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Free Will Ralphius Variants

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Free Will makes what is probably the best local barrel-aged stout, dubbed Ralphius. To be sure, there are plenty of one-offs that could contend (both Levante and Tired Hands could compete in this arena) and if you widen the "local" area, others will put up a good fight (or, uh, dominate).

Free Will Ralphius Variants

This year, Free Will has decided to expand their program with variants, which is what we'll cover today. Released in a low-pressure Black Friday event, they're clearly providing an independent, local alternative to Bourbon County and associated variants. As per usual, this sort of stout variant game represents nice changes of pace, but mostly I come back to the idea of straight bourbon barrel aged stouts, and regular ol' Ralphius is probably still my favorite. Because I'm boring? Sure, let's go with that. Now that I've killed all the momentum and suspense, let's take a look at these variants....

Free Will Maple Ralphius

Free Will Maple Ralphius - Aged in Bourbon and Bourbon Maple Barrels - Pours a deep black color with only a crown of brown head. Smells of rich caramel, a hint of chocolate and roast, with some brown sugar, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, only a little of that maple barrel. Taste is rich and sweet, caramel, a touch of maple syrup, hints of underlying roast, and plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lightly but well carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Overall, it's a great little variant, maple is present but not overpowering or cloying, I probably should have bought more of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coconut Chocolate Ralphius - Aged with, you guessed it, coconut and chocolate - Pours deep black with a bit more head, half a finger that quickly resolves to the crown. Smells... a lot like regular Ralphius, some roast, caramel, and lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. As it warms and if I do the olephactory equivalent of squinting, I get some coconut. Taste is again pretty light on the coconut, but it's there, but the Ralphius base is its standard self. I guess chocolate is there too, but it doesn't really stand out. Mouthfeel is on point as well. Overall, a good beer, a bit light on the Coconut, but the Ralphius base keeps it going. Not especially sure how to rate this, as it's probably an A- due to the strength of the base, but if you're looking for a Coconut stout, this might not fully scratch that itch, making it more of a B+. I never managed to snag the Iron Abbey Collaboration that Free Will made last year, which sounded an awful lot like this variant of Ralphius, so I can't really make the comparison, though I'd like to try sometime!

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Chocolate Orange Ralphius - Aged with, big shocker, chocolate and orange - Pours that same deep black with a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells similar to the standard Ralphius profile, but the orange and chocolate do pop, especially as it warms. Taste is sweet, lots of that base Ralphius character, but the citrus and chocolate do make an impression. Mouthfeel is par for the course. Overall, a good beer, a nice variant, but original Ralphius still rules. This is perhaps more subtle than the BCBS take on same, for what that's worth. And I'm not really sure what that's worth. Is it worth having a variant if the added flavor doesn't come through too strong? B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Cinnamon Chile Ralphius - Aged with cinnamon and ancho chilies - Yeah, looks the same, almost no head this time. Smells heavily of cinnamon, a little chile too and hints of the usual Ralphius base, but the cinnamon is dominant here. Taste features more of the Ralphius base than the nose would have you believe, but the cinnamon is still powerful with a lighter touch on the chile, though you get a teensy bit of lingering spicy heat in the finish (nothing untoward though, and the cinnamon is still front and center). Mouthfeel is the usual full bodied stuff, a little spicy heat from the chile that lingers a bit, but again, it's a light touch that adds complexity, rather than overwhelm. The cinnamon, on the otherhand, almost feels like it's adding something to the mouthfeel. Grainy? Chalky? Not sure how to describe it, but the cinnamon is not just tasted, but felt. Overall, way more heavy handed than any of the variants, especially when it comes to the cinnamon, which is prevalent despite the strength of the base, which is the only thing keeping it remotely in check. I happen to like cinnamon, but this is perhaps a bit much. I'm enjoying it, but I could see it being a turnoff to some. I'm finding it to be a nice accompaniment to the holiday season though. B

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coffee Ralphius

Free Will Coffee Ralphius - Yes, the dreaded coffee (apparently from local Speakeasy Coffee Company) - Same general appearance, a nose with lots of coffee and a little of that base caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste has that standard Ralphius character with a prominent coffee bite coming in the middle and lingering through the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a little boozy heat. Overall, it's a well balanced bba coffee stout, very well done. If you're missing BCBCS this year, this one should tide you over. Even my coffee ambivalence can sometimes be conquered. This is the highest rated of all the Ralphius entries this year, and I can see why, even if my general taste still prefers regular. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Pretty sure the beer nerd details are, er, estimated, since they're all identical (except for when I drank it, which is precise and accurate), but you get the picture.

