe even some crystal malt character. As it warms, the sweetness amps up a bit, but doesn't get cloying. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, clean, lighter bodied and more quaffable than your typical 8% ABV beer. Overall, this is a nice little number. It's not going to unseat top tier DIPAs (which, to be fair, is a difficult proposition in a pretty damn crowded field), but it's tasty and drillable. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/15/15. (Cans released that day!)

So we've got yet another local brewery I need to check out more thoroughly, as I only really popped in to pick up the cans (before heading over to nearby Neshaminy Creek to snag some cans there too).

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA

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Bent Hill is only a little over a year or so old, and while they've not unseated the vanguard of Vermont brewers, they appear to be chugging along, making some intriguing brews. Take this series of single hop IPAs, always an interesting exercise.

What we have here today is a single hope IPA made with El Dorado. A relative newcomer to the hop scene, El Dorado was originally bred in 2008 and first released in 2010. I won't get into the vagaries of hop breeding, but in general, breeding new hops is a challenging proposition and even once you find a promising result, it takes a couple years for the hop plant to achieve maturity. This explains the two year lead time between breeding and release, and initial release to increased production (in 2012). It was developed at a single, family owned hop farm called CLS, located in the northern Yakima valley in Washington state. I don't know much about the hop business, but it's got to be a boon to have bred a new, popular American aroma hop, perhaps why they named it after a legendary city of gold.

Whenever I talk to my wine-nerd friends, the topic of terroir inevitably comes up, and we invariably talk about hop terroir. Here's another example of that: the more northern farms of Yakima valley supposedly have a more intense, colder climate that makes for good aroma hops (this could be total marketing fluff, so take that with the requisite shaker of salt). El Dorado is certainly known for its aroma, a very citrus and tropical fruit forward hop, and its high-alpha acids (for bitterness) make for a good dual purpose hop. Single hop beers are obviously an interesting way to see such differences, though in this case, it appears all El Dorado hops are grown in the same general locale... Anywho, let's check out Bent Hill's take on an El Dorado IPA:

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA - Pours a dark golden orange color, not quite brown, but inching in that direction, finger of white head that leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smell has a nice citrus and pine character, pineapples, candied fruit, with some crystal malts peeking in with their caramel and toffee. Taste is pretty dank stuff (perhaps owing to the age of the bottle?), lots of resinous pine but that candied citrus is hanging in there and brightening things up enough, crystal malts doing there thing but interacting well with the piney hops, bracingly bitter in the finish. Like their regular IPA, this has an English IPA feel to it, but with a more pronounced American hop characteristic. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, not quite quaffable, but almost. Overall, rock solid stuff, definite upgrade from their regular IPA. Will definitely be on the lookout for fresh bottles of this stuff next time I'm in VT... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a teku glass on 7/31/15.

Yet another VT brewery whose lineup will be slowly explored over the next few years as I make trips up to VT...

Operation Cheddar IV: Smoked Cheddar

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Hot on the heels of Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder, only about a month later, I embarked upon the more familiar, single-day incursion into Vermont. This being the case, I'm not going to cover the trip in as much detail, considering that you can go back and read recaps of my previous sorties into Vermont. Instead, I'll recap a few beers I've had, and let you know about a few new places I visited this time around.

First up is a brewery that's not even in Vermont. I know, I'm the worst, but it was literally walking distance from the place I was staying and it had just opened less than a week before I visited. How could I not check it out? Enquiring minds want to know about all these new breweries popping up all over the place, and someone has to take up the slack. And until they do, you'll have to deal with my silly notes. It's called Fulton Chain Brewing (named after the chain of lakes that winds its way through the Adirondacks), and it's got a promising start. They only had 4 beers on tap, but plan on having more (things were still coming up to speed for them, they were still waiting on glassware for flights and even empty growlers). Between three friends and myself, we tried all of them, and they're decent. The clear highlight for me was Lake Hopper IPA, an 8.5% ABV DIPA made with 8 hops to represent the 8 lakes in the Fulton Chain. Nice juicy DIPA, super cloudy stuff, a little raw, but very promising. Not exactly a Heady killer or anything, but pretty darn good for a place down the road.

