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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.

Beer Club February

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Beer club was last Thursday! I started to write this recap when I got home, but I didn't get very far. As has been established frequently, I am the worst. But I'm here now to make amends. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and general merriment. This time we checked out the newly opened West Chester branch of The Couch Tomato, a rather fine pizza establishment (in a sea of pizza places, this has immediately established itself in the local upper tier with America's Pie). I had a rather fine stromboli (called the "Italian Stallion") whilst imbibing the usual beery wares:

Beer Club for February 2015
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each are below. Since it's been a few days, these thoughts will be even more unreliable than normal, so take them with a giant, asteroid-sized lump of salt. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Evil Genius Stacy's Mom - Has moderate amounts of goin' on. Citra hops come through a little, but it's not particularly accomplished compared to its Citra-based brethren. B
  • Jailbreak Welcome To Scoville Jalepeno IPA - Definitely a peppery beer, but not a ton of heat, which is nice. On the other hand, I feel like whatever hops it has going on are sorta canceled out by the pepper character. B-
  • Flying Dog Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout - Now this one has some heat to it, but it's a very well matched heat that matches better with the roasty chocolate notes of the base stout than an IPA. That being said, it wasn't exactly blowing me away. B
  • Alaskan Smoked Porter - I get the impression that sometimes people bring beers they bought but realized they don't actually want to drink a whole bottle of. I'm as guilty as anyone, and this is one such example. I don't mind the occasional smoked beer, but really haven't been in much of the mood for this sort of thing lately. As Smoked Porters go, this is a pretty great example. Still not exactly my thing though, and I'm glad I shared. B
  • Stone Enjoy By 02.14.15 IPA - Tastes about 5 days too old. Oh snap, breaking the law! Just kidding, it was fine, despite not following the rules on the bottle. It's a decent beer, and it's definitely grown on me, but I've never gotten the absolute love some folks show for this (and yes, I've had it fresh before too). B
  • Ballast Point Dorado Double IPA - Ah now this is the stuff. One of my contributions and a rock solid citrus and pine bomb, well balanced and tasty. B+
  • Armstrong Ales Bold Thady Quill - A pretty nice take on an Irish Dry Stout, roasty and light bodied. Not going to melt your face, but it'd make for a nice session. Also, probably not the best setting for this kind of beer. Would still love to try more from this local upstart. B
  • Kaedrin Trystero Barleywine - I feel like my keg should be empty right now, but it appears to be bottomless. The keg feels nearly empty, but I just filled up this 1 liter growler with no problem. Need to finish off that keg so I have somewhere to put an IPA! The beer itself is doing well enough. I do feel like I perhaps dosed it with a bit too much in the way of bourbon, which cuts down on some of the fruitier malt characters in the beer. Still good though. B+
  • Prairie Bomb! - Another of my contributions, I have to admit that I didn't realize this was a coffee dosed beer. I was really excited to try it, then initially disappointed by the coffee character. Still, I ended up drinking more of this than usual, and it grew on me. Rock solid and I can see why it's so popular, but it doesn't really approach my top tier. B+
  • Victory Moving Parts 03 - Technically, we'd left beer club and moved the party over to a local bar, which was having a Victory event. This was our initial pour, a Belgian IPA. Nice enough on its own, but nothing particularly eventful here. B
  • Victory Deep Cocoa - On cask with vanilla and something else that I don't remember. It could have been that I was just drunk at the time, but I kinda loved this. Deep, rich chocolate, vanilla, full body, really delicious stuff. Have not tried the regular version but this cask was hitting the spot, so let's give it an A-
And there you have it. Attendance was a little low, so I probably drank more than normal this time. Also, we didn't get to the Nugget Nectar, mostly because we've all had it several times already this year (even out of the can, which is, yes, very nice) but also because there were less of us there that night than normal. Crazily enough, some people didn't come because it was just super cold out (not snowing or anything, just really cold, low-single digits). I don't know what their problem is. Maybe I'm not the worst after all.