Bourbon County Brand Fun

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Every year, beer nerds bemoan the influence of big beer and in particular the never-ending succession of breweries that sell out to the great satan, AB Inbev. And every year, a not insignificant portion of same line up hours in advance of the Black Friday release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout and associated variants. This year, I heard tales of people getting in line overnight and still getting shut out of some of these variants. To give some context beyond the timing component (which is surely enough of a weird thing by itself), in the Philadelphia area, temperatures were somewhere around 15°F, which is mighty cold. Me? I rolled up right as a local beer distributor was opening, and picked up a full allotment... then popped over to another place on my way home and picked up some more. All told, it took about an hour, and most of that was just because the poor sales clerk at the first place was all alone and had to build up all the mixed cases that people were ordering, so it took a while (it was all very orderly and friendly, but I felt bad for the guy anyway). (Update: Even further context - most of this stuff can still be found on shelves somewhere. Maybe a tad overpriced, but it's out there if you're looking for it.)

Taste The Rainbow

Anyway, this year there were 8 different variants of BCBS, though two are Chicago-only releases. As usual, my favorite is the plain ol, regular BCBS. I suspect Vanilla could give it a run for its money over time, if previous iterations of Vanilla variants are any indication (the 2014 Vanilla Rye was phenomenal as recently as 2017). This year also mucked around with my other favorite release, the Barleywine. In its original incarnation, the Barleywine was phenomenal. After the 2015 infection-plagued batch, they tweaked it (in particular, aging it in fresh bourbon barrels rather than third-use barrels), but it was still great. This year, it's not being offered at all, being replaced by a coffee-dosed version and a new Wheatwine. As we'll see below, this represents an interesting change of pace, but ultimately left me craving the old-school barleywine (especially circa 2013/2014). All the other variants have their place and are interesting spins on the base, but not strictly necessary. Alright, enough preamble, let's get into it:

BCBS Vanilla

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout - Pretty standard BCBS-like pour, black with not much tan head. Smell is more vanilla forward than previous BCBS takes on vanilla, straddling the line on artificial (I mean, not Funky Buddha levels artificial, but it's more prominent than you'd expect), but either way, it smells nice to me. Taste is still delicious, standard BCBS profile with that added vanilla marshmallow sweetness, quite nice. Mouthfeel is thick and full bodied, rich and sweet without being cloying, well carbonated. Overall, it's not quite as great as VR was the last time I had it, but that one got better with time, and it's quite possible that this will too (of course, it's also possible that this will turn into an artificial vanilla flavored mess - only one way to find out). For now, it's my favorite of the variants this year. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/18. Bottled on: 05SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale - Pours a clear pale amber color with just a cap of fizzy off-white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet, candied fruit, maybe banana and coconut, and lots of boozy bourbon. Taste starts off sweet and rich, maybe some light toffee, and that candied fruit, banana with bourbon and a small amount of oak kicking in as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, sticky, well carbed, with plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it's a nice change of pace, but it's not really a substitute for the regular barleywine. It feels like a slightly more substantial version of pale-colored BBA beers like Helldorado or Curieux, meaning that it doesn't quite take on the BBA character as well as darker barleywines/stouts, but is still pretty good. I suspect this one could grow on me. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/18. Bottled on: 13AUG18.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine - Made with Intelligentsia Finca La Soledad coffee beans - Pours a very dark amber brown color with a cap of short lived off-white head. Smells of... coffee, and that's pretty much it. Maybe some underlying sweetness from the malt or bourbon if you really search for it, but mostly coffee. The taste starts off more like a barleywine, rich caramel and toffee, but then that coffee comes in and starts wreaking havoc. Alright, fine, this might be my coffee ambivalence talking, but in truth, it stands out more here than it does in the stout because at least the stout has complementary flavors. Here it sorta clashes. I mean, it's still tasty and it's not like I would turn down a pour, but coffee and barleywine together just aren't my bag. This represents yet another change of pace that is all well and good, but come on, the regular barleywine was awesome, and this isn't really an improvement. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled on: 27SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout - Made with orange zest and cocoa nibs - Pours dark brown, almost black, with almost no head. At first, it smells like a pretty standard BCBS profile, but then that citrus and chocolate really pops, especially as it warms. Taste follows the nose, that orange and chocolate popping nicely, especially as it warms. Indeed, the warmer it gets, the more and more this feels like its own thing. The chocolate and orange really overtake the base at higher temps and I'm not entirely sure that's for the best. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, moderate carb, plenty of booze. Overall, its a very nice take on the BCBS base, and I tend to like this more than the other fruited variants I've had... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled on: 18SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout - Speaking of other fruited variants, this is BCBS with raspberries and blackberries. Pours a similar color with a bit more head than normal. Smell is overwhelmed by jammy fruit. Well, "jammy fruit" is the nice way to say it. You could also say "fruit by the foot with a dash of Robitussin", but that's probably a bit unfair. Taste has a nice rich sweetness to it, but that is again overwhelmed by the fruit, not quite as tussin-heavy as the nose, but still not quite "right". It's like they buried BCBS and a bunch of fruit in Pet Sematary and it came back "wrong". I mean, it's not bad, but I'd rather be drinking regular ol' bcbs. Unquestionably my least favorite of the year, and vying for least favorite variant of all time. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/18. Bottled on: 24AUG18.

