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Cismontane Black's Nocturne

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I'm continually fascinated by the subtleties of barrel aging. It's fun to try and reverse engineer what makes one beer great and another not as successful, though I'll be the first to admit that my SWAGs are just that. I am totally the worst, as has been amply demonstrated in this here blog. There are so many things that could impact the final product (i.e. the base beer recipe, the barrel conditions, the brand of bourbon used, the time in the barrel, and so on) that it's hard to pinpoint causality. But it's still fun, because I'm the worst! So let's look at a couple of cases.

Last year, I was blown away by Stone Fyodor's Classic, a revelatory BBA imperial stout. As such, when this year's vintage rolled around, I was fully on board and went out of my way to procure some. I excitedly popped the cork on the new bottle and quickly found myself underwhelmed. It was fine, but it was not the revelation of the previous year's vintage. Surely this is just subjectivity at work, right? Revelations tend to be one time things and I do kinda hate when people quickly proclaim that this year's batch of this or that hyped beer is not as good as last year's (a perennial complaint about Pliny the Younger and Hopslam, for instance), so I kinda wrote off my reaction as unwarranted. Then I had another underwhelming bottle and noticed something on the back. Because I'm a packrat that saves empty bottles of beer I really liked (I am the worst), I checked last year's bottle and lo:

Back label details of two vintages of Fyodors Classic
(click to embiggen)

7 months in the barrel versus 12 months. It appears I was not imagining things (not the worst? Eh, let's reserve judgement on that one.); the extra time in the barrel apparently works wonders! But then, given all the other variables, we can only really apply this conclusion to Stone's IRS. Other beers aged for 7 months or less have still turned out well, so age probably isn't always the operative factor. But it clearly made a difference here, and I have to wonder how many people bought this year's vintage after having heard the praise of the previous year...

In the case of California's Cismontane brewery and their Black's Nocturne, I'm at a disadvantage since I've never had the original vintage. This will not stop me from speculating though, since I am the worst (see? Told you.) The beer actually has a great reputation, and while I enjoyed this new bottle, I don't think it rivals the best of the bourbon barrel aged stouts. It's true that this is a high bar to clear, but after I drank this and looked at the reviews, I was surprised by the discrepancy. So I looked into it, and a few things jumped out at me. This year's vintage is "aged in Markers Mark bourbon barrels for 289 days" and clocks in at 11% ABV. The previous iteration? A 12% ABV beer "aged ... for nearly a year in fresh Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels, which we then blended in an attempt to tame the bourbon beastliness." So there's lots of differences here. First, Heaven Hill versus Maker's Mark should make a difference (and honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Maker's), then you've got the ABV, and finally a blending with fresh beer. All of which is to say, this year's vintage probably does not resemble the previous vintage. I'd be really curious to test out that hypothesis, but I don't think that's in the cards. In the meantime, let's take a closer look at this sucker:

Cismontane Blacks Nocturne

Cismontane Black's Nocturne - Pours a deep black color with a finger of quickly dissolving tan head that nevertheless leaves a little lacing. Smells sweet, lots and lots of vanilla, less in the way of bourbon and oak, hints of caramel and roast but they're not as prominent as expected. Taste has some of that rich caramel, a little bit of roast, hints of liquorish, and a surprisingly clean finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and while it's not dry, it's surprisingly light on its feet. That being said, absolutely no hint of the high-ish ABV here at all, though it's still a sipper. Overall, it's an interesting and tasty beer that I'd certainly try again, but nowhere near top tier BBA stouts. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/13/15. Bottled 150902.

I'd certainly try this again, but I'll be even more curious to try next year's vintage, if I can swing it.

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout

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According to BeerAdvocate, there are currently 34 different variations of AleSmith's venerable Speedway Stout, ranging from numerous different coffee varieties to different barrel aged treatments to totally wacky shit like Tiramisu or Maple Blueberry Pancake. In general, though, what you see at the store is the original Ryan Bros. Coffee version, which is fantastic, to be sure, but you hear about all these variants and can't help but wonder... The grand majority of this stuff is probably brewery-only distribution, but one can't help but pine for a taste. So I was more than a little surprise when a little birdy told me that a local beeratorium was going to be tapping a keg of Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout, a particularly prized variant. Despite my legendary antipathy towards coffee stouts, I rather enjoyed regular Speedway, and still wanted to get a taste of the good stuff.