Beer Clubbing

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer minded individuals at a local BYOB for libations and fun. Tonight we returned to a mainstay of our beer club experience, a local sushi place that we have all grown to love. Reasonable turnout, and some rather fantastic beers:

Beer Club for July 2014

For the sake of posterity, some basic thoughts on each below. Usual disclaimers apply, this is clearly not an isolation chamber environment, so please take this with the requisite grain (or boulder) of salt. In order of tasting (not necessarily in the order pictured):

  • Forest & Main Palomino - One of my contributions and a favorite of the night, this is just as good as it was when it was fresh, if not even better. A-
  • Ken's Homebrewed Pilsner - Nice typical pilsner hop nose, incredibly light and quaffable, this is the sort of thing that would be a perfect hot day drinking beer. This was Ken's first all-grain brew, and it turned out really well, even if it's not my favorite style. B
  • Anthony's Homebrewed ESB - Another homebrew (we seem to attract those types at beer club, I don't know why), this one has all the hallmarks of a good ESB, nice muted hop character, some solid biscuity malt, but also an almost brown sugar component that works really well. Another beer that would make for a great session, even if it might be slightly too much ABV... B+
  • Crown Valley Big Bison Ale - A fairly malty, well carbonated take on the dubbel style, though it's a bit more raisiny than expected, with maybe even a hint of diacetyl, which we never really appreciate here at Kaedrin. Not at all terrible, but a bit of a disappointment. B-
  • Anderson Valley Boont Barl Bourbon Barrel Amber Ale - Not as much bourbon barrel character as expected, and as such beers go, this is decidedly low cctane, but it actually drinks reasonably well. Decent balance, the bourbon is there, but it's very light. Not something I'd seek out, but it's a reasonably decent beer. B
  • Terrapin Pineapple Express - The bottle sez this is a smoked pineapple Helles, not something that seems like it would work out. In reality, it's not as bad as I feared, but it was cromulent enough. Very sweet, with only a light smoky character (it's not one of those beers where you'll wonder who put their cigar out in your beer!) I'm glad I tried it in this setting, as I don't know that I'd want to take down a full bottle of this. B-
  • Kaedrin Barleywine - I'm pretty sure I screwed up the carbonation factor of this beer. The flavor and aroma are there in spades, it just hasn't quite carbed up to the point where I thin it works well. And actually, this regular version is probably the best carbonated of them, which is not encouraging. The Bourbon one tastes a lot better, but it's also flatter... B-
  • Oskar Blues Old Chub Nitro - Much better than the standard Old Chub (which I always felt was too dry and too well carbonated to be a great Scotch ale), really smooth and creamy (typical of the nitro), malty, tasty stuff. B+
  • Green Flash Road Warrior Imperial Rye India Pale Ale - Tons of Moscaic hop character out of this, tropical fruits with that spicy rye character, this is a really solid beer worth checking out. B+
  • Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break - I've actually had this a few times before, and it's really nice, especially if you like coffee. As I'm pretty much ambivalent to coffee, I thought this was fine, if not the best evar, though it seemed to go over really well. This was another favorite of the night amongst the beer club peeps, but I'll go B+, but only because my coffee feelings are well documented (could easily be higher for most other folks).
  • Blue Point (Sour) Cherry Imperial Stout - I have to admit that I'm not the biggest sour stout fan out there, but this worked well enough, with that rich malt and sour twang, maybe even a hint of that cherry. A few of us tried blending this beer with the Imperial Biscotti Stout, just to see what would happen, but it didn't turn out particularly great. This beer by itself is better, but still around a B level beer for me.

So there you have it. August may be a weird month in terms of beer club, but I'm sure we'll work something out. In any case, stay tuned for some moar local awesomeness this week on Kaedrin.