Certainly an interesting crop, and the Chicago exclusives like the Reserve (aged in Elijah Craig barrels) and Proprietor's (I think some sort of chocolate monster this year) sound great. Still, I always fall back on the original BCBS, and drink plenty throughout the year. Here's to hoping they bring back the Barleywine next year. In the meantime, stout season will continue with a local brewery's take on a BBA stout series, though perhaps I'll mix things up a bit and review something different next. Until then, keep watching the skies! Or, uh, this space. You'll probably find more beer talk here, and not the skies. But you should probably watch the skies too.

Dark Wednesday 2018

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Eschewing the Black Friday events most breweries seem to favor for their barrel-aged stout releases, Victory has always done their thing a day before Thanksgiving, which they hath dubbed Dark Wednesday. Once upon a time, this was for Dark Intrigue (basically barrel-aged Storm King and probably the first beer release that I'd ever waited in line for), but the past few years have seen the rise of Java Cask, and variants of same. This year, we were treated to three new variants on the Java Cask theme (plus the original). Alas, none of these variants is the one I've been pining for (i.e. one without coffee, so, like, just "Cask" or maybe "Bourbon Cask", though I'm guessing the TTB would have problems with that, but I think I've made my point.) But then, beggars can't be choosers, and despite my coffee ambivalence, I always look forward to trying a couple of these every year. Let's start with my favorite of the year:

Victory Java Cask Maple

Victory Java Cask Maple - Basically Java Cask aged in Bourbon Barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup (a treatment that appears to be gaining in popularity these days) for 8 months. Also of note, if you click on the picture above to embiggen it, you will see that this bottle was signed by Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski... and some guy named James, who I'm not familiar with but who I'm sure is incredibly important. - Pours a deep, viscous dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted coffee, chocolate coffee, maybe a hint of that maple (a light touch in the nose), and did I mention coffee. Taste starts off with a rich caramel note, followed by maple syrup, then coffee, finishing on that bourbon, oak, and vanilla jam. Plenty of coffee for this non-coffee drinker, but certainly less than the nose would imply. As it warms both the maple and the coffee come out more, so that is a thing that happened. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample but appropriate amounts of carbonation, and a pleasant level of boozy heat. Overall, I like this better than the Rye/Rye Vanilla variants and I might even like it better than regular Java Cask, but my lack of coffee enthusiasm is still a limiting factor. Indeed, I might even like this as much as or more than CBS. I'm the worst, but I still give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/18. Bottled on 14 Nov 2018.