So what makes this special? First made in 2012, this beer utilizes a blend of four Vietnamese coffees, known in Vietnam as cà phê sa đá, that are then slow roasted at low temperature (a salient point, and perhaps one of the reasons I like this - that treatment supposedly lends a less bitter, less roasty, less burnt flavor, though I'm obviously taking someone's word for this since I'm not a coffee guy) and brewed using traditional Phin-style filter. Looking into this, it seems a bit odd, because the Phin-style filter is a single-cup, gravity driven brewing tool, so did they brew enough for a full batch of beer using single cups? Whatever the case, it worked, because the result is a wonderful beer (erm, not the greatest picture, sorry about that):

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout - Yes, it's black with half a finger of tan head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smell has a great vanilla component, but the typical roasty, coffee, dark chocolate notes also make the requisite appearance, seems less intense but more complex. Taste is all rich, dark malts, caramel, vanilla, well balanced hop bitterness, a healthy roastiness, and yes, a very nice mellow coffee, especially in the finish. We all know I'm no coffee fiend, but this is my kind of coffee beer. I had this a second time later in the week and felt that the vanilla component wasn't as prominent, but I'm guessing that was just because I had it after drinking a bunch of other beers. Mouthfeel is full bodied and moderately carbonated, well balanced but a little boozy heat makes itself known, especially as it warms up. Overall, right up at the top of my coffee beer ranking... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV on tap (10 ounce pour). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/7/15.

After getting a small taste of BA Speedway, and now this, I'm thinking I need to get on the ball with AleSmith's special releases!

September 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 general revelry. This time, we stopped in at a local Pizza place for some deep fried dough, strombolis, and yes, pizza. It's not a big place and the pizza isn't as spectacular as the last beer club gathering, but we always manage to make due. Good attendance tonight too, and plenty of beer.

September Beer Club Selections
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some half-addled thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, this was a social gathering, so I wasn't paying too close of attention to what I was drinking and you should totes ignore what I'm writing and make up your own mind because I'm totally the worst and this post is definitely an ill-advised idea that I'm only doing out of tradition because I've done it for all previous iterations of beer club and are you even reading this? Why? The beer notes are below, in order of tasting, not necessarily in the order pictured (and some later attendees brought some stuff that is not pictured):

  • Platform Speed Merchant White IPA - Not expecting much out of this Ohio beer brought back by a visitor, fantastic citrusy nose, more typical IPA-like taste. Quite solid though, and worth a look on its own. B+
  • Pizza Boy Hop Test #1 (Cascade Single Hop) - Yep, it's a pale ale. The very definition of cromulence, this does nothing particularly special, but it's an enjoyable little pale ale. B
  • New Belgium Pumpkick - Whoa there, this is quite perfumey, moar ginger than anything else, but that perfumey character really overpowers everything else with this beer. Not horrendous, but not a particularly good pumpkin beer either. C+
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack - Back in the early days of this blog, this would have been an A worthy beer, but grade inflation is a bitch. It's still an accomplished and emminently accomplished IPA, well worth checking out. Delicious citrus/pine/malt balance. B+
  • Weyerbacher Tarte Nouveau - Very nice little tart beer, tart, crisp, refreshing, very light bodied and easy going, sorta beginner sour stuff but quite nice on its own. B+
  • Overshores Tripel Brun - Bottle a bit of a gusher, and thus carbonation levels a bit off, but this is basically a very raisiny Belgian strong dark. B
  • Brasserie De Blaugies / Hill Farmstead La Vermontoise - I know I've had this before, but apparently I never reviewed it. It's not quite up to speed with the best of Hill Farmstead, but it's a rock solid saison, earthy and spicy, quite delicious. B+
  • Fantôme Coffee Ruby - One of my contributions, this came off as surprisingly muted. There's some coffee character that is definitely present, but it's not overpowering at all, despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be a ton of other stuff going on with this beer. It's got a very, very mild funk to it, and the combination of the base with coffee doesn't entirely blesh, but it's certainly an interesting beer. A little weird, but could more interesting with more funk. Keeping in mind my legendary indifference to coffee, I'll give it a B
  • Cascade Figaro - This is typical Cascade sour here, which is to say, it's a fantastic little sour. I don't get a lot of fig or lemon peel out of it, but it's got that trademark Cascade lactic sour and oak character that just work so damn well. Generally agreed to be one of the best of the night. A-
  • White Birch Indulgence Ale (2014) - Not sure which version of this beer I tried (I think it's this retired 2014 version), but it was labeled as a Belgian Imperial Stout, and it definitely had a sorta brighter take on the imperial stout style that worked really well. Lots of rich malt, light roast, some hints of Belgian character, but with the style's inherent dark malt sweetness (i.e. not a dry or highly carbonated beer). Actually quite nice and among the better of the night. B+
  • Brewmaster Jack Barrel Aged Prinsipia Quad - Sounds great, but came out kinda limp, very boozy, a little raisiny Belgian character, but not at all balanced. Not terrible, but not quite getting the job done either. B-

And that just about covers it. We just got this one in under the wire, last day of the month. Will need to try and plan the next beer club soon. Great time, as always.