Philly Beer Week Recap

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As per usual, I did not have my act together for this year's Philly Beer Week, and thus only went to a few events. For whatever reason, this week always seems to sneak up on me and I'm always caught unprepared. I'm the worst. That being said, I did manage to snag a few pretty interesting beers, so here's a quick recap. First stop was the venerable Philly institution Monk's Cafe:

Monks Cafe

The event was all about collaborations, most of which involved Monk's very own Tom Peters... First up was the next entry in the whole PNC collaboration series (last year's collaboration yielded Firestone Walker PNC, a most spectacular beer). This release comes to us from Maine's Allagash brewing, and this beer actually began its journey over four years ago ("Brewed in April 2010 & racked into oak barrels on May 25, 2010"). In a nice touch, the little beer menu actually included details of each barrel (including a couple that were marked as "DO NOT USE", heh). Click for a larger version:

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator Barrel Details

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator - Dark pour, fluffy tan head... darker than I was expecting, but when you look at the barrel details, that makes sense. Smells oaky, almost chocolaty and very sour, I can almost feel the sourness in my jaw (and I haven't even tasted it yet). Taste is bracingly sour, tart puckering fruit with some dark, chocolaty notes, almost a chocolate covered cherry feel. Mouthfeel is surprisingly full, not like a chewy stout but very big for a sour, which is an interesting feel. Extremely acidic, biting, but still nice... Overall, this is a really interesting, complex, unique, and very sour beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

So after that, I sampled a few other brews, including another small glass of Firestone's PNC stout (still exceptional, no change from my initial review):

Dock Street Trappiste Style Pale Ale - Inspired by Orval, this is obviously not a clone or anything, but it's nice. It's got a very dry feel, lots of peppery yeast notes, and some earthy funk in the finish. It's a fine beer, but not quite lighting the world on fire. I heard that this beer was actually made for last year's PBW, so perhaps it was better fresh? Not that it's terrible now or anything... B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Dilewyns Philly Tripel - This is the official Philly Beer Week Collaboration orchestrated by Tom Peters, where one local brewer travels to Belgium to collaborate with a brewery there. This year it was Justin Low from Dock Street who went and collaborated with Anne Catherine Dilewyns from the relatively young Dilewyns brewery (they make Vicaris labeled beers) in Belgium. The result is a relatively straightforward tripel, with some small twists. Pale colored, sticky sweet, lots of honey flavor and fruity esters, less in the way of Belgian yeast spice. This is perhaps not my preferred take on the style, but it's nice. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

De Molen Rook and Leer

De Molen Rook & Leer - The weirdest, most unique beer of the night, I've never had anything like this before. So get this, we've got an Imperial Smoked Porter base that was aged in whiskey barrels with brettanomyces and Rodenbach yeast. Oh, and it clocks in at 11.5% ABV. Um, yeah, ok. The more amazing thing: It actually works. Neither the smoke nor the sourness dominates, leading to an extremely complex beer. Usually high ABV sours don't work so well for me, but this one is just very well balanced. It's certainly odd, and I think the fact that this was originally brewed in 2011 has helped the flavors mesh together (and perhaps even mellow out some). It's a weird beer to rate, but I'll give it a A-, but maybe I was a bit far gone at this point.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

By this time, I was doing pretty well, so I slowed down a bit, got a table with some friends and ate some dinner. I did have a glass of Pliny the Elder, which was great as always, though I'm starting to see where the contrarians are coming. Naturally, I had some mussels, and as usual, they were fantastic. We also got a plate of Frog's Legs, which were basically a lot like chicken wings (I've had Frog's Legs before, but never like this).

At this point, we took our leave of Monk's and headed over to the Good Dog Bar & Restaurant, which is a great little place about a block over from Monk's. Well worth a visit if you're ever in Philly, and they also have great food (I'm pretty sure they've been featured on one of them Food Network shows at some point). They were having a Firestone Walker event and included this rarity, which I assumed would never make its way out East:

Firestone Walker Helldorado

Firestone Walker Helldorado - So you know how Firestone does that Anniversary blend where they invite a bunch of local winemakers to their brewery and set them loose on a bunch of barrel aged beers? Many of the component brews are available in bottled form, but most seem to be relative rarities, and Helldorado is one of those. I was shocked to see it at this event and immediately got myself a glass of the stuff. Alas, this is perhaps not my favorite style. It's described as Blonde Barleywine brewed with Honey, and boy can you really tell. It's extremely sticky sweet, with that honey coming through strong. It's supposed to be brewed with El Dorado hops, but I get almost no hop character out of this, so I'm guessing it was a light touch (or just used to balance out that intense sweetness). It's definitely a big, boozy bomb of a beer, and it's got a full body. However, something about the way light colored beers react in bourbon barrels is just not as exciting to me as when you get a darker base beer (the picture above makes Helldorado look darker than it was, though it wasn't super pale either). I mean, it's good, I'm really happy I got to try it, and everyone else who had it seemed to love it, so maybe this is just me, but I'll leave it at a B+ and go from there.

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Firestone Walker Lil' Opal - Now this, on the other hand, was way better than I was expecting. It's a toned down ("lil'") saison that's been aged in barrels with Brett and blended with various vintages, and it's fantastic. Granted, this is right up my alley, but I really loved this beer, a great funky saison, fruity, earthy, spicy, almost quaffable (even at this point in the night). It was a refreshing beer to have right after Helldorado, and it totally stood up to those intense flavors as well. Obviously, I was a little far gone at this point, so I'll conservatively rate it an A-, but I need to find me some more of this someday.

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Firestone Walker Agrestic Ale - Firestone has always been known for barrel fermenting and barrel aging, but they always stuck to non-wild styles, and they apparently greatly feared infections and the like. But when they opened up a completely separate facility, that allowed them to play with all sorts of sour bugs, and we're starting to get the fruits of that labor now (Lil' Opal also came out of that program). This was a really nice, light bodied sour, it reminded me a little of brighter Crooked Stave Origins. Again, I was a little far gone at this point in the night, but I really enjoyed this. I'll give it a B+, but I'd really like to try it again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Phew, it's a very good thing I was taking the train home, and while the above does seem like a lot of beer, it was spread out over quite a long time. Again, I need to better prepare for Philly Beer Week next year, so we'll see what happens. That's all for now. Stay tuned for Beer Club tomorrow! (No post on Thursday though, as I didn't really drink much else this past weekend, for obvious reasons!)

Jack's Abby Smoke & Dagger

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So what I want to know is: who is Jack and why doesn't he know how to spell "Abbey"? Dear reader, I'm so sorry I haven't tackled this conundrum yet. It turns out that Jack is one of the three brothers who founded the brewery. He must be the oldest one, since he clearly got to name the brewery. So far, so normal, but then why the blatant disregard for spelling? Is Abby some sort of Ye Olde European spelling? Nope! Abby is actually Jack's wife, and he named the brewery in honor of her, presumably scoring major brownie points. Well played, Jack.

This particular offering is another smoked beer, but like yesterday's beer, I'm not getting much of that fabled meatiness out of the smoke, just plain campfire... which has its charms anyway, but still. I like bacon, is what I'm trying to say, and if there was a non-disgusting way to impart such flavors in beer, that would be nice. But I digress, let's brandish our cloak and dagger and fight dishonorably, like a spy:

Jack's Abby Smoke and Dagger

Jack's Abby Smoke & Dagger - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of bubbly tan head. Smells lightly of toast and maybe a bit of smoke. Taste is surprisingly tame, with some roast and that smoke playing around the edges. It's not a powerful smoke character, it's actually integrated rather well with the rest of the beer. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and well carbonated. Overall, it's a solid beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/3/13. Bottled 5.17.2013.

This exhausts my current supply of Jack's Abby. While none really made me fall down and see God, they were all pretty respectable in their own right, and represent a nice change of pace from the onslaught of saisons, stouts, and IPAs I seem to always fall back on. I'll certainly be keeping my eyes open for more of their stuff in my travels.

Jack's Abby Smoked Maple Lager

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Not content with serving the underappreciated market for lagers, Jack's Abby also apparently likes them some smoked beers... another underappreciated style. This time they teamed up with the almost homebrew-sized Vermont operation Lawson's Finest Liquids, who are also fans of smoked malt. I've heard great things about Lawson's, and one of these days I'll plan out a trek to Vermont to hit them up, along with the other usual suspects (Hill Farmstead, Alchemist).