Victory Java Cask Latte

Victory Java Cask Latte - A DONG offering on Dark Wednesday that is basically a milk stout version of Java Cask that is calibrated at a much lower ABV of 8.3%. The addition of lactose is supposed to make up for the decrease in body. I didn't take formal notes for this one, but I did have two small glasses - one on regular tap and one on nitro. I think I liked the nitro one (pictured above) more, but both feel like imitations of their full-strength big-brothers. This sort of thing has its charms though, and I appreciate being able to sample something without taking in too much alcohol. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% on draft/nitro. Drank out of a... small weizen glass? Whatever you call that thing in the picture. On 11/21/18.

Victory Java Cask Gold

Java Cask Gold - Not sure I'm on board with the whole blonde stout thing, but this is a blonde coffee stout made with lactose, brown sugar, cacao nibs, oats, and dark roast coffee, aged in buffalo trace barrels for 7 months. - Pours a clear, pale orange color with half a finger of off-white head. Smells... a lot like Java Cask. Lots of roasted coffee, coffee, maybe a bit of chocolate, and oh yeah, I almost missed... the coffee. The taste, though, does not feel like a stout. Which I guess makes sense, since it's not. Sweet, but not that deep, a bit of caramel, some coffee, but they're not quite playing together as well here; a heaping helping of bourbon, but not particularly well integrated with the rest of the flavors. I like bourbon and all, but it seems to be overpowering the base. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed, and quite boozy. Overall, an interesting experiment, but a little off-balanced and it never really harmonizes into a great beer... but it's certainly interesting! If a tad disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/22/18. Bottled on 16 Nov 2018.

So there you have it. The Maple variant is the clear winner of the year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up for next year (fingers crossed for the non-coffee version!) In the meantime, we've got some actual Black Friday releases that we're going to cover, including tons of variants of Kaedrin favorites, so stay tuned.

A Night To End All Dawns

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Am I alone in just wanting a straight bourbon barrel aged stout? Lately, I feel like there's always adjuncts or additions of stuff like lactose, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, maple syrup, toasted coconut, chile peppers, cacao nibs, hazelnut, pecans, and ever more bizarre ingredients "foraged" in obscure ways. I'm pretty sure you could just bottle actual brownie batter and call it a beer, and you'll get people lining up five hours before opening. Don't get me wrong, I'm a total novelty whore and love a good pastry stout as much as the next guy, but sometimes you want to just get back to basics. Ultimately, that's what I really love, and when something only comes in, for example, a coffee treatment, I'm always stuck wondering how much I'd love a version that doesn't have that coffee. Blasphemy to some, I'm sure.

We all know that Kane has a pretty great barrel program, and their big flagship in that arena is their series of A Night To End All Dawns (henceforth ANTEAD) beers. In the past, they've made variants with coffee, vanilla, cacao nibs, coconut, and differing barrels (probably amongst others), but for whatever reason, this year there were only two: regular ol' Bourbon Barrel Aged and a Rye Barrel Aged. Speculation was that the yields were low this year, so there wasn't enough to go around for the variants. Fortunately for me, I managed to snag a couple bottles of the regular BBA ANTEAD (the other set with the rye barrel variant sold out in about 10 seconds during the online sale), and truth be told, I'm not all that broken up about not getting any variants (though I did have a taste of Vanilla ANTEAD once that was pretty darned great).

The description is pretty simple: it's a big imperial stout that spent about a year in bourbon barrels. I keep thinking the name must be an allusion to something, but as near as I can tell, it's just a nice, evocative name for a stout. Certainly it's not a reference to Kane's advocacy on behalf of the antichrist, who promises an eternity of darkness and thus a significant lack of dawns. A Night to End All Dawns soon approaches, and Kane will wreak doom upon the earth (they are located in New Jersey, after all*). Or maybe they're just making really good beer:

Kane A Night To End All Dawns

Kane A Night To End All Dawns - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of short-lived light brown head. Smells retains hints of underlying roast, with lots of caramel, chocolate, marshmallow, vanilla, oak and bourbon. Taste is sweet, rich caramel up front, some of that underlying roasted malt, chocolate, followed by the bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe that marshmallow, finishing with a boozy bite. Mouthfeel is perfect, rich, full bodied, and chewy, carbonation is just right, with plenty of boozy heat. Some might say it's too "hot", but I rather enjoyed that aspect of it. Overall, yup, it's a fantastic beer with depth and complexity, even (or maybe especially) without the adjuncts and crazy ingredients. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.4% ABV bottled (750 ml black waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/18. Vintage: 2017 (released in 2018).