Prairie Pirate Noir

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Avast, ye bilge rats! Come witness mine grog tastin.... ok, I can't really keep that up. Speaking in what I'm sure are apocryphal and historical dialects is just not my strong suit, even if last Saturday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day (more appropriate for me would be something like "I don't feel like paying for Photoshop." anyway). Plus, I drank this on Friday night not even realizing that Saturday was that most hallowed of holidays. I'm the worst. No, wait, what I am I talking about? You're the worst. Why are you giving me crap about not drinking this beer on a ridiculous, made-up "International Observance"? You are totally the worst. Instead, I celebrated World Water Monitoring Day by drinking fermented sugar water aged in barrels previously used to store fermented Jamaican sugar water that was then distilled. I monitored the hell out of my water intake on Friday, rest assured.

Um, anyway, Prairie has a whole series of Noir beers, each a pretty standard imperial oatmeal stout tagged with different treatments. The standard is bourbon barrel aged, but there's also coffee, vanilla, and even apple brandy barrel aged variants. Pirate Noir is the Jamaican rum barrel aged version. Shiver some timbers, torrent some new releases, and get ready for Pirate Noir:

Prairie Pirate Noir

Prairie Pirate Noir - Pours pitch black, with just a cap of light brown head. Smells of brown sugar, vanilla, oak, molasses, booze, really nice. Taste is very sweet, rich caramel, molasses, rum, vanilla, oak, a little booze in the finish. As it warms, I'm getting coconut and something along the lines of anise or liquorish too. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, a little boozy, a sipper, sugary but not cloying, and the finish is surprisingly easy going. Not going to gulp it, but it doesn't feel as heavy in the finish as it does up front. Overall, this is a very nice rum barrel aged stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 9/18/15. Bottled 18815 (so that's 7/7/15, not sure which batch, but this is long after they stopped waxing the bottles).

So perhaps I should try more of these barrel aged Prairie beers, eh? I've got another one in the pipeline somewhere, so look out for that, but what I really need to find is a Prairie Pirate Bomb!

Lost Abbey Track #10 - Bat Out Of Hell

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Sometimes you have a beer and it's great, but you wonder what it would be like if they only stuck it in Bourbon barrels. If you're like me, you think that about most beers, but one beer that stuck out for me has always been Lost Abbey's Serpent's Stout. It's pretty fabulous on its own, but just imagine the majesty that would result from a Bourbon barrel treatment! So when I saw that they made another batch of Track #10 (after the initial Boxed Set, they rebrewed some of the more popular tracks), I jumped. High. For the uninitiated, Track #10 is basically Serpent's Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels with real Meatloaf. No, wait, sorry, that's not Meatloaf, it's a much more harmonious Coffee and Chocolate combo. According to this video, the coffee is from Ryan Bros and was steeped in the beer using L'eggs Everyday Knee Highs purchased from a local CVS. TMI? Too bad, because despite my infamous disdain for beer made with coffee, this is some pretty spectacular stuff:

Lost Abbey Track 10

Lost Abbey Track #10 - Bat Out Of Hell - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with a light brown head. Smells utterly fantastic, lots of rich chocolate, some coffee, caramel, oak, and vanilla. As these things go, the nose is quite well balanced, not betraying a dominating factor. Taste starts with some sweet, rich caramel, moves on to more roasty, coffee-like flavors, followed by chocolate and maybe even some hop bitterness in the finish. Really nice balance between roast, chocolate, and light on the coffee (my kinda coffee beer). Mouthfeel is full bodied but well carbonated, slightly astringent from the coffee and and a little boozy, some stickiness in the middle, but drying out a bit in the finish. Overall, a pretty fantastic little number, but I kinda wish they made a straight up BBA Serpent's Stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 9/6/15.

As of right now, I believe only Track #8 and Track #10 have been rebrewed, but who knows. Maybe we'll see more tracks from the box set someday... Or perhaps just a straight up BBA Serpent's Stout...

Pizza Beer Club


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:


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...