I'm not a huge lager person, and while I can appreciate a nice smoked beer from time to time, I do sometimes find myself wondering who put their cigar out in my beer... That being said, this sucker also has a helping of maple syrup, which I am quite a big fan of, so let's see how this one works:

Jacks Abby Smoked Maple Lager

Jack's Abby & Lawson's Finest Liquids Smoked Maple Lager - Pours a deep, dark chestnut color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. Smells lightly of campfire, definite smoked malts here but not overpowering, and a sweetness in the nose as well. Taste is very sweet, creamy malt character, with that smoked malt playing nicely with the rest of the flavors, none of which is particularly pronounced. Mouthfeel is velvety smooth, creamy, almost like a milk stout (sans roasted malt), medium bodied and very easy going (update: apparently this was made with lactose, which explains that character). Overall, a solid smoked beer. It doesn't have that "Who put their cigar out in my beer" character, and it is complex and balanced. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a mug on 6/28/13. Bottled 05/13/2013.

Another solid brew from Jack's Abby. Nothing that's blown me away, but really good stuff. I got a couple others to get through, and will certainly keep an eye out for more of their stuff if I ever find myself up that way...

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

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In the rough and tumble world of beer blogging, it's easy to become jaded. That's why it's sometimes good to throw caution to the wind and take a flier on something obscure, like this fanciful New Zealand brewing duo who have a punnily named brewery and take some ridiculous chances with their beer. Case in point: Rex Attitude, a beer with an absurdly simple recipe. No fancy specialty grains here, just a single golden malt (ok, I'm being a bit facetious here, but we'll get to that in a moment). No trendy hop blends, just 31 IBUs driven by the mild character of Willamette hops. No estery, phenol driven Belgian yeast monsters, just a clean fermenting US yeast.

The thing that makes this beer so interesting is that that single golden malt also happens to be smoked. And not just any smoke: peat smoke. Scotch fans just raised an eyebrow. Most smoked beers burn traditional wood to get that smokey flavor - stuff like beechwood, hickory, ash, maple, and, uh, vampire stakes. But historically, you used what you had, and Scottish folks had lots of peat moss. So that's what they use to smoke their malt. These days, that malt is mostly used in service of Scotch Whisky (I'm unclear as to whether or not Scottish breweries used to use peat moss to dry their malt back in the day, but Scotch ales don't usually feature peat smoked malt).

So these wacky Kiwis took that heavily-peated Scottish distillers malt and made their beer with it. And thanks to the simplicity of the rest of the recipe (mild hops, clean yeast), that peat smoked malt is the true star here. This is an absolutely ludicrous idea and I expected disastrous results. But that's just this jaded blogger being a goober, because this thing is a real eye opener. I cannot believe they got this to work as well as it does, and it's nice to know that after years of obsessing about beer, I can still be blind-sided by something this surprising:

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude - Pours a cloudy golden color with a couple fingers of billowy, fluffy head and tons of lacing. Smells of smokey, peated malts and not much else... but it works shockingly well. I could sniff this all night. It's like the nose from peated Scotch (think Islay), but it won't singe your nose hairs. The taste has a nice sweetness to it, well balanced against the smoke, which is ever-present, but not at all overbearing. Indeed, it's extremely well balanced and quite tasty. And we haven't even gotten to the best part, which is the mouthfeel. Highly carbonated and relatively dry, reminiscent of the feel you get from a well attenuated Belgian yeast, but without the fruity or spicy notes. Medium bodied, but this thing drinks like a champ. It's like drinking an Islay Scotch, but without any of that burning booze. Probably not for anyone, but I'm a bit of a peat freak, so this beer pushed the right buttons for me. Overall, this beer has no business drinking this well, one of the most unique and interesting experiments I've had in a while. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/13.