Yep, I really need to continue hunting down Kane's barrel aged wares, as they've been uniformly great so far. Or, you know, one of you local Philly area brewers could build up an equally effective barrel program (beyond sours and, believe it or not, coffee stouts). Or I could just drink Parabola all the time. Not the worst option in the world.

* I kid! I kid because I love.

Levante Quintuple Feature

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Drink local, they say, and so I do. Levante is the closest brewery to Kaedrin HQ, and I do find myself at their taproom on a semi-regular basis. Alas, I've been woefully neglectful of their wares on this here blog. Since opening a few years ago, they've grown considerably, both in terms of quantity and quality. In particular, they've stepped up their NEIPA game, as these last few releases illustrate (also telling: the number of people in lines for this stuff). Of course, their stout program is also strong, and while my ambivalence to coffee is well known, we'll cover a couple of coffee-dosed offerings too (hint: they're fantastic).

Levante Retail Therapy

Levante Retail Therapy - The perfect gift for dorks who work for a retail website and are breathing a sigh of relief after the usual Q4 rush (i.e. me). Brewed with spelt malt and oats and hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra, and El Dorado. Pours a cloudy, milky yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of sweet, juicy citrus hops, fresh, green, pretty darned great. Taste is sweet and juicy, lots of citrus. Mouthfeel is medium bodied but kinda thick, well carbonated. Overall, one of the better Levante offerings, not quite Hop Cartel level good, but very nice. Probably shouldn't have given half of these away as Christmas gifts. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/22/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Gran Gianduiotto

Levante Gran Gianduiotto - Imperial stout brewed with lactose, Ghirardelli cacao powder, hazelnut, vanilla, and three blends of over 70 pounds of Italian Espresso from Gran Caffe L'Aquila. Pours a very dark brown color with off white head. Smells of roasty coffee, chocolate, coffee, roast, and coffee. Did I mention coffee? As it warms, it gains a sweeter, richer caramel note. Taste is a little less roasty, more rich caramel, but still plenty of coffee and chocolate, I wouldn't have picked out hazelnut blind, but since I know it's there, I can kinda see it if I do the tasting equivalent of squinting. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, moderately carbonated, a hint of booze. Overall, this is fabulous, even for a coffee beer. Kinda wish I didn't give most of my cans away as gifts... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/29/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology (Barrel Aged 2017) - Brewed with a blend of shade grown, locally roasted, organic Sumatran and Guatemalan coffee supplied by Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters in West Chester, PA, then aged for six months in American Whiskey Barrels from Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, PA (they do not make bourbon, but I think their standard offering is primarily malted barley and wheat, with some oats and rye). Pours a very dark brown color with a tan head. Smells great, lots of coffee, roast, and a heaping helping of that whiskey, oak, and vanilla. Taste is rich and creamy, caramel, whiskey, oak, and vanilla, with a dose of roast coffee, finishing on a pleasant boozy note. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with lots of boozy (but again, pleasant) heat. Overall, maybe I do like coffee beers (i.e. if they're this boozy), great barrel character and pretty darned great. For some reason, I feel like people are sleeping on this, as evidenced by the fact that I just bought another couple bottles about a month after I bought this one... on second thought, forget I said anything. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/18. (not sure when bottled, bought it at 12/21/17 release)

Levante Tickle Parts

Levante Tickle Parts - Another NEIPA that's a little short on specifics (label sez: El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra hops were used). They released this a couple months ago (I had an extra-hopped cask version at a local watering hole, and it was great), then did a rebrew in January, which is the batch I'm reviewing here. Pours a murky yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells fabulous, tons of fresh, juicy citrus hops. Taste hits those juice notes hard, citrus with a little bit of dank pine in the finish, which isn't very bitter (but maybe just enough to keep things in balance). Mouthfeel is medium bodied but thick, well carbonated, decent balance. Overall, a good example of the hazier NEIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/18. Canned: 1/11/18. Batch 2.