Local brewers like Tired Hands, Forest & Main, and other more obscure brewers have been killing it with barrel aged sours for the past few years. Barrel aged stouts? Not so much. This is a topic we've discussed before, but with a few quasi-one off exceptions, there's not much going on. A few mid-tier regular releases make the rounds every year, but they're dwarfed by the monsters of the genre. So basically, I'm always on the lookout for new barrel aged beers, just like 60s Spider Man:

Spidey being polite to barrels

Neshaminy Creek is a local brewer of growing repute. They put out lots of respectable takes on typical styles, and have occasionally transcended the standard. They've also done a fair amount of barrel aging that, for reasons mostly having to do with laziness, I've been sleeping on. However, I actually had the first batch of Bourbon Barrel Aged Leon (the base is their popular smore beer that was, frankly, not my favorite). It felt a little boozy and bourbon forward, but a decent enough improvement over the base. Still, my thought was the the base was a little too dry to really take on that great barrel character I love so much in a BBA stout. File that under my growing list of unsubstantiated and wildy speculative theories on barrel aging that I should really compile into one post sometime.

Anywho, that first batch was aged in Wild Turkey barrels, and this most recent batch was aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. Small, 600 or so bottle release, but a generally low pressure affair, as, alas, this new batch feels pretty similar to the last batch. Which is to say that it's a pretty nice improvement over the base, but it doesn't quite stack up to top tier stuff. Still worth the trip to their brewery though, and I'd be curious how time treats this one:

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon - Pours a deep black color with a half finger of tan head. Smells of pure vanilla and bourbon, some oak, caramel, and maybe a little fudge. Taste is dominated by that bourbon barrel, lots of bourbon flavor, some caramel and vanilla, hints of chocolate, finishing with a bourbony kiss. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, more attenuated than your typical stout (not watery, but not quite as full bodied or rich as you'd expect), a little boozy. Overall, it's a solid BA imperial stout, not going to set the trading boards on fire, but it was worth the trip up to the brewery to pick up a couple bottles, and it's quite tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce blue waxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/31/15. Vintage: 2015.

Still very curious to try out some of their other barrel aged stuff, including Neshaminator aged in Rum Barrels (prophesied to be coming soon) and any of their Concrete Pillow barleywine variants. But I'm still on the lookout for a regularly produced local BBA stout that can compete with the big boys. Maybe Tired Hands' proper bourbon barrel version of Only Void (previous attempt was in small Dad's Hat Rye barrels) will scratch this itch. In the meantime, I'll have to trade out for some bigger, badder stuff.

Alpine Captain Stout

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Back in ye olde usenet days, you could start a holy war by asserting a preference for one starship captain over another. Kirk or Picard? These days, such a posting would be seen as obvious trolling or quaint geekery. This is what we aspire to at Kaedrin, so let's get on with it: As a child of the 80s and 90s, Picard has always been my captain, and I never quite understood Kirk. Well, there's certainly charisma there, a confident swagger and physicality that Picard didn't get to demonstrate very often, but I'm a nerd, and Kirk never seemed particularly logical. Cool guy to have a beer with, but not a guy to lead your ship in a confrontation with the Romulans. As I've grown older, I've gained more of an appreciation for both captains. I've actually been rewatching some of the OG Star Trek series, and what I'm realizing is that Kirk isn't that interesting on his own, but the thing that made that show work wasn't Kirk alone, it was the trio of Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Their dynamic is what made the show great. Kirk didn't need to make sense because he had Spock and Bones backing him up with various aspects of logic and rationality. Picard has elements of all three, presenting a wholly different experience (which is as it should be, otherwise TNG would have just been a boring retread). I've never much gotten into the other Star Trek shows, so I don't have much of an opinion on Sisko or Janeway. Archer, though, always made me chuckle because Scott Bakula is such a terrible actor and I kept thinking they'd do a Quantum Leap crossover. Uh, Ziggy says you have to win the war with the Klingons before you can leap.

Of course, Alpine is talking about a local Fire Captain, hence the illustration of the Fire Truck on the label. What we have here is a nice little chocolate oatmeal dry stout, rocking the 6% ABV. Not the sexiest thing in the world, but damn this is tasty. It's simple, so says the captain! Face forward, move slow, forge ahead...

Alpine Captain Stout

Alpine Captain Stout - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells great, roasted malt, chocolate fudge, some caramel, and maybe even some vanilla. Taste has a nice roasted malt character, a little coffee and dark chocolate, whisps of bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, not watery, but lighter than you'd expect, medium carbonation, smooth. Overall, it's a nice little stout, pairs well with food, and it's sturdy enough to stand on its own, even if it's not an imperial monster. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/24/15.

The labels of Apline beers say "Drink Alpine or go to bed!" Well, if those are my choices, send me more Alpine please.


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

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