There's a doubled up version of this very beer called XeRRex that is supposedly just as audacious and successful, despite being a 10% monster. I must find that beer. In the meantime, I'll have to hit up my local bottle shop for their Pot Kettle Black (which they call a hoppy porter, otherwise known as Black IPA). Yeastie Boys came to my attention by way of Stephen Beaumont, and I'm glad I caught that post. Yeasty Boys is a contract brewing operation, but Stephen notes: "in New Zealand, where a small population base is stretched across a long and isolated land mass, or rather, masses, that is a status without the perception issues that tend to dog it still in North America and parts of Europe. Indeed, contract craft brewing seems at times almost the Kiwi norm rather than the exception." So this is the only one of their beers I've had, but if it's any indication, these guys are worth seeking out. And thus ends Smoked Beer week. I hope you had fun, I know I did. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a fresh box of West Coast beer to scarf down this weekend. Stay tuned.

Once upon a time, smoked beers were common. This was more a result of technology than anything else. You can dry malt just by spreading it out on the floor and letting it dry naturally, but if you're a commercial brewery trying to make a consistent product economically, you need to find a way to dry malt consistently, quickly, and in bulk. The process of kilning malt also imparts additional flavors, which is an added bonus. Initial kilns were direct fired, so the combustion gasses and smoke passed right through the malt, imparting that smoky character. However, once maltsters figured out a way to dry their product using indirect heat (looking at early 18th century here), smoke quickly disappeared from most beer. Some regional breweries have kept the process alive, notably in what was northern Bavaria (in particular, Bamburg), so we end up with things like Rauchbiers and Smoked Beers. I'm a little unclear on why these are distinct styles, but Rauchbiers seem to have a more narrow definition, basically using German lager recipes like Märzens, but with smoked malt, whereas the more general Smoked Beer can be just about anything with smoked malt.

Smoked flavors in beer can be a bit intimidating, but I find that after the initial shock of smoke (who put their lit cigar in my beer!?), my palate adjusts to the point where it can become enjoyable. Some smoked beers can certainly be overpowering and I don't think I've ever gotten to the point where I can taste the meaty, bacon-like flavor everyone talks about with smoked beers, but I can find an appreciation for a well crafted version or one that incorporates just a touch of smoke. As it turns out, I inadvertently went on a smoked beer kick recently, so this week, I'm going to review four beers that use smoked malt in one way or another.

We begin with the most obvious smoked beer of the lot, a tribute to a time when Norwegian farmers were required to brew their own ale (they don't say why, but I guess the lack of potable water made such practices common back then). Not being professional brewers, they generally just kilned the malt over an open fire, thus imparting that smoky character. In an added twist, those wacky Norwegians spiced their smoked beer with juniper twigs and berries. HaandBryggeriet enjoys a pretty healthy reputation here at Kaedrin HQ, and they seem to get a kick out of smoked beers, so we thought this one would be worth checking out:

HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood

HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood - Pours a deep, dark amber color with a finger of white head. Smells really interesting, but I'm having trouble articulating it. The most prominent feature is obviously a light smokiness, but there's a lot of other stuff going on too. Perhaps a rich malt aroma is also there, but there's something bright about the finish of the aroma too. Taste starts off sweet, some nice crystal malt character along with a very, very slight roast flavor that leads into the smokiness, followed by that brightness from the nose, maybe a kinda fruit flavor (I'm guessing this is the fault of the juniper berries). Mouthfeel, medium bodied and well carbonated, very well balanced, goes down easy. Overall, this is a very well balanced, complex beer. The smoke is extremely well integrated; it's the star of the beer and most prominent aroma/flavor, but it doesn't dominate the beer either. It's just that it's so well integrated into the rest of the beer. As smoked beers go, this may be the best straight version I've ever had. B+ (borderline A-)

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a on 1/11/13. Label sez: Batch 358. Total bottles 1500.

So a pretty powerful start to smoked beer week. Next up, I strap on my Clown Shoes and Slay some Vampires. Stay tuned.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Smoked Beer category.

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