Levante Glitter Parts

Levante Glitter Parts - Another NEIPA variant, this time with added lactose, coconut, and vanilla (kinda Tired Hands Milkshake-esque), with a similar hopping schedule to Tickle Parts (Citra, El Dorado, Simcoe, Mosaic). I drank this out of a shaker pint glass because I was watching the Eagles slaughter the Vikings on Sunday, and as you can see, it was totally my glassware that put them over the edge. Pours an even murkier pale yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smells great, those fresh, juicy citrus hops, maybe a bit more tropical here. I didn't pick up coconut directly (and probably wouldn't blind), but if you do the olefactory version of squinting, maybe it's there? Taste follows the nose, sweeter with lots of juicy citrus hops, with maybe that vanilla showing up a bit here. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with a higher viscosity than Tickle Parts, that lactose definitely felt here, well carbonated and decent balance. Overall, yep, another winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a shaker pint glass on 1/21/18. Canned: 1/11/18.

I feel like perhaps my lesser homer instincts are kicking in, as I only seem to find myself reviewing beers I love from these guys. But these last two releases were pretty killer. I will say that they make plenty of beers that I'm not entirely on board with (and in fact, their regular lineup isn't all that spectacular), so there is that. It's hard to get all fired up about writing them up on those though, perhaps a topic for another post.

Founders CBS

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Back in the halcyon days of 2012, after many moons searching, I finally landed a bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. At the time, I naively referred to it as a whale, because for me, it kinda was. It was this mythical thing that I had never seen, but which people on teh internets kept gushing over. In time, I would come to learn of the absurdity of the white whale list, but 2012 was a different time.

Right around when I was snagging my first KBS, Founders decided to bottle their infamous Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS), a legendary variant of KBS that used the same base (imperial stout brewed with chocolate and coffee), but aged in bourbon barrels that had also been used to age maple syrup. Up to that point, it was an annual favorite at their taproom, but didn't receive much in the way of distribution. And of course, amateur beer hunter that I was at the time (and frankly, still am, at least compared to a lot of folks), I never even got close to a bottle. The next batch came a few years later; they didn't bottle it, but did distribute a fair amount of kegs to the Philly environs. Alas, moron that I also am, I never got off my keister to get a taste (by that time, my thoughts on coffee dosed beers had calcified and I wasn't really up for hunting down a beer I'm sure I'd enjoy, but which would fall somewhat short of my favorites). Finally, CBS in its most recent incarnation arrived on shelves and in taprooms around the area just a few weeks ago, and I managed to snag a couple of bottles with relative ease (even unexpectedly scoring a glass on draft a few days later). Then I got slammed by a head cold and ear infection, so the bottle sat sadly undrunk in my fridge for a while. On a chilly Festivus evening, I finally popped the cap on this sucker. What does five years of anticipation do for this? Well, it's pretty much what I expected, but I do rather like it more than expected...

Founders CBS

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) - Pours a deep, dark black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of coffee, roast, a little of that syrup, and some bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts with rich caramel, that bourbon and oak character hits, followed by some roast and coffee, finishing on a brighter, sweeter syrupy note. The coffee character is clearly there, but takes a back seat to the barrel and syrup notes. As it warms, the coffee comes out a bit more, but so do the other elements. Much like KBS, this is a beer that I found decent at first sip, but which got better and better the more I drank. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, faint hints of booze. Overall, a very nice, complex beer. My coffee ambivalence be damned, I like this a lot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/23/17.

As per usual, Founders is always reliable, and stuff like this still manages to stand out, even as beer dorks are constantly zonked out on NEIPAs and pastry stouts.

Again Dark Wednesday

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Every year, on the day before Thanksgiving, Victory has some sort of beer release. They hath dubbed the day Dark Wednesday, and past offerings include the likes of Dark Intrigue, Java Cask, and Java Cask Rye. This year's primary offering was Wisdom's Hour, a dark sour, but they were also teasing another "mystery" beer that wasn't really a mystery because it sorta already came out during the summer that they were making another batch of Java Cask Rye, but with added vanilla beans. As per usual, Victory's releases tend to be pretty low-stress affairs, so even though I was battling a cold at the time, I managed to pop over and secure a couple bottles without notably impacting my condition... Anywho, Victory is one of my long time favorite local breweries, so I'm always excited to see them trying new things from time to time. Let's get on with it:

Victory Wisdoms Hour

Victory Wisdom's Hour - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells of dark fruit, oak, vinegar, vanilla. Taste has some darker malt sort of notes, not exactly roasty, some dark fruit, spice, oak, and vinegar, only moderately sour. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate acidity, pretty easy going. Overall, it's a nice little sour, not going to light anything on fire, but worthwhile. It may be on the lower end of the B+ rating, but I'm feeling generous enough.