Fulton Chain Lake Hopper DIPA

I also tried a beer called Stealth Buddha, a Scotch ale made with small amounts of smoked malt, quite approachable. Not going to inspire road trips or anything, but nice enough. Really happy this place opened up, and I'm looking forward to visiting again once they're more established. They appear to be quite small, but they've got a gorgeous tasting room (including an amazing single piece countertop that snakes its way throughout the space), a nice location, and they show promise.

As for Vermont, I made a few of the typical stops, including the Warren Store, a couple places in Waterbury, Lost Nation (got a great pulled pork thing that wasn't quite as good as the smoked lamb pita sandwich I had last time, but was still fantastic), and Hill Farmstead.

Hill Farmstead

Some spoils of war:

Operation Cheddar IV Haul - bottles

Operation Cheddar IV Haul - Cans

(click to embiggen)

I didn't snap a pic of everything because I bought a bunch of stuff at Lost Nation and Hill Farmstead that I had snagged last time. Some new stuff includes my most prized acquisition, Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience 14 (barrel aged blend of Anna and Florence), some of this year's batch of Florence (I still have some of last year's batch, so I'm hoping to do a comparison). Also some Sip of Sunshine (it comes in bottles and cans!) and a bottle of Rock Art's Bourbon Barrel Aged Vermonster. Lots of Lost Nation Cans, including some Mosaic and Vermont Pilsner (both of which are very nice), and of course, some Gose. Moar Sip of Sunshine cans, and I took a flier on 14 Star Tribute DIPA... Finally, I made my way to Four Quarters brewing to fill up some crowlers.

Four Quarters Brewing - Barrels
Four Quarters Barrel Room (click to embiggen)

Another pretty small operation, they impressed me during the American Craft Beer Festival in Boston last month and I was really hoping to snag some bottles. Alas, it was not to be, but I did get some crowlers. Here's Chrysalis, a smoked hoppy amber ale:

Four Quarters Crysalis

Four Quarters Chrysalis - Pours a very nice, mostly clear dark amber color with a finger of bubbly light tan head that sticks around for a while. Smells of citrusy hops initially, but then you get that malty, smoky background that actually sets the hops off rather nicely. Taste starts off on the sweeter side, typical amber and crystal malts, and the smoke is somewhat muted, but it's there and playing along reasonably well. Hints of piney, bitter hops come in towards the finish as well. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderately carbonated, and silky smooth, pretty easy going stuff. The smokey character is not dominant at all, and just adds a bit of complexity to a pretty typical hopped red ale. Overall, it's a very nice beer, not mind blowing, but interesting enough... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV canned (32 ounce crowler). Drank out of a wine glass on 7/12/15. Crowler filled on 7/9/15.

I also got a crowler of Opus Dei (a very nice, quaffable little Belgian Pale Ale) and shared it with some friends when I got back. Sorry, no detailed notes there. Another thing I shared with some Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #1, a great little DIPA (what else would you expect from them), not quite as juicy or citrusy as I've come to expect, but there's nothing wrong with that, and it actually matched very well with some smoked chicken we were having. It went over quite well. I managed to squirrel away my last growler though:

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude 4

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #4 - Pours a cloudy, bright golden color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smells amazing, huge citrus aromas, pure mango juice or something like that. Taste is very sweet, again with a massive blast of mango juice, well balanced finish, not bitter, but just perfectly balanced. Feels kinda like and amped up Susan, but even more fruity. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, medium bodied, and almost quaffable. Overall, what a surprise, HF hits it out of the park. Again. With a citrusy wonder. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/12/15. Growler filled on 7/9/15.

Finally, this last one is a spoil from Operation Cheddar III, but I think you still want to know about it, right?

Rock Art Smugglers Notch Barrel Aged RIS

Rock Art Smuggler's Notch Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout - Smuggler's Notch is a Vermont micro-distillery, so I took a flier on this one rather than going with the more traditional straight bourbon barrel approach. Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, and lots of vanilla, hints of roast and dark chocolate. Taste is surprisingly muted, some of that bourbon and oak, but not much, vanilla, and a big hit of hop bitterness towards the finish. As it warms, some roast comes out to play, and it becomes more expressive. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, full bodied, and while not dry, per say, it's more attenuated than I'd expect. Overall, this isn't top tier stuff, but it's an interesting take on the style. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/3/15.

Well, that was more involved than I thought it would be! Another successful incursion into Vermont, and there will be more. Oh yes.

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.

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

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