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/27/17. Bottled on: 10 Nov 2017.

Victory Java Cask Rye with Vanilla Beans

Victory Java Cask Rye with Vanilla Beans - Pours a jet black color with almost no head whatsoever (and what's there disappears quickly). Smells of coffee, with a little bit of booze and hints of that vanilla evident. Taste starts with some rich caramel, lots of booze, oak, and a little vanilla, with the coffee only emerging in the middle and not super strong either. Mouthfeel is rich and despite the appearance, actually pretty well carbonated, lots of warming booze. Overall, it's pretty darned good, but I have a feeling coffee fans would be a touch disappointed, but as someone ambivalent to coffee, I think I liked this more. It's definitely not the non-coffeed version of my dreams, but it's darned good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/17. Bottled on: 13 Nov 2017.

As per usual, Victory remains a local go to, and it looks like they have another batch of Red coming soon, which was phenomenal last year...

Melting Down with Root Down

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Root Down Brewing opened its doors earlier this year, and it was an event I had been anticipating for a while. The owner/brewer, Mike Hamara, was the guy who sold me my homebrew setup many moons ago. On at least one occasion, he improvised a complete recipe from scratch for me because I needed something quick and didn't have time to prepare (I'm the worst). To put it mildly, this is a guy who knows what he's doing, and has been planning this operation for years, if not decades.

Root Down Graffiti

Located in Phoenixville, PA, the building is deceptively large and punctuated by graffiti inspired decor. Chances are, there will be some sort of obscure martial arts film playing on the TVs (though they will cave in and put the Eagles game on if someone asks), and indeed, some of the beer names (like the below Flying Guillotine IPA) are inspired by said movies (truly a brewery after my heart). I didn't have any food during my visit, but they have a menu of BBQ goodies and even a whole page dedicated to Vegan offerings, such that I'll definitely be checking this stuff out upon future visits.

Root Down Flying Guillotine IPA

I visited on a Sunday when they were releasing a particular beer made in cahoots with BeerNERDs (N.E.R.D. stands for Network of Educated Refined Drinkers), with proceeds going to Main Line Deputy Dog, a local charity that helps with training service dogs for those in need. For the uninitiated, BeerNERDs is a group of, well, nerds centered in southeastern PA with smatterings of members from MD, DE, and NJ. There's a Facebook Group of 5000 plus members, which naturally leads to the occasional, erm, argument. Tensions mount, some people can't handle it, others pile on, and then a full blown meltdown ensues. One particular meltdown centered on Root Down taking forever to deliver an ordered beer. I can no longer find specifics of the complaint, but the guy was awfully strident in his distaste and apparently greatly exaggerated his experience, as it was later revealed that he had only been around for a scant 107 seconds before up and leaving the place. But these details are unimportant; Root Down and BeerNERDs decided to relax and remember that it's just beer, eventually deciding to collaborate for charity.

So finally we get to the beer, a 10.7% ABV (I see what they did there) imperial oatmeal stout brewed with bitter chocolate and slow molasses. Sounds wonderful, so let's kick it root down:

Root Down Melt Down

Root Down Melt Down - Pours a very dark, deep brown, almost black color with a finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, dark chocolate, maybe a little coffee note, and that molasses tang in the background. Taste is rich and sweet up front, with a bitter roastiness emerging quickly, leavened a bit by the molasses, then returning to roast, coffee, and chocolate in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, solid carbonation, a hint of boozy heat. Overall, rock solid imperial stout. Rumors of barrel aged variants in the future, so let's leave some room for such endeavors in the rating, making this a high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a snifter on 11/12/17. Canned 11/6/17. Batch: DOOMA DOOMA.

Very much looking forward to more trips to Root Down, as well as seeing some of their barrel aging efforts come to fruition...

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

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About this Archive

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

Spiced Beer is the previous category.

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